By Ed Emery, originally published in effimera.org. On 19 May 2019, Italian author and political...
On Sunday 6th May, between two and five thousand people attended the far-right’s ‘Day For Freedom’ protest. Here is our anti-fascists’ account of the event and its context.
What happened in the build up to the event?
The far-right is now waving the banner of free speech. According to them, their right to uncritically spout off about the coming Caliphate of Europe, or Marxist approved grooming gangs, is being viciously curtailed by a sinister cabal of establishment backed anarchists.
A handful of events, including Sargon of Akkad’s event at Kings College London being shut down, Mark Meechan walking free with an £800 fine after making a video where he ‘hilariously’ says “Gas the Jews”, to Tommy Robinson’s failure to keep to the terms and conditions of having a Twitter account have been concocted into a fantasy where we’re all virtually living under the Stasi.
This wonderland has proven quite attractive across a certain part of the political spectrum, from the “You can’t say anything anymore, it’s political correctness gone mad” garden centre right, to Classical Liberals, to committed white ethnic Identitarians.
Tommy Robinson has been banging the drum for this event for weeks and it’s the culmination of a series of contests around Speakers Corner, involving Generation Identity and the Football Lads Alliance (FLA). Strenuous efforts were put into painting any kind of counter demo as a repression of free speech.
What happened on the day?
A large (approx.1000) feeder march from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA, a split from the FLA), gathered at speakers corner then headed off to attend the main rally At the main rally, there were almost three hours of speeches (everyone from Gavin McInnes to ‘London’s most famous drag queen’). The speeches stayed within the bounds of the narrative outlined above; freedom of speech is under attack from the Left, and Muslims are a cancer at the heart of our society.
The attendees of the event were a genuinely diverse bunch: UKIP supporters, freemen on the land types, anti-communist kek boys, football lads (alongside their smaller teenage Danny Dyer protégés who attempted to have a pop at the counter-demo, but then thought better of it), classical liberals, and more. This wasn’t your EDL or Britain First rally. This was a much broader section of the Right. It felt and looked professional. Notably, there were Generation Identity (GI) banners present at the rally. GI were working the crowd, and no doubt saw it as recruitment ground, in much the same way as a small revolutionary leftist organisation might see a trade union demonstration as a place to build their membership.
The counter-protest organised by Stand Up to Racism (SUTR), Unite Against Fascism (UAF) (both SWP fronts) and the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN) collected a few hundred people a few hundred yards away from the rally. SUTR were there to stop Tommy and the DFLA from ‘spreading hate’ but were in no position to make this a reality. The anti-rascist presence felt small and constantly threatened by roving groups of DFLA throughout the day. The DFLA (inc. Chelsea Headhunters) actually attempted to attack the counter protest early on, and anti-fascists were forced to defend themselves. This is, as far as we know, the first time they’ve properly tried to have a pop at ‘’antifa’’, and it’s perhaps a taste of things to come.
Ali Dawah (Twitter personality) was billed to speak at the event. It’s not clear exactly what happened, but in any case his invitation was cancelled. Him and his friend were then attacked by attendees of the rally and had to be escorted away by police. A few anti-fascists from Class War got close to the rally and attempted to challenge speakers and attendees on their views, using the narrative line “nationalism will send working class people to the grave”. We’re not sure exactly what effect this had on the rally, or if they managed to convince any of the attendees. Still, fair enough for going up and having a chat.
What lessons should we draw?
The rally brought together an incredibly broad section of the right. While broad, this nascent coalition is also incoherent. For example, many on the more traditional sections of the far-right were pissed off that a drag queen was invited to speak (with some retiring to the pub for the duration of her speech, and others taking to twitter to voice their opposition to such ‘degeneracy’). Further evidence of the faultlines running though the ‘free speech’ coalition are occurring in the aftermath of the rally over the invitation of Ali Dawah to speak, and the subsequent attack on Dawah by members of the DFLA. Tommy Robinson’s videographer, Lucy Brown, and Vinnie Sullivan of the DFLA are now publicly feuding on social media over the matter.
A split will probably happen eventually between the more radical and more moderate factions of the far-right coalition, but actively breaking it apart should be a priority for anti-fascists, not just because a large demonstration emboldens the more extreme factions to violent actions, but also because such a coalition could prove resilient to pressure if allowed to mature.
The vital question facing anti-fascists in the UK is how to rebuild an effective anti-fascist street presence. There are many possibilities for this rebuilding. We would suggest continuing the efforts to get away from a purely reactive anti-fascism that is constantly playing catch up with the latest incarnation of the far right. Instead, anti-fascists should develop a positive anti-racist culture to build up a base of support that can be readily be called upon to turn up to demonstrations. This positive anti-fascism could take the form of gigs and festivals, taking cues from the excellent Physical Resistance festival in Brighton, the 161 festival in Manchester and even the mass audience attracted by last year’s Grime for Corbyn events.
The next DFLA outing is in Manchester on 2nd June, ostensibly in commemoration of those who died in the salafist bombings at the Manchester Arena. Stand Up to Racism have called a rally against the DFLA, which will no doubt be small. It is incumbent on anti-fascists to attend this rally. Not because it’s perfect or because it will have a great effect. First and foremost, anti-fascists must be there in order to help defend anti-racists on the day. DFLA seem happy to use their fists, and physical victory for them on the streets will only increase their confidence, and help build their momentum. Second, whilst the meme of ‘’antifa’’ seems popular in left-wing online circles, it isn’t translating into effective street activity. If we are to rebuild an effective street anti-fascist force, we must start now.