The arrest and conviction of supporters of the racist English Defence League (EDL) in the last few weeks underlines the lie that they are a peaceful, anti-racist organisation – and proves that it is right to build a movement big enough to drive them from our streets.
Two supporters of the EDL pled guilty to common assault and a public order offence following an attack on a Leicester Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organising meeting in the run up to the EDL march on 9 October.
James Elliott pled guilty to common assault and a public order offence, while Michael Stephen Thomas pled guilty to a public order offence at Leicester magistrates court on 6 December.
A number of UAF supporters were prepared to give evidence, including Andy Godfrey and Dave Wainwright who were assaulted during the incident.
'We had just finished an excellent organising meeting when the EDL thugs turned up,' Andy told Socialist Worker.
'Local people including trade unionists, a local councillor, students and community activists were there.
'There were around ten EDL supporters outside shouting abuse at us. Some burst into the meeting. We asked them to leave and they refused, swearing at us and chucking our publicity materials across the room.
'We stood our ground. One of them took a swing at me, but I managed to duck it.'
Dave was less fortunate. 'I was suddenly hit in the face,' he told Socialist Worker. “We asked them to leave and they turned violent.”
The pair were sentenced to 90 hours community service each and fines of £100.
In a linked case, another EDL supporter, Lee Whitby, was found guilty of using racially aggravated abusive words during the EDL march in Leicester on 9 October.
The 27-year-old pleaded not guilty to chanting 'threatening, abusive or insulting' words that were likely to cause 'harassment, alarm or distress.' He said he made the comments but thought that it was okay because only police officers and fellow EDL supporters could hear him!
Whitby, of Holley Place, Stoke-on-Trent, confirmed that he is an EDL supporter. He also admitted being part of previous EDL protests in Newcastle, Dudley, Stoke, Bolton and Bradford. He was fined, ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge.
The EDL repeatedly claim that they are a non-violent organisation interested in peacefully opposing 'extremist Islam'. Yet their supporters, like those in Leicester, continue to harass and intimidate anyone who disagrees with them, using racist language and threatening violence.
Andy said that when the EDL attempted to attack the UAF organising meeting in Leicester, there were three times as many UAF supporters to EDL thugs. “We out numbered them and we refused to be intimidated,” he said.
And on the day of the protest, around 800 UAF supporters refused to be cowed and held their ground in the city centre while hundreds of Asian youth defended their streets, mosques and community.
“When we heard the EDL was coming we knew the best way to confront them was to build a mass movement involving broad forces – that is what we did and it has meant that we have built anti-racist unity in the city, and they haven’t broken that. They want us intimidated, hiding in our homes. But we refused. That is why they resort to violence. But we came out stronger.”
In a separate case, Cambridgeshire Police confirmed that leading EDL member and spokesperson Guramit Singh had been arrested following his speech made during the EDL protest in Peterborough on 11 December.
Singh was arrested on suspicion of intentionally causing religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress. He has since been bailed but has to reappear for questioning in February.
In a separate case, two members of the EDL have been found guilty of public disorder offences during the EDL's visit to Aylesbury – one has been jailed.
Richard Price, 41, is the EDL's West Midlands coordinator. He was given a 12-week prison sentence after pleading guilty to public disorder, and fined.
And Collum Keyes, 23, was fined during the hearing at Aylesbury Crown Court on Friday of last week.
The EDL have held close to 40 protests in towns and cities across Britain. At every protest they have attacked anti-racists, attempted to break through police lines and attack the local Muslim community.
They are planning to return to Luton on 5 February. When the EDL protested there in 2009 they ran riot, attacking local residents, shops and cars.
UAF has called a national protest to support and defend Luton's multicultural community.
While the arrest and conviction of EDL thugs is important, simply relying on the courts or state bans on their marches do not stop the EDL or prevent them from holding a static assembly.
In Leicester, Peterborough, Bradford and other areas where bans were sought, the EDL assembled in significant numbers. In most cases the EDL broke through police lines. But they were confronted by local anti-racist.
Waiting for a ban or an arrest, months after the damage has been done, will not stop the EDL. The presence of significant numbers of anti-racists on the streets gives confidence to the anti-racist majority and says that we are prepared to defend multiculturalism and our community. It also exposes the racism and violence at the heart of the EDL to anyone who may be enticed to join them.
It is vital that anti-racists turn out in large numbers in Luton to defend the Muslim community.
UAF national protest against the EDL in Luton, Saturday 5 February. For details of transport and publicity materials go to: www.uaf.org.uk