Dover became a war zone on Saturday as neo-Nazis battled their way to a planned demo, opposed by anti-fascists. Bricks and beer cans flew through the air between the two sides, and if you're a fan of watching people hit each other with sticks until they're bleeding from the face it really was the place to be.
The slightly weird alliance of racist English "patriots" and people who genuinely think Hitler is great were at the far-right demo to show – for the third time in just over a year – their furious opposition to the idea of extending any generosity to the shivering residents of the Calais Jungle refugee camp across the Channel. Some of the fascist pre-match social media hype had read like a fan-fic love child between Lord of the Rings and Mein Kampf. "Once more into the breach dear friends once more", read one event flyer, before calling refugees "the dregs of humanity" and an "army of Orcs!" ready to "invade".
The anti-fascist march gathered at Market Square to listen to speeches from the likes of shadow secretary of state for international development, Diane Abbott. Meanwhile, reports were coming through that a coach-load of anti-fascists and a Nazi coach had inadvertently bumped into each other en route to Dover when everyone stopped for a piss at a service station in Maidstone. It kicked off, some coaches got smashed up, and police reportedly arrested six people. One of the anti-fascist coaches had a swastika daubed on it – apparently in blood – which should probably concern anyone who doesn't want the word "pogrom" to re-enter the political lexicon.
Back in the square, the anti-fascists started marching towards the station, where the far-right had gathered for their demo, and occupied a section of the road in an attempt to stop the neo-Nazis in their tracks. Beyond a line of police, some of the far-right lot flew flags bearing the logos of the National Front, Union Jacks, St George's Cross and some white-power style pseudo-swastikas. Later in the day I saw a flag that seemed to have been stolen from the building site of the property developer St George.
For a while, things were fairly calm as the police kept the two sides separate. Some aggressive jeering looked as rowdy as it would get. But it wasn't long before some fascists turned up from a side street, sparking off an hour or so of utter carnage. A fairly relentless street fight played out around a petrol station, in possibly the most violent scenes to take place on a forecourt next to a mini-mart selling Lucozade and Ginsters products – well, since the afternoon's Maidstone service station fracas.
At the front, the more up-fer-it fighters from each side laid into each other, with St George's crosses and anti-Nazi placards flapping in the air as their poles were used as hitting sticks. A lone police officer stood in the middle of a sizeable skirmish, balefully holding his baton aloft and seemingly confused about exactly who he was supposed to be thwacking.
In the places where the police line managed to keep the two sides apart, people held their arms up, larging it to each other – which on the fascist side occasionally meant a casual Seig Heil being thrown. Barely a minute went by without someone shouting "missiles!" or "heads!" warning everyone about another incoming hunk of rock crashing to the ground or onto someone. Occasionally some very loud noise bombs were let off. You had to keep your eyes to the front to make sure smashed-up bits of masonry weren't flying at your head. I looked away for a couple of seconds and turned back to find a woman standing next to me collapsing to ground in shock, having been hit by a brick, before being helped away by her friend.
Locals reacted in different ways, from disgust to bemusement to glee. A group of kids stood by filling their phones with pictures. Others ecstatically shouted, jumping up and down and joining in on some rock throwing, in a way befitting young people living in a fairly quiet place that's suddenly become home to an adrenaline-fuelled ruckus. On the other hand, one white-haired granny with a shopper shuffled past muttering "bunch of idiots" under her breath.
The police eventually managed to corral the anti-fascists into a small enough patch of road to allow the neo-Nazis past. The far-right were then free to march to their rally at the docks, many bleeding from the head, and accompanied by the sound of a tinny sounding marching drum and their own sexist abuse of female photojournalists.
It is clear that Britain has an increasingly confident far-right street movement, happy to flaunt its extreme ideology. Anyone doubting that may have missed the Nazi flash mob in Newcastle the other day, in which masked activists held a banner saying "Hitler was right". Meanwhile in Sweden on Saturday, a masked gang reportedly rampaged through Stockholm hitting immigrants and handing out leaflets threatening further racist attacks – a fairly timely example of what happens when a bunch of racists get full of themselves.
On the motorway back to London, I looked left and saw one of the trashed coaches from the Maidstone confrontation being towed, its curtains flapping in the wind through smashed windows. I wondered if its passengers had been far-right reinforcements or anti-fascist cavalry, and wondered if the day might have turned out differently if it hadn't been for the bizarre coincidence of the two coaches meeting at a service station.