How a drunken garble at an EDL rally became shorthand for slapstick nationalism.
Screenshot: Press TV
"I'm here to protest, right, 'cos I'm going on a march 'cos I want Britain to be about British. I want Britain to be about British. We've got interracial law, and the Muslamic infidel; they're trying to get their law over our country. And it's happening, it is happening."
These were the words of an English Defence League protester during a 2011 demonstration in Luton, who – in the space of one minute and 37 seconds – immortalises himself as the perfect caricature of the English nationalist.
Our guy – late-teens, possibly, speaking in thick northern burr and interviewed by a presenter who clearly cannot believe his luck – seems 8/10 shitfaced and struggling to stay coherent as he rails against the increasing presence of "Muslamic law" in the UK. As the camera rolls he ties himself in further knots, slurring far-right platitudes so muddled they veer into Brasseye-esque parody. "They're trying to put the Iraqi law down on London", he claims.
But the video’s enduring popularity was due to something that pops up later in the clip. The guy talks about "Muslamic rape gangs", and the internet commentariat decided it actually sounded like "Muslamic ray guns".
"Muslamic ray guns" has now taken on a life of its own, as shorthand for a kind of slapstick nationalism – a "Don't mention the war!" for the YouTube generation – as well as a hashtag of defiance when faced with racism so knuckle-headed it's (nearly) hard to take seriously.
With the phrase "Muslamic ray guns" achieving pop cultural status, I decided track down the guy who coined it.
The English Defence League started life in 2009 as a right-wing street protest group called the United People of Luton. Led by Luton-born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (better known publicly as Tommy Robinson), for a while the EDL could claim to be the country's foremost far-right street protest movement. Not that they would make that claim, as they attempted to reject any labels other than the fact they were merely against extremism – something that didn't mask numerous racist incidents and chants at their demonstrations.
At a push, 2011 to 2013 could be called the EDL "glory years", with demonstrations in Dudley and Luton pulling in around 3,000 members. The group’s disintegration was stark: a march last September in Chelmsford was called off after an estimated six people turned up. A recent demonstration in Peterborough saw a reported 37 turn up.
The original Muslamic ray guns clip went out on in a Press TV documentary on the 9th of March, 2011, before the EDL dissolved into what it is today.
Muslamic ray guns has now been mentioned in hundreds of articles online. There are Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, T-shirts, numerous sub-Reddits, thousands of uses as a hashtag, memes and a number of musical interpretations, including: auto-tuned, rap, acoustic and even this wompy drum 'n' bass version. If you want to see "ray guns" taken to the nth degree, fast-forward a minute into this video and watch a bunch of people with glow-sticks singing along to the auto-tuned version in a club.
These different versions all stem from the auto-tuned version that now has over 2,000,000 views. It was created by a DJ called Alex Vegas.
Alex told me that his remix hit 100,000 views in a day, a million not long after, and admitted to feeling "a bit" sorry for Our Guy: "It’s clear society has let down a lot of these kids to the point where they’re both so disenfranchised and uneducated as to believe in those kinds of causes," he said.
Alex said that he's since gone on to work for The Poke, doing auto-tune parodies, including the one of Nick Clegg apologising that was picked up by various media outlets. Alex also now gets commissioned by production companies to produce auto-tune remixes for corporate events, birthdays and bar mitzvahs. Weird.
Also quite weird was the book I discovered called Muslamic Ray Gun. It's written by an author called Shaun Stafford, who lives in Lincolnshire and specialises in transgressive fiction. Muslamic Ray Gun is described us a coming-of-age story featuring the life of Andy Huxtable, a former member of neo-Nazi murder squad Combat 18. Shaun said he based a character in his book on the guy in the video; a character who hideously tortures a man he suspects of being part of a grooming gang, before killing himself soon after.
Shaun said he'd picked the title because "it seemed less offensive and more well-known than others I had in mind. It’s such an absurd title that hopefully people won’t instantly think that my novel is promoting racism, or has any kind of hidden, political agenda."
Shaun also said that he had a period as a skinhead when he was in his mid-teens, during a mentally vulnerable period when he was expelled from school and his stepfather left home.
"I was ideologically groomed by an older skinhead, who introduced me to the politics of right-wing extremism," he explained. "I went to National Front meetings in dingy pubs. It was an exciting time in my life, but also quite frightening to think of what it could've turned into for me. I moved away from that way of life as I moved into my early twenties, mainly because racism just didn't make any sense to me – and it still doesn't."
Thanks to a tip-off from Alex, I found Our Guy on social media and saw from his public pictures that he had kids. And a dog. After two weeks of trying to find him it had become – well, not quite an obsession, but it was permanently in my thoughts.
Largely driven by me being a sanctimonious twat who believes in the basic goodness of people, and with Shaun’s comments ringing in my ears, I found it hard to believe someone could have these beliefs without some profound ulterior forces, or personal trauma, at play. As I scrolled through endless forums, threads and comments, the whiff of class prejudice got stronger with the ubiquitous use of "chav" not being a very edifying reflection of the Great British People. I guess, overall, I wanted to find the humanity behind the Muslamic ray guns guy.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance because he ignored all my messages – and to be honest, I'm not hugely surprised.
If he you ever do read this, though, video man, Shaun would love to have a chat.
Thanks to James Poulter, Nick Ryan from Hope Not Hate; Hsiao-Hung Pai, author of Angry White People; and the guy from the EDL’s website who emailed me for their assistance with this article