A recent English Defence League (EDL) rally saw a peculiar meeting of the far-right minds. Paul Weston, leader and founder of Liberty GB, was an invited speaker at their Downing Street march on September 20.
In recent months, both the EDL and Liberty GB went through an image crisis as they looked to redefine themselves from the ashes of disappointment. For the latter, the party had a disaster at the European elections, finishing bottom with just 2,494 votes (0.02 per cent).
After Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll quit the EDL for seemingly greener pastures, the group went through a number of leadership changes, internal problems and a hardening ideological shift that now incorporates anti-migrant rhetoric.
The demonstration again focused upon the horrific abuse in Rotherham. Groups like the EDL feel vindicated, as a conspiracy of silence became a rallying call for supporters who believe left-wing thought police covered up ‘Muslim grooming gangs’.
But in typical fashion, they myopically framed the debate along racial and religious lines, and exploited a justified public outrage.
Paul Weston closed his speech with a somewhat ambitious hope for the EDL:
“Now, I don’t know how many people from the EDL we’ve got down here today and how many people are here who are not with the EDL – but I want to see the EDL grow into the biggest street movement in Europe. And then, in six months’ time, I want to see you come back here with ten thousand people, I want to see us march from here down to the BBC headquarters where we can let those fellow traitors and quislings in the BBC know exactly what we think about them, in no pure, unadulterated terms at all.”
But that ambition is unlikely to materialise. The EDL lacks mass appeal, thanks to the mainstreaming of some anti-Muslim rhetoric and its links to racist violence and hooliganism.
After the tragic murder of Lee Rigby, the group failed to muster mass support, as their London protest, weeks after his death, only attracted around 1,000 supporters. Tommy Robinson (and Kevin Carroll) understood these limitations and quit several months later.
Hope not Hate estimated that 200-300 supporters made the recent Downing Street protest. According to Nick Lowles, the September 20 demonstration attracted more loyalist and Nazi elements.
A week earlier, around 1,000 EDL supporters descended upon Rotherham. South Yorkshire Police made 12 arrests and seven individuals were charged. During the protests, a mosque had its glass front door smashed, as police arrested a 20-year-old man in connection to the vandalism. In total, the estimated cost of policing the main EDL demonstration (and counter protest) hit £1m.
In recent months, the EDL held demonstrations in Bournemouth, Hexthorpe, Batley, Middlesbrough, and Stevenage, but the turnout was often in the low hundreds.
The English Defence League and Liberty GB use Facebook to greater effect as their ‘likes’ give an inflated sense of importance. After the murder of Lee Rigby, support for the EDL dramatically increased on Facebook, it now stands at around 175,000 ‘likes’.
Both use their online presence to espouse anti-Muslim (and anti-migrant) rhetoric inside their respective echo chambers. But when it comes to a real-world presence, a lack of coherence is self-evident.