EDL in meltdown: end for Britain’s far-right street movement?
East London Anti-Fascist celebrates the collapse of the EDL but warns against complacency
It’s been an eventful few months for the English Defence League. On 1st September, as reported previously, the EDL were sent packing from Walthamstow by about 3,000 campaigners and local residents. The stakes were thereby raised – the EDL ‘leadership’ (for want of a better term) knew that to accept this humiliation would have meant a crisis in their ranks due to their handling of the débâcle.
They had been stopped in Tower Hamlets, and in Walthamstow too.
They were determined to even the score.
EDL 0 – Anti-fascists 2
A call went out for another EDL march on 27th October, this one promising to be “bigger and better” than before. Activists were once again determined to stop them, this time promising a national mobilisation. In the meantime, the Home Secretary issued a ban on marches and protests in Waltham Forest and its surrounding boroughs under Section 13 of the Public Order Act. This was allegedly due to police intelligence that the EDL were planning violence. Not that the EDL were trying to keep their intent to cause a race riot hidden; the Nottingham EDL Division openly bragged about it on twitter.
The response of Waltham Forest Council was entirely predictable. Whilst it appears for the moment that the police are focusing most of their repressive capacities on keeping the EDL in check, this does not mean that they are on our side in the fight. In fact, the British establishment has a track record of regarding militant anti-racism and anti-fascism as a threat equal to that of the fascists themselves.
So it was not without precedent that the local council set about organising a ‘family fun day’ in Walthamstow Town Square, declaring that because the EDL had been banned from the borough, there was no need to have a political protest. Whilst the aim was in some senses laudable, putting on a ‘family’ event to celebrate the borough’s diversity, it also carried with it a considerable de-politicisation of the issue. Equally, at that point, nobody had any idea whether or not the EDL would turn up mob-handed with violent intent, so the actions of the council were plainly irresponsible.
To their credit, the We Are Waltham Forest anti-fascist campaign pressed ahead with the demonstration, and issued a statement which declared that rumours that a protest had been called off – put about by the council – were false. The protest was still on. They further contested that the ban did not apply to the anti-EDL protest and that it was entirely legal. If the EDL did make an attempt to enter the borough, locals would once again be ready.
On the day, the council made sure that the Town Square was out of bounds to protesters, complete with fairground rides and private security guards telling people they weren’t allowed to give out leaflets on their patch.
Nevertheless, the police acquiesced to a protest rally which blocked and occupied Hoe Street (a big main road) for several hours. Whilst the turnout was significantly lower than on the 1st September, the crowd was still representative of the local community, with trade union banners, community campaigners, the socialist left, and local residents making up the bulk of the protest.
The protest was entirely peaceful, save for a crowd which pushed through police lines to march a short distance down Hoe Street. A local vicar described the council’s family fun day as a “farce”, whilst a We Are Waltham Forest campaigner declared that the reason why the EDL had been banned from the area was because the police knew that “there would be at least 7,000 people on the streets of Walthamstow against the EDL”.
In the event, the EDL made no organised attempt to enter Walthamstow. Searchlight reports that protesters “spotted six to eight thuggish EDL types wondering around and made it clear they were unwelcome.” So much for their intention to conquer Walthamstow.
Whilst the government had banned the EDL from marching in East London, they instead offered them a police kettle in Westminster. By all accounts, only 60-80 EDL supporters bothered to turn up. Before being penned in by the police, some EDL members tried to return to the Red Lion pub in Whitehall, where the year before the EDL had been subjected to a mass arrest on Armistice Day for being violent, drunk and abusive.
When they did finally hold their excuse for a rally, their designated pen looked eerily empty, heavily outnumbered by police, journalists and bemused tourists. There were no speeches and no PA system. They were rained on and looked thoroughly miserable. The only piece of provocation came when a piece of cloth with Arabic writing on it was burned – quite why, and what the writing on this particular piece of cloth said, is anybody’s guess.
It should be remembered that this was a national mobilisation, the EDL’s big comeback event.
Despite their boasts of cutting with the grain of populist venom against Muslims, this was the most they could muster.
This should contrast with the more than 100,000 people who marched against cuts and austerity the previous Saturday, and the thousands attending the Anarchist Bookfair a few miles down the road in Mile End.
The EDL are going nowhere.
This can further be seen by the latest round of in-fighting within their ranks.
The latest casualty of this in-fighting appears to be the ‘leader’ of the Essex Division, who has been sacked because of a low turnout from Essex members at the Westminster kettle. Indeed the EDL are, at present, effectively leaderless.
EDL in meltdown
One of the reasons for the miserable turnout on 27th October is no doubt because 53 EDL thugs, complete with matching balaclavas, were arrested on 20th October on their way to attack mosques in London. This apparently includes some of their leading lights. There is no doubt that the EDL are highly infiltrated these days, since the police were lying in wait on the hard shoulder. These individuals were banned from entering East London under their bail conditions. So that’s quite a few EDL members who were unable to attend their much-vaunted comeback.
In another twist, EDL stalwart Kevin Carroll had his house raided by the police for allegedly playing a role in organising this ill-fated action, despite the fact that he was not in the back of the van with the rest. Carroll is, somewhat ironically, also the British Freedom Party candidate for the upcoming election of Police and Crime Commissioner in Bedfordshire . He is on record as commenting on Facebook that Muslims are “backward savages” and that Islam is “a devil spawned death cult worshiping all that is unholy and barbaric, pure evil”. Given that electoral commission guidelines state that it is an offence to publish or distribute race hate material, Carroll will presumably be standing down.
The other prominent EDL member arrested in the van was none other than their ‘leader’ Tommy Robinson, or to give him his real name, Steven Lennon. Alone among the group he has been remanded in custody and is due to appear at Southwark Crown Court in January. He is charged with causing a public nuisance, as well as assaulting an Islamic preacher, apparently on the very morning morning of his arrest. He is also charged with document fraud due to attempting to enter the United States on 10th September under a false passport under the alias ‘Andrew McMaster’. This is not without some logic, since he was refused entry into the United States in 2010 due to his criminal record, hence the need for a false passport.
To many people this would be risky, if not reckless. What’s even odder is that, in the aftermath of the EDL defeat on 1st September, Tommy repeatedly tweeted and posted – under the name of Tommy Robinson – that he had no money, was not being paid, and had handed his passport into the police before he went to America. Once in America, he made sure everyone knew it, boasting of meeting New York senator David Storobin. Quite why anyone would do that when they had just told the world they had given up their passport is beyond reason. Tommy then flew to Italy to give a hate speech in Florence, again, without money or financial backers, or even a passport.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Tommy was arrested and remanded in custody once caught, but not before he had resigned his position in the EDL’s ‘political’ wing, the British Freedom Party. The EDL are now trying to portray Tommy as some sort of political prisoner, a martyr for the EDL cause. Even on the Westminster kettle, chants of “freedom for Tommy” were faintly heard amidst the tumbleweed. If it weren’t true, you couldn’t make it up.
Let’s drive home the advantage
Why does all this minutiae matter? On one level, it clearly doesn’t – the intrigues of lunatics on the British far right can seem like a distraction from the work the activist left needs to do to defeat the cuts. On another level, though, it is important to expose the goings-on within the EDL so that they can never, ever make the transition to respectability. Over the last years they have threatened to make that breakthrough, but they have been pushed back by the combination of vigorous anti-fascist protest and their very public utterances of hard-right racist hate, which naturally undermined their claim to be a respectable movement. We shouldn’t let their current crisis breed complacency. It is precisely when they are lying in the gutter that they need to be kicked back, in order to ensure they don’t get back up again and fight. They need to be exposed for the violent and inept criminals they are.
Let’s be clear – the EDL are thugs with a race hate agenda. Whilst their periphery is not by any means a defined fascist one, its leaders have clear and documented links with various fascist outfits, including the BNP and National Front. Anyone who doubts this should look here.
Still not convinced?
Then consider what EDL members have tweeted and blogged about the recent shooting of 14 year old anti-Taliban activist Malala Yousafzi. According to the EDL she is “a piece of shit” and “free loading trash” (sic) for having the temerity to be flown to a UK hospital for life-saving treatment after being shot in the head. And this is directed at someone who has opposed the Taliban. There could be no clearer proof that the EDL is not a single-issue campaign against Islamic ‘fundamentalism’. Their agenda is to foment racial and religious hatred against all Muslims, and that’s just for starters. Our victories in Walthamstow have hastened their imminent demise – let’s ensure we keep those victories coming and drive the final nail into their coffin.