The English Defence League was born in 2009, but as we begin 2010 Simon Cressy wonders whether the EDL is about to self-destruct
The year 2009 could be described as a seesaw year for the newly formed English Defence League. Responding to a protest in Luton in March by the extreme Islamist al-Muhajiroun group against troops of the Royal Anglian Regiment returning from the war in Afghanistan, local football hooligans organised a counter-demonstration under the name United People of Luton. They in turn linked up with hooligans associated with a variety of football clubs across the UK.
Using social networking websites such as Facebook as their means of communication, the hooligans concluded that Islamism was a national problem and they had to put aside club rivalries. By the summer the English Defence League had been born and was holding demonstrations across some of the major cities of England, with smaller ones in Wales and Scotland as the embryonic Welsh and Scottish Defence Leagues.
The EDL has always insisted that it is not nazi or racist, even going to the length of holding a sham press conference complete with a pre-planned burning of a swastika flag. However elements in the EDL leadership are quite prepared to accept members of nazi groups as long as they behave themselves, much to the chagrin of more moderate members.
Joel Titus, the violent teenage leader of the EDL’s youth wing, has voiced loud concern, along with several other members of “the inner circle”, over the glib acceptance of known nazis such as Liam Pinkham of the British Freedom Fighters. Pinkham and his mentor Mike Heaton have been regulars at EDL events since Luton. The EDL inner circle has been well aware of this, yet has refused to distance itself from them.
Pinkham received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 200 hours’ community service and two years’ supervision back in July after he burst into the News from Nowhere community bookshop in Liverpool and threatened the female owners. Pinkham, from the Wirral, was taking part in a British National Party march through Liverpool city centre at the time. The women, who were justifiably terrified, testified that Pinkham threatened to “burn down the shop”.
This comes on top of Heaton’s arrest in December by the North East Counter Terrorism Unit. Heaton is currently on bail charged with soliciting murder and using threatening, abusive or insulting words likely to stir up racial hatred. That will no doubt stick in the craw of Titus, who is of mixed race and claims Martin Luther King is his hero.
Following a recent demonstration in London, EDL supporters led by Titus clashed with Nazi-saluting Chelsea hooligans, leaving one of the Chelsea fans hospitalised. It is reported that Titus now wears a stab vest in fear of reprisals following threats made on the Stormfront nazi web forum.
A closer look at the EDL inner circle reveals why its members may be reluctant to jettison their nazi friends. One of the global moderators on the EDL internet forum is Sean Corrigan of St Albans. Posting under the moniker “Road Rage”, what Corrigan fails to tell Titus and the more moderate wing of the EDL is that he is a gold member of the BNP.
One who recently fell foul of Renton is the veteran Bristol EDL activist Jerry “Wurzel” Watson, whom Renton blacklisted following allegations, strongly denied by Watson, of theft of a charity box. This led Watson to side with Paul Ray, the increasingly flaky self-styled “spiritual” leader of the EDL. Ray has formed his own St George’s Division of the EDL and has titled himself “Grandmaster Ray”, despite being disowned by the official EDL.
Another leading EDL activist now sidelined is the bullish Leisha Brookes. An ever visible member of the EDL, Brookes has led the women’s division and acted as the group’s police liaison officer. However, her abrasive nature is not to everyone’s taste in the EDL. One person in particular who has had numerous clashes with her is Matthew Kaplan, a Jewish student from Seattle who is studying history at King’s College, London.
Kaplan is the paid EDL publications coordinator, responsible for leaflets and press releases. He has been seen at several EDL demonstrations complete with Israeli flag. He has clashed on several occasions on the official EDL Facebook group with Leisha Brookes and her supporters for a number of reasons, mainly because he is an American.
Brookes has declared that she doesn’t trust him and accused him of working for the police. Kaplan revealed that Brookes and her colleagues threatened to attack him if he turned up at the Nottingham EDL event on 5 December.
Other leading EDL members have accused her of posting racist comments on the EDL internet forum. Whatever the truth behind the fallout, Brookes has definitely been removed as the EDL’s police liaison officer and is no longer in charge of the women’s division.
It is believed that the new EDL police liaison officer is none other than Corrigan, the BNP gold card carrying member from St Albans.
Hope not hate