This is a guest post by Malatesta
The English Defence League is now a year old. Happy birthday. And it has been a colourful (but mainly white) year of various embarrassments, schisms, riots, accusations and speculations. The EDL formed in May 2009 when the ‘United People of Luton’ counter demonstrated against ‘Islamic radicals’ at the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment. Around the EDL circulate various grupuscules such as the SDL, WDL, Casuals United and the Stop Islamification Of Europe, all of whom are seemingly interchangeable and ‘anti-Islamic Extremism.’ The EDL also have clearly documented links with the BNP, BPP, RVF, ‘Aryan Strike Force’ and other far right fantasists despite their by now laughable claims be neither racist nor violent.
The Year So Far
The EDL have had some interesting demonstrations over the last year in various towns and cities. What they actually achieved, beyond ego-boosting publicity, has also been varied. To recap: the Luton incident galvanised the EDL and they followed this up with a series of small fiascos in London and Birmingham, the latter of which the EDL admitted was poor. Result: 35 arrests. They followed this one up with another Brum protest in September. Result: 90 arrests. Their Manchester debut saw a massive police presence, large counter-demonstration and much publicity. The result: £800,000 policing bill, 10 injuries and 44 arrests. At Leeds, there was a huge police presence costing £375,000 and 8 arrests. At the same time their ‘southern divisions’ planned a counter-demonstration in London against a radical Islamic faction which ended in a pub fight with Combat 18. Result: serious schisms between the EDL and the porcine vanguard of the far right. In November, the Welsh Defence League (comprising mainly of Bolton Wanderers fans it seems) organised a 40 strong fiasco in Wrexham. Result: 4 arrests and many perplexed locals. Their previous Welsh adventure was similarly farcical and disrupted by Nazis. North of the border has proved equally maladroit. In Glasgow their “big success” was actually only 120 lads. According to Casuals United many supporters from England were stopped by cops en route. To add to their woes, some of the ‘leadership’ were arrested and had their homes searched and computers seized. This is all very well but the EDL do not necessarily need them: the members can simply announce a date on the website and RV point and take it from there. The EDL is more autonomous and fragmented than the police think and many ignore the ‘leaderships’ pleas.
The Nottingham demonstration proved to be costly and eventful with the EDL kettled in a pub and then by the castle. Result: £1/2 million police bill, 11 arrests and many photographs of patriots urinating on a national monument. The Stoke demo showed the EDL in their true colours (sort of pasty, pale and lager flecked): it ended with supporters fighting the cops and then rampaging through an Asian area. This caused much consternation on the EDL forum with members slamming those who rioted and sieg-heiled in a beer induced frenzy. In March the EDL caused a major disruption in Bolton with about 2,000 attending. Result: heavy policing and lots of anti-fascists nicked. Although 2,000 is a serious number, their successive demos have never increased beyond this. There was also a small EDL demo outside parliament which faced militant opposition. An April demo in Aylesbury – ‘the first of many’ – saw around 2,000 again, 12 arrests and not much else. 2 of the EDL also ‘occupied’ the proposed site of a mega-mosque which was almost completely ignored by the national media and proved to be a wash out. The EDL were to hold a demo in Walsall in June but they have apparently called it off. The recent demo in Newcastle saw about 600 EDL confronted by a much larger counter-demo and they were well contained. The EDL intend to demonstrate in Bradford soon which will no doubt cause trouble: Muslim youth are bound to react to this blatant provocation. Which is the intention. Why the cops are allowing this when Bradford youth have a proven track record of militancy is only 1 question.
The State & The EDL
Many are the claims on the various left and far-right websites that the EDL are ‘state’ designed to draw in and contain violent racists and discredit the far right in general. Wherever the EDL gather they are heavily monitored by the cops, often filmed individually during dispersals, and it is no surprise that the pubs they meet in for their ‘static protest’ are Wetherspoons which are all equipped with CCTV. It is not unlikely that the cops seize any footage taken. It also requires no stretch of the imagination to believe that the state have their informants and infiltrators, as they have had in the BNP for many years, and know what is going on. Bully for the state. There is also the Sheffield question. Although these are only unsubstantiated rumours several commentators are asking what happened in Sheffield between the cops and the EDL? The ‘leadership’ were arrested and taken to Sheffield police station no doubt by Special Branch/MI5 rather than uniform. Was there a deal? We’ll go easy on the ‘moderate’ EDL you if you give us info on the serious hooligans, or even better Nazis who the ‘leadership’ want shut of anyway. Any information gratefully received.
Are the EDL just another violent Nazi outfit like Combat 18? No. Despite the far-right’s usual antipathy to plurality and multi-culturalism, the EDL is quite a mixed bunch and not a unified organisation in the least. The EDL is a broad alliance of football hooligans who cannot fight at matches anymore, fascists and angry but directionless youths. Inter-firm rivalries have so far been contained, as they are at most England games, but whether this will continue we shall see. The presence of the EDL youth leader and the Sikh bloke is not unanimously approved of and not everyone who goes on the demos are ‘members’ but casual racists out simply to get pissed and have a ruck. It is these ‘fringe’ elements that ignore the EDL ‘leaderships’ protestations over non-violence and Plod co-operation: once the lager is in full flow they can’t help throwing out the Nazi salutes, having a confab with the cops and breaking out of the kettles and cordons to put a few windows in. The EDL ‘leadership’, media savvy as they are, get into a flap about this and keep reiterating that they are ‘not racist.’ Which we all believe.
The BNP have proscribed the EDL but there is firm evidence of BNP members attending demos. Combat 18, after the central London fracas are not speaking to the EDL until they say sorry. The microscopic BPP, who are centred round Yorkshire will no doubt be putting their gluebags down and hobbling along to the forthcoming Bradford venture. The Aryan Strike Force is still reeling from the prison sentences handed down to the Newcastle father and son terror-clown act and the likes of Wigan Mike, who has attended many of the EDL demos, is no doubt worried over his oncoming court case in connection with their website.
The EDL & The Nazis
Opinion on the various far right forums is divided. The eager ones, hankering after the ‘glory days’ of the BM and the NF, are up for street level confrontation; the older ones are either jealous of the EDL’s numbers, claim state interference or are horrified by the Israeli flag waving and the even more blatant demo at the Israeli embassy this week. The Israeli flag is used to wind up Muslims but some far-righters claim that there is a larger Zionist conspiracy afoot involving Alan Lake who bankrolls the EDL. But there again, they say that about everyone including Nick Griffin so we shall see.
The counter-demonstrations have met with various success. That there are schisms on the left is no surprise: we have the respectable and controllable UAF, community groups and the more militant anti-fascists amongst others. Due to the EDL’s political naivety they see all opposition groups as ‘commies’ and Muslim community leaders, Weyman Bennett, SWP and anarchists as one and the same. They do not see that there is as broad a spectrum on the left as there is in their own ranks. This often embarrassing naivety of the EDL also construes that those who oppose them are therefore pro-Muslim which is clearly not the case: what many anti-fascists object to are pissed up gangs of racists coming into their communities to cause trouble.
The EDL love the ego-boosting publicity (and we are aware that this article will be read by them): many football hooligans keep scrapbooks of ‘victories’ and ‘taking liberties’ and they will no doubt be pleased by the recent BBC3 documentary painting them out to be a significant political force. Although we must not discount the threat, the demos for many are simply the chance to drink, fight and cause a bit of mayhem to enhance their reputations amongst peers. If Bradford goes ahead there will no doubt be serious violence as well as publicity, heavy manners policing and a large bill for the community to cover. Which is exactly what the EDL want. More little pictures for their scrapbooks, more coverage on TV and more war stories to boast about in the pub. Anti-fascists! Organise!
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Update: from the Jewish Chronicle:
The EDL mission statement says the new division is for “Jewish supporters of the EDL, and supporters of Jewish people everywhere. We are non-racist/fascist and anyone is welcome if they want to live under English values and fully integrate into our way of life”.
Last September the EDL brandished the Israeli flag at a demonstration and called on supporters to launch a counter-protest against a pro-Hizbollah march in Trafalgar Square.
Mark Gardner, CST communications director, said: “The EDL intimidate entire Muslim communities, causing tension and fear. Jews ought to remember that we have long experience of being on the receiving end of this kind of bigotry.”
Jon Benjamin, Board of Deputies chief executive, said: “The EDL’s supposed ‘support’ for Israel is empty and duplicitous. It is built on a foundation of Islamophobia and hatred which we reject entirely.