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Far right on the march

In the wake of the publication of BNP members list we focus on the rise of the far right in Europe p

The publication of the British National Party's 10,000-strong membership list has once again shone the spotlight on the far right in the UK.

But it is in Europe that such organisations are causing gravest concern. A far-right Czech group tried to attack a Roma camp on Monday and Austria's two far-right groups together won almost a third of the vote in September's national election. And then there's Italy.

In April, the country gave the far-right party Lega Nord (the Northern League) an electoral shot in the arm. Romans chose a mayor who had once led a Neo-Fascist youth movement.

Immigrants are routinely scapegoated for rising crime - incorrectly blamed on a recent influx of people from the former Yugoslavia and northern Africa. This fear is increased as “the media amplifies crime when there are immigrants involved,” says Anna Bull, professor of Italian history at the University of Bath.

The government has been slow to respond to the changing ethnic make-up of the country. “There has been little discussion of multiculturalism” says her colleague, Professor Roger Eatwell, who adds and xenophobia is still rampant.

The Italian discrimination against the Roma people has a growing notoriety not least because it often continues with the backing, tacit or otherwise, of the government and legal system.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose campaign promised a clampdown on "Roma, clandestine immigrants and criminals," supports the mandatory fingerprinting of all Roma, including minors.

In March Italy's highest court found a mayor who believed that "all Gypsies were thieves" not guilty of racial discrimination. Many Roma camps outside of Rome and Naples have been razed.

Italy's state-sanctioned xenophobia – over half of Italians would like to see the Romas expelled from the country - was demonstrated by shocking photographs of Italians sunbathing just a few feet from the dead bodies of two drowned Roma girls.

Rome's far right mayor Gianni Alemanno made a promise to crack down on immigrants central to his campaign. At his inauguration, skinheads reportedly chanted “Duce. Duce,” in a direct link to Italy's dictator Fascist dictator Mussolini.

Upon entering office Alemanno instituted a 'Pact for Rome' which included the following directives: “Immediately activate procedure for the expulsion of 20,000 nomads and immigrants who have broken the law in Rome” and “Closure of illegal nomad camps, rigorous and effective checks on legal ones and their progressive elimination.” He also has said that it would be simplistic to consider fascism an "absolute evil".

Meanwhile, the Lega Nord, is playing its part. One of their leaders, Roberto Maroni - who serves as the interior minister - authored the Roma fingerprinting proposal and last week the party announced a plan to place a two-year ban on immigration.

The lack of long-established parties may make Italy more susceptible to extreme parties. “In most countries there are the same parties as there were 20, 30, 40 years ago. In Italy there are completely new parties since the 1990s” says Eatwell. “Personal identity with parties is very weak which leaves the country open to the possibility of radical change.”

The National Alliance party is generally acknowledged to be in position to take power after Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party. The Alliance party is the successor to the Italian Social Movement which grew out of Mussolini's fascist party.

The party has “made great strides in renouncing and denouncing fascism and the leader Gianfranco Fini has made the party more mainstream, centre-right though there are still elements of neo-fascists,” said Bull. Any moderate sentiments are generally absent in the rank and file members however.

The party differs from the Lega Nord in significant ways but they are united over their stance on immigration leading to speculation that the two parties could form a coalition.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano spoke out last week against the anti-immigration sentiments embodied by the increasingly powerful extreme right. He said, "We need a climate of openness and appreciation towards foreigners who are Italian.” Maybe this indicates a turning point away from the support of the anti-immigrant far-right and instead towards the embrace of multiculturalism in Italy.

There doesn't seem to be much evidence of it elsewhere sadly.

Biteback and James Wharton
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.