After seven months of windswept darkness, the citizens of Brighton woke up Saturday to the sort of weather that doesn't make you want to kill yourself. But if they thought that meant they could spend a relaxing weekend sunning themselves on the beach, they were wrong, as their town was invaded by a couple of hundred far-right thugs on Sunday afternoon.
The March for England is ostensibly a fun, family-friendly celebration of English pride on St George’s Day. And while there are probably some people who just want to paint the English flag on their face, sing "Jerusalem" and talk about how great Churchill was, the event tends to end up dominated by members of the Islamophobic English Defence League and a swastika soup of various far-right splinter groups.
The march has been taking place for a few years now, and local anti-fascists have taken to showing up to mobilise against it. Last year’s un-welcoming party was so successful at humiliating the marchers that Casuals United, a bunch of far-right football hooligans, returned to get their revenge a month later, only to be laughed out of town.
Rather than moving their march to a more welcoming, racist area, the March for England have turned Brighton into their Stalingrad. As one local told me, “They come here just because this is the most left-wing, gay-friendly place in England.” They can't stand that they've been taken to the cleaners by what they regard as a bunch of communist homos – and apparently lack both memory and foresight – so continue to come back every year.
This year was no exception, so we headed to the seaside to watch some drunk fascist idiots be shot down yet again.
We arrived at the seafront, where a line of riot vans had created an impenetrable wall between where the march was being held and where the counter-protesting anti-fascists were set to meet. About 700 riot cops drafted in from as far away as Wales were readying themselves for the biggest operation Brighton had seen in years.
The police tactic was to bus the March for England attendees in, let them march, then bus them out again before they'd so much as seen anyone from Brighton. And initially that tactic seemed like it'd be pretty successful, but fascists who hadn’t arrived on police-sanctioned buses began to arrive, adding a frisson of unpredictability to the situation.
The anti-fascist turnout was pretty strong, congregating on a roundabout next to an aquarium and distributing, surprisingly, anti-fascist placards amongst each other. But the police presence was so overwhelming that we wondered if a day at the Sea Life Centre might be more entertaining than watching people jeer each other through a ten-metre-thick wall of cops and riot vans.
Luckily, some pond life soon turned up in the form of 12 or so March for England goons, who all figured it would be a fantastic idea to large-it in front of a much larger crowd of anti-fascists.
People ran up to hurl abuse, with only a railing separating the marchers and the baying sea of angry antifa. The black bloc guy you see getting attacked here jumped the barrier to take on five or six men who were visibly much larger than him, but soon found himself outnumbered by their feet and flagpoles.
The fascists utilised everything they've learned over decades of chucking-out-time brawls and were boosted by that confidence that comes with a pre-lunch aperitif of multiple Stellas. For a few seconds, the masked man looked like he was in serious trouble and, at one point, I was almost convinced that the marchers were going to start doing that "quit hitting yourself, quit hitting yourself" thing, which would have been crushing to even the most apathetic of antifa.
But some of his friends came to the rescue, just in time to save the guy from the embarrassment of a lifetime. Fists flew and the combatants tumbled into a confusing pile of flailing limbs – some racist, some not racist. It's hard to identify a limb's level of xenophobia when you can't see the head it's attached to.
Everyone got up and returned to their respective teams. Team England backed against the fence like a worried herd of sheep watching the farmer amble across the field with his castration clamp. This police “liaison officer”, in his neat, baby blue bib, was all that was protecting the group from the shouty antifa crowd and their hurled bottles.
The fascists had just managed to sneak off behind the cordon when mounted police arrived and decided that it was a tactical imperative to confiscate the black bloc’s banner. Which they failed to do. Then there was a period of confusion while the police sort of half tried to kettle everyone, before giving up and acting like nothing had happened.
This lone police medic tried to demand that the black bloc member take off his mask. The answer was, “No,” which was kind of embarrassing for the cop.
A hundred metres up the road and down a side street, a group of fascists cowered in a Coral betting shop after being chased by some ink bomb-wielding antifa.
A couple of cops got caught up in the warzone, but managed to carry on with the kind of impressive, stoic resolve you really wouldn't expect men with a bit of ink on their faces to muster.
Back near the roundabout, confusion reigned. Mounted police chased people under the bizarrely misguided impression that stampeding horses would somehow convince them to take their masks off. For a while, it was easy to forget that the far-right had anything to do with the whole hoo-ha. Any counter-protesters that the police did manage to catch, they would stop and search.
Like this guy, who took his capture as an opportunity to have a lie down, reflect and chill out amid the chaos around him.
That wasn't actually a bad idea, because before long another group of fascists hurtled through a side street ready for a scrap, only to find themselves surrounded on all sides.
Here’s how that went:
The police managed to clear a route so the fascists could make their escape, but not before a few missiles had met their targets. Watch out for the skinhead with shades in the white hoodie. Figuratively speaking, the fash were ending up with egg on their faces. Literally speaking, they were taking full cans of lager to the head, which is probably more painful.
Many of the roads leading to the seafront (where the route of the march ran along) were blocked off by police cordons, like the one being used by this bigoted Blazin' Squad as a backdrop for next year's promotional calendar.
Those roadblocks were no problem for the local anti-fascists, who – knowing the territory – made their way to the promenade through the side streets.
When they got there, some fascists were waiting for them and a fight broke out. An anti-fascist who looked a little shaken told me, “We didn’t see them. They lashed out at me and my friend as soon as we arrived.”
Still, the element of surprise didn't prove to be particularly effective, as the outnumbered fascists were given a sound beating. Before the police broke it up, the air was filled with the sound of knuckles and boots meeting neo-Nazi skulls.
Scuffle over, we at last got a glimpse of the tiny March for England. I'm sure we can all agree that if the English race (whatever that is) ever needed defending, these are the guys you'd want preserving the bloodline.
Brightonians lined the route of the march, chanting things like, “From the station to the sea, Brighton will be fascist-free,” or the simple but effective rally cry of, “Small dicks!” Meanwhile, someone with a massive sound system blasted gay anthems like “I Will Survive”, combating bigotry with fierce fabulosity.
The march itself was the biggest joke of all. The proud patriots were allowed to march about 400 metres along the seafront, just far enough to spot this antifa banner hung from a nearby rooftop. They were then marched straight back – no speeches, no nothing – to their coaches, and sent off home.
We ended back at the roundabout with a breakaway group of fascists getting moved slowly out of the city, watching this guy tell us about how big a deal it was that he'd come all the way from Liverpool. Because although we fundamentally didn't agree with any of the rubbish he was spouting, we at least should have been impressed by his commitment to the cause.
And that was pretty much that. Rumours that a Muslim family was attacked by racist thugs – as yet unconfirmed – should be enough to ensure that if they do return to Brighton next year, they’ll be met by a similarly determined crowd of people keen to beat the crap out of them.
More times the far-right have humiliated themselves: