The English Defence League formed in 2009 after Islamic extremists protested against the Royal Anglican Regiment homecoming parade in Luton. The EDL began as an alliance of people around social networking sites and grew into the largest far-right ‘street movement’ in the UK, sometimes with over 3,000 attending nationally organised demonstrations, deliberately targeting towns and cities with high numbers of Muslims. A large part of how the EDL is organised is through the remnants of the Football Casual scene. Rival football firms who would normally be fighting each other, team up to attend EDL demo’s. Such football hooligan alliances have included Aston Villa, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich Albion. Watford and Luton and Leeds United and Bradford City.
EDL continue to claim they are not racist, but only against Islamic Extremism. The truth is somewhat different, with racist placards and chants at EDL demonstrations serving to whip-up hostility against any non-white person, often turning to violence. Whilst the EDL leadership is quick to claim the organisation is not racist or fascist and such people will be removed from demonstrations, the fact is that the English Defence League serves an umbrella for any racist or fascist to participate in. The EDL has a long history of far-right involvement with BNP, National Front, Racial Volunteer Force, Blood & Honour and Combat 18; all active within the various ‘divisions’ of the EDL.
The structure of the EDL is basic. Two people are the ‘front’ for the organisation. Ex-BNP member Stephen Yaxley-Lennon; better known as Tommy Robinson and his cousin; Kevin Carrol as deputy. A further 15 people across the UK use social media to mobilise ‘Divisions’ in their area. The financial backing comes from a number of UK business people, with North London businessman, Alan Lake who has links with Christian Evangelical groups in both the UK and the US. He has also had discussions with middle-ranking UKIP officers and has suggested that Britain needs a ‘Tea Party’ type organisation, based on the US model. Lake saw the EDL as being a street army of foot soldiers that was part of a larger worldwide ‘anti-jihad’ movement.
The Beginning of the End?
Until 2011, the EDL and their frontmen enjoyed large attendances at demonstrations and ample media attention. The Daily Star had several headlines coming out in support of the EDL, Robinson was cropping up regularly on TV and Radio shows. The EDL were rarely out of the headlines; usually for their violent demonstrations and supporters connected with racist incidents. Then it all turned a bit sour for Tommy and co. The EDL were cited by Norwegian fascist mass murderer, Anders Breivik as one of his inspirations. In addition, many high ranking EDL activists were also recorded stating their support for the man who killed 77 people in two separate attacks. Later in the year national and international media exposed the ideology of the EDL as being part of the Alan Lake vision of a ‘Counter Jihad Movement’.
In 2012, a tremendous local and anti-fascist response in Walthamstow prevented Robinson and his EDL troop from marching through their community. This was viewed as a humiliation by many in the EDL and others on the far-right.