A mysterious new far-right group has recently come into the media spotlight since this summer. Reports on the group were first made in late August when they protested against the threat of the alleged "Islamification" of Britain. Last month, they were seen in Birmingham city centre to preach the same message, but failed to turn up at the site of Harrow Mosque in West London. Last Saturday, they made their voices heard once again in Manchester in their largest demonstration yet, when 700 members of the organisation (and 1400 counter-demonstrators from Unite Against Fascism) turned up in the city centre, which saw riot police and mounted police being deployed in the city and arresting 48 people. They are expected to make an appearance in Leeds in the near future.
The English Defence League was created in 2009 from the United Peoples of Luton, an organisation which itself was formed in response to the Islamist protests held back in March by the extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, when troops returning from Afghanistan marched through the town. Tensions flared up in June when Al-Muhajiroun supposedly "converted" an 11 year-old boy to Islam in Birmingham city centre. The League claims that it opposes the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism in the UK and Sharia law, and according to the organisation's spokesman, Trevor Kelway, the EDL is not a racist organisation. To try and verify this to the media, they have been burning Nazi flags for the cameras to emphasis they abhor racism. The League claims that British Muslims and Jews who are against militant Islam can join "as long as they accept an English way of life". The League has a woman's division and also a youth division, which is led by an 18 year-old boy of Irish and Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Because of the controversy surrounding the EDL, the British National Party have tried to distance themselves from the organisation. The Hope Not Hate campaign recently released audio recordings of a conversation allegedly between Nick Griffin and Simon Derby, where they accused the EDL of being a “Zionist false flag operation” which was created in order to create “a real clash of civilisations right here on our streets between Islam and the rest of us.” As a result, the party have designated the EDL as a “proscribed organisation”, supposedly frowning upon the violent, confrontational style that many members of the EDL have taken up in recent demonstrations. The EDL have also tried to distance themselves from the BNP, at least according to a London businessman that supports and funds the organisation. Despite the distancing between the EDL and BNP, it would seem that there are links between the two, and this is not just because the two seem to share the same anti-Muslim and far-right sentiments - the EDL’s website was created by a prominent BNP activist and many members of the party have been seen in recent demonstrations. The fact that the BNP have labelled the EDL as a “proscribed organisation” is, according to Searchlight magazine, standard practice of the party when attempting “deniability”.
Should we be concerned about the English Defence League? The founders of the group claim that they are not a racist organisation, that they allow people from all walks of life (guaranteeing they accept the “English way of life”) and say they are a peaceful organisation. However, such claims seem to contradict the fact that demonstrations organised by the group have been attended by white skinheads, many of whom have a history of football hooliganism – the organisation itself is loosely affiliated with Casuals United, an anti-Islamist hooligan group. Many EDL members have been seen giving Nazi salutes, and allegedly at a pro-Palestine protest in London recently, members of the League were heard to chant “We hate Muslims”. The fact that there are reports that two sister organisations have formed as a result of the rise of the EDL is a cause of alarm for many - the Scottish Defence League intends to hold a protest in Glasgow in the near future and there are calls to ban marches organised by the Welsh Defence League in Newport and Swansea. According to ‘Tommy Robinson’ in a recent interview in the Telegraph, the organisation has 3’700 members, and rising. It is no surprise then that the EDL are currently under investigation from four specialist national police units, including detectives with a background in watching hooliganism, extreme violence and terrorism.