The United Kingdom is about to receive two of America’s top exports in far-right extremism. The English Defence League, a group that advocates for the rights of the “European race,” invited anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (pictured, left) to speak at its rally on June 29.
Geller is perhaps best known for a campaign against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, which wasn’t a mosque nor was it proposed to be built at the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York. Spencer is the author of The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. Together, they founded a group called Stop Islamization of America, an offshoot of Stop Islamisation of Europe, which some have called a neo-Nazi organization.
Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist convicted in Norway of 77 murders in 2012, cited Geller as an influence in a manifesto that called for the deportation of all Muslims from Europe. Geller disavowed any and all influence on Breivik, but later wrote that she understood his motives: “Breivik was targeting the future leaders of the party responsible for flooding Norway with Muslims.”
|Together with the English Defence League, they form a kind of mutual admiration society of far-right extremism.|
Breivik also credited the English Defence League for his views. Its leader Tommy Robinson (pictured, right) returned the favor last year during an interview with a Norwegian tabloid. “You may find that the truth hurts, but it is still the truth,” Robinson said of Breivik’s writing. “I read the blogs themselves – they contain facts about Islam.”
In 2010, Geller wrote: “I share the E.D.L.’s goals. We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamization of the West.” Hope Not Hate, a British advocacy group, has begun a petition to pressure the home secretary to refuse visas to Geller and Spencer.
Together, they form a kind of mutual admiration society of far-right extremism.
There is little doubt that the location and timing of the EDL’s “peaceful protest” is designed to stoke racial and religious tensions—tensions that are already running high in our communities here in the UK in the aftermath of the May killing of British soldier Lee Rigby. Rigby was butchered in broad daylight by two British men of Nigerian descent who claimed they were avenging the deaths of Muslims abroard by British military forces. Since then, the number of attacks on Muslims, mosques and Islamic centers has risen considerably, according to think tanks and news reports.
After Rigby was killed, the EDL organized “Walks for Lee” in show of patriotism and to raise money for soldiers. But they politicized things to increase their own following. Thus their motives were revealed to be disingenuous.
The money the EDL raised in Rigby’s honor was rejected by the charity Help for Heroes (Rigby, who was off duty when he was killed, was wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt) and by doing so, Help for Heroes rejected association with the EDL. Even the British National Party and United Kingdom Independence Party—most certainly right wingers—and virtually every other political entity want nothing to do with the EDL.
Rigby’s family members have also made clear they do not want hate groups like the EDL using Rigby’s death as cover for fomenting a racial firestorm.
Geller and Spencer are set to share a platform with the EDL in Woolwich, the South London suburb where Rigby was killed. It’s transparently obvious what the EDL’s agenda is. It wants to see more violence in the hope of capitalizing on it politically.
While Robinson routinely whines about the impingement of his right to free speech, he has appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight a number of times and has aired his views on the rights of the “European race” on many other outlets, including national radio.
In fact, his performance on a BBC3 debate a few days ago was particularly telling.
During the exchange, the British hip-hop artist Akala made a key point when he asked why Robinson had never heard of Christopher Alder—a decorated black British Army paratrooper who died in 1996 while in police custody. Video footage of the incident would later show Alder lying face down, handcuffed behind his back, trousers around his ankles, while police officers stand over him and make monkey noises.
They can then be heard laughing after he had asphyxiated to death.
Robinson’s reaction to Akala’s question is telling; he clearly has never heard of Alder, a man who was part of the British armed forces—just like Lee Rigby—and who died under criminal circumstances. Robinson’s knuckles are dragging the ground at this point and just for a second he looks embarrassed. He suddenly becomes very red in the face.
His reaction to Akala’s question at once reflects the selective scapegoating of Muslims that underpin the EDL’s arguments, and also the fact that while a great deal of attention was placed by the media on the death of Rigby, little focus was afforded to Alder.
During the kind of social and economic hardship being felt by Britain’s working-class communities (who never enjoyed the economic boom of the 1990s and who are now being asked to pay for mistakes of the elites) a breeding ground for fascism is taking shape. This is creating slews of angry young people—easy recruits for Robinson and the EDL.
And perhaps future Breiviks.
Richard Sudan lives in London. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and others in the United Kingdom. Follow him at @richardsudan.