LONDON — An alleged member of a British neo-Nazi terror group spent time in Israel and attempted to convert to Judaism, it has been revealed.
Adam Thomas and his partner, Claudia Patatas, are currently on trial in the UK for being members of National Action, a group which prosecutors claim is “so extreme and violent” it was banned by the government in December 2016.
The case has attracted widespread media coverage in Britain after revelations that the couple named their baby after Adolf Hitler, and images were released allegedly showing Thomas holding the child while dressed in the white gowns of the Ku Klux Klan.
Other pictures appear to show Thomas and Patatas posing with the baby while holding a swastika flag.
The photos, prosecutors say, are from the “Thomas-Patatas family album.”
But, in a surprise development, 22-year-old Thomas told the court on Friday that he spent nearly two years in Israel when he was 18, planned to convert to Judaism, and wished to serve in the country’s armed forces.
The trial of Thomas, Patatas and a third man, Daniel Bogunovic, is taking place at the crown court in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city. It is expected to last another two weeks.
Thomas admitted in court on Friday that he was a racist but denied being a member of National Action.
Adam Thomas says he gave his son the middle name Adolf to show "admiration" for Hitler https://t.co/yKzja22I0a
— BBC Oxford (@BBCOxford) October 26, 2018
He described the pictures of himself in KKK garb as “just play” but said he gave his baby the middle name Adolf to reflect his “admiration” of Hitler.
“It definitely doubles up as the name of Adolf Hitler,” he said under questioning. “It’s undeniable and I don’t make a secret of it. It does reflect an interest in that topic and admiration for what it represents.”
He also added that the name Adolf is not controversial in Portugal, where Patatas is originally from.
'Neo-Nazi' dad pictured 'dressed in KKK robes while holding baby son he called Adolf after Hitler'
— marmite (@marmite_) October 15, 2018
A student who studied at a Jerusalem yeshiva with Thomas told The Times of Israel that at the time, Thomas went by the Hebrew name Avi.
“It’s a very sad story that I think people ought to hear about,” said N., who originally spoke to The Times of Israel on the record, but later asked that his name be omitted from this article.
“I studied with Avi at Machon Meir, located in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood in Jerusalem. Avi came in my last couple of months there but we remained in touch afterwards,” N. said.
He had an absolutely horrendous childhood. He came to Israel to try to escape that life and convert to Judaism
“Avi told us that he had an absolutely horrendous childhood,” N. said of the Thomas family’s strong connections to UK far-right groups. “He came to Israel to try to escape that life, and convert to Judaism. He was in the conversion program at the yeshiva.”
The young man, his friend believes, “feared for his life from his family and old associates” if he returned to the UK.
“I don’t know what to think, but part of me thinks he was maintaining this persona out of fear of being considered a ‘race traitor,'” said N.
“My impression of Avi was that he was a lost boy, with a good heart and sincere in his adoption of the Jewish faith,” he said.
“We could’ve saved him, but his mental scars and lack of maturity closed many doors,” said N. “The pain of that rejection unfortunately drove him back to the anti-Semitism he was brainwashed with in childhood.”
All the same, the return of “Avi” to his former lifestyle surprised N.
“I’m shocked that in such a short time he could go from what he was here to what he became. I hope it’s not too late for him to reform. He is still young,” said N.
David Simpkins, who was Thomas’s roommate at Machon Meir, said the young Briton was at the yeshiva for “just a few weeks,” on what he characterized as “a trial period.”
“His behaviors were very extreme in general,” Simpkins told The Times of Israel. “He was not interested in becoming a Jew of the mainstream kind, he was trying to join a smaller sect of mostly Yemenite Jews.” Thomas indeed “regarded most Jews today as heretics,” he said.
Thomas told Simpkins, a West Point graduate and 10-year veteran of the US Army, about his childhood. Thomas, believed his roommate, “looked like he had PTSD from combat.”
Simpkins eventually persuaded Thomas to speak with a rabbi at Machon Meir who specialized in helping people deal with their past.
The rabbi told Simpkins he believed that it was admirable that Thomas was trying to escape the white supremacism of his childhood, but felt that he could be “replacing one extreme with another.”
Machon Meir felt Thomas needed to get help and then come back with “a clear head” if he wanted to convert, Simpkins said. “They gave him the best possible advice and he didn’t take it, as we see now.”
Instead, Thomas – who was sometimes homeless – went to a number of other yeshivas in Jerusalem trying to see if he could get in any door and find a rabbi who would sponsor him for his conversion. He continued to get the same advice he had received from Machon Meir.
“He ended up at the conversion ulpan in Tel Aviv,” said N. “It’s Modern Orthodox, and a bit more accepting of less conventional approaches to Orthodox Judaism. That’s where he met Patatas. I met up with them a few times in Tel Aviv; they were dating.”
The couple’s relationship — Patatas became pregnant — led to them being “bounced” out of the program, N. believes.
On Friday, Thomas, who was brought up by his maternal grandparents in Birmingham, told the court that his mother, father and stepfather were “common racists.”
He said his paternal grandfather had “a positive view of Hitler and the Nazis” and used to deliver a “Hitler salute” when Thomas visited him.
Thomas’s stepfather was in the “white power” band Skrewdriver and used to shave the child’s head from the age of five. The band, Thomas said, had “very racist views.”
Thomas was expelled from school at the age of 14 for his racist views. He was reported to the UK’s counter-extremism program, Prevent, which arranged for him to meet a Holocaust survivor.
“Well, she told me she was evacuated from Germany to Britain and I couldn’t see that as being a Holocaust survivor, at the time,” Thomas told jurors.
“Did you tell her to her face?” his attorney asked him in the courtroom.
“I did, yes,” he replied.
Questioned about the images of him in KKK robes with his baby, Thomas said: “It was just play. They were not put up on some website or used to promote some agenda or ideology.”
After admitting that he was a racist, Thomas added: “It is something I do not tend to think about anymore, something I want to put behind me.”
At the opening of the trial in early October, Barnaby Jameson, the prosecutor, told the jury: “This case is about a specific type of terror. It is a terror fueled by hatred and division. It is a terror born out of fanatical and tribal belief in white supremacy… It is a terror that regards anyone who falls outside a cult of violent white racial supremacy as sub-human.
“Those that fall into the sub-human category are primarily blacks, Jews and Asians. Others in that category include gays, communists and feminists,” Jameson said.
Swords, knives, crossbows and an axe were all found at Adam Thomas and Claudia Patatas' house in Waltham Gardens. https://t.co/1ceQrggboS
— Banbury Guardian (@banburynews) October 16, 2018
Jameson said the terror could be described in two words “white jihad” and the case would take jurors into “a world in which any right-thinking person would wish did not exist.”
He added: “It is a world of banner-carrying paramilitaries aping Hitler’s SS. It is a world of swastikas and the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan.”
During the trial, jurors have been told that Nazi and far-right memorabilia, and National Action flags, badges and banners, were found at the home of Thomas and Patatas. Police also allegedly found an “extensive” collection of weapons, including an axe under their bed and two machetes, one with a serrated 18-inch (46-cm) blade, during searches after the couple were arrested on terrorism charges in January.
A digital copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook” was found, containing chapters headed “Making plastic explosive,” “Letter bombs,” and “Molotov cocktails,” the court has been told. Thomas denies a separate charge of having “The Anarchist Cookbook”
Police also discovered one of two crossbows just a few feet from the baby’s crib, prosecutors say.