Around 15,000 fascists and racists rallied for jailed Nazi figurehead Tommy Robinson on Whitehall in central London on Saturday.
A counter-protest of 400 called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) opposed the far right mobilisation.
Robinson’s arrest outside a Leeds court last month has become a lightning rod for the forces of British fascism.
Some of the loudest cheers at the rally went to a speech by far right Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders and a message from French fascist Marine Le Pen’s right hand man Louis Aliot.
Former adviser to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, sent a text message of support.
After lunchtime crowds baying, “Oh, Tommy, Tommy”, abandoned their pints to emerge from adjacent pubs. Some said, “This ain't your country,” to a few non white tourists who were passing through.
The thugs turned Whitehall into a sea of Union Jacks, St George’s flags and far right flags. They included a few from the English Defence League (EDL) and the English Democrats, largely made up of former members of the Nazi British National Party.
The Generation Identity bloc, made up entirely of young men and women, went down a storm among protesters. Their ranks are made up of white supremacists who look to the successes of the US alt right.
And the White Pendragons, the group that tried to stage a mock hanging of London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, were scattered throughout the crowd. The fascists see an opportunity to build a violent movement on the streets.
The “Free Tommy” rally confirmed that Ukip leader Gerrard Batten has thrown his lot in with the fascists after the party's wipeout in the local elections.
He slammed “mass immigration” as a “disaster that has fed Islamisation”.
“You either submit or resist,” he said, whipping up the crowd into a racist frenzy. “Are you going to submit?” he asked the protest. “No!” came the answer. “Are you doing to resist?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
And Batten called on people to “join, support and vote Ukip”.
Other elements included the far right For Britain party, whose leader Anne Marie Waters is running in the Lewisham East by-election. She held a meeting with former BNP election chief Eddy Butler in Loughton, Essex, last month.
On the counter-demonstration were banners from the RMT, NEU, CWU and Unison union branches, alongside Labour Party and trade council banners.
Pro-Robinson protesters repeatedly tried to attack the counter-protest, before later getting into fights with cops.
Imelda is a Labour Party member who works in the NHS from Haringey in north London. She told Socialist Worker, “I couldn’t just stand by when fascists march in our streets. It’s frightening this is happening in London. People here are used to working and living with people of different cultures.”
Many saw the Labour Party as key in the fight against racism and fascism.
Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary secretary of the RMT, told the crowd that the march in defence of Robinson was “about people being alienated and abandoned by mainstream parties.
“But since Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the Labour Party we have a party that address working class people’s needs,” he said.
Alex Kenny from the NEU education union national executive lent the support of his union. He said the NEU was “determined to stand alongside SUTR and anyone else opposing racism”.
Kenny also outlined a huge challenge and opportunity for the anti-racist movement—opposition to Trump during his visit to Britain in July.
“In four weeks’ time, the most divisive leader is going to come to London. We want thousands to show Donald Trump he’s not welcome here.
Kenny urged the crowd, “Let’s go and build a movement to take on racist ideas that divide our workplaces and communities.”
Islington Labour councillor Rakhia Ismail said the size of the protest for Robinson showed that everyone needs to take seriously the task of organising against them.
Saturday’s demonstration is a warning to the whole left. Just days after Robinson supporters marched through Leeds, a mosque and Sikh gurdwara were subject to an arson attack.
It critically important to organise urgently against the fascist threat.
Michael Bradley from UAF said, “We are sounding the alarm to trade unions, anti-racists and the left. We need a mass movement to push back these people. They will not simply disappear.”