“Stoke today was a disaster. We rioted. We throw bottles. We attacked police. Some people were racist.” EDL forum.
As expected the EDL gathered at the RV point at the train station and were taken by the cops to Wetherspoon’s where they were able to drink under close scrutiny. According to 1 EDL forum poster there was trouble in the pub between 2 firms: “we tried to break it up right away, but the c**ts on the bottom floor throwing s**t did not help.” Outside there were some speeches through an apparently feeble PA system and some got restless and tried to break out to march. According to the EDL forum, the police started to kettle them into a smaller and smaller space, there was a clash with the cops and this sparked off wider unrest with the EDL fighting the police and throwing things at them. The EDL forum claims heavy handed policing and there is no need to doubt this. The EDL represent a volatile challenge to the police who know they are up for confrontation which naturally makes the cops nervous and over-react. Anyone who has been on a rowdy demo or attended a football match will have experienced this.
“Uncontrolled violence. Rioting. Vandalism. All committed in the name of the EDL.” EDL forum.
As the demo dispersed 500 EDL marched through a predominantly Asian area smashing windows and damaging cars which led to further clashes with the police. According to the BBC there were 17 arrests, 1,500 EDL, 300 UAF, and 600 cops. The EDL’s website still claims to be “peacefully protesting against militant Islam” but yesterday’s behaviour makes this statement nonsense. Stoke was always going to be a potential problem with a strong football firm and local BNP support and the EDL made a concerted effort to get there in numbers yesterday. The police created the pre-conditions for the trouble: putting them in the pub, kettling them and increasing the pressure. Then it kicks off. The police were outnumbered yesterday and the EDL took liberties climbing on and then almost turning over a police van which will no doubt have infuriated the cops.
‘Lamppost Incident’: The EDL Reaction
There are mixed reactions on the EDL forum with some of the moderates calling for better organisation and exclusion of known trouble makers and some worried about band-wagon jumpers simply turning up to kick off with the cops. Supporters are also concerned over the alcohol fuelled aggression and calling for internal policing, even handing over unruly elements to the cops - which is not going to please the extremists as this is tantamount to grassing. One poster listed the reasons for the trouble: “In-EDL fighting, Football firms fighting, Attacking the police, Police equipment stolen.
Police vans turned over. Lamppost incidents. Racial chants. Speeches not being respected. People not shutting up during a 1 minute silence. The occasional Nazi salute.”
The view from the inside is pretty much the view from the outside and it lists the kind of behaviour that has been witnessed at every EDL demo so far. Forum members are calling for official membership cards but this could be dangerous if the list falls into the wrong hands as the BNP membership leaks showed. As of this time, the EDL leadership have yet to make a statement about Stoke.
There was the usual Sieg Heiling despite the leaderships requests not to. The EDL still deny any far right links and on the forum there is resentment of the Nazi presence which could lead to a repeat of yesterday’s infighting. The EDL are ranged right across the far right spectrum with supporters ranging from ‘patriotic’ to the Nazi nutjobs out for violence. The moderate EDLer’s are clearly worried over the effect the Nazis have on public perception. They are also wary of agent provocateurs and there is state interest. A skinhead in full regalia being interviewed by TV was deemed suspect: “Without a doubt he was a plant. I know his ilk and have met his doppelganger ( same s**t same person just cant prove it) many times before.”
The EDL is increasing it’s support on the streets and the demonstrations are increasing in violence and confrontation. However, they are also operating in the short-term. Whilst meeting up for a drink and a crack at the cops and opponents is all good clean fun they are increasing the pressure for the further curbing of civil rights and increasing the likelihood of demonstrations being banned. The government has also raised the level of Terror Alert to Dangerous which has implications for any form of dissent, particularly anti-war demonstrations. The EDL are also attempting to legitimise Islamophobia which similarly helps the government’s agenda as the support for the Afghanistan and Iraq situation is waning and the election draws nigh. The EDL supports the state case for more legislation, surveillance and aggressive policing. The left and far right have both accused the EDL of being state engineered and it is difficult to not suspect this given the stated facts.
There is also the prospect of the EDL filling the vacuum created by Nick Griffin on the far right. As far right antipathy to the BNP increases over finances, jobs for the boys, the non-white membership issue and suspicions over the legitimacy of Griffin as a leader, the EDL are in a position to capitalise on it politically. By organising a political party they will no doubt attract the more extremist voters and benefit from general anti-Muslim sentiment in certain areas. This could also operate as a right wing vote splitting tactic which could well be part of the state agenda. Whether the EDL members have the political will to sustain election campaigns is doubtful unless they can attract former BNP organisers used to generating local supporters.
Learning The Lesson
The anti-fascist turnout yesterday was dismal. Only 300 assorted UAF, community leaders and anti-fascists turned out compared to 1,500 EDL. The EDL tried to break through the police lines to get at the protestors but the cops held firm. Luckily for the anti-fascists as there would have been serious violence. Having the cops protecting anti-fascists gathered in such small numbers is not good. The next official EDL demo is in Dudley on April 4th but there are intimations that Oldham and other towns may see the EDL gather in the more immediate future. Anti-fascists need to get organised to stop them gathering momentum and oppose them in much greater numbers.
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