Solidarity spoke to a member of Sheffield anti-fascist network.
What state are the EDL in and what are they up to?
Attendance at EDL demos has been slowly declining for a few years, apart from a spike in interest after Lee Rigby was killed in Woolwich. They seem to have flatlined at about 300-500 turnout at each demo.
This is probably due to a number of factors including their failure to change tactics from A to B marches, the heavy policing of demos, serious custodial sentences meted out to EDL members, opposition (more in some regions than others) from anti-fascists, and the internal splits that always beset the far right.
Yorkshire EDL is beset by internal feuding, with one member accused by other EDL members of embezzling money collected for charity. Yorkshire EDL are likely to be weakened further by two upcoming court cases, in which some of their members are charged with violent disorder.
Although they are weaker than a few years ago, the EDL are the far right group able to get the biggest numbers on the streets, and the infrastructure and relationships are in place to get bigger turnouts if anything like the Lee Rigby attack happened again.
What about Pegida? How do they differ from the EDL?
Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) is a German far right group that have been organising regular demonstrations since October 2014. Their biggest turnout was around 10,000 people but numbers have dropped off quite dramatically, since the significant neo-Nazi elements of Pegida were exposed and the leadership were caught up in a number of scandals — such as the leader dressing up as Adolf Hitler.
A group has emerged here using the name Pegida UK. They had their first demo in Newcastle, which attracted about 400 supporters, and they have a couple more planned elsewhere. At the moment they don't have any real beef with other far right groups so can draw on their supporters to a degree, but it's hard to see what they offer that other groups like the EDL or Britain First don't. They're definitely worth keeping an eye on and opposing when they're on the street, but they might turn out to be a flash in the pan.
They had their first UK demo on 28th February; what was that like?
The Pegida demo, which included supporters of the National Front, Golden Dawn, EDL and other far right groups, was outnumbered by about 1000-2000 anti-fascists. There were a lot of police and although the Pegida supporters were giving it the big un behind police lines, they made no serious attempt to confront anti-fascists. The counter-demo had been supported by the UAF — who aren't as active as they were a few years ago — as well as local politicians. So it had a big — if passive – turnout.
Unfortunately, a lot of the same people are encouraging anti-fascists to join the UAF's Stand Up To Racism march on 21 March, rather than confronting National Action in Newcastle.
What about the rest of the far right?
There are a number of small groups similar to the EDL, such as the North East Infidels, North West Infidels and South East Alliance.
These groups tend to be even more openly racist and flirt with white supremacist or neo-Nazi imagery and slogans. They are quite fixated on threatening to attack anti-fascists, and some of them talk a lot of rubbish about imaginary "football lads" who are going to "give the reds a kicking".
After a lot of threats, some members of the South East Alliance and a few other fascists did try to attack supporters of Clapton FC (a non-league team with an anti-fascist following) but came off a lot worse.
Britain First are another far right group with a fixation on Islam and a penchant for flat caps and matching jackets. They have a popular Facebook page, largely off the back of people sharing their right populist memes without necessarily knowing much about the group. But they've never managed to bring out a significant number of people on the streets. Their national tour last year was announced with a lot of pomp, but at the events that weren't cancelled they never managed to attract more than a handful of supporters.
National Action are an openly Nazi and anti-semitic group, small in number but more confident and ambitious than some of their fellow travellers. So far they haven't done much beyond small unannounced demos, hanging spray-painted banners off bridges and online harrassment, but they may grow in size and confidence if they're not decisively confronted or may yet give some far right loner the validation and ideological justification to carry out a lone wolf racist attack.
Are there any other upcoming events that anti-fascists need to be aware of?
Unfortunately the fascists are quite busy at the moment!
The next big event is the White Man March in Newcastle on Saturday 21 March. It's organised in part by National Action, but is meant to be some sort of extreme right unity event and will likely attract members of groups like the National Front and British Movement, as well as some Nazis from overseas.
The brand of white supremisism and anti-Semitism promoted by these groups is so far to the right that it won't appeal to most normal people, but if there are hundreds of Nazis they won't be afraid to attack people of colour, anti-fascists and anyone else they don't like, so they need to be opposed in decent numbers. North East Anti-Fascists are organising a counter-demonstration, and members of different AFN groups will be going up to support them.
On Saturday 25 April the March For England will take place in Blackpool. Until last year it took place in Brighton, but after being outnumbered and outgunned every year the organisers seem to have decided that Blackpool would be safer for them. We don't know what the counter-mobilisation will look like yet but we're making plans, and anyone in the North West interested in helping us plan should get in touch.
What is the Anti Fascist Network?
The AFN is a network of independent and grassroots anti-fascist groups in the UK. We are non-hierarchical, will never work with the police and are not affiliated to any political party. We believe in confronting fascists in the streets and keeping them out of our communities, not just attending rallies miles away from where the fascists are marching. We're more than aware that racism isn't only found in the far right, but in the government and border system and all aspects of society, and many of our members are active in different anti-racist groups and campaigns.
If anyone is interested in getting involved with their local group or starting one where there isn't one already, feel free to get in touch for advice!