Since Lee Rigby's murder in Woolwich last Wednesday, there has been a surge in Islamophobia in the UK. The English Defence League – long-time opponents of Islam, given that they're basically pound-shop Nazis – have attempted to capitalise on this by organising a series of marches and demonstrations across the country. No matter that the bastards who butchered the soldier while screaming “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great) have been unanimously condemned by all sane Muslim groups and leaders – moronic ex-schoolmates have still been posting dodgy, grammatically awful status updates on Facebook, ten mosques have been attacked and the number of anti-Muslim incidents has spiked since Rigby's horrifying murder.
Before the events of last Wednesday, England’s street bigot patrols had been having a torrid time of it. They'd got used to having their arses handed to them wherever they went, which in turn led to infighting and disunity. Fortunately for the English Defence League (EDL) and unfortunately for anyone with a scintilla of decency or intelligence, a man’s tragic death at the hands of fanatics proved just the shot in the arm they needed to put their petty differences behind them and morph back into a cohesive Islamophobic machine, like the T-1000 reforming itself in Terminator 2, if the T-1000 was a drunk racist.
After taking to the streets of Woolwich in the immediate aftermath of Rigby's death and holding a demo in Newcastle on Saturday – where a speech that consisted of “send the black cunts home” was enthusiastically applauded – the EDL was on the march in London again on bank holiday Monday.
We turned up at Leicester Square where the EDL were congregating. At this stage they were defending Western civilisation from an Islamic fundamentalist landgrab by getting tanked up on Jacques fruit cider at a Yates’s wine bar. They passed the time by imploring children queuing to get the last ever tickets for the Spice Girls musical to “stick your fucking Jihad up your arse”.
Along with several screaming newspaper front pages, many members of the EDL were angry that David Cameron is currently holidaying in Ibiza in the middle of what the media are determined to label a “terror crisis”, chanting, “Where the fuck is Cameron?” I’m not sure how having Dave standing around trying to look important for the cameras would help the situation. Has nobody considered that he might have been orchestrating all ten arrests connected to the murder from the poolside, in between pints of San Miguel?
After a while they set off towards Downing Street, joined as they went by more supporters. If you've been paying attention, you can probably tell from this picture that this was the biggest far-right street party for some time. I longed for the last time the EDL came to Westminster, not so very long ago, when they only managed to rouse about 85 people whose love for spending their weekends shouting stupid things at bored police officers was truly hardcore. Unfortunately, misplaced anger at a soldier's death and the hot weather combined to bring out the dilettantes.
As the march made its way down Whitehall, it was met with the jeers of some anti-fascists who didn’t want to let the march happen unmolested. For some reason, these guys didn’t buy the EDL’s line that they’re not racist.
I’m finding it hard to put my finger on exactly what it was, but something gave me the impression that the anti-fascists might have had a point. Having said that, it would be unfair to look at the maniacal behaviour of one or two people and suppose that their actions represented the will of a whole community.
Not that Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxely-Lennon), the EDL’s head honcho, extended that courtesy to Muslims during his speech. He castigated them for not condemning Lee Rigby’s killers, conveniently ignoring the fact that 5,000 of them congregated in a Morden mosque to do exactly that on Friday. He also must have missed the numerous unequivocal statements from British Muslims to the same effect.
Then he quoted Martin Luther King, the political equivalent of saying you’re not racist because you have a black friend. In a sublimely ridiculous rhetorical flourish, he then equated the thousand or so drunken bigots in Whitehall with the army of the Holy Roman Empire who beat the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. It was like the drunken rant of a taxi driver channelled through Foucault's Pendulum.
Then it was the turn of Kev Carroll, another EDL top boy, to say something stupid. He decided to go with the claim that the demonstration in Newcastle had been attended by 7,000, massaging the real attendance figures up almost fourfold. Then he equated hatred of the EDL to hatred of Lee Rigby. Which is even more absurd than the fact that at one point during the day they tried to hold a fascist rally in a gay bar.
When the speeches have stopped, the chants of a group of anti-fascists became audible and the two groups, separated by the police, started jeering and chucking bottles at each other. Which looked like this (check out Robinson's army camo jacket):
A few bottles met their knuckleheaded targets with bloody effect, which will probably be cold comfort to antifascists who, having been on a solid run of form in embarrassing the EDL, were outnumbered and unable to pull off the trick again.
Throwing match over, it was back to Yates’s for the EDL, chanting “Lee, Lee, Lee Rigby” – creepily turning him into a martyr for the far-right, chucking bottles and cans everywhere and scaring tourists in his honour. Eventually this led the wine bar’s staff to admit that plying these guys with alcohol hadn't been the best idea and they shut up shop.
Bereft of booze, a small group decided to head back to Downing Street, because having a protest in modern Britain just doesn’t feel complete until you’ve screamed at some riot cops to complain at them about how they’re kettling you.
And that was pretty much that, so we went to sit down in a nearby cafe. After a few minutes, an EDL supporter walked past and, referring to an Asian family sat on the table next to us, spat, “I fucking hate Muslim paki brown cunts” (I mean, come on, for fuck’s sake). He walked on, angrily twitching, leaving us, a pair of white guys, feeling the need to apologise to the family on behalf of non-brown people everywhere.
Even though that felt like the right thing to do, it’s kind of silly really, because we hadn’t racially abused the Asian family any more than all Muslims had killed Lee Rigby. That’s a point that will need to be repeatedly made by anti-fascists as the ever-lovely EDL capitalise on Islamophobic sentiment to try to keep some momentum going after what was, in truth, a red letter day for them. A group that was looking like an utter joke a week ago isn't quite so funny any more.
Thankfully, these guys have a glorious history of ineptitude, so with any luck they’ll screw things up for themselves again. In their speeches, they hinted that their next move will be some kind of sponsored tour around the country's war memorials. But EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s credibility has already been dealt a blow as Help for Heroes – the armed forces charity whose slogan was on Rigby's T-shirt when he was murdered – announced that they wouldn't be accepting EDL money.
Perhaps some of the attendees were the kind of fly-by-night racists that will skulk off home, satisfied at having tarred all Muslims with a murderous brush just the once. If not, this summer is looking like it might bring the British far-right and those who oppose them into contact on a regular basis.
More of VICE's extensive coverage of this shower of bastards: