Several thousand people joined a march in central London on Saturday of last week 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 racist speeches.
The FLA’s leaders had said they would “swamp London with 30-40,000 people”. That didn’t happen.
Between 15 to 20,000 assembled at the beginning, but numbers sharply dropped by the time it reached Downing Street.
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. But even if some think the FLA isn’t racist, racists and fascists feel comfortable at its events.
“Muslims aren’t part of the country,” one marcher from east London told The Independent newspaper.
“They don’t mingle. We’re being overrun and can’t say nothing about it,” he said.
The biggest cheers went to the most right wing speeches. FLA founder John Meighan was cheered when he called for deportations.
“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!”.
He also targeted shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, to loud cheers. Meighan mentioned Abbott and said, “It’s time for you and your motley crew to move over—the FLA are taking over now”.
Meighan’s call that “we want our country back” was taken up by chanting from the crowd.
Former soldier Phil Campion said, “As far as I’m concerned we’re at war.” 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. I’m not allowed to say anything anymore,” he said from the platform.
A speaker from Veterans Against Terrorism (VAT) said, “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.”
The FLA’s message will boost every Islamophobe and racist across Britain.
Stand Up To Racism organised a counter-protest outside Downing Street. People had abuse hurled at them.
The FLA has no doubt attracted a mix of people, not all of whom are hardened racists. But there is racism at its heart.
Take the rise of the FLA seriously - and the racism it feeds on
The whole of the left must treat the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) as a serious threat. This was not a rump group of hundreds, it was a march of thousands.
The FLA’s leaders have organised and mobilised people behins a racist agenda.
Their speeches made clear they want to take the FLA further rightwards towards open Islamophobia.
This doesn’t mean everyone on the march was racist—but it was a racist march. There can now be no doubt there is a racist core which is growing and dominant.
And fascists are able to be on the marches and try to grow. It will have boosted every Nazi and racist in Britain.
It’s significant that many marchers treated fascist former EDL leader and British National Party member Tommy Robinson like a celebrity on the march.
There is clearly an audience for far right ideas within the FLA.
This doesn’t mean that it is a fascist movement, and some people may have attended under the official banner “unite against extremism”. But its leaders want to build a racist movement in the streets (see right).
And the FLA march reflected the racism within wider society that has been whipped up by politicians and newspapers.
Scapegoating of Muslims for terror attacks is common place from right wingers to liberals who have made concessions to them.
Meighan’s call for deporting terror suspects and his dog whistles about “extremism” echo and then push further the racism of mainstream politicians and the media.
The difference is that the FLA put thousands onto the streets because of this sentiment.
Meighan previously argued the FLA’s aim was putting “mass numbers on the streets” and that they had to “crawl before we can walk”.
They have now put mass numbers onto the streets—and those who want to take on the “harder issues” feel emboldened.
The right is in flux. Fascist groups are down and Ukip has collapsed—but this means the right could regroup around a new formation.
That means we have to oppose the fascists and racists who want to grow out of the FLA. And it also means building a movement against the mainstream Islamophobia and racism that has given the FLA an audience.
It was very important that Stand Up To Racism was on the streets on Saturday as the FLA marched. There will need to be more mobilisations against them.
We also need specific activity in workplaces, trade unions and football grounds unmasking and opposing those at the centre of the FLA.
Anti-racists were right to oppose the FLA
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 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.” Marchers shouted slogans such as, “Scum” and, “You’re not English anymore”.
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.”
One SUTR protester was called a “black bastard” and another a “mongrel”. One shouted, “I hope they bomb your family.”
Some fought to break through police lines and physically attack SUTR protesters.
It was right for anti-racists to be on the streets to show opposition to the FLA.
Opening the door for Nazis - a warning from Germany
Germany gives a warning of how anti-Muslim street protests can build a hard racist movement with Nazis operating inside it.
The demonstrations by the anti-Muslim Pegida movement in 2014 were crucial to the growth of the AfD (Alternative for Germany).
Unlike in Britain, where the Pegida demonstrations were simply a front for Nazis, the ones in Germany were broader. Banners on their first marches had slogans such as “Against religious fanaticism, against any kind of radicalism, together against violence”.
The AfD grew from such protests and became a racist force that also projected a fake concern for working class people and hostility to mainstream parties.
In recent parliamentary elections the AfD took 94 MPs. The fascist wing inside it has been much strengthened.
Organise at the Stand Up To Racism conference
The FLA march is another reminder of the urgent need to build a mass anti-racist movement. That’s why Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) was launched.
Moazzam Begg, outreach director of human rights campaign Cage, addressed local SUTR rallies in Cardiff last week and in Bristol on Monday.
Another rally in Newham, east London, on Wednesday was also set to hear speeches from relatives of Edson Da Costa. He died in June after the Metropolitan Police arrested him in Newham.
A crucial opportunity will be the SUTR national conference in central London on Saturday of next week. It will bring together campaigners including shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and trade union leaders Dave Ward and Kevin Courtney.
Workshops will see activists debate and organise around issues such as deaths in custody, confronting Islamophobia, supporting refugees, and immigration policy after Brexit.