10,000 far-right racists take over Whitehall and Trafalgar Square yelling anti-Muslim hate, pulling Nazi salutes and screaming the name of Tommy Robinson. They assault journalists, attempt to attack anti-fascists and try to break through the gates of Downing Street. They take over and trash a sightseeing bus, forcing driver and passengers to abandon it. They force back the cops, chucking bottles, traffic cones and street barriers, and then roam uncontrolled, chanting racist slogans from the EDL days. They are addressed by a series of celebrity Islamophobes. Speaker after speaker openly incites hatred against Muslims to the delight of the cheering crowds.
The opposition was minimal. A small counter demo of about 200-300 people down the other end of Whitehall. Those who joined it deserve all credit for being there. They were under fairly serious threat of being attacked by breakaway mobs from the main demo.
This was the largest far-right demo in the UK since the Second World War. More than triple the size of any EDL demo that ever happened. Twice as big as the “Day for Freedom” only a month ago.
This new far-right movement that has come together around Tommy Robinson has dropped the “apolitical”, “against all extremism” facade of the FLA. There is now no confusion about whether some of them might have unwittingly found themselves on a far-right rally. Huge crowds joined in chanting “Allah is a paedo” and “Allah, Allah, who the fuck is Allah?” Unashamed far-right and Nazi-supporting speakers were welcomed.
They have some powerful people on their side and widespread international support. They have tapped into the American alt-right and the culture of right-wing YouTubers. There have been “Free Tommy” demos in (at least) Australia, the USA and Hungary.
We are also seeing a successful attempt to ‘unite the right’ – The “Day for Freedom” and the “Free Tommy” demos have included the full spectrum of the right – from UKIP, the D/FLA, and Morrissey’s fave For Britain party, to Pepe the Frog and Kekistan weirdos, from Generation Identity and National Action neo-Nazis, to more traditional fascist hooligans and EDL. Alt-right flags were on display alongside tiki torches (associated with the 2017 Charlottesville rally where anti-fascist Heather Heyer was killed). These demos provide a ‘safe space’ for the even harder and more extreme elements of the far-right to normalise themselves and to recruit.
Saturday was the latest in a quick succession of racist mobilisations ostensibly about jailbird Yaxley-Lennon’s contempt of court sentence. In keeping with the current fashion for fake news, his fanboys don’t know or don’t care why he actually got locked up. But the arrest has become both a focus for the rapidly growing racist street movement in the UK, and a cause célèbre for the far-right internationally. The rallying cry may be “Free Tommeh!” but hatred of Muslims is the true uniting factor.
To put this in context – just in the last month: On May 6th, Tommy’ Robinson’s “Day for Freedom” attracted 4-5000 to central London. On May 19th, 300 FLA hooligans marched in Manchester. On May 26th, after Robinson’s arrest, hundreds of angry Tommy supporters turned out at 24hrs notice and kicked off with police, again in London. The following day, a couple of hundred rallied at Speaker’s Corner. Five days later on June 1st, 400 of them kicked off fighting the police outside the Crown Court in Leeds. The next day the DFLA brought 2-3000 to Manchester in what turned into another “Free Tommy” demo. And now a week later, this.
THE WORLD IS CHANGING IN FRONT OF OUR EYES
In my adult life I remember a time when there were almost no far-right, fascist demos – virtually none, they were so rare. Now 10,000 far-right extremists in central London threatens to become the new normal. 10,000 far-right extremists marching in central London with almost no opposition. Even typing those words brings me up short. Fifteen years ago I would hardly have believed it possible.
We have all become habituated to anti-Muslim hate. It’s become so normalised we’re not even shocked any more. If there was a similar mob in central London screaming threats against Jews, there would be shock across the world. We would be seeing a lot of editorials asking – What has gone wrong with Britain? What sort of country have we become? How could this happen?
Once you allow racism against any one group, it opens the door to every other form of racism too. It starts with Muslims and migrants, but once you have established an ‘us’ and ‘them’ – once you have accepted there’s a hierarchy of who’s ‘really’ British, all the old hatreds start coming back. Look at the old-fashioned and crude racism directed at Diane Abbott. Look at what’s happened in America: 1930s-era anti-semitism is back shrouded in alt-right memes, Nazis marching with flaming torches.
NOTHING CHANGES UNLESS WE ACT
Unless we act, things will only get more extreme. The far-right will only move in one direction. They are not going to become more moderate or tone it down a bit of their own accord. Already groups that would previously have shunned the far-right are now marching with them. UKIP used to distance itself from the street fascists of the EDL. The FLA originally declared Tommy Robinson ‘tainted’ and wanted no association with him. As their confidence grows, as the window of what appears to be allowable expands, it’s only going to get worse. Without countervailing pressure, the road from Daily Mail headlines, through UKIP and Tommy Robinson videos to white genocide conspiracy theories is a frighteningly easy one.
We might hope that something will happen and the bubble will burst. That like before on the far-right, someone will do a runner with the money, there’ll be some falling out, the whole thing will implode in mistrust, suspicion and resentment. It might happen, but such happy accidents don’t diminish support for their poisonous ideas. The potential is there as an undercurrent, ready for the next vehicle to emerge. This is why we have seen successive far-right groupings emerge ever quicker and bigger seemingly ‘out of nowhere’. The EDL seemed finished, and we were all busy congratulating ourselves when suddenly the FLA had thousands on the streets on their first demo. A year later, the FLA split and seemed to have lost numbers, but then the Day for Hate and Tommy demos came back bigger and nastier than ever.
Similarly, we might hope that ‘society’ will do its job. The state will oppose them – they’ll get arrested, the police will stop them. Facebook and Twitter will ban them. Or that the innate good sense of the majority of decent people will prevail and these clearly extreme people will never gain widespread support. Unfortunately we live in the age of Trump and Brexit and the evidence is not encouraging. There’s no rule saying ‘it can’t happen here’ and what seems unbelievable one day can become normal the next. In the USA, France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Austria – far-right forces are moving into government and knocking on the doors of power. Where they are not directly in power, they are pushing the political agenda to the right, resulting in Islamophobic, anti-semitic and anti-migrant legislation.
The far-right has been on the ascendant here for a few years, building online and buoyed by the Brexit referendum and international victories, and they are not going to disappear any time soon. It may take us years to win back space in society from them and it’s not going to be easy. We’ll have to put up with being outnumbered and suffering a few defeats on the way, but there’s no point waiting for someone else to deal with it or waiting for it all to blow over. There’s only us.
WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DO NOTHING?
If I asked you to imagine a world in which the far-right had become ascendant, what might you imagine?
Migrants will drown because the far-right has made letting refugee children and pregnant women drown a mainstream opinion. Migrant children will be shot in the head because that’s OK now. Muslim women will be attacked in the streets. Mosques, Gurdwaras and other places of worship will be firebombed. Far-right terrorists will plan attacks against LGBT people, the left and Muslims. Migrants will be imprisoned indefinitely without trial. Migrant children will be ripped from their mother’s arms and ‘disappeared’.
All of these things are already happening right now.
If the far-right is allowed to grow, it will get worse.
And they’ll be coming for anti-racists and the left too. If this movement grows, they’re going to start attacking and shutting down left-wing meetings, demos or events. Again – this has already happened – it will start happening more if we don’t act.
And then, cast your mind forward a year or so. When Brexit happens – when the economy tanks and many of the people who voted for Brexit find themselves even worse off than before, when the far-right start telling everyone their Brexit has been betrayed by the ‘liberal elite political class’, where will they look for answers? Given the current climate, who will they listen to? What direction is their anger going to go in?
THEY HAVE ANNOUNCED THEIR NEXT BIG DEMO FOR WHEN TRUMP IS HERE
They’ve announced the date of their next racist “Free Tommy” demo in London already: Sat 14th July. This coincides with when President Trump is expected to be in the country. Maybe they’re hoping the President who previously circulated lying Britain First anti-Muslim hate propaganda will express his support.
However, this also gives us an opportunity. Tens of thousands are expected to protest Trump’s visit, expressing outrage against his women-hating, racist, Muslim-banning, far-right, white-supremacist-supporting agenda. Those thousands who stand opposed to Trump’s politics should also stand opposed to the creation of a far-right Trumpian movement in this country under our noses.
Exisiting anti-fascist and anti-racist groups need a serious boost to get some mass opposition going on in the streets. Anyone who isn’t a massive bigot should be concerned about what is happening and get ready to step up. Theirs is a popular movement, racist and Islamophobic to its core, and it will take a real movement to defeat it. A lot can happen in a month. Now is a time to get organised, to start having serious conversations amongst ourselves and also to start considering who we can work with and what forms of action we are willing to take, because whatever we’re doing at the moment isn’t working.