Far right

Manchester Spent the Weekend Telling the FLA to Fuck Off

The far-right is trying to hijack the Manchester bombing anniversary.
May 21, 2018, 2:04pm
An FLA supporter (Photo by Marcus Raymond)

To mark the one-year anniversary of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack which killed 22 people, a host of tributes will see people unite to pay their respects to the victims.

But one event on Saturday proved to be far more divisive, culminating in a tense stand-off between opposing groups, both sides chanting "Scum, scum, scum" and "Whose streets? Our streets" at each other in chorus.

The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) – a group formed off the back of several terrorist attacks, including the one at Manchester Arena – arranged an event to pay tribute. Their manifesto calls for a safer community, inclusivity and acceptance of everyone, and holding politicians to account to change anti-terrorist legislation.

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Taken alone, the above might lead people to question why a commemorative event from this group would be so strongly opposed, with a number of MPs and other figures signing against it and some groups promising a "wall of opposition".

But VICE has previously delved a little deeper, to find out who the Football Lads Alliance are and whether or not they are another far-right street movement.

Examples such as failed UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters – who has described Islam as "evil" – being invited to speak at one of their rallies, and the Observer accessing their private Facebook group to reveal "violent, racist and misogynistic posts", revealed murkier home truths.

One particularly vocal counter-protester in Manchester was Dan Hett, brother of Martyn, who was one of the 22 victims of the attack last May.

"I feel like choosing this day so close to the anniversary is callous at best, bordering on offensive, and I feel that Manchester has a right to stand in front of them and say, 'This is not OK,'" he said. Hett also accused the FLA of exploiting the anniversary.

"I've stood and listened to them shout 'Allah is a paedo' repeatedly. They profess to have respect, and actually it's the opposite," he continued. "I'm hoping we can stand in front of them and make our voices heard. I'm more than proud to voice this from the heart."

Another counter-protester was Ameen, who had travelled in from Wigan. "These terrorist attacks are really sad, but it’s just a minority who have this sick ideology," he said. "Of course we are against terrorism, but we are not against innocent people who haven’t committed any crimes."

FLA supporters gesture towards the counter-protest (Photo by Marcus Raymond)

FLA supporters were bewildered at the idea that their commemoration would be opposed. Wendy, a teacher, had travelled over 90 miles with her husband to be there. "So many people are just ignorant, with their heads in the sand," she said. "It's really important to help people understand the true nature of the situation that is brewing, and it's just getting worse."

Her husband was concerned about the counter-demonstration. "It's not right," he said. "If they’re opposed to people opposed to extremism, are they in favour of it? We’re here paying our respects and they’re going to come and confront us?"

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The two opposing groups began the day with separate events. Speeches and tributes were paid at Castlefield Bowl by the FLA, and at St Peter’s Square by the counter-demonstrators.

But with the FLA being disallowed from carrying out their original plan of marching to the Arena, the counter-demonstrators opted to march to Castlefield Bowl to make their voices heard in opposition.

As they arrived, FLA leaders pleaded with their supporters not to rise to the bait. But it was only a matter of time before they couldn’t resist, and both groups were either side of a barrier, slanging insults at each other.

"EDL losers."
"Who are the EDL? Fucking sausages, Communists. It’s freedom of speech. Brainwashed idiots in this country."
"FLA, fuck right off!"
"Antifa, ha ha ha!"

After chanting had gone on for a while, it was the FLA whose ranks started to gradually leave the barrier first. Some FLA members have since spoken online of their movement now being dead, after a poor turnout.

With a split having already occurred, another group called the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) is set to demonstrate in Manchester on the 2nd of June. Following this weekend’s showing, you might wonder if they would do everyone a favour and not bother.

@MarcusRaymond1