While most people hitting England's beaches this weekend were drinking lukewarm Red Stripes and basking in the first few days of British sunshine, Dover was bracing itself for a brawl.
The South East Alliance may sound like an agricultural social club from West Sussex, but they're actually the group of racist skinheads behind Saturday's anti-refugee march. One of the organisers was Paul Pitt – real name Paul Prodromou – who is an immigrant from Cyprus. Prodromou and his bigot mates aren't the only flag-waving demonstrators who enjoy going to Dover and shouting about how much they hate refugees; Saturday's was the fifth such demonstration in recent times, with a number of past events hosting both those who view themselves as "patriots" and more openly neo-Nazi groups.
These guys initially targeted Dover in the hope they could sign up lorry drivers pissed off about being stuck in gridlock as refugees tried – sometimes fatally – to make it to Britain. They haven't had much luck, but this hasn't stopped them.
Anti-fascist protesters started gathering at 11AM in Dover's Market Square, but by 12:30 the smattering of locals were still far outnumbered by cops and journalists.
On the outskirts of Dover, Kent Police were stopping inbound coaches, searching activists heading down to join the protest from Brighton, Berkshire, Oxford, Bristol, Portsmouth, London and further afield.
In January, at the last Dover face-off, it looked like the police had let things get a bit out of hand: groups from each side smashed the shit out of each others' coaches at nearby service stations, while in town bricks and fists flew, and Dover's quiet streets were turned into bloody battlegrounds. This time, the cops were taking no chances, with backup called in from the Met, Sussex, Essex and beyond.
Parked up across the street from the journo/cop gathering were a couple of cars and a van, decorated with tinsel and placards. "These are going to be carrying aid to Calais," a woman called Bunny said. "Socks, food and supplies; we can't have people in the camps shivering and starving."
A couple of hours later, coaches full of anti-fascist activists finally showed up, with cheers erupting as a woman called Karen jumped onto a mic. "Thanks for being here today everybody – you're all bloody heroes. I'm going to come round and give you all a hug and a big sloppy kiss in a minute," she yelled.
Before Karen had the chance to make good on her promise, the protest got moving, bee-lining for the seafront road that connects the town centre to the port.
As chants of "let in all the refugees, throw the Nazis in the sea" rang out, some bemused-looking local teenagers jumped on the leisure centre roof to take pictures. Another guy walking past astutely shouted, "Yeah, that's the fucking sea mate!"
Before long, a stand-off began: the cops wanted people to cross the road and the anti-fascists weren't having it, knowing full well that they were on the route the far-right marchers were set to take. The road was blocked on both sides by people in black-bloc linking arms. The police weren't very happy about this, so punching, kettling, horse-kicks and a lot of shouting followed.
With no bigots in sight, teams of officers ran in from behind some vans. A call of "snatch squad" rang out from the crowd, and quickly cops started grabbing their targets from the mass of anti-fascists, before jumping on their backs and frogmarching them off in handcuffs. I asked one officer how they were choosing who to nab; he told me he didn't "have a fucking clue, really". Kent Police say 13 arrests were made in total.
Snatching over, there was a moment of calm. I walked through the no man's land to see what was happening. "What the fuck are you doing?" one of the punchy-punchy officers barked at me. Before I could explain that I was a journalist, and here's my press card to prove it officer, one of his mates grabbed me by the collar and threw me backwards towards a railing, before pushing me again – just in case.
By this point, the 300-plus anti-fascists were now kettled on the pavement. With what was basically an enforced and indefinite beach party taking place on the promenade, I went in search of the South East Alliance lot.
En route, I passed a handcuffed teenage boy sitting on a railing while a few of the boys in blue rooted through his stuff. "Did you get any pictures of me?" he shouted. "Can you put them in the article please? I think it'll be good for my personal brand."
Half a mile up the road, back towards the city centre, were the "patriots", wearing patriotic colours and carrying patriotic flags, drinking patriotic cans of Stella and shouting patriotic racist slurs. Despite the lines of police surrounding them, there were no more than 60 on the march itself.
They weren't best pleased to see journalists, shouting "fuck you" in my direction. "Fuck off, you fag," came the second jeer. I hadn't been waving my gay card about, so I can only assume he too had been scrolling through Grindr during the march.
I wondered about asking one of them whether they hated me more for being a. gay, b. Jewish, or c. a journalist, but I'm not big on getting my head kicked in so decided to hold off.
I followed them for a bit, and aside from a few half-hearted chants – "no more refugees" being their clear favourite – the march passed off without too much action. They snaked their way past the anti-fash, and minutes later sauntered back jeering.
Once the fascists were safely escorted back to the train station, the counter-protest quickly dissipated and the afternoon was pretty much over.
During the protest, Tory MP for Dover and Deal, Charlie Elphicke, jumped onto Twitter to say that both sides were "equally unwelcome" on his patch. So the message of the day was clear: people who help refugees and protest against racism and fascism are just as bad as a bunch of angry racists. Nice one, Charlie.
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