Report back: a Plan C member from Wakefield gives details of the activities of the Kirklees Anti Fascist Assembly, set up a year ago in an area with a significant history of far-right activity.

My name is Smurf. I’m from Wakefield. I work as a support worker for adults with special needs and mental health disorders. I am a member of Plan C and an organiser with Kirklees Anti-Fascist Assembly and Leeds Anti-Fascist Network.

The Yorkshire Patriots held a demonstration in Dewsbury on Saturday October 12th. Kirkless Anti-Fascist Assembly (KAFA) organised locally to oppose them with militants from AFN and FLAF also mobilising. Can you tell us what happened?

Two months ago in August, The Yorkshire Patriots announced they would be holding a march and rally in Dewsbury over Melanie Shaw’s imprisonment and over “Muslim grooming gangs”. The Yorkshire Patriots had previously planned a demonstration in Dewsbury in May, however they had cancelled this. Kirklees AFA immediately put out a statement opposing the demonstration and challenged the Yorkshire Patriots on their narrative of defending women and children by exposing the domestic abuse and rape convictions of Yorkshire Patriots members, as well as allegations of sexism and personal abuse towards former female Yorkshire Patriots members. For the next two months we campaigned in Kirklees and reached out to various groups. We supported other mobilisations such as the LAFA demonstration on the 3rd August and the Leeds AFN demonstration on the 7th September. We spent our time leafleting Huddersfield freshers and holding public meetings in Kirklees and Wakefield. We leafletted social centres and various clubs in Yorkshire. In preparation for the demonstration we also spent time stickering parts of Dewsbury and tearing down National Front stickers. 

On the 12th October we were joined by a few dozen antifascist groups and left organisations varying from Sisters Uncut to Oxford Antifascists. From the start the numbers were looking good. We had up to 50 AFN militants and 40 FLAF militants. We even managed an additional 30 from community and local groups, even many former militants from Leeds and Kirklees AFA. For a first demonstration this would be an amazing number especially with so many experienced antifascists. 

However, police were onto antifascists before the demonstration even started. Dozens of antifascists were dispersed before the demonstration began. At least four antifascists were arrested and immediate kettles started. The plan to reach Dewsbury Market was made impossible and even some of the Kirklees AFA stewards were dispersed. This left it extremely difficult to rally the remaining antifascists. Some antifascist groups were even intercepted by police before even entering Dewsbury. The Yorkshire Patriots meanwhile received a police escort from Leeds Wetherspoons to Dewsbury where they resided at the Station Hotel Pub. The fascists numbering 50 managed, due to police support, to march freely in Dewsbury and hold their speeches before being put in a coach out of Dewsbury. The remaining antifascists were forced into the SUTR kettle by police, who began kettling the militant bloc within the SUTR protest site, which even led to chants by SUTR and the wider community of “let them go”. Antifascists who were dispersed were forcibly made to give their details under section 50 and were intimidated by police who escorted each antifascist to train/bus stations. The FLAF bloc was kettled separately too and were being given dispersal maps of Halifax which is 11 miles away from Dewsbury. 

Overall despite the overwhelming and very militarized response of West Yorkshire Police, antifascists managed to outnumber the Yorkshire Patriots by at least 2-1 and that didn’t even include the many who  were dispersed. Militant antifascists as planned managed an informal debrief at Dewsbury Socialist Club.

Why do you think the police presence and tactics on the day were as repressive as they were, even compared to similar anti-fascist mobilisations?

I’m not sure why this particular demonstration required such a heavy response compared to other antifascist demonstrations. Absolutely no right to assemble was given to Kirklees Anti-Fascist Assembly unlike in many other cases. Police horses, riot vans, plain clothed police officers and even a police helicopter were deployed, all courtesy of West Yorkshire police. Other AFN groups attending had at times not seen so many police in attendance for such a small town. A contributing factor could have been that the Yorkshire Patriots requested protection as they believed they were under threat of attack by the Muslim Defense League, despite their not attending the demonstration. Furthermore there was definitely a detailed intelligence operation at work in preparation for the 12th. One car full of militant antifascists was escorted into Dewsbury by police after being intercepted on route, with two comrades from the car travelling in the police van. 

KAFA was recently formed last year, taking inspiration from FAF and LAFA in London.  How did KAFA start and what was it about the new developments in anti-fascism that you see as effective in combating the far-right?

Kirklees Anti-Fascist Assembly started last year to challenge the far right in Kirklees and Wakefield area. There had previously been no mobilisation  to challenge far right narratives in the area, unlike Leeds and Sheffield. Kirklees AFA was present at London demonstrations in 2018 that saw the creation of the Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly. We had seen the far right being challenged on grooming gangs and sexual violence in a way that had never been done before. Furthermore, unlike previous antifascist groups, an effort had been made to entrench antifascist organising in communities and involve people coming together to oppose the far right, instead of secretive groups responding with no connection to the communities suffering from the far right’s damaging effects. We saw it as extremely important to hold public meetings and give people the opportunity to meet us and get involved. Through these methods we intended to empower the community and help repair the damage the far right has caused in Kirklees.

What is the situation in towns and cities like Kirklees and Deswbury when it comes to the rise of fascist, ultra-nationalist and racist ideas?

Kirklees is quite a unique situation compared to many areas of the country. It has historically suffered from the far right and nationalist groups which have left deep scars in the area. The BNP almost took Kirklees council and had three councillors there. The National Front and White Nationalist Party had strong branches in Kirklees and would often be involved in violent situations. One of the main press newspapers in Dewsbury known as “The Press” is owned by Danny Lockwood who is a far right nationalist. Danny is closely connected to former Kirklees BNP councillors Colin Auty and David Exley. He is also Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s book publisher and wrote his own book “The Islamic Republic of Dewsbury”. Danny also takes to adding his own racist and Islamophobic views in the op-ed parts of his newspaper. 

We have had a few prominent racist incidents in Kirklees as well, including a Syrian schoolboy being waterboarded by racist bullies in his school in Huddersfield. Also in Saville Town estate in Dewsbury, Generation Identity visited and took to putting up “no go zone” signs around the area. The EDL and Britain First have made a few dozen visits to the area, from demonstrations and street stalls to vigils and flash mob actions. The National Front held demonstrations in Wakefield on three different occasions and the English Volunteer Force held an action in 2015. Kirklees and Wakefield have also been subject to fascist attacks and threats including an arrested member of National Action in Castleford and a BNP member making bombs and storing guns in Kirklees. Most notably Jo Cox was killed in Batley by the far right extremist Thomas Mair. Even the by-election in 2016 saw a number of fascist parties stand including the National Front, BNP, Liberty GB and the English Democrats.

On 31st October organisations from across the far right are planning to mobilise in central London: they are seeking to capitalise on Brexit chaos in order to spread Islamophobic and xenophobic sentiment, and to recruit and radicalise those disenfranchised by the political mainstream. London Anti-Fascist Assembly will be there to oppose them. This is not just about “leave” versus “remain”: we are unified in our opposition to racism, Islamophobia and fascists on our streets.

Meet at 7:30pm SHARP, 31st October, at the International Brigade Memorial in Lambeth