The far-right English Defence League reacted badly to the unmasking of its secretive leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in last month’s Searchlight.
Confirmation that Yaxley-Lennon, who used the nom de plume Tommy Robinson while hiding behind a variety of masks and disguises, had also been a member of the British National Party may have come as little surprise to seasoned anti-fascists, but many in the EDL found it hard to believe that their leader had been unmasked as a racist, criminal thug.
“Robinson” quickly removed his Facebook page and the various EDL administrators of numerous other Facebook pages and websites were flooded with imitators who appeared in the names of both Yaxley-Lennon and Robinson. The EDL issued a press release promising to “respond” to Searchlight’s “article of lies” but as yet, no reply of any kind has been forthcoming.
What has become clear is that the EDL is seriously underprepared for sustained media scrutiny and intrusion. The constant exposure of the amateurish playground nature of its internal squabbles is causing confusion and embarrassment.
Formed only last year, the EDL mushroomed from a coalition of former football hooligans into an enormous street army with the propensity for large-scale disorder and city centre confrontations with the police. But its lack of a coherent political and ideological strategy has thrown up potentially explosive contradictions.
The announcement that the EDL has formed both LGBT and Jewish divisions has caused discomfort not only among the hard core of heavy drinking “laddish” homophobes among its casual ranks, but also notably on the extreme far-right. The forming of self-interested “divisions” within the EDL umbrella conflicts with the organisation’s insular aims, but also highlights how desperate the EDL is to define itself as the complete opposite of what it in reality is.
That Jews or members of the LGBT community can align themselves with and stand shoulder to shoulder with Nazi-saluting football hooligans, or worse still the likes of Mike Heaton who was imprisoned in June for stirring up racial hatred, says much about not only the endemic nature of Islamophobia in this country, but also the damage to the cohesive political narrative in this society. Of course, the tiny numbers of the Jewish and LGBT people who support the EDL are in no way representative of their communities, but the seemingly endless onslaught against Islam from the national media and an unnervingly uncritical acceptance of an identity agenda by some on the left have resulted in divided views in the wider, and generally secular anti-fascist move-ment on how best to tackle the growth of the EDL.
The EDL is not as scientifically or chemically driven an organisation as those on the traditional far right in this country, but it is as dangerously toxic in sharing the features of knee-jerk reactionism and racism of both the BNP and the UK Independence Party. The EDL’s growing pains are by and large a stark reminder that some of its key activists learned their politics back in the 1980s, when the hooligans that dominated the football terraces ran with and accommodated thugs who held deep-rooted and unequivocal nazi and fascist beliefs, some at the very core of their gangs. While racism is the core dynamic and currency of the EDL, the supposed desire to defend the rights of the LGBT community as well as giving succour to, and receiving support from, the absolute and most ill-informed fringes of the Jewish community says more about the EDL’s relationship with the tabloid press than about adherence to nazi philosophy and principles.
After Searchlight’s exposé of Yaxley-Lennon, the EDL held a series of emergency meetings and discussions, while Yaxley-Lennon went into hiding and his parents threatened to throw him out. The group has begun using Ulster loyalist language and imagery and attempting to forge relationships with people from one of the notorious football hooligan gangs in the province.
It is also in the midst of a bizarre internal dispute, with one faction lined up behind a convicted German nazi terrorist with a black wife and his friend, a disgraced former loyalist terrorist. Rudderless for almost three weeks, the EDL finally issued a statement on 12 July, acknowledging growing grievances and announcing a new structure of regional organisers. The statement concluded that “the English Defence League is ready to move on to the next step in our counter Jihad fight”.
Matt Collins in Searchlight (via Hope Not Hate)