So the English Defence League (EDL) held a rally in Stoke-On-Trent this weekend (Caturday January 23). Between 300 (Press Association) and 1,500 (BBC) came out to play, UAF assembled 300 in opposition, and the police arrested 15 (or possibly 5 or even 17).
Moar photos here.
The EDL has been keeping Malatesta the friendly anti-fascist ghost very busy: it’s amazing what a dead Italian electrician is capable of.
EDL Riot In Stoke
January 24, 2010
Following the violence, vandalism and arrests in Stoke yesterday the EDL have very mixed feelings about what happened. Despite a strong turnout the trouble has created a lot of bad publicity and schisms amongst supporters. However, there are also serious lessons for anti-fascists.
“Stoke today was a disaster. We rioted. We throw bottles. We attacked police. Some people were racist.” ~ EDL forum.
As expected the EDL gathered at the RV point at the train station and were taken by the cops to Wetherspoon’s where they were able to drink under close scrutiny. According to one EDL forum poster there was trouble in the pub between two firms: “we tried to break it up right away, but the c**ts on the bottom floor throwing s**t did not help.” Outside there were some speeches through an apparently feeble PA system and some got restless and tried to break out to march. According to the EDL forum, the police started to kettle them into a smaller and smaller space, there was a clash with the cops and this sparked off wider unrest with the EDL fighting the police and throwing things at them. The EDL forum claims heavy-handed policing and there is no need to doubt this. The EDL represent a volatile challenge to the police who know they are up for confrontation which naturally makes the cops nervous and over-react. Anyone who has been on a rowdy demo or attended a football match will have experienced this.
“Uncontrolled violence. Rioting. Vandalism. All committed in the name of the EDL.” ~ EDL forum.
As the demo dispersed 500 EDL marched through a predominantly Asian area smashing windows and damaging cars which led to further clashes with the police. According to the BBC there were 17 arrests, 1,500 EDL, 300 UAF, and 600 cops. The EDL’s website still claims to be “peacefully protesting against militant Islam” but yesterday’s behaviour makes this statement nonsense. Stoke was always going to be a potential problem with a strong football firm and local BNP support and the EDL made a concerted effort to get there in numbers yesterday. The police created the pre-conditions for the trouble: putting them in the pub, kettling them and increasing the pressure. Then it kicks off. The police were outnumbered yesterday and the EDL took liberties climbing on and then almost turning over a police van which will no doubt have infuriated the cops.
‘Lamppost Incident’: The EDL Reaction
There are mixed reactions on the EDL forum with some of the moderates calling for better organisation and exclusion of known trouble makers and some worried about band-wagon jumpers simply turning up to kick off with the cops. Supporters are also concerned over the alcohol fuelled aggression and calling for internal policing, even handing over unruly elements to the cops – which is not going to please the extremists as this is tantamount to grassing. One poster listed the reasons for the trouble: “EDL [in-]fighting. Football firms fighting, attacking the police. Police equipment stolen. Police vans turned over. Lamppost incidents. Racial chants. Speeches not being respected. People not shutting up during a one minute silence. The occasional Nazi salute.”
The view from the inside is pretty much the view from the outside and it lists the kind of behaviour that has been witnessed at every EDL demo so far. Forum members are calling for official membership cards but this could be dangerous if the list falls into the wrong hands as the BNP membership leaks showed. As of this time, the EDL leadership have yet to make a statement about Stoke.
There was the usual sieg heil-ing despite the leadership’s requests not to. The EDL still deny any far right links and on the forum there is resentment of the Nazi presence which could lead to a repeat of yesterday’s infighting. The EDL are ranged right across the far right spectrum with supporters ranging from ‘patriotic’ to the Nazi nutjobs out for violence. The moderate EDLers are clearly worried over the effect the Nazis have on public perception. They are also wary of agent provocateurs and there is state interest. A skinhead in full regalia being interviewed by TV was deemed suspect: “Without a doubt he was a plant. I know his ilk and have met his doppelganger (same s**t same person just can’t prove it) many times before.”
The EDL is increasing its support on the streets and the demonstrations are increasing in violence and confrontation. However, they are also operating in the short-term. Whilst meeting up for a drink and a crack at the cops and opponents is all good clean fun they are increasing the pressure for the further curbing of civil rights and increasing the likelihood of demonstrations being banned. The government has also raised the level of Terror Alert to Dangerous which has implications for any form of dissent, particularly anti-war demonstrations. The EDL are also attempting to legitimise Islamophobia which similarly helps the government’s agenda as the support for the Afghanistan and Iraq situation is waning and the election draws nigh. The EDL supports the state case for more legislation, surveillance and aggressive policing. The left and far right have both accused the EDL of being state engineered and it is difficult to not suspect this given the stated facts.
There is also the prospect of the EDL filling the vacuum created by Nick Griffin on the far right. As far right antipathy to the BNP increases over finances, jobs for the boys, the non-white membership issue and suspicions over the legitimacy of Griffin as a leader, the EDL are in a position to capitalise on it politically. By organising a political party they will no doubt attract the more extremist voters and benefit from general anti-Muslim sentiment in certain areas. This could also operate as a right wing vote splitting tactic which could well be part of the state agenda. Whether the EDL members have the political will to sustain election campaigns is doubtful unless they can attract former BNP organisers used to generating local supporters.
Learning The Lesson
The anti-fascist turnout yesterday was dismal. Only 300 assorted UAF, community leaders and anti-fascists turned out compared to 1,500 EDL. The EDL tried to break through the police lines to get at the protestors but the cops held firm. Luckily for the anti-fascists as there would have been serious violence. Having the cops protecting anti-fascists gathered in such small numbers is not good. The next official EDL demo is in Dudley on April 4th but there are intimations that Oldham and other towns may see the EDL gather in the more immediate future. Anti-fascists need to get organised to stop them gathering momentum and oppose them in much greater numbers.
The English Defence League is holding a demo in Stoke today which, whilst inevitably causing disruption, will get support from the Stoke football firm the Naughty 40 and associated hooligans, unaffiliated youths looking for trouble and BNP supporters in one of their key areas.
It’s been an interesting week for the EDL: not content with today’s demonstration, four members were jailed for the initial Luton demo, divisions within the ranks have been highlighted and Amit Singh, the EDL’s ‘Sikh activist’, has been outed for racist comments. The EDL will be meeting at Stoke train station at 11.30 where they will no doubt be contained by the cops. Already there has been disagreement on the EDL forum about liaising with the police with some supporters urging a more confrontational policy: “we should have no cooperation with the pigs” and “we will f**k over the police.” The EDL will be escorted to Wetherspoon’s where they will be confined for a few hours to drink and shout before being escorted back again. There is a likelihood that the local BNP will turn up to canvass the area. The chances of actual confrontation at the main demo are drastically reduced given the usual police presence. At previous demos in Glasgow and Manchester, EDL supporters have been prevented from joining the main mob and confrontations with these strays unable to get to the RV point on time has occurred. Unity recently reported schisms in the EDL with ‘spiritual leader’ Paul Ray ostracised by extremist factions, Kelway and Joel Titus still flying the ‘multiracial’ flag and hardcore Nazis like Heaton and Pinkham maintaining the nut job presence. There is always the possibility of inter-firm rivalries boiling over. As yet all the firms have put their differences aside but it only needs some outrage like the Thierry Henry handball incident to spark off resentments.
The good people of Stoke are having a hard time in the recession with high unemployment; the predicted public sector cuts are not going to help matters: these factors create fertile ground for the BNP who also flag up fears over immigration (as do the mainstream press). Despite Stoke being a BNP stronghold all is not well. In the past they have managed to keep Nick Griffin and central HQ at arm’s length whilst building up a solid base of support. However, the local council group leader Alby Walker quit his post over ‘ideological differences’ and the opportunist Simon Darby has been sent in to contest the general election. Having an outsider dropped in to capitalise on their efforts has annoyed the relatively independent branch. The question now is – will Walker stand against Darby thus splitting the racist vote and sending a message to Griffin whilst doing so? Historically, bitter infighting and ego-clashes have always damaged the far right at crucial times.
The EDL & The BNP
The BNP continue to deny any links with the EDL in the same way they deny any expose: by saying ‘not true’ and then not proving it. The EDL still deny having BNP members amongst them despite the fact that so many BNP members are photographed at demos and the continued denials are beginning to lack conviction. They may not be a BNP ‘front group’ but the BNP can only benefit from the publicity and airing of resentments as the EDL attempt to legitimise racist views. The EDL may fly Israeli flags and multi-racial placards but this is either provocation, irony or smokescreen.
Anti-Fascism: Lessons From The Past
In their political naivety the EDL still see UAF, Muslim community groups and Antifa as the same thing. Antifa is not there to ‘support Islam’ but to operate in an anti-fascist role. The EDL is a fascist street gang who intimidate local people, Muslims and political opponents alike: although there are local football firms involved the majority of the EDL come from outside. The EDL black shirt/hoodies, violence, nationalism, racism and intolerance are all synonymous with fascism and historically the battle against fascism has been on the streets as much as the ballot box. Whether the EDL deny being fascist or not they are doing the work of fascists, using exactly the same tactics as fascists and are fired by the same hatred as fascists.
In the 1920s, Mussolini’s Fascists maintained a violent campaign against the left and rose to power despite the best efforts of the Arditi del Popolo — anti-fascist defence squads — to counter this, most notably at the battle of Parma in 1922. In the UK in the 1930s, Mosley’s BUF followed the same strategy by holding confrontational street meetings in working class areas which were frequently broken up by anti-fascists and communists. Mosley was protected by his [Elite 1 Squad/the ‘Biff Boys’] bodyguard knowing full well that he could be forced from the streets: his political arena (as it is the EDL’s) not having access to the Parliament of conventional politics. The fascist leadership were interned in 1940 under the Defence Regulation 18b ruling. Hitler gained power through a combination of populist rhetoric and the Brownshirt’s intimidation of opponents. This was not helped by a catastrophic schism between communists and socialists. After WWII, despite the ‘defeat of fascism’ (apart from Spain of course), Mosley returned with his virulently anti-Semitic street meetings which were violently confronted by the 43 Group. In the 1960s, the fascist street presence was similarly countered by the 62 Group. In the 1970s, following the rise of the National Front and repeated attacks on left wing meetings and SWP paper sales, the militant anti-fascist Squads came into existence and successfully checked fascist aggression, particularly in Manchester and London. However, given the increasing autonomy of these militant anti-fascist groups the SWP leadership proscribed ‘Squaddists’ as counter-productive and expelled key members who went on to form Red Action. After various convolutions and affiliations Red Action joined with anarchists and other more independently minded anti-fascists to form Anti Fascist Action (AFA). AFA successfully challenged the fascist street presence and the BNP changed their strategy declaring “no more meetings, marches, punch ups.”
So, the message to anti-fascists is clear: the EDL are using the same tactics that fascism has always used by maintaining a hostile and intimidating street presence to push their racist views and as history holds lessons for the fascists so it holds lessons for us: the EDL must be opposed wherever they meet!
English Scottish Defence League is holding an anti-Muslim rally in Edinburgh on February 20; Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance is not. happy. The ‘Australian Defence League’, on the other hand, has yet to organise any rallies, but it does have a Facebook. The absence of football firms (or their equivalent) to provide them with warm bodies is an obstacle for the Australian-based bigots, but if Alan Jones can once again be convinced to lead the charge against Middle Eastern grubs, a Worker’s Paradise is once again surely just around the bend.