If you were still in any doubt about the character of the English Defence League, today’s march on the Houses of Parliament should make things clear.
The group, which claims to be non-racist and pro-freedom of speech, but whose followers have been filmed shouting racist slogans and chanting support for the far-right British National Party, has mounted a series of anti-Muslim demonstrations around Britain since March last year. In January, the EDL rioted in Stoke-on-Trent, where Asian residents and their white neighbours (described as “race traitors”, according to Unite Against Fascism) were attacked.
Today’s rally was in support of the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Having been banned from entering the UK on a previous occasion, he was at the House of Lords today (at the invitation of the UK Independence Party leader, Lord Pearson) to screen his anti-Islam film Fitna.
This afternoon, several hundred EDL supporters assembled outside Tate Britain, down river from parliament. When the march at first failed to get going, police allowed them to wander off to the pub for an hour or so. (By comparison, a smaller crowd of anti-racist protesters, organised by Unite Against Fascism, had been kept tightly corralled by police outside parliament’s St Stephen’s Gate since morning.)
Before marching towards parliament, the crowd was addressed by Guramit Singh — virtually the only non-white EDL supporter present — who claimed to be one of the “12 leaders” of the EDL. He called “on all religions” to “eradicate militant Islam”.
Although Singh and a subsequent speaker at the rally occasionally made a distinction between “moderate” Muslims and “extremists”, the crowd’s biggest cheer was reserved for Singh’s closing words:
“God bless the Christians, Jews, Sikhs, even God bless the Muslims — they’ll need it when they’re burning in fucking hell.”
Earlier, the Welsh Secretary and veteran anti-racist campaigner Peter Hain said: “The English Defence league, together with their allies the BNP, represent a racist and fascist threat — not just to Muslims but to [all] black, Asian and Jewish citizens, too.”
This was illustrated by the EDL supporters (including a couple dressed in fetching his’n’hers — black for him, pink for her — sweatshirts that bore the legend “EDL — Derby division”) I witnessed threatening a frightened mixed-race group of teenagers as they crossed paths on a sidestreet near Pimlico Station.