far-right street protest movement which opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom. The EDL has been described as Islamophobic. The group has faced confrontations with various groups, including Unite Against Fascism (UAF). The EDL's leader, Tommy Robinson, estimates there are around 100,000 EDL members, but the think tank Demos estimates that there are between 25,000 and 35,000 active members. (There are no membership cards or fees.)
The EDL originated from a group known as the "United Peoples of Luton". This was a response to a demonstration, organised by Al-Muhajiroun, against the war in Afghanistan as the Royal Anglian Regiment marched through the town after a tour of duty in the Helmand province campaign The EDL evolved from the football casual subculture and is loosely organised around figures in hooligan firms. When the Luton counter-demonstration led to arrests, local football supporters, using social networking websites, collaborated with other football casual groups, including those associated with hooliganism.
Tommy Robinson, an EDL founder, has reportedly considered forming a political party. In November 2011, the EDL formed an alliance with an offshoot of the British National Party (BNP), known as the British Freedom Party, under which EDL members would be invited to join and stand as candidates in elections. Another senior member is Alan Lake, who has been described as the EDL's chief financier, which Lake denies. According to Searchlight, Lake plays an important role[clarification needed] in expanding EDL's international network. Hope not Hate stated that the EDL is the "largest rightwing threat in the UK today", which mobilises between "100 to 3000" supporters on the streets. In January 2012, Tommy Robinson expressed a wish to expand the definition of the EDL to a wider European Defence League.
Membership and support
EDL membership figures are not clear. The internet hacktivist group Anonymous has published personal details of EDL members as part of a campaign against the EDL. History professor Nigel Copsey notes that "There is no official membership card, or fees/subs as such". This, he suggests, allows the advantage of not having a membership list to leak. In October 2009, the EDL claimed to have thousands of members in scores of branches, and the organisation's spokesman Trevor Kelway explained that about 300 active supporters attended demonstrations with support from Cardiff, Swansea, Luton and Portsmouth. At the time "an analyst" claimed the group had between 300 to 500 active supporters that it could mobilise at any given time. Researchers have suggested that the EDL is unusual among far-right groups, because it seeks to attract non-white support, but its discourse is seen as "one that reflects that of the BNP and others albeit tailored to be more inclusive and by consequence, more relevant to contemporary Britain's inherent diversity". However, scholarly fieldwork into the group has suggested that racism and Islamophobia "may well be more commonplace among the EDL's 'rank and file' than the group's leaders would publicly admit," and at least one of their marches was heavily promoted on the fascist and white supremacist website "Stormfront."
The EDL leadership has estimated that the organisation has 100,000 members. A research group has given a lower figure of 25,000 to 35,000 members.
Tommy Robinson has previously issued an anti-Nazi statement and taken part in the burning of a Nazi flag in a warehouse in Luton, at a 2009 press conference. 'Tommy Robinson' was the pen-name used in two books by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon about the Luton Town MIGs football hooligan firm, published before the foundation of the EDL. The EDL expressed support for the monarchy by vowing to rally in support of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, but later cancelled the event.
The Guardian has reported conflict in the EDL between a primarily northern-based group called The Infidels, who hold more traditional far-right views, and members in the Midlands and South. The article suggested that the EDL and the British National Party cannot simultaneously survive for long but that right-wing populism will continue.
In April 2013, the EDL leadership requested that members used tactical voting to benefit the UK Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP responded by distancing themselves from the EDL and its views.
Association with violence
The group states that its aim is to demonstrate peacefully in English, as well as Welsh, towns and cities, but conflicts with Unite Against Fascism (UAF), local opposition and other opponents have led to street violence, anti-social behaviour and arrests. A proposed march in Luton in September 2009 was banned by the police, citing a threat to public safety. There is normally heavy policing of these demonstrations, due to the likelihood of violence. The cost of policing these demonstrations has ranged from £300,000 to £1 million. Journalists that have covered EDL marches have received death threats, for instance journalist Jason N. Parkinson from The Guardian wrote about receiving a death threat by email from someone he described as an EDL organiser, as well as death threats sent to Marc Vallée, a fellow journalist. The National Union of Journalists also released a statement about journalists who had been intimidated after covering EDL demonstrations.
Four specialist national police units involved in policing hooliganism, extreme violence, and terrorism are investigating the EDL. After their second demonstration in Birmingham Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe of West Midlands Police: "Really, there was no intent to protest. I think they knew that the community was very much against them coming to the city, which... potentially would generate violence". Before their Manchester demonstration of October 2009, the EDL held a press conference, during which they burned a Nazi flag and asserted that "There is no militant undertone. We will peacefully protest but we will not be scared into silence". During the Manchester city centre demonstration Mat Trewern, from BBC Radio Manchester reported that "At one point, earlier on, when it became extremely tense, members of the UAF tried to break the police line between the two groups”. Greater Manchester Police confirmed a man, believed to be heading to the protest, had earlier been arrested in Birmingham on suspicion of distributing racially aggravated material. One week later, at a Welsh Defence League demonstration, supporters burnt an anti-Nazi flag and made Nazi salutes.
In January 2010 in Stoke-on-Trent, EDL members broke through police lines; four police officers were injured and police vehicles were damaged. In March 2010 in Bolton, 74 people were arrested in the demonstrations; at least 55 of the arrested were from the UAF and nine from the EDL. Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism was arrested and charged with conspiracy to organise violent disorder, Martin Smith, of Love Music Hate Racism and Dr. Moran, joint secretary of Greater Manchester UAF were among those arrested on conspiracy charges. Police said that UAF protesters were responsible for most of the trouble and that they had turned up intending to cause trouble saying "It is clear to me that a large number have attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable."
At their second Dudley protest, on 17 July 2010, there was widespread damage to local property. The local council estimated the bill to be over £500,000. On 11 September 2010, police in Oldham received an advance call from the EDL. Around mid-day approximately 120 supporters had arrived in the town. A separate group of around 50 members attacked a police car with bottles. There were 8 arrests for public order offences.
On 9 October 2010, a police officer and several civilians were injured during protests by the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism in Leicester. A Sky News van was attacked by members of the English Defence League who had earlier thrown fireworks, smokebombs and bricks at police and smashed windows of the city's International Arts Centre. There were also clashes between EDL supporters and local black and Asian youths as a group broke out of the EDL protest site at Humberstone Gate East and engaged with the locals. One man from Tyne and Wear was later convicted of causing criminal damage to the value of £1500 to a restaurant in this area of the city. Riot police fought to maintain control over the sporadic fighting that ensued. Thirteen people were arrested, one on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, only one was from the city of Leicester and the cost of policing the demonstration was put at £850,000.
In February 2011, prior to an EDL march in Luton, national British newspapers ran headlines with expectations of violence. The march, which was held on 5 February 2011, was concluded without major incident.
On 10 August, during the 2011 England riots Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin expressed concern that the EDL and the BNP were seeking to exploit the situation after ninety EDL members joined vigilantes in Enfield claiming that their physical presence would discourage troublemakers. The EDL also gathered in Eltham for the same purpose. EDL officials claimed they were safeguarding local businesses, but it was reported that the EDL attacked a bus carrying black youths.
On July 2011, the EDL visited Muslim MEP Sajjad Karim at his home with a crowd of EDL members, which Karim believed was an attempt at intimidation and threatening behaviour. The EDL has been accused of spray-painting and attacking mosques. Extremist members of the EDL have been involved in physical assaults against Muslims. EDL members have been convicted of graffitying EDL initials on mosques and Asian-run businesses.
EDL members have been reported attacking an anti-fascist concert in Yorkshire. EDL members have been jailed for attacking staff at office buildings which had hosted anti-EDL meetings. EDL members have also attacked a bookstall in Sandwell.
Some news reports have shown pictures which are claimed to depict EDL members posing wearing paramilitary outfits, with guns and crossbows.
On 7 December 2011, EDL activist Simon Beech was one of two men jailed for 10 years for an arson attack on a mosque. Sentencing the men, Judge Mark Eades stated: "It seems to me your purpose was not to get at extremists, but to get at Muslims in general and your purpose can only have been to destabilise community relationships." Chief Superintendent Bernie O'Reilly, who heads Stoke-on-Trent policing division, said: "This was a planned attack to try to blow a mosque up in a residential area."
On 5 June 2012, EDL members attacked and threw fireworks at a group of people protesting against the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. They were also filmed giving Nazi salutes.
In 2013 six Islamists pleaded guilty to plotting a bomb and gun attack on an EDL march in Dewsbury. The EDL march and UAF/TUC counter demonstration had passed "peacefully, safely and without serious incident." In June 2013, a burnt down mosque in Muswell Hill was found with EDL graffiti on it. A series of firebombings associated with EDL graffiti began in March 2011 in Luton. Police said of the two people arrested that "there is no evidence linking them" to the EDL. In June 2013, EDL members threatened to assault another EDL member for planning to "make a bomb and go on a killing spree".
Views and reactions
The British press describes the EDL as far-right or right-wing.
Nick Lowles, former editor of anti-fascist Searchlight magazine and now director of civil rights organisation HOPE not hate, has stated that the EDL poses two risks. One is the formation of a street army prepared to travel around the country to fight and provide organisational support. The other is the group's tactics of carrying placards and chanting in places that are potential flashpoints. Searchlight has said that not every leader of the EDL is a fascist or hardcore racist. Meanwhile, on the BBC's Sunday morning Andrew Marr show on 13 December 2010, Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti described the EDL as "modern day blackshirts". Other analysts have described the EDL as an anti-immigration group.
The creation of an EDL "Jewish division" in June 2010 was condemned by all the main organisations of the UK Jewish community.
MP Jon Cruddas, writing in The Guardian, describes the EDL as "a dangerous cocktail of football hooligans, far-right activists and pub racists... a bigger threat than the BNP... providing a new white nationalist identity through which they can understand an increasingly complex and alienating world. In a similar way to how football hooligans once coalesced around support for Ulster loyalism and hatred of the IRA, the followers of the EDL genuinely believe they are "defending" their Britain against the threat of Islam. What makes the EDL much more dangerous is how it reflects a wider political and cultural war."
The EDL's leaders say they are opposed to racism and that the EDL is a "multi-ethnic, multi-religious movement and we are proud of that". Trevor Kelway, a spokesman for the EDL, has denied that the group is racist. He said he had taken over as spokesman because the previous spokesman was Islamophobic. "We would march alongside Muslims and Jews who are against militant Islam," he said. "There were none on Saturday and an all-white group doesn't look good. But they can join the EDL as long as they accept an English way of life. It is the people who threaten with bombs and violence and threaten and bomb our troops – they don't belong here."
Government, local government and police
British Prime Minister David Cameron stated in the 2010 election campaign, "The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred." Former Home Office minister Phil Woolas stated of the organisation's tactics, "This is a deliberate attempt by the EDL at division and provocation, to try and push young Muslims into the hands of extremists, in order to perpetuate the divide. It is dangerous." John Denham, the then UK Communities Secretary, has condemned the EDL, saying its tactics are similar to those of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, although he stressed that they did not present anything like the same "potency, organisation or threat". He was commenting after clashes between different groups at a new London mosque, during a demo by the group Stop Islamisation of Europe. He singled out the EDL in particular: "If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence".
The leader of Dudley Council, Anne Milward, stated after the second EDL demonstration in her city: "We are extremely saddened that Dudley has again been targeted by the English Defence League. Yet again this group of outside extremists have shown they are incapable of demonstrating peacefully and have brought public disorder and violence to our town."
The response from British police has been negative. Det Supt John Larkin of West Midland's Counter Terrorism Unit has previously expressed concerns that the EDL's Islamophobia fuels extremism and undermines counter-radicalisation efforts. Dr. Robert Lambert, co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) at the University of Exeter and previously head of the Muslim Contact Unit (MCU) in the Metropolitan Police, has written that the EDL has undermined efforts by British Muslims to tackle terrorism and extremism. Adrian Tudway, National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism has written that "In terms of the position with EDL, the original stance stands, they are not extreme right wing as a group, indeed if you look at their published material on their web-site, they are actively moving away from the right and violence with their mission statement etc”, also writing they were a threat to community cohesion.
A Tory party councillor was suspended after attending an EDL rally in Southend. During the Southend gathering, Tommy Robinson expressed links with the local Tory councillor, Blaine Robin, with Tommy Robinson stating "I am proud that the first politician I have ever met who actually represents his constituents is a man outside, a black man, who is a local politician in Southend".
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