Several thousand people joined a march in central London on Saturday called by the Football Lads Alliance (FLA).
The FLA claims that its marches are to oppose “extremism”. It claims it is “not racist” and is “peaceful”. But it has attracted known racists and fascists—and Saturday’s protest showed its true colours.
Its founders and leading members made speeches that will please racists.
The FLA’s leaders had said they would “swamp London with 30-40,000 people”. It was nothing like that.
Former leader of the fascist English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson was at the head of the march as it set off from Park Lane.
Some of those demonstrating seemed genuine in their belief that the FLA is not racist. They said they were there because they wanted the government to do more to tackle terrorism.
“People say we’re EDL, but this has nothing to do with the EDL,” said one. “It’s bringing everyone together.”
But even if some think the FLA isn’t racist, racists and fascists feel comfortable at its events. Tommy Robinson was treated as a celebrity.
Some told him to leave, presumably as he’s bad for the FLA’s image. Yet many more gave him a warm welcome and posed for selfies with him.
Speeches at the start of the protest included ex cops, former soldiers and others. The biggest cheers went to the most right wing speeches.
FLA founder John Meighan was loudly cheered when he called for the deportation of terror suspects.
“We want all suspected terrorists who are not British citizens to be permanently removed from the country,” he said. “Why should they be allowed to come over here? They’re not British citizens – get them out.”
He then led a chant of, “Out, out, out!”.
Meighan said people worried about their children being attacked by terrorists. “It’s not our way of life,” he said. “We want our country back – simple as that.” This led to singing of, “We want our country back” among the crowd.
He also targeted shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, to loud cheers from the crowd. Meighan mentioned Abbott and said, “It's time for you and your motley crew to move over: the FLA are taking over now".
One speaker said politicians have surrendered in arrival halls. They have housed, fed and clothed the enemy.
Former soldier Phil Campion said, “As far as I’m concerned we’re at war.” He quoted Winston Churchill pledging to “fight on the beaches” and “never surrender”—to whoops and cheers. One protester responded by shouting, “Kill ‘em all.”
Campion said, “Politicians have surrendered in arrival halls and airports. They have housed, fed and clothed the enemy.
“It’s time to stand up to terror,” Campion went on. “The political correctness has gone too far. We’ve lost our freedom of speech. I’m not allowed to say anything anymore,” he said from the platform.
Campion said he had fought alongside people of “all cultures”. And a speaker from Veterans Against Terrorism (VAT) said, “There’s men standing here today who have done more to fight against fascism than anybody.”
But he went on, “There is a very serious threat that faces this country. We’ve got to call it as it is. That threat is Islamic supremacism and Jihadism.” He called for “hate preachers” to be “arrested”.
That message will boost every Islamophobe and racist across Britain.
FLA claims to be non-racist and non-violent fell apart when it marched past the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) anti-racist presence at Downing Street.
Several marchers hurled bottles and abuse at the anti-racists. One SUTR protester was called a “black bastard” and another a “mongrel”. FLA marchers chanted, “You’re not English anymore” and called SUTR supporters “traitors” and “scum”.
One shouted, “I hope they bomb your family.”
Some fought to break through police lines and physically attack SUTR protesters. And the FLA’s celebration of “unity” between football firms seemed to fall apart as Socialist Worker saw several scuffles break out in pubs after the demo.
It was right for anti-racists to be on the streets to show opposition to the FLA. The FLA has no doubt attracted a mix of people, not all of whom are hardened racists. But there is a core of racism at its heart – and it is a vehicle for racists and fascists to organise and grow.
Anti-racists were right to be on the streets
The FLA march had been bigger when it set off from Park Lane, but there were no more than 5,000 on it by the time it reached Downing Street.
Around 150 Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) supporters gathered opposite Downing Street—and some leafleted the march as it went past.
They handed out leaflets with “Questions for the leadership of the FLA”.
The reactions from the marchers showed the tensions within the FLA. The front of the march did not react aggressively.
The leadership around FLA founder John Meighan are being cautious. Under pressure Meighan had pulled Nazi Toni Bugle from the line-up of speakers after “taking advice on the PR front”.
But as the bulk of the march went past, the reactions quickly turned. A health worker told Socialist Worker, “People were very aggressive, one person tore all the leaflets from my hand and threw them at me. There were vicious insults, some of them racist.”
Marches shouted slogans such as “You’re the racists”, “You’re the fascists”, “Scum” and “You’re not English”. A section at the back of the march threw beer cans and coins into the crowd.
Those leafleting had to pull back.
Kevin Courtney, NEU education union joint general secretary, joined the SUTR event. “You can understand expressions of outrage against terror attacks that have taken place,” he told Socialist Worker.
“But when I look at the first march there are some with racist and Islamophobic views—it could be a recruiting ground.”
“It’s important that the reaction isn’t to blame the majority of Muslims, to see that it has nothing to do with Islam.
“But some in the FLA seem to have the reverse response”.
Balwinder, who is part of Sikhs Against the EDL, told Socialist Worker, “Not everyone on the FLA march is a racist or fascist, but it has attracted them.
“In particularly I’m concerned about Mohan Singh who made a very Islamophobic speech at the last FLA demonstration.
“He is friendly with Tommy Robinson of the fascist EDL.”
The right is in flux.
Support for the racist populist Ukip party has collapsed and fascist organisations such as the EDL often only muster dozens for their marches. But this means that their supporters will be looking for a new organisation—and the right could regroup around a new formation.
Failed Ukip leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters said last week that she could set up a new party. Waters is a supporter of Bugle’s Marias group and has spoken alongside Singh and Robinson.
The left has grown hugely in confidence in Britain in the last few months. But the left and all Jeremy Corbyn supporters can't ignore the threat from the racists.