Fascists outnumbered in Croydon
In the early hours of Saturday, 27 July, black-cladded men and women meet in Windrush Square, Brixton, as part of the South London Antifascists network (SLAF). This was “set up in 2008 by Battersea & Wandsworth and Croydon Trades Union Councils to work towards real solutions to the problems that the fascists exploit” (source).
Towards 10am they take a bus heading to Croydon, with intent to stop the fascist English Volunteer Force (EVF) from demonstrating in front of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) centre. They are followed from Brixton to Croydon by a police van, which stops every so often in front of the bus, reminding all aboard that they are not moving freely.
As the group arrives at the UKBA Lunar House building, the EVF is still nowhere to be seen, though there are rumours of nine fascists at East Croydon station. Protesters debate on what to do. They do not want to join the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) demonstration pen, as they fear being kettled and not being able to prevent the EVF from marching to the building. Police immediately prevent them from setting camp on the opposite site of UAF pen, but the SLAF crew jump over traffic barriers and evade police lines, ending up around 150 feet away from Lunar House.
Despite there being no sign of the EVF contingent at this stage, there were almost 3 police officers on the ground for each antifascist activist. It was an uncommon scene. Two antifascist groups, standing on different corners, surrounded by police vans, and no nazi in sight.
Towards noon, a small group of fascists was escorted by the police to the site. These were mostly middle-aged white men, perhaps drunk, certainly loud and vulgar. They were accompanied by less than five women and a few youngsters. In total they looked like less than 40 people. They were eventually brought to a small pen close to the UKBA building.
What follows is an hour of chanting by the antifascists, and shouts and nazi salutes by the EVF. While both UAF and SLAF groups keep in high spirits, the openly Islamophobic, “counter-jihad street resistance” group (as per their Facebook page) slumbers through xenophobic, patriotic cries. Their only attempts to confront antifascist demonstrators take place on route to the demonstration pen.
First, two EVF members attack photographers. Then, in a conceited and erratic act, fascists attempt to rip an antifascist banner off the traffic rails, but were immediately stopped by SLAF activists and later ceased by police. Neither of these thuggish acts were followed by arrest or legal prosecution, showing once again that the police hold allegiance with the fascist scum. In stark contrast, two SLAF supporters were violently arrested after verbal confrontations with the police.
The EVF was eventually escorted by police back to the train station, allegedly to be sent to Woolwich. The SLAF group headed to Deptford to stop the nazis from marching from there to Westminster, as they had publicly announced earlier. Unfortunately, around four hours later, some more violent members were spotted around central London, parading in front of Downing Street, seemingly immune to police arrest. They were once again confronted by antifascists, some of which SLAF and Anonymous UK supporters. UAF and further activists who had gone to Westminster to support the Trayvon Martin solidarity demonstration were also reported involved in chasing the fascists out of the scene. At least six antifa protesters were arrested that evening.
The EVF is a mysterious force, which has denied any links to the English Defence League (EDL) and proclaims itself a “not racist” organisation. Like many other supposed splinter groups from the EDL and the British National Party, they became more publicly visible and far more vocal after the killing of the Woolwich barracks’ soldier, Lee Rigby. In fact, some of their banners are entirely dedicated to Rigby, heralding him as somewhat of a martyr for the “British traditions” they say to defend. Their actions are barely organised, resuming themselves to vitriolic calls for patriotism via YouTube videos, and diatribes on social media against Islamic values and the Left. They may not seem a threatening force, but they have been gaining traction with the vilest flanks of the fascist movement.
This weekend’s demonstrations were slight victories when considering the danger posed by the fascist appeal. Particularly young, white working class men, disengaged from society and isolated in their poverty fall under the spiel of white supremacists. There is an urgent need to dispel the notion that racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, sexist or any other kind of prejudiced actions will be tolerated in our communities and on our streets. The work of SLAF has been undeniably excellent in reorganising and training antifascist activists in South and South West London, but there is a need for more. The division between antifascist ranks, even if understandable in light of its history, is damaging to the cause. The antiracist and antifascist movement needs plurality of tactics, but united coordination. It needs road-blocks as well as peaceful demonstrations. It needs defensive and offensive strategy, as it needs education, training and community awareness work.
With the growing activity of SLAF and the possible new-found elasticity of UAF supporters one can only hope that joint coordination is not too far away. If that is not the case, soon enough it might become too late not to.
All images by Joana Ramiro