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It takes a nation to protect the nation

The English Defence League: will the flames of hatred spread?
As the English Defence League prepare for a protest in Manchester, who are the members of this fringe organisation? Neil Tweedie investigates

By Neil Tweedie
Published: 7:00AM BST 10 Oct 2009

Members of the English Defence League in Luton Photo: DALE CHERRY
Tommy, spokesman for the English Defence League (EDL), was adamant: there were to be no pictures of him or the other masked men holding the makeshift swastika flag before it was set alight. Otherwise, it might look as though they were supporting Nazism – which, we were assured, they abhorred.

It was both sinister and comic, this nocturnal gathering in a disused office block near the centre of Luton. There were 16 of them, mostly big men in black balaclavas sewn up into masks, wearing black T-shirts sporting the Cross of St George. The location had been kept secret until the last minute to preserve “security”.

The boys of the EDL “Luton Division” were milling about in the half darkness as The Daily Telegraph was shown in. Most appeared a little jumpy, unsure of their role in the coming stunt, but not the man going by the name of Tommy Robinson. He was smaller than most of them, but clearly in charge. Articulate, too. Look around, he said, couldn’t we see there were black men here, as well as whites. This was not a racist organisation.

“We are doing this to challenge Islamic extremists who have been unchallenged in our country for 10 to 15 years. They are recruiting on our streets and colleges and the government is doing nothing.”

While many far-Right groups should not be allowed the oxygen of publicity, the potential menace of the EDL appears to make it an exception.

If you don’t know about the EDL, the chances are you soon will.

The group is due to demonstrate in Manchester today, the latest of a series of outings that have resulted in running street battles with young Muslims and anti-fascist protesters. Another gathering is planned for Leeds, promising more trouble in northern England, following incidents in Luton and Birmingham.

The organisation, if such it can be called, is a child of the internet. Its immediate origin can be traced to March when a small group of Muslim anti-war protesters heckled members of the Royal Anglian Regiment parading through Luton following their return from Iraq. They carried placards, one of which accused the Anglians of being the “Butchers of Basra”.

The protesters were drawn from a small group of Muslim extremists in Luton – Bedfordshire Police say there are just 20 or so in a town that is home to 27,000 Muslims. But their actions were enough to trigger the creation of the EDL, which since then has been a main ingredient in violent confrontations with Muslims and anti-fascists across the country, despite its stated aim of peaceful opposition to Islamist extremism and the imposition in Britain of Sharia.

Incidents include a running battle in Luton in May during which EDL supporters and others attacked property and passers-by in a predominantly Asian area, resulting in 35 arrests. There have also been outbreaks of violence in Birmingham, most recently on September 5 when a collection of overt EDL supporters and hooligans poured into the city centre for a “peaceful” demonstration, before clashing with Muslim youths and anti-fascist campaigners. Penned into a pub by police, the demonstrators chanted “Allah, allah, who the ---- is allah?” They were eventually removed from Birmingham in two double-decker buses, but not before 90 arrests were made.

“There was no intent to protest,” said Sharon Rowe, assistant chief constable of West Midlands Police. “Once there was fighting on streets the EDL just wanted to get out of city.”

The organisation, she said, had been offered the opportunity to demonstrate peacefully in a less sensitive location in the city, and had deliberately ignored it.

The Birmingham incident was followed by more violence in Harrow, north London, when a group of EDL and other anti-Islamic activists attempted to demonstrate outside a mosque, provoking a mass counter-demonstration by Muslims. Ten people were arrested. As a result, a planned EDL rally in Luton on September 19 was banned under an order which prohibits any political marches in the town for three months.

But who are the people who constitute the English Defence League?

The answer lies in a combination of anti-Islamic internet bloggers, who constitute the EDL’s intellectual 'elite’, organised football hooligan 'firms’, who provide the street-fighting muscle, and agitators from the Far Right who spy an opportunity to enflame racial tensions which have grown up around the Muslim community following the bombings in London on July 7 2005.

The EDL claims “thousands” of members in scores of branches, but it is in reality a far more defuse entity, its website serving as a rallying point for a loose network of followers. Its foot soldiers are the 'casuals’ hooligan groups - in Luton it is the MIGS (Men in Gear), supposed supporters of Luton Town FC. Associates include David Cooling, a 26-year-old driver from Luton who is believed to administer the Luton EDL page on the Facebook website.

One of the organization’s principle strategists is a man calling himself Alan Lake, who works as an IT consultant in the City and has helped create the organisation’s intranet. Mr Lake, who is 45, single and originally from the north of England, has advised the Far Right Swedish Democrats on tactics. He told the Daily Telegraph that he became interested in Islamic writings some four years ago through a love of Arabic music and became alarmed by the religion’s “supremacist” aspect.

“I learned that you can’t afford to stay asleep and there is a problem that is not going to go away. The texts are an ideology preaching racism and fascism.”

Mr Lake admits to having met Robinson and some 10 other EDL supporters, but denies any connection to the Far Right. The political class, he says, has caved in to Muslim pressure at the expense of basic freedoms.

“We are worn out with words, you need to have people on the streets. You have to get the message out.”

Lake is seeking to harness football hooligan 'firms’ by timing demonstrations to coincide with matches, yet denies an intent to cause violence.

“These guys are prepared to demonstrate, and they are already there because there is a match. This is a dirty, nasty, difficult struggle and you have to work with what is available.”

And the racist, anti-Muslim chanting?

“If a dog got kicked, would you expect it bark or lodge an official complaint? You can’t expect everybody to be an articulate, middle-class intellectual. You have a bunch of people here who are no longer represented by the Government. They are ignored and used and abused, and relegated to second class status by an ideology which is racist.”

The BNP has designated the EDL a “proscribed organisation” but, according to the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, that is standard practice for the party when attempting to establish 'deniability’.

“There should be no underestimating the potential damage this disorder can cause,” says Nick Lowles, the magazine’s editor. “We only have to remember the events of 2001 to see how the actions of small groups of white racists triggered three riots which ripped apart communities and catapulted the British National Party into national prominence.”

Back in the clandestine EDL gathering in Luton, they had brought along a black shirt to burn as well - in response to an attack by John Denham, the communities secretary, who had likened the League to Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts.

The rule, though, is: never perform with children, animals or Nazi flags. Try as the man with cigarette lighter might, the flag stubbornly refused to ignite, hanging down in its embarrassing entirety, barely smouldering at the edge. Even the boys of the EDL couldn’t resist a laugh at this public relations cock-up. Eventually, one of their number seized a can of petrol and - whoosh! - up it went.

“There are no racists or fascists in the English Defence League,” said one. “We are black and white, united. The proof is in the pudding.”

The 'pudding’ being the black members present, none of whom appeared entirely clear why they were here. Questions about their reasons for affiliating with the EDL raised only mumbled answers. The statements read out by the ringleaders were a shade more eloquent.

“The word fascist has been bandied about without any evidence of us being so,” said one. “This we see as an irresponsible act. Leave us to peaceful protest - our democratic right.”

Tommy continued: “We have been labelled as Nazis and racists, but we are not. The easiest way for the Government and the Islamic community to deal with this problem is to label us as Nazis.”

Why the intimidating paramilitary-style balaclavas?

“Every town that has an Islamic community has a group of mad-mullah extremists.”

Another leading member, who uses the name Howard, has said that the “main focus” of his job in the group is to remove racist comments from its message board, such is the number of offensive views it attracts.

This week dozens of group members were also told by the leadership to remove themselves from an anti-Muslim internet group which had as its logo a montage of Osama bin Laden and a monkey.

The EDL, according to Tommy, had 3,700 members. Membership cards would soon be issued and yearly subs charged. The aim was to force people like Anjem Choudary, founder of two banned Islamist groups, from campaigning on the streets of Britain. Faced with the possibility of violence during his appearances, the Government would eventually be forced to act.

The threat posed to public order by groups such as the EDL is not yet clear, but it is not only ad hoc, internet-generated groups that pose a risk. In the last 18 months, two Far Right extremists have been have been convicted of planning bomb attacks against Muslim targets. Both were 'lone wolves’ - men who had built crude explosive devices alone in their homes - and who were caught purely by chance by officers investigating other offences. Others may be out there, their views fed by Far Right propaganda on the web.

Luton has already had a taste of such amateurish, yet potentially lethal, terrorism. In May, the Islamic centre in Bury Park Road, one of the more liberal Muslim institutions in Luton, was fire-bombed.

Farasat Latif, secretary of the centre, said a number of threats from extremists had been received. “People say for the first time that they feel vulnerable,” he said.

Robinson sees it differently. “Everybody is treading on eggshells all the time, trying not to offend the Islamic community,” he said, as his boys headed into the darkness.

“How do you think it went?” he asked later, in a text message, about the flag burning. It seemed better not to answer.

The EDL had eventually managed to get its Nazi flag to go up in flames. The question is whether it can ignite racial and religious tensions in Britain’s Muslim enclaves.

Tags: EDL, on, -, 2009, Clippings, Mainstream, Media, Oct, Press, Reports

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Replies to This Discussion

Daily Mail

Hundreds of protesters face-off at anti-Islamic demonstrationBy Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 11:44 AM on 11th October 2009
More than 2,000 people took to the streets in political demonstrations in Manchester yesterday.

Anti-Islamic protesters from the English Defence League (EDL) were involved in a face-off with counter-campaigners from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) at the city's Piccadilly Gardens.
A line of police officers, dogs and mounted police separated the two groups. Police said 30 people had been arrested on suspicion of public order offences, including one on suspicion of carrying a weapon.
Anti-Islamic protesters from the English Defence League (EDL) were involved in a face-off with counter-campaigners from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) in Manchester today
Four men were arrested ahead of the demonstration in a bid to avert problems. The clashes were the latest of a series involving the EDL, which has provoked angry confrontations in Birmingham and London in recent weeks.

The EDL said it was taking to the streets in Manchester to protest against radical Islam and extremists. Its supporters carried placards reading 'Patriotism Is Not Racism' and 'No More Mosques In England'.
30 people have been arrested as hundreds of anti-Islamic and anti-fascist protesters clashed in Manchester
The two factions stood on opposite sides of Piccadilly Gardens, which was blockaded by police officers in fluorescent jackets.
A UAF protester shouted through a megaphone: 'There's many more of us than you,' and the crowd sang 'Who are you?'.

A small group of EDL protesters walked among the throng of shoppers chanting: 'We love our country.'
The sight of a Union flag angered supporters of the UAF, prompting a large number of protesters to go in search of its holder.
A police dog bites a protester during the conflict today
Small-scale disruption took place on the streets of the city centre, causing riot officers wearing hard helmets and carrying batons to go running after suspects.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said two men were arrested on suspicion of public order and one on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon.
A 39-year-old man, who was believed to be travelling to Manchester, was arrested in Birmingham on suspicion of distributing racially aggravated material and possessing cocaine.
Members of the right-wing English Defence League brandished a Union flag as they goaded protesters from Unite Against Fascism
Riot police separated the two groups in Piccadilly Gardens
Police issued a stern message to troublemakers. Chief Superintendent Gerry Donnellan said: 'If people come to Manchester to protest they are legally entitled to do so.
'As soon as they step over the line between lawful protest then we will be taking positive action against those individuals.
'If you are going to come to Manchester and think you can get away with shouting racist, inflammatory remarks, you can expect us to respond.'
Chf Supt Donnellan said there would be a 'significant spotting operation' for known troublemakers with back-up from CCTV.

The problems flared ahead of the English Defence League's planned rally at 5pm
The UAF had earlier indicated that they planned to occupy Piccadilly Gardens to 'keep the EDL out'.
EDL demonstrators had planned to meet there at 5pm for an address by an 'expert speaker', followed by a two-minute silence for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They planned to sing the national anthem.
The organisation denies it is racist. In a statement on its website it says it is a 'multi-ethnic, multi-faith organisation'.
English Defence League members carried banners bearing the slogan 'No Sharia Here'

Read more:
Manchester Evening News
Ten injured in EDL protest in Manchester
October 10, 2009

TEN people were injured and 44 people arrested in the English Defence League protest in Manchester city centre.

Police imposed a lockdown around Piccadilly Gardens as EDL demonstrators faced off against Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

The two factions stood on opposite sides separated by a police line with officers on horseback and in riot gear.

EDL supporters, who oppose “radical Islam” and Sharia law made Nazi salutes and sang patriotic songs, while UAF protesters maintained a non-stop anti-fascist chant. Sticks and railing were thrown.

EDL protest in Manchester as it happened

Both sides traded insults and there were regular surges against the police line. There were several hundred EDL protesters and more than 1,000 from the UAF. Pockets of trouble broke out but were quickly stopped by police.

The stand-off continued for about four and a half hours on Saturday afternoon. Shops were closed around the Piccadilly area.

Around 4.30pm some UAF protesters began to disperse. Shortly before 5pm police moved the EDL supporters off Piccadilly Gardens and escorted them to bus and train stations.

Ten people were hurt, one seriously. They were taken to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and North Manchester General. Three people were suffering from dog bites.

Greater Manchester Police arrested 44 men. Twenty-nine were arrested on suspicion of public order offences, four were arrested for affray, three for possession of an offensive weapon – one of whom was also arrested for possession of drugs. Three men were arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences. Five were arrested for on suspicion of breach of the peace.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “I would like to thank all those people who came to Manchester today and protested peacefully for their patience and understanding.


“I’d also like to commend the vast majority for demonstrating in a peaceful manner.

“However, the history of protest has been marred, by those who came intent on violent confrontation.

“GMP has ensured that despite the significant size of the protest, life in the city went on as normal.”

Deputy leader of Manchester City Council, Jim Battle, said: “The police carried out an outstanding operation which allowed the city to go about its business with the minimal of disruption. I would like to congratulate the whole policing team, from the officers on the ground to the senior commanders, for their excellent work.”

UAF spokesman Mike Gilligan said: “It was a tremendously successful day for the anti-racist movement.

“The EDL were run out of town, they were not very powerful, they completely failed.

“Our protesters reflected the energy, particularly of young people, who showed their disgust at the racists trying to group together in Manchester city centre.

“It was a vibrant celebration of multi-cultural Manchester.”

The North West Ambulance Service had specialist teams and extra vehicles in the city centre to cope with any injuries.

Ged Blezard, Greater Manchester head of the service, said: “Events were carefully monitored throughout the day from various strategic locations and thankfully no life threatening injuries were reported. In terms of co-ordination the trust are confident that our plans worked well. Our frontline staff coped with the event in an efficient and professional manner and we would like to express our appreciation for the hard work they put in.
I hate this article , Tommy is correct .. yet the journalist "takes the piss" as a "middle class intellectual" ( ok , ok middle class I'll give him that ... , but I object to the intellectual lol )
In the BBC2 documentary, Tommy gave some good replies, but they cut that out and just tried to make him look silly. I just don't know how those media guys can look themselves in the mirror.
Neither do I Netcon , but it's all about the editing .. but the public are waking up, Tommy didn't look silly , he speaks for millions .

Kinana has posted a video of the Feb 2015 demo by EDL in Dudley.

Watching that video, what struck me was at the front of the demo are 10 to 20 professional-looking photographers (and at least 1 TV crew).  Where were the reports on TV or in the national media about this demo?  They didn't exist.

If there had been 2 photographers there, then I might have thought 1 was from the local newspaper, and it would not be surprising that it was not reported nationally.

But it is clear that the national media spend the money on having someone there to get photos, but are not going to report on the demo unless they can use it to give EDL bad PR.

I had a 5 hour interrogation (or should I say interview?) by Swedish Television, with no break and no refreshments.  If I had been an Islamic terrorist, they would now call that torture. I also had 5 hours of conversation (in 3 segments) with Matthew Taylor of the Guardian, which only lead to one quote "Its so much grist to the mill", which is suitably ambiguous as to be given a dark meaning.  All that from 5 hours! But anyway, at that time I was too naive to realise that the media fascists are not interested in the truth; like Goebbels, they are only interested in uncovering the items which can be given a negative slant against those that don't follow the media narrative. 


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