White supremacists are targeting Scottish cultural festivals in the United States in an attempt to recruit new members, The Scotsman has learned.
The National Alliance, a far-right group that wants to create a whites-only “living space”, set up a stall to sell books and hand out racist leaflets at a major Scottish festival in New Hampshire earlier this month.
The white supremacists believe that the romantic form of Scottish culture which is promoted at such heritage events ties in with their desire for a whites-only society.
They also believe that such events provide a fertile ground for their extreme views and that those who celebrate Scottish culture might want to sign up to a more political, far-right agenda.
The presence of a group such as the National Alliance signals a worrying new development for Scottish heritage events across the US – which have become important tools in promoting tourism and trade for Scotland.
Neo-Confederate organisations in the south, which want to secede from the Union, have used symbols of Scottish culture to promote their aims for a number of years.
They have used the film Braveheart to recruit new members, claiming they are Celtic by descent and are engaged in an age-old battle with the Anglo-Saxon north, and one group has adopted the Saltire as its logo.
But this is believed to be the first time that white supremacists have deliberately targeted Scottish heritage events in the north of the US to promote a message of a white, Aryan, European-based society.
The success of the Tartan Day celebrations earlier this month, which is growing in popularity, has given groups an opportunity to latch on to the new-found enthusiasm for Scottish culture.
However, the presence of the National Alliance at the New England event brought widespread condemnation yesterday, both from inside and outside the US.
The New Hampshire School of Scottish Arts (NHSSA), which organised the Fifth Annual Indoor Scottish Festival in Derry, New England, condemned the white supremacists and insisted they would not be welcome at any future events.
A spokesman said: “It has come to our attention that one of the vendors at this year’s indoor games was handing out fliers for a political website that we, and we are certain the vast majority of our patrons, found offensive.
“This was done without our knowledge or permission. The views expressed on that website are not endorsed by NHSSA or any of the other vendors or sponsoring organisations that participated in the games. Now that we are aware of the situation, we will not permit it to occur in the future.”
John Swinney, the SNP leader, lambasted the group for targeting Scottish events.
He said: “Anyone with any real understanding of Scottish history knows that we are a nation which has welcomed immigrants down the ages.
“To attempt to twist that heritage into abhorrent racist views has nothing to do with Scotland and everything to do with the evil, ignorant politics of these groups.”
However, the National Alliance was delighted with the response it claimed to have received at the New Hampshire event, insisting that it had sold books and handed out leaflets, getting enthusiastic endorsements from some of the people there.
The National Alliance is one of the most extreme of American political groups. On its website, it declares its aims as creating “white schools, white residential neighbourhoods, white workplaces, white farms and countryside”.
And, in a declaration which carries worrying similarities with Hitler’s aims for the Third Reich, it adds: “We will do whatever is necessary to achieve this White living space and to keep it White. We will not be deterred by the difficulty or temporary unpleasantness involved, because we realise that it is absolutely necessary for our racial survival.”
Euan Hague, an assistant professor at DePaul University in Chicago, and an expert in the links between far-right groups and romantic European heritage movements, said: “Although few of the Scottish-Americans participating in events like Tartan Day hold racist views, the way Scottish history and identity are understood in the US, primarily through a Braveheart-tinted lens, means that Scotland and Scottishness can be appropriated and utilised in this manner by people wishing to promote such an agenda.
“It is imperative that Scots involved in celebrating Scotland in the US emphasise the multiracial, multi-ethnic society that comprises Scotland today.”