Should We Be Afraid Of The EDL?

Stephen Lennon and Anders Behring Breivik are two very different men. In Breivik’s self-important 1,518-page manifesto, we are introduced to an articulate mass murderer who had been planning his Norwegian massacre for several years. Lennon appears to be more of a media caricature, the ‘angry white man’, a working-class football brawler whom you’d hardly expect to be able to churn out a similarly detailed dossier on his political views. It’s merely by the coincidence of a shared sentiment — their overzealous hatred of Islam, and all of its allegedly left-wing proponents — that these two men have been brought together under the same political lens.

Does that mean that Lennon, and his newfangled movement of fellow ‘angry white men’ (aka the English Defence League) are just as dangerous as Breivik? The first and obvious answer appears to be “No”. Ostensibly, where Breivik is a gun-toting menace to society, Lennon is just a very loud, closed-minded thug. Much postulating has been done on the extent to which Breivik might have been associated with the EDL, but I think that only serves to distract from the real problems at hand. To me, a rather more clear and present danger lies in the violent byproducts of this swelling Islamophobic crusade.

On his blog, Dr Matthew Goodwin, an expert on far-right politics at this university, refers to these byproducts as ‘lone wolves’ — dangerous individuals with wildly over-inflated fears of immigration, multiculturalism, and the loss of their own cultural identity. He cites prominent examples such as Timothy McVeigh, America’s worst terrorist before 9/11, and David Copeland, the ‘London nail bomber’, whose attacks on London’s black, Bengali and homosexual communities claimed three innocent lives.

Dr Goodwin writes, “To some extent, it is perhaps helpful to think of lone wolves as being located at the tip of a triangle. Further down, below the likes of Breivik and McVeigh, are citizens who are active members of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim parties, then citizens who vote for these parties, then a broader mass of citizens who are sceptical of immigration and rising ethno-cultural diversity.”

Polls suggest that most of this subculture shuns the use of violence, but what of those EDL protests that are rife with chanted death threats and end in numerous arrests? EDL members continuously seek to portray themselves as ‘peaceful protestors’ whose right to free speech is being infringed upon by a heavy-handed police, yet whenever they descend on another town, faces wrapped in English flags, everything about them suggests that they are baying for Muslim blood. But aside from bad PR and some smashed Mosque windows, is there anything about the EDL, in its current, shambolic incarnation that would suggest that it poses an actual threat to British society?

In a roundtable discussion with The Guardian, Dan Hodges, spokesperson of the anti-fascist group Searchlight, claims that it is because of its very disarray that the EDL should be seen as a risk.

“Its organisation is quite loose”, Hodges points out, “but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Indeed, in some ways it makes it more dangerous because it actually makes it quite difficult for organisations such as Searchlight and indeed the authorities to monitor their activity, to get a proper handle on their motives, and to understand what their strategy and tactic is moving forward.”

And with the void that a self-destructing BNP will have left behind, Dan Hodges observes that the EDL could become even more of a problem. All of those disillusioned BNP voters will very likely find themselves drawn to an organisation which has given up on the ballot box and is now trying to take actions on the streets — and that could simply lead down a slippery slope of political dissatisfaction and violence.

Either way, by the time this article has been published*, the EDL’s protest in London (which is to be held ‘statically’ in an attempt to circumvent the Government’s post-riot ban on marches) will probably have taken place. Whatever the outcome of this demonstration, it has already become distressingly clear from the EDL’s current track record of concluding their so-called ‘peaceful protests’ in public disorder that this is an organisation that we can no longer write off as just another bunch of beer-swigging racists.

Eric John

*This article was published in Issue 212 of Impact magazine, which was released on the 26th September 2011.

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Craig
    3 November 2011 at 20:13
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    It\’d be interesting to hear your view on the matters of substance the EDL claim they are protesting about – rather than just slapping the label \”Islamophobic\” or \”racist\” on them.
    Why are the EDL concerned about British Islam, or some aspects of it? What is it they want to happen? How is what they say \”Islamophobic\”, and what (if anything) of what they say is untrue or exaggerated?

    • Eric John
      4 November 2011 at 14:54
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      @Craig: Whatever “matters of substance” the EDL purport to be protesting about are quickly lost in the violence. Surely, there are better ways to voice your concerns about ‘fundamentalism’ than by vandalising local businesses, places of worship and chanting death threats? More politicians would actually be inclined to listen to what the EDL has to say if if it weren’t for the criminality many of its members resort to. The matter of fact is that the EDL, as it stands, is far too disorganised and thus also far too dangerous to do this nation any good. Any odd person with whatever motives could come along to a protest and kick-start a scuffle, which would inevitably escalate into something worse. Did you see how their so-called ‘static protest’ in London turned out? Throwing missiles at the police? Very peaceful indeed.

  • Dave
    4 November 2011 at 15:58
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    I think maybe a bit more could have been said of examples. For example, my main experience of the EDL was in covering a Nottingham protest in December of 2009: http://www.impactnottingham.com/2009/12/edl-protest-causes-conflict-in-city-centre/

    The protest turned nasty, yes. And there are doubtless plenty of violent types within the organisation. However, when I was indeed hit by a projectile on that occasion, it had been thrown by a ‘Unite Against Fascism’ protester. The projectile itself was a big sign, with the text telling us about how the EDL was full of violent thugs. Rather ironic, I thought, once I’d walked off the headache.

    This a discussion that’s probably worth having, even if the EDL are – as a political force – incredibly weak. I’ve heard people talking about them as if they’re the equivalent to the paramilitary force of the BNP – something which doesn’t seem particularly close to the truth. What I would say is that talk of the ‘EDL’ as a homogenous movement isn’t particularly helpful – they’re not a political party, after all. I’m sure not everybody who sympathises with the EDL has chanted death threats or vandalised a local business. I doubt it’s an entry requirement.

    It’d probably be more useful to focus on the individual concerns of people who sympathise with the organisation.

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