Britain First is a far-right Christian group that has become prominent largely for its controversial “mosque invasions”, in which members of the group – dressed in paramilitary-style uniforms – storm into mosques to provoke imams and worshippers. Footage of one incident in Yorkshire showed a Britain First member telling someone to “reject the false Prophet Mohammed and read the Bible”.

Now, the group’s founder, Jim Dowson, has stepped down and distanced himself from the “counter-productive” raids. He told the Daily Mirror: “Most of the Muslims in this country are fine. They are worried about extremists the same as us. So going into their mosques and stirring them up and provoking them is political madness and a bit rude.”

It is quite a change of tone for someone who has previously instructed his group to stir up “polarisation, isolation, conflict and security”. In the interview with the Mirror, he blamed the policy on his co-founder, Paul Golding, saying:

“No matter how many times I told him I did not want decent Muslims intimidated, he just continued doing it. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how hard I tried, you cannot escape from the fact that the group is being overrun with racists and extremists. I think he is fooling himself and lots of people that Britain First is a Christian group. Sadly, it has just become a violent front for people abusing the Bible."

Dowson, formerly a fundraiser for the BNP, has a long history with anti-abortion and homophobic groups, as well as with loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Hope Not Hate has described him as "the most powerful identity on the far right in this country". As the New Humanist reported last month, one of the main distinguishing features of Britain First is its explicitly Christian character; rather than echoing Nazi-ism and subsequent movements, as the BNP did, it distributes Bibles in mosques and Dowson has called for “new crusades”.

In a long statement on its Facebook page – which has hundreds of thousands of followers – Britain First defended the invasions:

"The media have put [Dowson] under enormous pressure recently regarding our invasions of mosques across Britain and understandably this has forced Jim to distance himself from these activities, notwithstanding the fact that these mosque invasions have cause considerable exposure of issues such as Muslim female genital mutilation, second class treatment of women, extremism and grooming gangs."

For his part, Golding denied that the invasions were racist, since “some people who invade these mosques with us are mixed race themselves”. Clearly, Britain First has no intention of stopping its confrontational politics, with or without its founder.

For more background information on the group – which is relatively small, although fast growing – you can read Hope Not Hate’s recent report.