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United Kingdom: The new far right surfs on a distressed public opinion

Translated Wednesday 31 August 2011, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Organizations like the "English Defense League" have profited from the riots, as they have from the reaction of populations wishing to defend their belongings and their neighborhoods, to spread their racism and their language of hate.

England, by special envoy.

Ordinary citizens exasperated by the disorder and the failures of the police, or true militias infiltrated by the extreme right wing? During the riots that blazed in the UK following 6 August, vigilance committees and other groups of self-defense blossomed, officially in order to stop pillaging and to defend neighborhoods and businesses against the rioters. For some days, the sales of hockey sticks and baseball bats sky-rocketed. With the benediction of the conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and with the prudent assent of a police force outstripped by events. A person who is attacked could use "reasonable force to protect himself and others", admitted, on its internet site, the London Metropolitan Police (MET), all the while warning that "in moments of tension, it is difficult to make fine judgements as to the necessary level of force to use." While it may be the case that certain citizens sincerely wanted to protect their neighborhoods, many self-defense committees offered the extreme right wing an unhoped-for occasion to put into practice their appeals to hate and violence.

On 9 August, the English Defense League called upon its readers, via its internet site, "to participate in clean-up operations" with "a strong physical presence". "Sympathizers of the EDL have already taken to the streets to defend their quarters", in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Norwich and Birmingham, and "are organizing" in Bristol, Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Salford, Nottingham and Leicester, the communique indicated. By way of "clean-up", the militants of the extreme right began a veritable "hunt" of supposed pillagers, targeting young Blacks, presented as being responsible for the riots. A video filmed in the quarter of Eltham, in Greenwich, shows one of these "self-defense groups" searching the streets for pillagers, shouting slogans of the English Defense League. The newspaper The Independent reported at the same moment the testimony of a resident of Enfield, being hunted by militants of the extreme right. "Trap the Blacks and the Pakistani", yelled the pursuers.

Just so many testimonies that ruin the enterprise of de-demonization engaged in by the EDL, in a hunt for new respectability. On its web site the organization effectively calls for "all suitable persons, be they black, white, christian, sikh, jewish or moslem" to "unite". In public, they say they are not racist, and go so far as to pretend they have Blacks and Jews in their ranks. But the members of these militia speak with conviction, in a language of unashamed racist violence, assures John Haylett, journalist for the communist daily Morning Star. "In fact they are guided by white-supremacist ideology. They recruit from the ranks of the skin-heads, hooligans, or from excluded youth, unemployed from father to son."

Founded in 2009 in Luton, a city ravaged by de-industrialization, crisis and unemployment, some thirty kilometers north of London, this organization of the far right today claims 10,000 members. Its Facebook page posts 13,800 fans. The EDL is not set up as a political party. The group presents itself as a "social movement" and claims to have no affiliation with the British National Front, a group now marginalized on the political chessboard. But in fact, the EDL is the new incarnation of an English far-right that, ever since the attacks of 7 July 2005, surfs on the theme of "the fight against Islamization". This credo has earned its leader, Stephen Lennon, a man of 28 years, who calls himself Tommy Robinson, a regular place on television talk shows. As vulgar as he is violent, this ultra-nationalist never misses an opportunity to use the absolute freedom of speech, sanctified by British law, to preach hatred and to provoke violent incidents. At war against immigrants and their descendants, welcomed as a victory the statement by David Cameron, at the beginning of this year, about "the failure of multi-culturalism".

Last July, the English Defense League acquired some international notoriety that they could well have done without. In his manifesto, the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, author of the attack in Oslo and of the massacre on Utoya Island, cited the British group on several occasions. "I have more than 600 members of the EDL as Facebook friends, and I have spoken with dozens of members and leaders of the EDL. In fact, I was one of the people who furnished them their ideological material, including rhetorical strategies, right from the beginning." An affirmation quickly denied by Stephen Lennon, who affirms, in a communique, "never to have personally encountered" Breivik, and never having "interacted with him". The matter nevertheless sufficiently worried British authorities that police officers charged with studying the links between Breivik and the EDL were dispatched to Oslo.

As this new far right reinforces its influence and its implantation, its ideas of hate become more common, even in certain intellectual milieux. The day after the riots, the historian David Starkey, a host on radio and television, specialist in history of the Tudor dynasty, started a noisy polemic by presenting the events as "the result of a black culture". "The whites" (who took part in the riots — reporter’s comment) have become black", he insisted. This is consecrated bread for the British National Front, which proposes to make the historian "an honorary member".

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