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The March for England Turned into an Ugly Shouting Match Between Fascists and Antifascists

And a couple of our reporters got caught in the middle.

by Simon Childs
Apr 28 2014, 2:45pm

Photos by Tom Johnson

Every year, a bunch of English nationalists celebrate Saint George's Day by marauding around Brighton, screaming about Muslims, and getting into fights. Sunday was no exception.

The March for England (or MFE) is organized and supported by various small far-right groups. Since the implosion of the English Defence League, the most prominant gang of protest-happy Islamophobic nationalists, there have been a number of attempts to reunite the far right under something called the “United British Patriots” and Sunday was their first big public outing.

In the past, the MFE has been billed as a family-friendly kind of event—organizers portray it as the sort of thing that would just be a bunch of smiling kids waggling English flags around and eating chips if it weren't for the presence of mischief-making antifascists. In reality, it's always been a lot more violent.

This year, MFE’s pre-match propaganda dropped the pretense and left little doubt that aggro was the order of the day.

It seems that MFE targets Brighton because it's probably the most liberal town in the UK. Previous years have seen MFE laughed, jeered, and punched out of town. But for whatever reason, possibly because they like this kind of shabby treatment, they refuse to go somewhere more tolerant of their intolerance. I went down to the seaside with my photographer, Tom Johnson, to find out if they would have just as bad a time this year.

As we drove into town it was busy with police and black-bloc clad antifa. The MFE members were corralled into a pub, trading insults with antifascists over the heads of a line of cops. “Fascists!” one side would shout. “No, you’re the fascists!” came the reply. It was pretty childish, but then again, these things generally are.

One of the antifascists shouted, “You’re stuck in a pub, that’s where racists deserve to be!” To be honest, I can think of worse gulags than a place where you can get a beer and burger for $10.

After a while, the police moved the marchers on towards the starting point, to the relief of some non-fascist customers who made “We only came for breakfast” signs and pushed them against the window.

Now that they were out of the pub, the nationalists had the march itself to look forward to. It was the reason they'd all come: to walk 400 yards along the seafront, hermetically sealed in a police cordon, while getting pelted with insults by antifascists and soaked by the rain. And then walk the 400 yards back again.

As usual, the English Disco Lovers were out in force. There’s a small part of me that thinks this kind of protest is hatefully twee. But there’s something about blasting ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” at a load of meatheads that is undeniably quite funny.

At several points along the way, people hung anti-racist banners out of their windows—a convenient way to tell the marchers to fuck off without being drenched by the rain or risk getting attacked by thugs.

Their short walk over, the demonstrators were marched back up the road to the station. At this stage, the police grip on things loosened up a bit, leading to a lot of awkward confrontations between passing fascists and antifascists, including the one pictured here, in which the man in the Adidas windbreaker and an elderly gentleman pretended not to hear each other for about a minute, exchanging muttered insults, you-what-mates and I-beg-your-pardon-I’m-not-speaking-to-yous.

It ended with the marchers cheering because someone unfurled a Saint George’s Cross flag, which they took as some kind of moral victory.

The MFE was very slowly escorted towards the station in a moving kettle, jeered all the way by angry Brightonians, and a Chelsea soccer fan who shouted, “[I’ve been] Chelsea for 20 years and never a fascist! Chelsea isn’t fascist except for maybe 200 season ticket holders!”

It was at this point that we decided to cut down a side street to get ahead and find a better vantage point. Breaking away from the protective mass of cops and antifascists proved to be a bad plan. Walking along the street, I heard shouting from behind me along the lines of, “COME ON THEN!” Turning, I saw a group of thugs marching toward us, two of whom were breaking into a sprint, leaving their friends behind and shouting things like “Give me that camera, you cunt!” at Tom.

Obviously he didn’t want to give up his camera and I didn’t want to endanger my beautiful, beautiful face, so we started running away.

The guy pictured here on the right caught up to Tom and managed to land a couple of crap punches on the back of his head. I turned back and watched as he went for a third and failed to connect, the force of his own momentum sending him spinning into a wall. Meanwhile, the guy on the left was spreading his arms and screaming, “LET’S FUCKING HAVE IT!” at me, his face fizzing like a condom full of Coke and Mentos. Thankfully, Tom’s assailant keeling over gave us the couple of seconds we needed to put some distance between them and ourselves.

Around the corner, we were relieved to find a bunch of antifascists and police. But when he caught up, Tom’s attacker was in no mood to concede that he was both outnumbered by his enemies and surrounded by cops.

He really, really wanted to attack us.

Before long, they were all being arrested. I'm not gonna lie; it was pretty cathartic watching the guys who just attacked us getting their hands cuffed behind their backs.

Further up the road towards the station, a load of metal barriers were being used for road works, so for whatever reason, the antifascists decided to build a barricade.

For good measure they reinforced it with some traffic cones, road signs, and upturned pub tables. Soon, the chant, “Alerta! Alerta! Antifascista!” was filling the air.

But they quickly fell back in the face of the advancing cops, leading to an uneasy standoff. Eventually, the lines of police arranged themselves in a way that made it clear a kettle was being created. Most people scattered, not wanting to spend the rest of the day in detention. The marchers were put on trains home, ending another crappy day out.

Another year, another fascist day trip, another reminder that nearly everyone in Brighton really, really doesn’t like nationalists.

Follow Simon Childs and Tom Johnson on Twitter.