Defending Whom From What? The EDL and the Far Right

The English Defence League, having seemingly sprung out of nowhere, have certainly been busy creating large policing bills, getting drunk and causing confusion on both left and right as to whether they are BNP or a state-created body designed to draw potential activists away from them.

The policing bill for the Nottingham ‘static march’ is estimated to be near half a million quid, the Manchester demo, £800,000 [1] and the one at Leeds £375,000 according to West Yorkshire police. [2] In the main the demonstrations seem to have been kettled in by the police at a pub and the protest reduced to a bit of seig-heiling, a few atonal renditions of the national anthem and plenty of beer. Occasionally, EDL supporters have eluded the police for a bit of argy bargy with opponents as in  Birmingham and Leeds. Usually the police let them have a few pints then get them on a bus out of town quickly. In general the police seem to have things relatively under control as the EDL leadership liaises with them and the police tend to surround and outnumber the EDL. Anti-fascist activity is either co-ordinated by the UAF who also liaise with the police or more independent bodies like Antifa who operate outside the police strictures.

Who Are They?

The attraction of the EDL to football hooligans is obvious: it is difficult to organise football violence at games with excessive policing, surveillance and the Football Intelligence Unit. These demonstration give hooligans a chance to have ‘take liberties”, confront leftist opposition and the police and generate ego-boosting publicity. Taking liberties is all part of the football hooligan culture whether it is taking ‘an end’ in the opposing team’s stadium or taking over the other firms’ local pub or even smashing it up. It is part of the ‘pride’ which they so often talk about, the self-inflating euphoria of having taken advantage by being outrageous or violent. Wherever the EDL demonstrate they know that there will be large scale opposition as well as a heavy police presence. The trick is to elude the latter to get to the former. Included in the ranks of the opposition will be Asian and Muslim members. Having a crack at the police is an added bonus.

The EDL hide behind ludicrous slogans like “Protect Women – Ban Sharia Law.” This outspoken defence of women’s rights from a subculture that chants “Get your tits out for the lads!” seems wildly contradictory. Claims on their websites state that Muslims just come here “sell drugs and rape white women” [3] are simple extensions of the ‘white man’s fear’ used to justify lynchings and the like in racist southern America. They also claim to want extremist Islam off the streets without explaining which streets exactly and who these extremists are. They deal not in facts but fears aggressively expressed and helped by unsubstantiated reports in the media on immigration.

The EDL & The Far Right.

Anti-racists have been quick to align the EDL with the BNP but the relationships between EDL, the BNP and others such as Combat18 is more complicated. The BNP have publicly stated that the EDL are not part of the BNP and that they are “a proscribed organisation.” [4] However, certain more maverick elements of the BNP have been photographed on the EDL demos and on the various Nazi forum others who support the BNP applaud the EDL for doing something ‘positive.’ Judging by the criminal histories of some BNP members it is unlikely that they would be meek enough to kowtow to central office policy however fervent their support. The potential of a good scrap with the cops or the anti-fascists is just too good to pass up.

The BNP have always known that they have had potential support amongst the football firms and disaffected white youth but they have learnt that the business of ‘politics’ – canvassing, meetings, organising – is far less attractive to the hooligans than piling into the pub and then the police. With the BNP’s suits not boots strategy there is now a twin recruitment strategy: white sympathisers amongst the electorate and white muscle in the EDL. Both legitimise racism.

The BNP’s official line is clear, if ignored by some but there is also serious friction between the EDL and other far-right factions. The more extreme Nazis on Stormfront web forum were infuriated by the features in the Daily Star and Telegraph which showed  the EDL leadership masked up and publicly burning a swastika flag. [5]

Other Stormfront posters have said they “don’t take the goings on of the EDL very seriously” to which someone replied “I don’t either. A chance for the state to take down ID and any other info. The other question is the amount of fair publicity they get. That makes me question a few things.” This was followed by “The EDL are a false-flag MI5 created ‘black operation’ group. They are the ENEMY of real nationalists. Ignore them.” [6] How representative this is of all Stormfront posters is unclear.

The anti-Griffinites and ex-BNPers of the Northwest Nationalists dislike them for displaying the Israeli flag at an anti-Islamic counter demonstration with one poster writing “This EDL crowd are an odd lots (sic), they sprang up from nowhere, anybody flying the Jews’ flag is dodgy to say the least, I bet Griffin will be doing it next?” [7] Holocaust denial and 1930s Mosleyite Jew-bating is still a prevalent mindset for some on the far right despite the fact that even Griffin has dropped it as outdated and alienating to the electorate.

However, Combat 18 are currently nurturing resentment against the EDL, partly from chagrin at the EDL becoming the new far-right threat but mainly because of the fracas that occurred on October 31st in central London when some C18ers went to dialogue with the EDL but engaged in a violent scuffle leaving one of the C18ers hospitalised after being hit with a fire extinguisher. The reasons for why it kicked off vary given the bias of each forum but what is clear is C18 were left humiliated and the EDL victorious. [8]  Regarding this altercation, most nationalists were, for once, united in condemnation, seeing ‘nationalists attacking nationalists’ as disharmonious.

The EDL are desperate not to be seen as ‘Nazis’ as shown by the swastika burning episode, the Israel flag and the repeated claims of having black members in their ranks. The related Casuals United website is anxious to avoid the ‘Sieg Heil’ fraternity and stated that “anyone Sieg Heiling is gonna be arrested on the spot, and if any of us see them, we will treat them as UAF out to do us damage and they will be dealt with.” [9] They are all too aware of the many photos on the net of blokes on the demo saluting and the potential damage this can cause them.

Officially, the EDL does not align itself with the BNP or any other far-right grupuscule but this does not prevent these people turning up on the demos (and there are photos of BNP luminaries at these demos floating around the internet). After all, they need numbers to make an impact. Historically, the far-right have always taken onboard people despite their criminal or political convictions, or alcohol, drug and/or psychological problems, something highlighted by Will Browning himself of C18 and countless other forum posters as damaging to ‘the cause.’ Alcoholic characters like Sid Williamson (BNP, BPP) and Eddie Morrison (NF, BNP, and many others, currently involved in splitting the National Front) who have flitted between the various groupings with predictable and often damaging results.

Despite the EDL leadership’s attempts to present a legitimate and organised grouping, some of the supporters are too rowdy to let themselves be tamed by dogma. The ‘not Nazis’ position  is often undermined by the fact that some of the beered up lads cannot help flinging out the right arm salute after too many lagers. This causes consternation for the leadership. The ‘anti-extremist Islam’senitment is undermined by songs like “We hate Pakis more than you” which disolves any smokescreen covering more overt racist intent.

The EDL are clearly worried over the Nazi connection. They have said:

“Of 120 people that turned up in Swansea, a large number were Nazi Skinheads, who basically hijacked the demo, wouldn’t be told not to Sieg Heil or chant “BNP” and seemed intent on ruining it for us.” [10]

And they are aware of the far right’s animosity:

“It’s obvious from Nazi websites like Stormfront that they despise us, because they cant accept that we are standing up for our country, but we allow black people and other races march with us.” [11]

However, what the ‘leadership’ on the website claim and what actually happens in reality is diverse to say the least as can be seen in the photographs of Sieg Heiling demonstrators.

Many on the far right are distrustful of the EDL but there is also the jealousy factor. Most far right groups outside the BNP attract few followers, operate secretively or are seen as irrelevant ego vehicles. The far right also has a problem with the EDL co-opting leftist slogans like “Black and White Unite!” Whether this is used ironically or not is unclear but it is the mixed race aspect that bothers many of the fanatics and leads to suspicion. Football firms have often had black members fighting side by side with racist fans and when quizzed by others have said that the black guys were okay because they are fellow supporters. Football comes first. This also illustrates the political acuity of these fans, that they are not exactly hardliners.

EDL: State?

In the suspicious and paranoid world of far right politics accusations of being ‘state’ are frequently levelled at dissenters from the multiple, tiny factions. Being accused of working for the state is, along with ‘nonce’  and ‘red’, a serious reputation damager. But the idea that EDL have been ‘helped’ along by the secret state is not a new allegation.  Combat 18 fell apart following the murder of Chris Castle by Charlie Sergeant and Chris Cross. It then split into two rival factions led by Sergeant’s brother Steve and Will Browning (who declared bizarrely that C18 were in fact “left wingers” to the disbelief of even his own followers). Revelations and accusations went flying over whether Charlie Sergeant was an informant and whether he had set-up C18 as a state-sponsored attempt to draw away hard-core fascist youth into an area where they could be monitored more easily. This has been disputed, not in the least by journalist Larry O’Hara. Whatever the truth, Sergeant is now in jail until at least 2015. Combat 18 still continues to this day in the form of a website and the occasional piss-up organised by assorted ageing skinheads with various convictions and social problems. They are hardly the threat they were once made out to be. As for the EDL, there is no shortage of claims made by fascists that they are a state-inspired organisation designed to keep tabs on what they see as potential recruits for the BNP.  

The Opposition.

As with many on the far-right, the EDL do not understand the diversity of opposition ranged against them and tend to see everyone simply as ‘reds.’ They do not understand the difference between the SWP and left factions, the police friendly UAF and their ‘respectable’ supporters like MPs and trade unionists, and the more militant Antifa and assume that people dislike them because they are racist, as opposed to them being a neo-fascist street gang. They describe the opposition as “the Communist/Anarchist losers of UAF” [12] which naively lumps Antifa, the Morning Star and UAF community groups into one insoluble faction.

What Have They Done?

The demos tend to be organised through the internet and mobiles. Opposing firms have long been in regular contact with each other these to organise fights. The leadership tends to use nom-de-guerres which given the amount of opposition to them from left and right is hardly surprising. The demonstrations so far have varied in numbers. The EDL trumpet their ‘successes but what is the reality? The Luton demo (24/5/09) was the first manifestation and although few in numbers gained disproportionate publicity. Their London demos have met with various successes and often small numbers: the one on 31st  October endied with the EDL turning over C18 has complicated things somewhat and alienated them from other far right organisations. Their Birmingham demo on 8th August was a shambles with the EDL even admitting that “everybody now knows that the turnout for this Demo was very poor.” [13] Another demo at Birmingham led to 90 arrests. The Manchester demo further increased their media profile but the police appeared to have contained the main body and also prevented other groups from joining them according to the EDL website. Leeds was a major provocation given the size of the local Asian community and led to a huge police presence with helicopters, dogs and horses and apart from the odd breakout they remained closely contained. In Wrexham, the WDL demonstration was a fiasco. The few supporters there, including a bunch of Bolton Wanderers fans, unfurled a St. George flag and belted out a cacophonous version of God Save The Queen. What any Welsh lads felt about that is as yet unclear but this kind of behaviour is hardly going to make the locals sympathise. Their tactics here, if that is the word, were clearly ill thought out.

There have been moves north of the border and in Glasgow they claimed their demo “a big success – over 120 lads from various Scottish clubs who were previously enemies came together for a demo.” [14] Anyone who has attended a political demonstration would believe quite the contrary and that 120 hardly amounts to a big success. According to Casuals United: 

“Large groups of SDL were detained at both Perth, Dundee AND Edinburg (both?) were detained and prevented from travelling to Glasgow, and main English lads were visited by Strathclyde police and warned off from travelling to Scotland.” [15]

That the Nottingham demo went ahead at all was a surprise given that there was a welcome home march for the Mercian Regiment, just back from Afghanistan, the Leicester/Nottingham local derby and the inevitable protest by the opposition. The cost, rumoured to be £1/2 million, could have been avoided by the police either banning the demo or rescheduling it. That this financial burden may be passed onto Nottingham residents is a disgrace.

The Cops.

“We look forward to continuing to work this harmoniously with all the police forces we encounter as we continue to demonstrate across the country.” EDL.

The police seem to have control over the EDL gatherings. The leadership liaise with the local constabulary and have promised to stop the seig-heiling. The police generally lead them to a pub and kettle them in, then let them sing and drink and before they lead them away.  However, this costs enormous  amounts in terms of overtime and getting in neighbouring forces to help contain them. Police try to keep the UAF at bay, usually successfully, but have less control on autonomous groups like Antifa who want to get at the EDL. This however, seems to be pretty unlikely given the police presence.

What Do They Want And When Do They Want It?

The EDL claim to want an end to militant Islam but they also clearly want a good day out on the beer, some confrontation with either the cops or the left or hopefully both and also the feeling of solidarity that these events create. What do they achieve? Certainly not an end to immigration or Islam. How getting drunk surrounded by hundreds of cops on a Saturday afternoon does this is unclear. However, the timing in Nottingham was cleverly calculated for maximum media effect but the actual achievements are questionable. What has usually happened is that the EDL are contained by the police, prevented from much direct confrontation, photographed and filmed whilst having their movement restricted. But at least the lads get their mug shots in the media and have a ‘good day out’ drinking and united in their bigotry. Publicity can be good but when it shows you as a bunch of beered up, shaven headed, angry mouthed hooligans what is the average newspaper reader going to think?

Are the EDL BNP?

There is also the not insignificant factor of merchandise. It seems the EDL were quick to produce t-shirts, baseball caps, hoodies, badges and even gloves all at slightly inflated prices. Someone is clearly making money out of this if the proliferation of EDL items on demos is anything to go by.

That the EDL do the work of the BNP by whipping up racist animosity and enriching their voting figures is beyond doubt. They do the work that the BNP’s bootboys used to do whilst the suitboys now distance themselves in the European parliament. The EDL seems to be populated by alienated white males who have at last found a voice denied by the BNP’s abandoning of street activity in favour of the ballot box – “no more meetings, marches, punch-ups!” Street fighting is much more fun than meetings!

That there is tacit relationship with the BNP is clear. The EDL are doing the street work, – whipping up anti-immigration sentiment, getting buckets of publicity and drawing in potential recruits. They are certainly not doing the BNP any harm as there is a twin strategy of street activity and legitimate political canvassing. It all feeds a climate of racism as both express the same fears but manifests itself differently but still leads to more votes. That there is a dual membership for some involved has been established by Searchlight. [16]

The question remains: what will happen to the EDL? Given the fact that the demos are attended by football fans, BNP members, hardcore Nazis and other assorted alienated young white males who appear to differ on the finer points of fascism only time will tell if it implodes or not. What is certain is that the EDL continue to build, the police manage to contain the majority of them but at considerable cost and the EDL can display political naivety in the extreme. Many member are simply out to drink, shout a lot and hopefully do battle with either the police or anti-fascists and the far right have often found out in the past that whilst football fans are useful idiots on the streets, as far as serious political activity is concerned, they would rather be in the pub.

‘Malatesta’

[1] http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1166779_protests_could_cost_city_800000

[2] http://www.westyorkshire.police.uk/section-item.asp?sid=12&iid=8917

[3] http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/islamophobia-watch/category/far-right-racists

[4] http://bnp.org.uk/2009/09/the-english-defence-league-a-statement-from-the-bnp%E2%80%99s-national-organiser/

[5] http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=642285

[6] http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?s=e6f47a4955098d38ca0c417756401edc&t=662962

[7] http://northwestnationalists.blogspot.com/2009/12/protesters-and-police-clash-in.html

[8] This is the EDL’s Version. http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/31-10-09-news-EDL-Demonstration-in-London.html

[9] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[10] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[11] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[12] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[13] http://www.englishdefenceleague.org/english-defence-league-past-demos.html

[14] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[15] http://casualsunited.webs.com/

[16] http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/Businessman-bankrolls-street-army.php

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About malatesta32

Malatesta, undercover anti-fascist blogger, has analyzed the changing fortunes of the British far right since 2009. He has written for the anarchist magazine Freedom and the book, Militant Anti-Fascism: 100 Years Of Resistance (AK Press 2015). http://www.akuk.com/index.php?_a=product&product_id=7285
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