On Saturday, central Dover became the scene of one of the most chaotic clashes yet between far-right anti-immigration protestors and their anti-fascist opponents.
Around 200 anti-immigration supporters travelled from as far as Edinburgh to “save our country from invasion”. Headed by a resurgent National Front, this collection of largely male, right-wing, groups are renowned for their violent take on politics. And this weekend was no different: a barrage of sticks, bricks, and smoke-bombs left many of those involved with minor injuries.
One masked man was beaten to the ground, where he lay, seemingly unconscious, until friends and police officers brought him round. “I hope you get raped by a refugee!” another right-wing protestor shouted in my direction.
Pro-immigration bodies Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the Kent Anti-Racism Network organised a peaceful rally in the town centre, where speakers included the Labour MP and shadow cabinet member Diane Abbott. But the militant fringes of both sides seemed equally at fault for the fray. Smaller left-wing groups were bent on intercepting the “Nazi” march: “Smash the fascists into the sea” read the Twitter account of North London Antifa.
So where does such violence leave the voice of British radicalism, especially among the young? I spoke to supporters of both protests and found their anger has concerningly similar roots: doubt and disillusionment with mainstream politics.
Josh, 22, from Worcester
Why are you here today?
“I’m here in support of the truckers, British values, and no more immigration. It’s not about colour or creed, but if you say you’re anti-immigration you get called a Nazi straight away: the right are this epitome of evil in the UK.”
What do you do when you’re not protesting?
“I’m a part-time carer for my 87-year-old grandma and the other half of the time I work in a factory selling catalytic converters. I had ADHD as a kid and was kicked out of school in Year 10, then sent to a Pupil Referral Unit. I left with one GCSE: a D in Maths. But I’d like to be a contract lawyer – that’s where the money is!”
When did you start to feel so strongly about immigration?
“When I was working in a Muslim part of Worcester the lads there would spit at women and call them ‘dirty sluts’. I know this isn’t how all immigrants act but I can only make assumptions from where my path has crossed. To defend something is to offend something. The Lefties think they’re defending but really they’re offending me.
“I want the government to slow immgration down. And maybe have an Australian style system where we can bring in who we need and no-one else. We’re told to make something of our lives but the percentage of indigenous people who can is going down day by day – the bankers just want cheap labour, and the government just lies to us every time.”
Savanna, Canterbury Christ Church student
What are you protesting today?
“We come from a generation where the government is cutting everything and we need to out in force against it. They are destroying the welfare system, without which my family wouldn’t have had anything. But I’ve lived like shit for a long time and living a bit worse is ok if it helps those who are running from a war, especially one we helped start. They’re going to cut welfare whether the immigrants are here or not.”
Are you concerned by the violence?
“It’s been much worse than I thought it would be. And people are more likely to document the violence than the cause. My mum was terrified when she heard I was coming.”
John, 15, from Dover
Why are you here today?
“Dover is shit. There’s not a very large Muslim presence but there’s a large immigrant population. I’ve been mugged twice. My argument is that those coming now are mostly economic migrants, otherwise why dont they stay in the first country they get to safely? I know they just want jobs, but I wish they wouldn’t do it in my country. It’s current affairs and what happens now will effect me as an adult. Some may say being with this lot is a little extreme but they’re the only ones who are speaking up”.
Are you still at school?
“I just got an A for Maths in my GCSE mocks, and an A* in English. But if I got caught here I’d get kicked out of school, cos you’re not allowed to have a view unless its left wing.”
Are any of your friends involved too?
“I reckon my friends are split about 50:50 on immigration. My best friend, James, is with the Antis – we clash politically but otherwise get on just fine.”
And are you worried about what will happen if it gets violent?
“If it gets violent I’ll leave. Everyone’s nice till they have a drink but alchol is a no-no for me – I’m keen on health and am going to join the army. My dad drives a van now but he used to be in the army too”.
Karl, 16, from Dungeness
Who are you here with today?
“I’m with the Socialist Party but today I’m here with the anti-fascists generally. My family is really political and left-wing so I go to alot of rallies with my dad. And my mum was a Labour MP.”
Does the violence – from the left-wing too – concern you?
“I’m not violent, I try to stay out of that. But I’m here to support the refugees – I can’t stand this fascist shit. Things like this may seem small but it can grow so quickly and you have to take a stand against it.”
What particularly concerns you about them?
“It’s important to respect different views but when it becomes about exclusivity it gets nasty. When integration – in culture and with jobs – isn’t mangaged properly it can be a frightening thing but it shouldn’t be used to inspire hatred.”