In a worrying development, the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) brought thousands out on London’s streets on Saturday 24 June to “unite against extremism”.
The increase in Islamophobia from the mainstream media and politicians created the conditions for such a large turnout.
People had come with different expectations of what they were attending. But it was a mobilisation which ended with right wing and racist speeches against Islam.
Known fascists attended—seeking to build their influence—and some Nazis celebrated the mobilisation.
But the march was built among wide layers of people, and not necessarily with racist appeals. That indicates there are softer elements on the periphery of this movement.
This echoes some of the early mobilisations eight years ago that led to the formation of the English Defence League (EDL).
The EDL started with similar racist appeals about “Islamic extremism” and used sections of organised football supporters.
Some of its marches attracted an audience from beyond the ranks of the far right. But opposition wore it down to a hard core.
By pointing out to softer elements of the FLA that they are being used by fascists, opposition can drive a wedge into this new right wing movement to split it too.
FLA founder John Meighan was interviewed by a right wing blog last week.
This blog calls fascist former EDL leader Tommy Robinson “a very knowledgeable man who speaks articulately and informatively about the religion of Islam”. Robinson called the Quran a “violent and cursed book”.
Meighan was clear what the focus of the FLA should be.
He said, “We’re talking about radical Islamic extremism” and listed terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims—the murder of Lee Rigby, the 7/7 bombings in London, Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and the Manchester bombing.
His solution is “looking at terror laws and preachers of hate”. He thinks that “you can’t watch them all” so advocates electronic tagging or “some form of confinement”.
This is thin cover for Islamophobia.
And the march’s line-up included speeches on Islamophobic themes quite seperate to terrorism (see below).
Its organisers appear to have learned from the EDL’s decline to make their appearance more respectable.
Meighan argued that “flags, chanting, drinking on the streets” only “gives the press a stick to beat you with”. He said the FLA will operate “not in a violent or aggressive way”—though his own history of violent street brawls undermines this.
The FLA represents a dangerously fertile breeding ground for fascists—and a danger in its own right.
The left has grown hugely in confidence in Britain in recent weeks. But as the populist racist Ukip party implodes electorally a portion of its audience is open to the far right.
The left and all Jeremy Corbyn supporters can’t ignore such developments.
Rally puts sectarians and xenophobes centre stage
The FLA organisers’ claims their march was anti-racist were blown apart by giving a platform to the likes of Toni Bugle to push an openly Islamophobic agenda.
The EDL supporter formed anti-Muslim group Mothers Against Radical Islam And Sharia. She was a Police and Crime Commissioner candidate for the far right English Democrats.
She blamed “Muslim grooming gangs” for child sexual abuse and railed against “politically correct pandering to one community over the rest of us”.
Mohan Singh from the Sikh Awareness Society also spoke. He has come to prominence by parroting the lies whipped up by politicians and the media that Muslims are child abusers.
He did condemn the Finsbury Park attack, but the sectarian focus of his speech was “radical Islamic terrorism”. To cheers from large parts of the crowd he argued that the “biggest stumbling block is political correctness.
“If we can’t identify the enemy haven’t we already lost?”
Referring to recent terror attacks he added, “What we’ve seen in the last three months is the tip of the iceberg.
“We’ve got to go down and root these people out.” He called for “a blacklist of foreign home-grown imams and other political leaders” who “threaten morality or public order”.
It would have gone down well with the former EDL and Combat 18 thugs, and others from the dwindling band of the Nazi British National Party, known to have been on the march.
As the Unite Against Fascism campaign reports, “Fascist individuals were not open about their politics but clearly may sense fresh opportunities.”
How we can beat the thugs
The growth of street movements such as the EDL show how rapidly things can move—but also how the threat from such groups can be countered.
It remains to be seen how the FLA will develop. But there are already signs of tensions, not only between the hooligan firms more at home fighting each other on a Saturday afternoon, but also about the direction it goes in.
Will it still try to appear “respectable” or will the overtly racist wing win out?
Anti-racists need to take the FLA seriously. It must be opposed.
Fan groups at clubs can play an important role in spreading the anti-racist message around football grounds.
Fanzines, most of them left wing, could expose the FLA’s dangers.
Statements from players can back this up.