Last Saturday the English Defence League (EDL) held a national demonstration in Rotherham, ostensibly against “Muslim grooming gangs”, although this excuse was tacked on weeks after the demo was announced.
Child abuse needs to be tackled wherever it occurs but the EDL’s treatment of the issue is completely opportunistic and disingenuous. They blame all Muslims (or all Pakistanis or British Asians) for the actions of a small minority but they have nothing to say about child abuse perpetrated by Christians or white people (including their own supporters) and certainly don’t portray it as representative of those abusers’ ethnic or religious communities. They have nothing to say about the cuts to children and family services or about the chauvinistic attitudes that led the police to ignore the voices of vulnerable girls in Rotherham and allowed their abuse to continue.
There were around 400 EDL supporters on what was supposed to be a national demo. Although this is more than we’d like, this is a fraction of the numbers they could once get out and their slow terminal decline seems to be continuing. To put the figure in perspective, their attendance on Saturday was less than one percent of the number who marched together against cuts to the NHS last year. So much for Britain’s biggest street movement.
The anti-fascist turnout was disappointing. There were about 40 of us from the Anti-Fascist Network, as well as a small number of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) supporters and other locals. Young BME locals were kettled by police and threatened with arrest before they could reach the town centre, which further reduced numbers. The EDL rely for their numbers on parachuting people in from across the country. Given the UAF’s current unwillingness or inability to organise big counter-demonstrations, we need to do more ourselves to network locally and nationally if we’re to provide an effective response.
Even with a bigger anti-fascist mobilisation, the massive police presence would have made it very hard to get close enough to the EDL to have a visible or disruptive presence. There were over 1000 police in what is a small town centre, making it hard to go anywhere without a police escort, let alone get close to the EDL. For future demonstrations we need to come up with contingency plans so we can do something more productive than just looking over lines of police for a glimpse of the fash.
After the demo, some anti-fascists drinking in the Howard were attacked by about 20 EDL members. The anti-fascists defended themselves and came off better than the fash, but it was a timely reminder that the EDL is made up of people who won’t think twice about using violence, and that we need to be willing and able to defend ourselves. Mark Johnson (or Mark Carlton as he likes to be known), who kicked off first, attempted to attack an anti-racist gig in Leeds a couple of years back. Derek Hemphill, who was arrested at the Howard, has previous for assaulting his (ex-)girlfriend and continuing to harass her. Reasoning won’t work with some people.
Other EDL members present include Mark Larden (Sheffield), Graham Thompson (Sheffield), Adam Storey (Sheffield), Leanne Johnson (Halifax), Hayley Ellis (Leeds), Adam Repton (Nottingham) and Wayne Robertson (Thamesmead, London).