Update at 1745 KST: The KFA UK has responded to this article in a post on its Facebook page, which can be read here.
After almost eight years in the Korean Friendship Association UK (KFA UK), it was an official trip to North Korea that resulted in Alex Meads being slowly, but decisively, purged by his former comrades.
“I started asking questions,” he tells NK News. “We went to various museums, various factories, and in these museums, you would find objects owned by or just touched by Kim Jong Un or the other leaders… these would be pencils, chairs, just random objects.”
Baffled, he shared his thoughts with fellow KFA UK members: “this to me seems absolutely obsessional. This isn’t natural. I find this very strange, very weird.”
“They started to become quite hostile. Whenever I’d ask a difficult question, they wouldn’t answer it. They’d just accuse me of my mind being perverted by a bourgeois education.”
Eight months on, Alex is now officially “excommunicated” from the organization, one of the world’s most high-profile pro-Pyongyang “friendship” organizations — though the reasons for his expulsion remain somewhat unclear.
“I was shunned,” he says. “Then I received an email from Dermot saying I’ve been expelled. I’m absolutely shocked by it, and by how quickly it happened as well.”
“Dermot” refers to Dermot Hudson, a former British civil servant and now a close-to-full-time pro-DPRK activist, who has long served as the KFA UK’s very own Supreme Leader.
But Alex paints a different picture: one of an increasingly paranoid, cult-like organization, dominated by a leadership that cannot be questioned.
“What I really want is other people to be aware of what this group is really like because they sell themselves as just a friendship body – cultural exchanges, music, food, et cetera,” he says. “And they are not.”
Dermot Hudson did not respond to any of Alex’s allegations against him, instead telling NK News in an email that he would be “taking legal advice with a view to suing both you and Mr. Meads.” Just hours after being contacted by NK News, he warned followers on Twitter that “fascists are planning an anti KFA article.”
Alex, now 22, joined the KFA at a very young age. He was 14 years old, and, like many at that age, had a growing interest in politics.
Coming across an advert for a group called “Friends of Korea” in a communist newspaper, he decided to attend a meeting — accompanied by his mum, of course.
“She was very impressed by Dermot,” Alex says. “He was a very lovely man, came across having a great interest in me, wanting to know about me, encouraging me to go to his meetings.”
After that, Alex was hooked: “I started going to more and more meetings. And he would encourage me to come back, he would pay my rail fares, he would pay for my food.”
But the pressure to get more deeply involved in the movement came quickly, with Alex being encouraged to take a more keen interest in the ideological pillars of the North Korean state: the Juche idea and the politics of Songun.
“They slowly would increase the pressure like that,” he says. “Everybody else in the group came across as very nice, very friendly towards me when I first joined. It’s like a family environment.”
The leadership changed, however, going from warm and encouraging to suffocating and domineering.
“He’s become very controlling. He wants to know where I was going on holiday, what I was doing,” Alex explains. “It’s developed into a cult.”
Alex now says he believes he was being, as he describes it, “groomed” — encouraged to go deeper and deeper into an organization that would consume his life and eventually excommunicate him when his thinking changed.
The purpose of his new job as commissar, Alex says, was “basically to research anyone who Dermot felt was a threat to him.”
Dermot had become more and more afraid about the infiltration of the KFA, by the British security services or far-right groups, Alex says.
“He thought that the government would keep trying to do that, keep trying to infiltrate these fascists into the organization.”
Fear of how others might perceive members of the KFA, Alex says, even extended to concerns over how some chose to dress — and hints at a social conservatism influenced by his North Korean counterparts.
He says, for example, that he was told not to wear jeans: “[Dermot] told me on multiple occasions that jeans were worn in the Eastern Bloc in the late 80s as a sign of rebellion.”
“He would wear a skirt, and Dermot didn’t like that,” he says. “He thought that was totally inappropriate. He said to Shawn [his deputy], ‘can you imagine if the embassy sees it?’”
These comments hinted at other more regressive attitudes, Alex explains — attitudes that he says are a cause of disagreement within the KFA.
“Dermot himself, is very against the whole LGBT issue,” he says. “He’s not pro-homosexual at all. And then you’ve got members who are. The only point of differentiation is on the issue of LGBT.”
“Towards the end, [Dermot] was pressuring me for donations for the KFA, and he would hint that I have to give money, but it’s money I don’t have at my age,” he says. “I can’t afford to be giving large sums to the KFA.”