Thanks to the BBC, tonight the British public will be able to make up their own minds about Nick Griffin, chairman of the British National Party and North West England MEP.
Viewing figures for this evening's Question Time should be high: there will be blood, metaphorically speaking.
But in 60 painful minutes - if host David Dimbleby keeps order - Griffin will probably duck the killer questions: he will not self-implode before our eyes.
Dangerous: BNP Leader Nick Griffin with his wife Jackie
More likely, by twist and turn, Griffin will emerge intact. His party and his views will gain immense free publicity; his own infamy will be further guaranteed. He will see it as mission accomplished.
Arguably, this is the price we all pay for democracy - although many believe the BBC has needlessly handed him a priceless coup.
But away from the television spotlight, who is Griffin? What does he say when his guard is down? And how do those closest to him - past and present - speak of the man?
In my research for his unauthorised biography, I accumulated 20 hours of videotaped interviews with Griffin, and many more with his wife, children, parents, minders, political opponents, senior BNP figures and the National Front leaders who shaped his views: John Tyndall and Martin Webster.
Griffin emerges as more than just an odious racist. Yes, he is clever, cunning and capable of delivering his racism through carefully articulated argument.
But he is also dangerous and deranged - a man whose personal Utopia is for every white Briton to embrace national socialism, Griffin-style, and for every non-white Briton to leave these islands.
The BNP accumulated nearly a million votes in the 2009 Euro elections, partly by exploiting Winston Churchill's memory.
But when I asked Griffin if he admired or respected Churchill, he responded curtly: 'Not particularly, no.'
Griffin pictured in his National Front days in August 1983
Nor is Griffin a democrat. He boasted to me that an armed struggle may be necessary should the party not win ultimate power at Westminster through the ballot box.
'If the BNP were banned,' he argues, 'people would have a right to take up arms, a duty to take up arms: the only way to preserve ourselves will be by force.'
Griffin describes himself as 'a Strasserite' - Gregor Strasser was a key Nazi Party figure who was strongly critical of capitalism and preferred a more socialist approach to finance - and his views amount to orthodox fascism.
'There is a strong, direct link from Oswald Mosley to me,' he claims.
As a child, his grandfather encouraged him to pick one of Mosley's works from his bookshelves, an event Griffin remembers clearly.
Griffin and I visited Barnet, place of his childhood home until he was eight.
The family home was spacious, but the Griffins existed in genteel poverty - Nick got 'used to eating sugar sandwiches for dinner'.
His father Edgar's electrical business in St John's Wood had failed, so he taught himself accountancy and became a Conservative councillor. Today, he is retired.
Nick's mother, Jean, previously a housewife, remains a part-time worker for the BNP.
'In many ways, the BNP is too moderate for me,' Edgar told me.
He ranted to me about 'the coloureds' and 'the Muslim threat. You have children, don't you? Can't you see the terrible evil of these people in this country?'
It was Edgar who taught his son the politics of race, but no encouragement was needed. Nick quickly spotted the Jewish boys at school.
A favourite game was 'counting black people on the streets from the car window when my parents drove through London'.
Griffin laughed at the memory as he told me this story.
The family then moved to Suffolk, where, at his old school in Woodbridge, Griffin once informed the librarian, Catherine Williamson: 'I'm a socialist, a National Socialist.'
At 13, he studied Hitler's Mein Kampf, making notes in the margins. He thought it boring, but found the chapter on propaganda 'very useful.'
Eventually, during our many hours of discussions, Griffin conceded to me: 'Yes, Adolf went a bit too far.'
Griffin was a bright boy at a rather indifferent school and won a place at Cambridge University.
There he switched from reading history to law, graduating with a lower second.
Posters depicting a distorted photo of Griffin displayed at an anti-BNP rally in central London
A National Front student organiser, 'beaten up by the Reds', he took up boxing and gained a blue.
One undergraduate opponent was a Nigerian called Amure, with whom Griffin 'joked' about 'blacks behaving so badly and walking like monkeys'. Again, he chuckled at the memory.
Spend some time with the BNP supremo and the racist bile flows thick and fast.
He described Lord Carlile, the man responsible for Griffin's 1998 race hatred conviction, as 'that bloody Jew'.
The Chinese, he told me, are 'ruthless, wicked', Indians 'dirty and smelly', and Muslims 'evil'.
Ask Griffin privately if six million people died in Nazi gas chambers and he winces.
His response is even more robust than that given to me by the disgraced historian David Irving, who was imprisoned in Austria in 2006 for Holocaust denial.
Griffin talks of some Auschwitz chimneys being built after the war and how Zyklon B gas could 'never have been used at Treblinka extermination camp - but it makes good Shoah [Hebrew for the Holocaust] business, doesn't it?'
He concedes only that there were 'mass shootings in the East where many died'.
Griffin also alleged that Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, had lied about his grandmother who died in Auschwitz - crassly and incorrectly informing me that Howard's 'granny had survived being gassed three times'.
At Griffin's home, an isolated stone Welsh farmhouse, I dined with his wife, Jackie, 46, and their four children.
Pictures from Arthurian legend decorated the walls. Small talk consisted partly of discussion and numerous bad-taste jokes about concentration camps.
Jackie, plump, blonde and remarkable only for being married to Griffin for 20-odd years, sat opposite me, completely silent.
Dinner was sausage and mash, with rhubarb and custard for desert. It was the most surreal experience of my life.
After our meal, Griffin gave me a gift - a BNP audiotape entitled Islam: A Threat To Us All.
He said he was trying to engage my interest in the 'enemies of Britain'. I have never listened to the cassette.
Later, as we walked around the Welsh hills, Griffin mapped out his political vision.
He believes that immigration and Islam, issues abandoned or ignored by the three main parties, are his route to power.
His methods include local campaigning in the style of the LibDems.
But he is not averse to using the tactics of Goebbels: telling lies big enough and often enough for people to believe them.
Jackie pulls no punches when it comes to her husband. The former district nurse later revealed some extraordinary home truths about the couple's marriage.
'My mother thinks he could do with a damned good slap,' she confided in me, adding: 'Nick's parents taught him that the sun rose and set in his a***.
'He never had to do anything at home and was told he was always right, he can do everything and he's wonderful.'
They first met in Suffolk in 1978: she was 15, he was 19 and friends with her sister's boyfriend.
'Nick was an oddball, never part of the gang,' she says.
After graduating in 1980, Griffin worked full time for the National Front.
'I thought he would grow out of it,' says Jackie. 'I was earning money, he wasn't - what a fool I was.'
The couple married in 1985. Joe Pearce, best man at their wedding, was imprisoned twice for inciting race hatred. The Griffins lived on state benefits for more than a year.
'I worked my a*** off trying to keep us going,' Jackie moaned.
'I've been... working to keep us going financially and bring up four children while he's spent his time playing at stupid politics. To Nick, it's all a game.'
She also revealed that 'through his own stupidity', Nick went bankrupt in 1991 after some disastrous property investments in France.
His parents repeatedly bailed him out, even selling their house in a vain attempt to save him.
Protest: Anti-BNP groups are furious that Griffin has been invited on to BBC Question Time tonight
Griffin admitted his greatest regret is 'nearly causing my parents to go under financially'.
Edgar and Jean still idolise their son and believe him to be a great man.
Before becoming BNP leader, Griffin's highest-paying job was teaching foreign students English in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
'Most of them were Eastern European,' according to his wife.
Other jobs included chopping down trees and assisting on archaeological digs - small fry for a man of his intelligence.
But employers had a tendency to blanch when presented with Griffin's CV, detailing as it does, a lifetime's work for the NF.
Today, Jackie boasts that her 50-year-old husband's life is insured for 'very substantial sums' - some for his family, the rest for the BNP. The party pays all insurance premiums.
Indeed, she admitted to having had 'some very close shaves in Oldham and Burnley, which is why Nick now wears a bullet-proof jacket much of the time'.
If you judge a man by the company he keeps, Griffin certainly chooses some interesting companions.
The two minders I met - Colin Smith and Warren Bennett - have numerous criminal convictions between them, including several for violence, football hooliganism and drug possession.
John Tyndall, founder of the BNP and party chairman until September 1999, believed that Griffin was 'a very slippery customer, not to be trusted'.
Now dead, Tyndall served prison sentences for paramilitary activity and unlawful possession of a gun.
Former NF chief Martin Webster, an openly gay man, told me that he had had a four-year affair with Griffin, who naturally denies it. Webster, too, has done time.
My most illuminating interviewee was Tony Lecomber, former Group Development Officer of the BNP and still Griffin's closest confidant.
We met in an East London pub. Lecomber had received two separate three-year sentences for unlawful wounding of a Jewish teacher and five counts under the Explosives Act.
'Bomber Lecomber', the chief architect of Griffin's successful bid to oust Tyndall as BNP chairman, joked with me about a home-made bomb of his which had been intended for the offices of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Wandsworth, London.
Extreme: Griffin believes people who deal in hard drugs 'should be shot'
But 'Bomber' never made it. Instead, his device went off inside his car in Borough High Street and he was badly burnt.
He also gave Griffin advice on how to prepare himself for a stretch inside, should it ever arise.
His top tip was, when working in the prison's metal work factory, to secretly insert steel plates in the toes of his prison regulation soft-fabric trainers to enable him to defend himself if necessary.
'The doctor at Brixton Prison told me I had psychopathic tendencies; I'm a really dangerous man,' Lecomber warned me after six pints of Guinness, thrusting a finger in my face and laughing.
Although Griffin had to expel Lecomber from the BNP, after he suggested using a hitman to assassinate politicians 'who are aiding and abetting a coloured invasion of this country', the two men remain very close.
All of which is bitterly ironic given Griffin's views on crime, criminals and drugs.
'Some people are innately criminal and nasty,' explains Griffin. 'Unless you punish and make examples, those on the borderline will follow the same road.
'There is no doubt there is a genetic disposition with some people towards crime.
'There is scientific research - especially studies of twins - that a great deal of what we achieve for good or for ill is genetically determined.'
This was orthodox Nazi thinking in the 1930s.
Asked what he would do about the criminal gene and whether he would sterilise criminals, Griffin responds: 'I don't know. It's something that politicians cannot do or dictate.
'Instead, they have to say: "Look, this is the reality." Stop hiding behind the politically correct fictions. We should have a debate about it and a national referendum.'
And what about our drug problem?
'People who take or deal in hard and deadly drugs should face the death penalty. They should be shot.'
Hardly the views of the political mainstream.
Nick Griffin will do his best to joke and jostle his way through tonight's proceedings.
But when you think long and hard about what he says and what he really believes, it is hard to disagree with his mother-in-law. He deserves a damned good slap.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
A Deeply Disturbing Encounter With Nick Griffin
From the Daily Mail: