By Ed Emery, originally published in effimera.org. On 19 May 2019, Italian author and political...
Thousands of militant anti-fascists blocked and disrupted the march of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) in central London on Saturday, October 13th.
A coalition of over 30 groups called by London Anti-Fascists (AFN) and led by Feminist Anti-Fascists brought around 1,500 people together in a well organised and disciplined bloc. The bloc set-up from 12 noon outside the BBC in Portland Place and formed up a with a brilliant display of banners and flags with the front banner saying “No Rape. No Racism. No Silence to violence”. Plan C had played a role in supporting the day and was active within the Feminist Bloc mobilisation, bringing our members from across the country.
The DFLA expected over 40,000 people to attend, in reality no more than 1,500-2,000 people bothered to show up.
Why we marched to oppose rape and racism
The bloc’s aim was to oppose the DFLA politically and physically on the streets and challenge their claims of “defending women and girls” against sexual exploitation and rape. As a movement we oppose the sexual exploitation of girls, women and those of all genders, we oppose the misogynistic violent rape culture that is prevalent across society that treats women as objectified resources to be fucked over and abused. Right-wing nationalists both here and abroad have continuously racialised violence against women to build their xenophobic street movements, blaming migrants and muslims for “importing rape culture”. It was time that women vocalised resistance against both the causes of rape and racism and exposed groups like the DFLA for their cynical, parasitic claims.
We do not care about the ethnic, religious or racial origin of perpetrators. Whoever the perpetrators of sexual violence are, they need to be held to account and the culture of male entitlement, misogyny and violence needs to be smashed. The problem has always been men who rape and the patriarchal society that produces them. To stop rape and sexual exploitation means to stop the means by which rape and sexual exploitation is legitimised, ignored and reproduced daily. That is why the Unity Bloc was led by hundreds of women and why feminists took a central role in this mobilisation.
Movements like the DFLA on the surface may appear (to some) to be concerned with confronting injustice and though they continuously deny they are a racist and anti-muslim movement they would be nothing if it wasn’t made up of people whose main aim is to target their violence against muslims and what they see as a complicit “politically correct” establishment that is keeping them down.
Background on DFLA
The DFLA is what’s left of the split from last year’s Football Lads Alliance (FLA) marches that formed after the terrorist attacks in Manchester, London Bridge and Westminster. The fascistic attacks by so-called Islamic state militants against predominantly working class men, women and children shocked the entire country. Whilst many sought to come together in collective grief, others took it upon themselves to exact revenge on random muslims and the wider muslim community, with hate crime surging by 40% since 2016, 52% of which targeted against muslims. This rise comes in the wake of a decade of EDL movements, the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a fascist and the murder of Makram Ali by the fascist Darren Osbourne, who drove a van into a crowd near Finsbury Park Mosque – the list goes on.
The past year has also seen the re-emergence of Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon) the founder of the English Defence League (EDL) and formerly with Canadian fake news site ‘The Rebel Media’. Tommy Robinson left EDL due to his own admission that racism was rife and a dominant part of it that he supposedly struggled to contain. Robinson has made a lucrative career out of producing propaganda videos containing half-truths, disinformation, deceitful and emotional manipulative content, pretty much perfect for social media consumption and a sadly increasing market of gullible people too eager to consume and share it.
The FLA’s biggest day was when 10,000 marched in London in July 2017 supposedly “against all extremism”. This was the largest march since the 1930s of any right-wing nationalist street movement in the UK. It didn’t take long for the leadership to split over unaccounted funds, a common occurrence within the history of right-wing movements in the UK. As their Birmingham demonstration was approaching the split became visible and so not one, but two FLA marches were held in different parts of central Birmingham. The DFLA was born. Both marches had equally around 2,000 each. Tommy Robinson showed his face and with it the fan club of selfie-taking Tommy clones made these movements have more than a passing resemblance to the EDL. When Tommy Robinson pulled his trick of getting himself arrested and imprisoned whilst filming defendants in a rape and sexual grooming case in Leeds, the DFLA were the largest group mobilising several thousand for the Free Tommy demos.
The left and anti-fascists who saw the dangers these movements posed were caught off guard by their capacity to mobilise, with many of the more militant anti-fascist structures no longer functioning. This was also because the rhetoric of the far-right has changed its form. The first “Day for Freedom” was billed around a defence of freedom of speech, and drew in wider layers of people that would never have attended demonstrations called for by the same people prior. However, the overwhelming core was largely the same – angry, disenfranchised, insecure working class whites, nationalistic and xenophobic and looking for aggro.
On 14th July 2018, after much hard work and grassroots mobilising, a successful bloc of 500 anti-fascists marched from Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank to Whitehall to meet up with 1,000+ people on the Stand up to racism demonstration to oppose a Free Tommy event. The aim then was to secure Whitehall and help protect the demonstration from attack. The confidence of having organised a strong and disciplined bloc laid the groundwork of Octobers return to oppose the DFLA.
The history of fascism is one of continual mutation, attempting to appear legitimate, common sense and popular. It is also a history that maps onto of periods of austerity, dispossession and insecurities that pushes a section of society into a reactionary direction in the hope of finding some resolution to their problems.
The DFLA is not the Nazi SA. A portion may be non-racist and hate fascism (whatever they understand it to be). But in our present moment, they and others (Tommy Robinson, UKIP, Generation Identity..etc), are part of an international moment of right-wing populism – from Trump to Salvini, that seeks to spread these movements and recruit them. All across Europe, right-wing populist movements have been mobilising through football firms to take to the streets with increasingly anti-immigrant, racist and xenophobic sentiments. They are fertile ground for fascist ideas to grow, and a point of convergence that poses a threat.
We are not just opposed to the DFLA. We are opposed to the entire spectrum of right-wing and far-right ideologies, from reactionary street movements to parties and policies that appease them.
Care is radical.
Many people that came on the bloc wouldn’t have come or have had the confidence to be in such dangerous situations if it wasn’t for the amazing work of the feminist anti-fascist bloc, the fact that we had clear objectives and not being reckless helps us to build bigger, wider and deeper next time. This is a true militant reflection of the slogan “care is radical”, it means it changes what and who we think of as the militant. Making spaces accessible doesn’t have to mean being less militant or ineffective. The bloc proved it. Whilst people were demonstrating, a collective kids space had been organised enabling parents and carers to attend. A wellbeing group with medic training were on hand. Legal Defensive monitors were visible. All of this contributed to the confidence we felt within the bloc.
DFLA Blocked in Pall Mall
The bloc marched through central London for over a long hour, purposefully stopping to wait for the DFLA march. It reached an intersection at Pall Mall which was on the route of the DFLA march. This was the point that the bloc stood firm, banners and sticks tight to the side, and everyone linking up arms, over 1,500 people as a human blockade against reactionaries. Due to the strength of numbers and discipline of all those on the bloc the police would have needed considerable violence to move us off the streets. This has happened in the past, but today the cops were not directed to do so. The bloc was powerful, strong, confident and the complete opposite of the DFLA.
As the DFLA began to see who was waiting for them at the end of the road, several hundred broke away and tried running down to confront us. Around half of their march became blocked by a police line who managed to regain some control. An increasingly aggy situation was brewing as dozens of the hardcore hooligans attempted to go through another police line to reach us. Make no mistake, the bloc was prepared to defend itself. Over the years the movements around AFN have set-up inclusive “Red Gyms”, to train and give confidence to people no matter size or strength. The importance of self-defence is not the macho posturing sometimes associated with street fighting, it’s a political weapon as much as a physical necessity, and one which we think is best done collectively and ideally on mass.
After much shouting and getting their bellies batoned, the DFLA were in tatters. Most of them wandered up to the north side of Whitehall waiting for our bloc to get through Trafalgar Square.
As we march through slowly, many hundred DFLA were separated between police lines. We maintained our discipline as it would have been a fairly pointless fight with many arrests if things kicked off. We are in the process of building confidence and credibility, to bring in wider layers of people into the fold. We are collectively achieving that but it may mean that next time our tactics have to evolve as our aims change.
As we dispersed towards Waterloo station, around 150 DFLA members were in front of a stage listening to some increasingly bizarre and off the wall conspiracy theories. The list of “justice” campaigns that no one has ever heard of is little more than a way to claw back some agency in personal tragedies. What’s visible is that the people being mobilised are not the most disenfranchised but represent a part of working class that have a mixture of genuine concerns that wouldn’t have been out of place at Occupy or an Anonymous march, these are the people that see conspiracy by hidden elites as the main way power is directed to shape events in the world. From 9/11 to paedophile grooming gangs, to complaining when their live streams pack up. Conspiracy theory and paranoia run rife.
FLAF > DFLA
For too long the street based islamophobic right has instrumentalized football firms as common bedfellows in their project. This formed the basis of the EDL strategy and also occurs across Europe within far-right and neo-nazi groups. In the UK, the loyalty to club, queen and country, the mobility to travel between cities, organising covertly and the capacity for violence if needs be mean the firms are the perfect cannon fodder for these movements. Every movement needs its street soldiers, and every patriotic hooligan fantasises about fighting for England.
In response to this, the Football Lads and Lasses against Fascism (FLAF) was formed and in a very short space of time has built up an impressive social media presence, with fans changing avatars to those of their clubs colour and the FLAF emblem. They acted quickly, riding off the back of their viral success, printing and distributing stickers for dozens of clubs up and down the country and beginning to reclaim those spaces the far right takes for granted. Football is huge, broad and diverse. It is also international and people’s love for the game extends from watching and playing to organising youth teams and tournaments on a Sunday in parks and fields across the UK. Getting the millions of good Footy fans aware, concerned and active needs to be the priority because it is their name that is being tarnished.
FLAF had a solid group during the day of well over a hundred people, having passed by the Unity Bloc at Oxford Circus en route to various locations, ensuring that both the demo coming from Portland Place and the demo in Whitehall had some cover. On previous demonstrations, gangs of bloated and pissed up has-been hooligans would mob up and attempt to have a pop at anti-fascists. Having a dedicated and tight crew of comrades prepared to take defensive action and act as a physical force is needed. As racism plays out on an increasingly cultural level, interventions like FLAF give space for a genuine working class voice.
There has been much fracturing amongst anti-fascist movements over tactics – from squadism to black bloc to A-to-B marches. There is no one tactic to fight fascism, it all serves a purpose, attracts different people with different skills and capacities, and we mustn’t forget that. Coordination, where needed to increase our effectiveness, should be the central discussion – everything else we can work out on the way.
Whilst many on the anti-fascist side have been involved in fighting austerity – from renters unions, housing struggles, anti-gentrification, workers strikes, library closures, domestic violence support cuts, anti-sexism, anti-racism, preventing deportations, anti-fracking… even fighting ISIS in Syria with Kurdish forces – there are those that see people spouting cranky worldviews and blatant anti-muslim hatred as the actual bonafide working class. Working class movements have a word for those within our ranks that just look out for themselves and undermine solidarity – they’re called scabs. DFLA are working class scabs – if they are truly interested in supporting working class struggle then they should ditch the DFLA and get involved in actual working class resistance.
The centre of British politics is collapsing, Brexit is becoming the shit show many assumed it would be, the European Union’s anti-democratic practice is exacerbating tensions between northern and southern states and European nations that have right and far-right governments are consolidating their dominance within institutions. The political fault lines are being etched out and for anti-fascists in Britain we will be faced with a huge amount of work to help shape and define which direction that goes in.
Saturday was more than just opposing the DFLA, it was an opening salvo against all those that wish to push society backwards. As the tempo picks up in the coming months, we all need to be prepared, engaged and ready to participate when the time comes.
We will be needed more than ever. Let’s do it!