ON SUNDAY 6th MAY I travelled to London to take part in a counter-demo to the ‘Day for Freedom’ protest - organised by a conglomerate of the far-right, including ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson, and with a feeder march from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA). I was committed to being part of an anti-racist counter-demo to what proved to be a deeply Islamaphobic gathering. I was also interested to see how many would turn out on their demo with very little advance mainstream press, and organised almost entirely via YouTube and social media.
The premise of the ‘Day for Freedom’ protest was laughable - based on allegations of a sinister repression of free speech by the media and a Marxist cabal intent on silencing anyone not on the left. The evidence was mainly that Robinson had been banned from Twitter for not sticking to the terms and conditions of having an account, and blogger Count Dankula aka Mark Meechan being fined for making a video which included the phrase “Gas the Jews.”
I arrived early and walked down the Embankment joining Whitehall around the Cenotaph. I ended up in the middle of the crowd gathering for the Tommy Robinson shindig. They surrounded the war memorial waving various flags including the traditional Union and St George’s flags but, more worryingly, there were also those representing Kekistan, and Generation Identity, a racist movement that calls for 'ethnopluralism', which means separating and segregating people along racial lines.
I noticed the huge screen that dominated Whitehall at the point where it meets Downing Street. Speeches would be beamed onto this screen so that everyone in the crowd of around 4,000 could see as well as hear the speakers. This was clearly a very well-funded demo. A seemingly well-organised security team were funnelling speakers to the back stage area, while a number of stewards moved around the already sizeable crowd. The people attending were a much more mixed group than I expected. While it was certainly male-dominated, there were more younger people, more women, and even a few family groups there.
I moved through the barriers that had been put up to divide the ‘Day for Freedom’ from the anti-racist counter-demo. This was a much smaller group and was dominated by the SWP and Stand Up to Racism, judging by the papers and placards on display. Shortly after I arrived a gang of around 200 heavily built men - who turned out to be from the DFLA - ran up Whitehall from the Parliament Square end and attacked the anti-racist demo, screaming “lefty scum off our streets” and “antisemites” into the faces of the mostly middle-aged anti-racist placard holders.
Strangely, although there was a heavy police presence, this attack seemed to take them by surprise and the stocky men with their Nazi tattoos were allowed to roam freely, attacking people at will.
I watched the speeches on the livestream being broadcast. The focus was heavy on Islamaphobic content and attacks on ‘cultural Marxists’ curtailing freedom of speech - though the irony of saying this while being beamed onto a multiplexsized screen in the heart of London seemed lost on the speakers.
Tommy Robinson received a rapturous welcome from the crowd. Other speakers included the deeply misogynistic Milo Yiannopoulos and the Islamaphobic leader of UKIP, Gerard Batten. The entire three hour event was compered by Raheem Kassam, the editor of the alt-right Brietbart News site, and a powerful organising figure in both the UK and US far-right movements.
There was a level of organisation from the far-right not seen in this country for decades. There seemed to be some significant advances being made in ‘selling’ this ideology to a more mainstream crowd. More terrifying was that this could happen without significant opposition in central London.
So what can be done? Well the DFLA have called for a march in Manchester on 2nd June. We all need to be organising to get as many people there as possible to oppose that. And we need to bring together left-leaning groups to develop a strategy to defeat an increasingly sophisticated and media-savvy far-right.
The analysis published by Plan C on their blog seems to me to be absolutely correct. We need to be building a more positive anti-racist culture which takes its cue from past initiatives such as Rock Against Racism, and the huge power behind youth-led movements like Grime for Corbyn. We have to act now. Ignoring this is simply not an option.
chair of Kent Anti-Racism Network