In the wake of the horrific murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich two weeks ago, the English Defence League have been working hard to place blame on the entire Muslim community; mainly by exploiting tensions with alcohol-fuelled rallies. After hitting the streets of Woolwich on the night of Rigby’s death, and exchanging bottles with anti-fascist demonstrators on their Whitehall march last Monday, it was only really a matter of time before the BNP were going to stage a comeback. And a desperate one at that, given leader Nick Griffin is notoriously vocal about his dislike of marches, which he says are 'unsightly' and often end in violence.
They initially applied for permission to march from Woolwich Barracks to Lewisham’s Islamic centre, but, oddly enough, police feared the far-right group’s presence in one of south London’s largest multicultural boroughs might make a mockery of the peaceful protest law. So instead, the BNP agreed to walk Whitehall to the Cenotaph war memorial. Except unlike the EDL march, which drew a small – but resolute – anti-fascist crowd, Saturday’s demonstration saw Griffin’s party massively out numbered.
Organised by Unite Against Fascists (UAF) thousands of protesters turned up to block the 'Nazi scum', leaving them stranded on a small island of grass next to the Houses of Parliament, with only a ring of police and their dogs for company. Any of Griffin’s people spotted passing through the jittery, anti-fascist crowd, were singled out. As soon as we arrived, a group of about 10 young men, some dressed in black, with their hoods up and faces covered by scarves (to prevent being recognised by fascists, police, or their employers), made a dash for one latecomer before being broken up by police.
The streets is where the violence happens, it’s where politics is contested. We shouldn’t be having nice speeches, we should be confronting them
At one point we were pushed back onto some railings because a younger member of the fascist group was being dragged through the crowd, over the barricade of police, and onto the BNP side. Again, a 22 year from London (who wishes to remain anonymous) noticed a man wearing an EDL badge and incites the crowd start taunting him. I ask the youth worker if he thinks the best way to fight fascists is to confront them, physically, on the streets. “Definitely. Completely. The streets is where the violence happens, it’s where politics is contested. We shouldn’t be having nice speeches, and you know, bringing a rally to one space, away from where the fascists are, we should be confronting them,” he said, pointing to the Socialist Worker camped out further up the street.
"'Peaceful' is a very flimsy definition," a 17 yr old student told us. "Yeah, I do think it's right to stop their way when they're promoting hate speech. One of their banners said 'anti-racist is a code for anti-white'. I don't want people to see that just for the stupidity of it." At the beginning the two groups were practically in spitting distance, but thanks to dozens of police vans moving in, the fascist gathering was hardly visible for most of the afternoon.
As the police line got tougher (they were allowing fewer people to pass) we decided to risk heading around the back to get a better view, and spotted Nick Griffin in what appeared to be a bullet proof vest. Their march, which by that point was well and truly disrupted, was only meant to last until 4. It was around that time the police started getting restless and picking people out of the opposition crowd to arrest. Each subjected to a round of applause from the BNP as they were handcuffed and led onto ‘Special Service’ buses. A bizarre response given, as one passer by pointed out, how embarrassingly outnumbered they were.