The FLA revealed its true colours in Birmingham today (Pic: Geoff Dexter)
The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) marched in Birmingham on Saturday. It revealed an organisation that is becoming increasingly openly racist.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 people joined the FLA march. A similar number are estimated to have joined a separate march by a breakaway group—The True Democratic Football Lads Alliance—also in Birmingham.
The “original” group’s march—led by founder John Meighan—heard openly racist speeches from members of far right organisations, including Anne Marie Waters of For Britain.
The breakaway, supposedly more "respectable", heard from the Ukip party leader MEP Gerard Batten.
The FLA is lining up with, and promoting, racist and far right figures. The idea that it is a "non-politcal" movement—put forward by Meighan—has now been proven to be false.
Former English Defence League leader, the Nazi Tommy Robinson, was greeted on the march as a hero and a celebrity.
Waters, who was deemed too Islamophobic for the racist Ukip, told the crowd that Islam was “the big problem”. Marchers booed at the mention of Islam.
“I’ve heard it all. The one big excuse—you’ll offend moderate Muslims with your language. Well I’m sorry, but millions of decent British people are offended by this religion”.
She attacked the European Union (EU) as a “totalitarian, fascist tyranny” that had “knowingly and deliberately imported hell on earth to Europe. It has allowed people to be killed and raped on its streets.”
Meighan founded the FLA in June last year following the London Bridge terror attacks, claiming just to oppose extremism. He told the march today, “All we’re doing is standing up to what’s wrong. All we want is a safer place for our children and grandchildren.”
But every speaker attacked Islam, migrants and refugees—without pretending to distinguish between “extremists” and “moderates”.
Meighan invited racists and the far right to share the stage with him (Pic: Socialist Worker)
A speaker introduced as Arlene from German organisation 21 Decibels spoke about “sexual violence against women resulting from uncontrolled mass immigration.”
“Violent misogyny is not some minor aspect of Islam—it is central,” she said. She added, “Calling someone racist for criticising a perverted belief system—as Islam is—is moronic”.
Arlene also attacked the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. “It seems feminists have more of a problem with white men who don’t rape than with Muslim men who do,” she said.
She dismissed the complaints of sexual harassment victims involved in #MeToo as being simply about “something as harmless as a compliment, saucy comments, or the uneasy feeling after having agreed to do the casting in a hotel room.”
Luke Nash Jones from Make Britain Great Again used the language of the US alt-right, and led the crowd in chants of “We Want Trump”.
He attacked Labour home secretary Diane Abbott as a “racist,” and Stand Up To Racism as “Anglophobes”.
He claimed that “Jihadis are being given council houses while our veterans are sleeping on the streets,” and attacked migrants that “won’t speak our language and hate our culture”.
He also said that, “politicians don’t know our problems. They don’t have to struggle for a job because of undercutting by migrants”.
Nash Jones inexplicably claimed that “The Labour Party banned white men from their conference.”
And taking a swipe at what he called “effeminate men”, he began a homophobic and transphobic tirade.
Politicians were “debating whether grown men should be allowed into girls lavatories,” adding to big cheers, “There are only two genders”.
Robinson himself didn’t speak—but was lauded by every speaker. His arrival at the march was heralded by huge cheers and the entire crowd singing his name.
Big sections of the crowd kept singing his name along the short route of the march. These soon turned to chants of “We want our country back”.
As the march finished at the multi-cultural Bull Ring market, marchers began pointing at Asian people and chanting, “Stick your fucking Isis up your arse”.
Both marches together were smaller than the one in London last year. The split between them shows these new formations can be unstable.
But their combined size is still a clear sign that the racist far right has potential to regroup and grow on the streets.
Meighan announced that the FLA will hold its next march in Manchester. It will need a serious response from anti-racists.
The Football Lads’ fragile alliance fractures—but remains dangerous
The march by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DLFA) was at much greater pains to pretend it is not racist and to appear respectable.
But organisers openly endorsed the racist Ukip party whose leader—the headline speaker—was cheered enthusiastically.
And the rally ended with calls to march in towns affected by child abuse scandals—as far right and Nazi groups have done.
DFLA member Justin Smith ended the rally by threatening, “Manchester, Telford, Rotherham, Rochdale. We’re coming to see you all soon. We’ve had enough of watching our democracy and our freedom of speech and our children getting raped.”
The DFLA later said it planned a protest in Telford on Friday of this week against what it called “violent racist sex terrorists.” It accused the Labour Party of “selling our children to the sex slave trade for votes”.
The march was much more like previous FLA marches, with various football casual firms represented and memorial wreaths being laid.
It also had support from the Justice4the21—a campaign by family members of some of the 21 people killed in the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings.
The campaign was made the focus of the march. But speakers used it to make speeches with underlying or implied Islamophobic messages.
Ukip leader Gerard Batten, who began his leadership by calling Islam a “death cult,” said, “It isn’t enough just to oppose terrorism...we have to oppose the ideologies that use terrorism.”
Earlier this year Batten said Islam “glorifies violence”. Echoing this he told Saturday’s march, “We now see terrorism in every continent in the world.”
A crowd member shouted back, “Islamic terrorism—we know who it is”.
Ukip MEP Bill Etheridge once told young members to copy Hitler because he “achieved a great deal”. He also spoke. After he finished march organiser Phillip Hickin said, “You all know who you’re voting next time don’t you—Ukip.”
Both FLA groups are now lining up with and promoting racist and far right figures. The idea that it is a “non-political” movement—put forward by Meighan—has now been proven to be false.
“We’re going to restore ourselves as a force in national politics,” said Batten. “What better way than to start off by supporting this cause.”
Even more right wing forces are looking to the original FLA. Saturday’s march was the largest far right march for a long time.
A new racist movement is taking shape—and it is a dangerous force.
Abuse used by racist cynics
The Democratic FLA march in Telford on Friday will try to use the child sexual exploitation to push violent racism.
But the police are continuing to fail victims of child sexual exploitation in Telford.
The Sunday Mirror recently reported that up to 1,000 children could have been abused over the last 40 years in a town of just 170,000 people.
Abusers targeted girls as young as 11 and subjected them to beatings and rape. The Mirror said that three murders and two other deaths have been linked to the scandal.
Yet superintendent Tom Harding said the estimated scale of abuse in Telford had been “sensationalised”.
“I don’t believe Telford is any worse than lots of places,” he told the BBC. “Read the headlines, read the reports. They’re discussing cases from 20 or 30 years ago.”
An internal memo from West Mercia Police (WMP) about the scandal allegedly claimed that “in most cases the sex is consensual”.
Solicitor Siobhán Crawford told Socialist Worker, “I believe the internal memo is appalling. The police are not learning lessons from their previous mistakes.
“They are also continuing to fail to understand that grooming and CSE is not consensual.
“It is attitudes like those in the memo that stops survivors reporting the abuse. If the authorities do not believe survivors where else do they have to turn?”
One victim spoke to Good Morning Britain about her experiences. “My abuse started with boys my own age who went on to sell my phone number to older men,” she said.
“I was in cars that were stopped by the police, and they asked me no questions of why I was there with a much older man.”
The Mirror said social workers alerted police to the abuse in the 1990s but cops took ten years to investigate. It added that cops failed to investigate one recent case five times until an MP intervened.
Another victim, known as Paula, spoke to the Birmingham Mail in 2015. She said she’d reported a rape to police but said she was too scared to have him arrested.
“They just said if I didn’t want him arrested then they’d have to say it was consensual,” said Paula. “I don’t feel as if anyone listened to me, nobody cared.”
A court case in 2012 saw seven Asian men jailed for child sexual abuse offences. Racists have used the case, and the wider scandal, to try and paint all Asian men as abusers.
Abuse and sexist attitudes aren’t the preserve of Asian men. The authorities failed the victims because the system doesn’t treat vulnerable young women and girls as a priority.
Anti-racists take a stand against the FLA in Birmingham
Over 200 people joined a protest against the FLA called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) in the city centre.
There was strong support from trade unionist with banners from the UCU, Midlands TUC and several NEU branches. There were speakers from these unions and the CWU.
Speakers from local groups insisted that Birmingham would not be divided and that the FLA was not welcome.
There was anger that striking home care workers could not hold a rally in the city centre because of the FLA presence.
Weyman Bennett, co-convenor of SUTR, told Socialist Worker, "It is very important we stood together in unity today, but the size of the FLA marches can't be ignored. There needs to be a bigger and stronger united movement against the FLA and the racism and Islamophobia they feed on "