LONDON (Reuters) - Former military leaders took aim at the British National Party (BNP) on Tuesday, accusing it and other right-wing groups of hijacking Britain's history for their own "dubious ends."
The BNP, which calls for a halt to immigration, voluntary repatriation of immigrants and Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, has used photographs of spitfire fighters and World War Two leader Winston Churchill in its campaign material.
BNP leader Nick Griffin faces protests from anti-racism campaigners on Thursday when he is due to appear on the BBC's current affairs panel show "Question Time."
A leaked list claiming to give personal details of thousands of BNP members appeared online on Tuesday, causing potential embarrassment for those named.
The BNP has been at the fringes of politics in multi-racial Britain. It has no seats in the national parliament but plans to field hundreds of candidates in a general election due by next June.
The BNP's popularity has grown in recent years at a time of rising unemployment and disenchantment with mainstream parties. It has a number of local councillors and in June won two seats to the European Parliament.
A letter signed by four top military men warned the armed forces were being tainted by association with the far-right.
"The reputation of Britain's Armed Services is being tarnished by political extremists attempting to appropriate it for their own dubious ends," said the letter, reported widely in the British media.
"The values of these extremists -- many of whom are essentially racist -- are fundamentally at odds with the values of the modern British military such as tolerance and fairness."
It was signed by the former heads of the army Mike Jackson and Richard Dannatt, as well as the former chief of defence of staff Charles Guthrie, and a commander in the first Gulf War Patrick Cordingley.
In response, BNP leader Griffin said the party would keep using the imagery and likened the generals to Nazi war criminals.
"The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials set the precedent when the leaders of Nazi Germany were charged with invading other countries which represented no military threat to Germany," he said on the party's website.
"Along with the political leadership of Nazi Germany, the chiefs of staff of the German army ... were also charged with waging aggressive war.
"Sir Richard and Sir Mike fall squarely into this bracket, and they must not think that they will escape culpability for pursuing the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
He also claimed that young soldiers and their families supported the BNP.
The generals' letter noted that soldiers from Commonwealth countries with historical ties to Britain make up about 10 percent of the armed forces.
Without specifically naming the BNP, it went on to say: "The reputation of our Armed Forces was won over centuries of service in some of the most difficult areas of the world.
"Political extremists should claim no right to share in this proud heritage.
Critics, including two senior government ministers, have objected to Griffin's planned high-profile appearance on Question Time.
Additional reporting by Keith Weir and Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison