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Far-right groups 'hijacking' anti-migrant protests - including demonstrations against asylum plans at RAF Scampton

"I get called far-left, I get called far-right, depending on who I'm having a conversation with," Sarah Carter tells me. 

We're standing in a self-assembled shack outside RAF Scampton, a disused air base in Lincolnshire, once home to the Dambusters.

For the last year, she - and others - have been protesting against a Home Office plan to house 2,000 asylum seekers in portable cabins on the airfield.

She stays here for days at a time, swapping over with friends to make it a permanent protest site, and has just taken delivery of a new double bed when I visit.

Still, it's cold, and the traffic that thunders past makes conversation hard.

Sarah is a Scampton local who found others from out of town trying to co-opt their cause - the organised far-right.

"The main group were pretty far-right," Sarah tells me.

"And then there were people there that maybe weren't quite as aware of the situation that we're supporting them."

Fights broke out and the police were called out regularly. Sarah says she and her husband were assaulted by men in balaclavas.

Sarah said: "I've had conversations with them, and when you say, 'What is it that you want?' they say, 'Britain to be British'.

"Someone asked him, 'Does that mean no blacks?' and they replied with, 'Well, ideally, but that's not going to happen'.

"I consider that pretty far-right."

Anti-immigrant protests spike

Sky News analysis of exclusive new figures shows that anti-immigrant protests are on the rise, with a 13-times increase in public demonstrations.

Experts are concerned far-right groups are hijacking local concerns to push their nationalist agendas.

Other protesters at RAF Scampton said the far-right had harmed the overall cause.

At a separate camp outside another entrance gate, Gary Lockwood, a retail warehouse worker who is currently unemployed, is manning a watchtower he built himself.

He invites me up, saying: "They come from outside of the city and outside Birmingham, some people all over the place - it didn't really help the cause at all. They just seemed to cause problems."

When asked if the issue was "not about immigration in general", Mr Lockwood said: "Well, that is part of it. But the main thing for me is the money and the investment we've lost."

At a third camp, much further along, another separate group have built their own camp in green, military colours.

Richard asks not to give his surname.

"You're always going to have that element of organisations getting involved and taking advantage of it," he says.

"The more people that get involved, they might have their own views that you'd consider far-right - or not.

"I'd say there has been elements of it. I wouldn't judge the people involved themselves."

The different camps outside Scampton - all occupied on a cold weekday, as they have been almost continuously since the plans were announced - are emblematic of a trend: both a rise in anti-migrant protest and a growing confidence among the far-right.

Based on new data provided by advocacy group Hope not hate, Sky News analysis shows that there were 275 anti-migrant events in 2023. That's up from 116 events the year before.

Some 159 of those were visits, where people try to gain access to hotels where migrants are being held. 116 were demonstrations - which represents a 13-fold increase over 2022.

There appears to be a shift from visits towards demonstrations, one that depends on whether the far-right organisation was known.

Where the organiser was known, Patriotic Alternative - a far-right organisation whose founder was a senior figure in the British National Party (BNP) - was the highest at 21 public demonstrations - or 18% of all demonstrations recorded.

In contrast, outfits like Britain First and Yorkshire Rose carry out lots of visits which they subsequently put out on social media, and receive almost no demonstrations.

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"Far-right anti-migrant activity is rising in the UK," says Joe Mulhall, director of research at Hope not hate.

"Each year Hope not hate has recorded an increase in this kind of activity, moving from harassing staff and asylum seekers at hotels, to demonstrations.

"Far-right groups have seen asylum seeker hotels as an opportunity to infiltrate local communities and recruit new members. They try and co-opt campaigns, set up front groups and spread their messages."

Sky News approached Patriotic Alternative and Britain First for comment.

A regional organiser for Patriotic Alternative North West told us it supported "all forms of peaceful political organisation, including protests, against migration policies designed to replace white populations across the British Isles".

The reason for that increased public confidence from far-right groups may be the mainstreaming of their language.

Politicians 'no longer insulated' from far-right language

One of Patriotic Alternative's favourite slogans is "End the Invasion" - words that have also been echoed in the Palace of Westminster.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman caused huge controversy when she talked about "the invasion on our southern coast".

The ideas and the language of the far-right now permeate easily online, according to Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.

"I don't think politicians, anymore, are insulated from the language and some of the behaviour of the far-right.

"They pick it up on social media, and they're willing to use some of the words that those groups tend to bandy about quite easily.

"So, if we're talking about words like swarm or invasion, that kind of language to talk about immigration, I think we have seen a rise in that being imported, if you like, from the far-right into mainstream dialogue."

What all that means in an election year, with the Conservative Party facing pressure from the right, remains to be seen. A national question.

But the camps at RAF Scampton also show that all politics - even for the now departed far-right - is always local.