Here comes the fear

On the trail in east London with the EDL's parade of far-right hate

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It was like being transported into the pulsating inner core of extreme right-wing weirdness, like a bad dream or a Skrewdriver gig. Once again, the English Defence League had been given the green light by Metropolitan Police on Saturday to march through London in the name of “free speech”. Last year, they'd gone through Walthamstow. This Saturday, they were on the march in Tower Hamlets - a homecoming of sorts, given the borough's previous brush with facism at the Battle of Cable Street

By midday, most of the five to six hundred EDL supporters had congregated at Tower Bridge, surrounded by a heavy police presence and police dogs. All around were shaven heads, the St George’s Cross, No Surrender and Help for Heroes flags – there were even a few British Army types wearing Grenadier Guards and Royal Marine berets. “We support our troops,” an overheard tannoy repeated. The police dogs snarled. 

About a hundred feet away, the EDL were getting nasty and trying to break through the police line, but their sweaty, shaven-headed faces were held back with batons

This was no family day out, more an excuse for EDL true believers to chant “Muslims out”, “Fuck the Taliban” and “Pakis out” and drink cans of Stella while someone on a loudspeaker futilely announced that alcohol was not permitted on the march. EDL leader Tony Robinson turned up, flanked by minders with EDL tattoos on the back of their heads. “This is amazing,” he said. “How many do you think are here?”

Then, just after 1pm, the march began. I went ahead to Whitechapel to see if I could meet up with Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-demonstration, which had been deliberately kept away from the EDL route: free speech at its finest.

Police officers were charging over as I reached the counter-demo: a splinter group of antifascists had already been kettled. About a hundred feet away, the EDL were getting nasty and trying to break through the police line, but their sweaty, shaven-headed faces were held back with batons. I talked to one protester who was fortunate enough to escape the kettle.

“They are all working for criminals,” he said. “The police are like the Nazis in Germany. There is no reason to race hate”. The snarling dogs, batons on shields – to him, it was all about police intimidation.

“When I talked to the police, they gave me no answer,” he continued. “We have lost a sense of humanity and the British government is to blame. Why the police have to be aggressive and brutal, I don’t know”.  

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One man makes his disgust at the EDL clear on top of a bus shelter Stuart Griffiths

“When I talked to the police, they gave me no answer,” he continued. “We have lost a sense of humanity and the British government is to blame. Why the police have to be aggressive and brutal, I don’t know”.  

Another protester chimed in: “People want to ignore what’s happening and just plug themselves into the TV and forget what is happening. It’s burying their heads in the sand.”

The police kept well over a hundred antifascists kettled and didn’t look like they were going to let anyone out anytime soon, so I went through the police lines to see if any other UAF protesters were around – but more often than not, I ran into a police officer: armed with baton shield and riot helmet, there seemed to be one on every street corner.

In the distance, I could hear a spokesperson for the EDL praising the police and the armed forces. “Many of these police are ex-soldiers,” he shouted into the microphone. According to him, the EDL weren’t against the police but against the people at the top, politicians, and Muslims who’d turned Tower Hamlets into an official ‘no-go zone’. 

We cannot control the mob violence,” he concluded. All around, chants of “Allah Allah who the fuck is Allah” were shouted by EDL xenophobes.

“Everyone wants to pay their mortgage, send their kids to school,” he implored, before babbling on about democracy, freedom and society. An impending sense of doom crept into my heart.  “We cannot control the mob violence,” he concluded. All around, chants of “Allah Allah who the fuck is Allah” were shouted by EDL xenophobes.

The kettle was still in force a few minutes walk away. By now, officers had commandeered London buses as custody suites and were driving arrestees away from the the protest to be charged. Later, I find out that around 280 anti-EDL protesters had been arrested and released on bail on the condition that they don’t protest any EDL, British National Party of English Volunteer League marches within the M25 for at least a month.

I was amazed that the EDL were allowed to march in the first place, while the antifascists were arrested for the crime of protesting a march that was basically a thinly disguised excuse for pedling racial hatred. The whole thing was really about one thing: whose side are you really on? The EDL, who support troops who are doing their jobs in barbaric wars, conscience-free, or the antifacists who feel that the system has to change?

I sat on the floor and an Asian man wearing a luminous Tower Hamlets vest walked over to me. “You get some good footage today?” he asked.

“Well, if you can call photographing boneheads chanting racial hatred good, then I guess it was terrible day,” I said.

We talked for a while about how this was a god-awful day for this country.  “Yes, we all have to exist together,” he said, “So why can’t we all just live together and get on?” 

I agreed. I’d finally talked with someone who had reason.

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