Anti-Fascist Protests Across the UK

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Anti-Fascism, BNP, UK

Across the UK today there have been demonstrations, protests and vigils held by the English Defence League (EDL), the next step in the far-right street organisation using the death of Drummer Lee Rigby for political gains. Since Rigby was brutally killed on Wednesday 22nd May the EDL have been using the incident to seriously advance their Islamaphobic cause, with an increase of over 100,000 ‘likes’ on their Facebook page and a series of short notice demonstrations around the country. So far the EDL have been trying to present themselves as being respectful in response to Rigby’s death by raising money for Help for Heroes, the charity who’s t-shirt Rigby wore when he was killed, and announcing that their plan for this weekend was to hold wreath laying ceremonies at cenotaphs in a number of cities.

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This has not been a method that has fooled everybody though, as attacks on the Muslim community have had a sharp increase and there has been a noticeable link-up between the EDL and other far-right hate groups such as the National Front (NF) and the British National Party (BNP). Charity Help for Heroes has refused to accept donations raised by the EDL leader Tommy Robinson, stating that they will be making sure that anyone else that’s saying they’re EDL will not be allowed to fundraise for them. The family and regiment of Drummer Lee Rigby have also publicly condemned the actions of the EDL.

The Rigby family said: “We would like to emphasise that Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others. We would not wish any other families to go through this harrowing experience and appeal to everyone to keep calm and show their respect in a peaceful manner.”

A message circulated from Army HQ warned former soldiers that “Far-Right, extremist organisations (English Defence League in particular) will seize any opportunity to align veterans with their cause”. It added: “Veterans should be strongly discouraged from wearing regimental headdress or accoutrements if they are attending events organised or affiliated with extremist organisations.”

The demonstrations this weekend showed the far-right as an uneven force across the UK, but for the majority showed opposition as strong and resolute. In Leicester the EDL were outnumbered 150:80, in Sheffield the defeat was even more evident as anti-fascists outnumbered them 500:50. Bristol was a smaller affair, though the day began with news that the words “RIP Lee” had been painted on the wall of the Jamia mosque in Bedminister only 7 EDL members turned up to show respects and lay a wreath in honour of Rigby. Not wanting to promote confrontation, but make clear that the EDL would not be able to demonstrate unopposed, 40 anti-fascists also came down to the cenotaph to make their own tribute.

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The key focus for the day, as ever, was London. Here the BNP planned originally planned to march from Woolwich to Lewisham, a location of historic importance for the anti-fascist movement. In 1977 the National Front attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham under the banner ‘Stop the Muggers’ after the racist arrests of twenty-one young black people in connection with a series of muggings. They were opposed by over 5000 anti-fascists as part of the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (ALCARAF) who blocked the streets and stopped them marching. Throughout the day the NF were assisted by the police and conflict broke out between the police and the anti-fascists. What became known as the battle of Lewisham was historic not only it being a turning point in the struggle against fascism, but it was also the first time that British police had been armed with riot shields outside of Northern Ireland.

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Much like in 1977 Saturday was a clear victory for the anti-fascists in London. Though the BNP wanted to march from Woolwich to Lewisham their demonstration was moved to Whitehall, most likely to give the police a bit of a home advantage rather than an effort to keep peace in the communities of Woolwich or Lewisham.  The BNP found themselves outnumbered by around 10 to 1, anti-fascists from groups including Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) were joined by activists protesting the governments impending badger cull and some out standing in solidarity with demonstrations in Turkey. As in ’77 there were open clashes between the far right group, anti-fascists and the police, 58 anti-fascist activists were arrested for breach of the Section 14 order which gives police the power to order protesters to confine their protest to a certain place, keep their numbers down and tell them when to stop. Those arrested were loaded onto a red double decker bus which had “Special Service” as its destination as BNP members stood and cheered.

Police brutality and mass arrest did not dampen the spirits of anti-fascists that day, an important stand was still made and it was clear that the politics and members of organisations like the BNP were not welcome on our streets. But complacency must remain avoided, this resurgence of support for the EDL, which until recently looked to be in serious decline, and the speed with which it materialised, shows that the organisation is able to tap into a wider pool of anti-Muslim sentiment. This sentiment must be combated; the lesson from this weekend should be that we are stronger when united.

This was shown on Thursday at two events; first at the Old Bailey where members of the EDL gathered to demonstrate outside the sentencing of six men who planned to attack an EDL march last June and second at a Solidarity vigil for the Bravanese Welfare Centre in Muswell Hill, north London, which had been the victim of a firebomb attack in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

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At 10am on Thursday morning a group of around 30 EDL members gathered outside the Central Criminal Court. Loosely held in a pen the EDL members stood chanting before a bank local and national journalists as leader Tommy Robinson gave jovial interviews. Though the police presence was high there was notable lack of opposition from anti-fascist groups. This gave the EDL a free platform to spout their hatred, as their would-be attackers were sentenced to up to 19-and-a-half years in prison each.

image (1)Later that day around 250 activists and members of the local community gathered near the Bravanese Welfare Centre ascommunity leaders, representatives from the centre, local politicians and trade unionists spoke in the wake of the attack on the centre the previous day. The atmosphere at this event was one of solidarity and resilience in the face of rising persecution of the muslim community. Events like this show that when we stand together in unity we are stronger,So whenever we know of fascists being out on our streets, here is where we must stand, united and they shall not pass.

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  1. […] Across the UK today there have been demonstrations, protests and vigils held by the English Defence League (EDL), the next step in the far-right street organisation using the death of Drummer Lee R…  […]

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