English Defence League
|Inventing "The Other"|
|Fear And Loathing|
The English Defence League (EDL) is an English organisation that describes itself as "a human rights organisation concerned about how non-Muslims are being marginalised as sharia norms become increasingly embedded in our society" that is "peacefully protesting against Militant Islam."
In practice, it is a motley rabble of neo-Nazis, other bigots and football hooligans. Many EDL members have been charged with intimidation and assaults against immigrants, and arson attacks against Mosques. This is hardly defending British people, particularly British Muslims. Unlike the more violent group Stormfront however, no EDL member has yet been found guilty of a racist murder.
The EDL, founded by Stephen Lennon (who goes under the name "Tommy Robinson") appears to have emerged from a combination of small grassroots organisations opposing specific anti-war demonstrations, and various football hooligans, mainly in the south and Midlands.
The EDL also has Scottish and Welsh sister organisations: the Scottish Defence League and the Welsh Defence League, respectively. The WDL is run by Jeff Marsh, a former football hooligan and convicted criminal who served two years in prison after stabbing a pair of Manchester United fans.
Against Islamic extremism, or Islam in general?
As noted above, the EDL's official line is that it opposes Islamic extremism. However, there are factors which arguably make it more accurate to describe it as simply anti-Islamic.
The EDL is officially opposed to extremist Muslims and Islam as an ideology, being opposed to "Islamic extremism and terrorism". However, its members seem more anti-Muslim than anti-Islam a lot of the time, in chanting hate speech towards the Muslim population of Britain.
Leader Stephen Lennon has stated that "We are against the building of all mosques because they preach homophobia and anti-Semitism which we should not tolerate in this country."
EDL activists have chanted "We hate Muslims" and "Muslim bombers off our streets" during a London protest and "I hate Pakis more than you". A demo in Luton ended with EDL supporters attacking Asian-owned businesses.
At the official EDL forum, general consensus appears to be that Islam in general is the problem and not the Muslims, as the EDL leader had made apparent frequently. For example, in a 2013 interview with the BBC, he stated, "While I want to lead the revolution against Islamist ideology, I don't want to lead the revolution against Muslims," an idea that was lost as he stated he had lost control of the EDL to right-wing loons (which resulted in his departure from said organisation). This has led to such charming sights as someone cheering on the deaths of Muslims in the Pakistani floods in 2010.
A leading light of the EDL is one Guramit Singh, a Sikh who offers these eloquent words of wisdom: "Stick your Allah up your arse, you cunt. Fuck em, fuck em, fuck em. I'm not being funny, fuck em. I may get arrested for this shit, but fuck em, fuck em, I'm not having it, fuck em, fuck em, fuck em, fuck em." However, a year later, he went on record saying "I apologise so much. I felt so bad, you know, because we've got Muslim members, I thought "oh my god, what are they going to think of me?" I felt like the biggest twat, I really did," which placed him somewhat at odds with the ultra-moderate Sikh leadership in Amritsar. Singh has been arrested and jailed for an unconnected violent robbery attempt.
Stance on Nazism
Despite stating that it explicitly opposes Neo-Nazism, the EDL and its sister organisations have managed to attract Nazi sympathisers. During a protest at Swansea, Welsh Defence League supporters burned an anti-Nazi flag while others were spotted making the Nazi salute. EDL members have also been caught giving the Nazi salute during protests in Birmingham, Newcastle and Manchester. Members of various neo-Nazi groups, most notably Combat 18, have joined EDL demos.
Stance on Judaism
“”The only Jews I've ever met have been great. My barrister was a Jew, my accountant, too. The point I always make is that there's no Jews that are involved in any radicalisation, there's no Jews that are involved in any gangs, or selling heroin, there's no Jews jumping out of cars beating people up – all the things that affect us here.
|—Stephen Lennon not being antisemitic.|
The EDL's stance on homosexuality and Judaism is an interesting one. Steven Lennon said that he had never met a Jew until he came into contact with "a lot of Jews who feel sympathy towards what we're saying". This similar tactic has been used by the likes of Britain First, seemingly to heighten the antagonisms between Jews and Muslims, and is a break from the old antisemitism of the far-right. This, as well as the support for the EDL from the Daily Star, allowed former BNP leader to use his intellectual deduction skills and prove that the EDL is a Zionist plot:
The English Defence League's former Jewish Division was run by far right extremist Roberta Moore, who supported various terrorist organisations. She was thrown out of the EDL after making extremist posts on her Facebook page. Since then the Jewish Division's page has been inactive and the EDL found it difficult to gain Jewish support, which is odd for an organisation which attracts white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Stance on homosexuality
The EDL has an official LGBT division, and as part of their May Bank Holiday demonstrations in 2013, it arranged a meeting in Londons HalfWay to Heaven gay bar – which advertises itself as a gay bar "orientated towards the 9–5 male worker" – without their prior knowledge or approval, before having tea in a mosque. The leader of the EDL's LGBT division is a man by the name of Tommy English, who says that "the spread of [Islam] will increase homophobia and homophobic attacks" in the UK, and believes that the best alternative is radical Islamophobic street protest. Likewise, official EDL press statements make the claim that "gay people in Britain have far more to fear from Islam than they do from the EDL" – Sharia law is undermining Western democracy and legal systems, and thus threatening the rights of gay people to exercise their sexuality as they please; all other threats to the gay rights movement are irrelevant.
However, on an old EDL forum, a gay EDL supporter wrote about how he was turned upon and viciously beaten by his supposed comrades, leaving him with "blood pouring out of two bad cuts" and a smashed-up car.
Leaked Skype conversations by Tommy Robinson's former PA show that the EDL has actively sought to permanently ban Jews and gay people from joining the organisation, as well as an unsurprising torrent of abuse and homophobic remarks.
Muslamic ray guns
Muslamic ray guns (or Muslamic rayguns) is a term used by critics of the EDL.
The meme originated with a Press TV documentary that was broadcast on 9 March 2011. The relevant clip, subsequently posted online, shows an interviewer questioning an EDL supporter who appears to be under the influence of alcohol (if not other substances) at a protest.
The birth of a meme
Here is a transcript of the conversation:
Hello sir, and why are you here today?
I'm here to protest, right, 'cause I'm going on a march 'cause I want Britain to be about British. I want Britain to be about British. We've got interracial law, and the Muslamic infidel, they're trying to get their law over our country. And it's happening, it is happening. It's happening in other countries. Everything... it's happening in every country, it's like... every, like, you've got, you've got the Iraqi law that they've put, they've put down in, in London. Like, we're more or less near London today. But they're trying to put the Iraqi law down on, on, on London, trying to put... they're just trying to put their, their law down on us. And we, we can't stand for that.
Which Iraqi lore is this?
It's the Muslim, Muslamic law. They, they've got, they've got their, they've got their law, obviously it's their law, innit? Right, there's no... we can't do anything about that, but we're just trying to stop Muslamic... you've got Muslamic rape gangs nowadays. Fucking... it's fifteen-year-olds getting raped and everything. It, it just can't happen. That's why all these people are here, all these people around us, that's why they're here.
Thank you very much.
The clip was posted at the Lancaster Unity blog.
A number of posters in the comments section made fun of the individual's slurred speech; in particular, when he said "rape gangs", he sounded a bit like he was saying "ray guns"  (though admittedly, it sounds a bit more like "ray gums", which is a lot less amusing). UK Indymedia followed suit in spoofing the EDL supporter's comments: "we suggest that anti-fascist protestors follow our fine heroic science-fiction example, and dress up as characters from B-movie sci-fi space invasion movies, sporting the most outlandish of legal weapons, 'Muslamic Rayguns'", said a post credited to "Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers & Buzz Lightyear". "Turn up in Blackburn wearing your most colourful items of fancy dress, ready to impose 'Iraqi Infadel Law' upon the EDL's 'Space Invaders', blasting the racist losers back to infinity and beyond (or the nearest solar system that has a run-down Wetherspoons)." The man in the video earned the nickname "Minger the Merciless" and the clip was widely mocked on YouTube, being turned into a music video.
Not everybody found all this quite so thigh-slappingly hilarious, however. "The clip may be funny, but it's not that funny", said Patrick Hayes of Spiked Online. "There are all sorts of interviews with confused protesters on the web – from the G20 riots in London to climate change marches and the recent UK Uncut protests. So what’s behind the particular interest in this clip?", he asked. "[T]he 'Muslamic Ray Gun' video clip is a kind of porn for liberals. It bolsters their smug sense of superiority, allowing them to dismiss the EDL as a joke." This viewpoint is generally considered to be accurate, as the EDL is a joke.
On 17 June 2014, the Facebook page for white supremacist vigilante group Britain First posted an image of a Lollipop man; this was followed by the parody page Language First declaring that lollipops were the new weapon of white supremacy movements in Britain to fight off Muslamic ray guns.
Relationship with other organisations
The EDL harbours a particular hatred for Unite Against Fascism, an anti-fascist organisation chaired by Ken Livingstone. There has been a long-running spat between the two groups, with both using the same tactics against each other and never really getting anywhere. This results in certain commentators opposing both groups.
The EDL has an off-and-on relationship with the BNP. An official BNP press release declared the EDL a "honey trap" that "is completely proscribed for any members of the British National Party". The EDL website in turn has declared that "the English Defence League denounces the British National Party!… there are racist idiots involved in the BNP, Its[ ] current leader was a member of the National Front and one of the founders, John Tyndall was a Neo Nazi. Why would the EDL want to be linked to the BNP?"
Despite this, individuals from the two organisations have collaborated. The official EDL website was set up by Chris Renton, who was listed as an "activist" on the leaked BNP membership list (when questioned, EDL spokesman Paul Ray admitted Renton's involvement); Davy Cooling, who helps run the EDL, has previously attended BNP rallies; Sean Walsh, a Luton-based EDL activist, is a member of the BNP's Bedfordshire Facebook group; and BNP party activists have been photographed at EDL demos.
According to a report from Demos, the BNP is the most popular party amongst EDL supporters, with 34% voting for it.
EDL strategists have also "advised the far-right Sweden Democrats on tactics". The SD have been involved in various controversies, including party candidates having been outspoken members of Sweden's largest neo-Nazi group, candidates having been in white supremacist rock bands and a candidate having written several anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying letters.
As expected, the EDL has links with the United States Tea Party movement.
Despite claims of "peaceful protest", demonstrations led by the EDL often result in abuse, threats and violence. Several journalists have reported receiving death threats after covering EDL demonstrations.
In June 2011, EDL member Darren Buck was given a prison sentence for threatening two elderly Asian men. Reportedly, twentysomething Muslims Aftab and Mohammed Baig were hospitalised after being thrown to the ground and repeatedly kicked by EDL protesters during a march in Dagenham on 18 June.
Around the same time, the Yorkshire concert event Rage Against Racism was attacked by EDL supporters. According to Kevin Berry, the assistant manager of the venue hosting the event, "a group of around 15 people, estimated to be aged between 16 and 23 barged into the premises shouting and chanting 'EDL' [...] They were throwing bottles and rocks. The police attended quickly and arrests were made."
During the August 2011 riots in London, the EDL turned up with the aim of "assisting the police" (a euphemism for vigilantism, if you hadn't guessed). But instead of helping, they stood around all day getting drunk and just ate up police resources. So just like proper vigilantes, then.
Bigoted comments and endorsements of violence are often found to have been posted on Facebook groups connected with the EDL. When confronted with this, Lennon dismissed critics who "keep reverting back to Facebook, where anyone can go under any name and put anything. That is no evidence against our organisation in any way; you will not find them sort of things on our website". Some members of the official EDL forum have suggested that the group leave Facebook for these reasons.
In October 2013, Stephen Lennon announced that he was leaving the EDL due to concerns about the growing racism within the organisation; he was replaced as chairman by Tim Ablitt. Shortly afterwards, the group began to fracture: its Bristol division left to become the Bristol Defence League, while the Merseyside, Scunthorpe and East Anglia divisions joined up with United Patriots, a group run by former EDLer Tony Curtis.
Members and ex-members
Amongst the group's more controversial former members is John "Snowy" Shaw, who has reportedly fallen for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax, saying that "all true British patriots take the time to read this".
Roberta Moore, who once led the group's Jewish division, was criticised for her relationship with the Jewish Task Force. She left the EDL on the grounds that it had picked up Nazi elements, stating, "I sincerely hope that the leaders will get the strength to squash the Nazis within."
The EDL is home to a large number of members who, while not necessarily particularly prominent in the group, have succeeded in making it a laughingstock online. A good example is Darrell Copeland, who announced his desire to "slaughter some Muzzy scum" in a crusade following the discovery of Richard III's remains (the poor, befuddled soul seemed to have confused Richard III with Richard I). Copeland had previously been jailed for assaulting a police officer.
The EDL was supported by Pamela Geller, with Devin Burghart of the Kansas-based Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights stating that she was acting as a link between the EDL and the Tea Party. "No one in America has taken as much heat as I have for supporting the EDL", said Geller. "From their first demo, when they were denounced and smeared as the scum of the earth, I knew the EDL was noble and true." She subsequently distanced herself from the group and expressed concerns over the EDL falling victim to "anti-Semitic infiltration". She has since rekindled her support of the EDL, and after she and Robert Spencer were banned from entering the UK, Daily Mail journalist and fellow Islam critic Melanie Phillips wrote an article condemning the decision while also criticising the EDL, earning offense and outrage from Geller herself, who accused Phillips of cowardice and class snobbery. Phillips is now regarded by many critics of Islam as a dangerous apostate.
Anders Behring Breivik has been fingered as an EDL supporter. His manifesto is critical of the group, but sees potential in it, arguing that "[i]nstead of condemning and rejecting organisations like EDL it is essential that conservative intellectuals contribute to help them on the right ideological path. And to ensure that they continue to reject criminal, racist and totalitarian doctrines."
Celebrity endorsements (sort of)
A tactic of the EDL is to falsely claim celebrities either support or have joined them. They do this by having an EDL member standing next to an unsuspecting celebrity and having their picture taken. Mammarily-enhanced model Katie Price, fist-wielding footballer Joey Barton, and
walking Daily Mail Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson have all been caught out this way, and all had to issue statements denying any involvement. It would be sinister if it weren't pathetic and laughable.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that "the EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred."
A more nuanced commentary came from the think tank Demos, which published a report entitled "Inside the EDL" in October 2011. This report argued that the group should not be banned, that restricting its right to protest may make it more extreme, and that more tolerant supporters of the group should be engaged with. Sound familiar?
- Alan Lake
- Bill Baker
- Casuals United
- Combined Ex Forces
- March for England
- Muslims Against Crusades
- Paul Prodromou
- Scottish Defence League
- English Defence League website
- Exposing the English Defence League
- EDLNews (critical site)
- We’re good thanks, England tells EDL, The Daily Mash
- Who are the English Defence League? From the BBC
- Far right ‘hero’ is a convicted paedophile
- English Defence League: EDL Anti Nazi Message — 'No Sharia, No Nazis, No Islamonazis' at the Wayback Machine (archived June 6, 2011)
- BBC News — Who are the English Defence League?
- http://barthsnotes.com/2010/12/22/guramit-singh-in-anti-muslim-tirade, Bartholomew's Notes on Religion. A YouTube video of the speech is also available here.
- EDL spokesman Guramit Singh given ultimatum: Renounce EDL or face excommunication by global Sikh authorities
- EDL spokesman Guramit Singh Kalirai finally jailed for robbery bid
- Report on Stephen Lennon by the Jewish Chronicle
- Lowles, Nick. "BNP blame Zionists for EDL" HOPE not hate blogs, 27 September 2009.
- Leaked emails: EDL disintegrate over gay and Jewish ban row
- Official LGBT Division Facebook page
- The English Defence League LGBT Division Left Foot Forward
- Original post
- English Defence League: A Letter To Members And Supporters Of The Turban Campaign at the Wayback Machine (archived May 11, 2011)
-  Page 5
- Guardian Online - English Defence League: chaotic alliance stirs up trouble on streets
- BBC News - England riots: When is it right to turn vigilante?
- 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, page 1241
- England's finest?
- EDL falsely claims to have recruited Joey Barton
-  Pages 7-8