On Saturday, Dover was witness to an invasion by a group called Support the Calais Truckers (STC) who held a demonstration. SCT's existence is based on a belief by a number of far-right groups that illegal immigration is threatening the livelihood of British lorry drivers who pass through Dover's port, because they can be fined if any immigrants are found trying to smuggle their way into the country in the backs of their lorries.
Despite their uncontroversial sounding name, if the demo was anything to go by, SCT is supported by a bunch of fascists. An alphabet soup of the British far-right was there, from the National Front, to the South East Alliance - led by a former EDL organiser. Late in the day, Nick Griffin, president of the British National Party, showed up.
The above picture gives you an idea of what I mean. There was even a black-clad member of the extreme-right carrying a banner bearing the Wolfsangel (the black and white flag second from left at the bottom). The symbol is closely associated with neo-Nazi groups past and present and is currently also worn by the "Azov Battalion" - an ultraconservative Ukrainian militia that has been accused of war crimes.
Their aim was to shutdown traffic on the M20 that feeds into the ferry port by marching to the point along the road itself. The march was poorly attended, topping out at less than a hundred throughout the day, and seemed without a real sense of purpose. In theory it was a protest against the fine system imposed on British lorry drivers, not immigration per se, but nobody there was really sticking to that script, instead choosing to spend the day hating on immigrants.
As the march descended on the port, it became a free-for-all for the assembled press who almost outnumbered the marchers. The protesters seemed content to display their bigotry to the assembled media, chanting, "Britain is full, go home!"
There was a very brief, failed sit-down protest and a single arrest, which seems obligatory on demonstrations. A few cars honked as they drove past and the SCT had only briefly succeeded in holding up traffic, managing to piss off pretty much every day-tripper and, ironically, some truck-drivers who were stuck behind them. As reporters and cameramen trickled away, the march started to head back to the staging area. Locals who had come out had departed, the pace felt a bit slack, throats were hoarse and everyone was a little disappointed looking. As we walked, the mood was sour and one man offered to "sort me right out" if I didn't stop taking pictures.
It was then that the weird poster man of the British far right appeared, jogging alone to reach the demo before it ended. Nick Griffin crossed the motorway and fell in line with the remaining protesters. A murmur ran through the crowd, suddenly there was a new energy and some smiles broke out. A few muttered that he had stolen the march's thunder and was using this as an opportunity to get press attention, but there wasn't a whole lot of thunder to steal anyway. As we entered the car park of the youth hostel that was serving as the rally point, people started using the demo as a photo-op with Nick.
And then Nick picked up the microphone to speak. What came next was what can only be described as the strangest history lesson I have ever heard.
Nick began by comparing the assembled protesters to latter-day ancient Celts defending the shore from an unwanted horde - the Romans - before explaining how actually they were more like Anglo-Saxons fending off that "Norman bastard" William the Conqueror, manifest in the present day in the form of refugees trying to escape conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
The crowd seemed a little lost, perhaps aware of the historic fate of their supposed forerunners and what that means for British identity. Sensing the confusion, Nick won back the crowd via series of analogies comparing modern-day "benefit tourists", first to the Vikings and then to the Spanish Armada. Then he mentioned that Napoleon had wanted to invade England, "And the British government didn't say, 'come on, come and take the benefits, that'll be alright, how much do you want?' They said, 'No, this is our country.'"
With a knowledge of British history worthy of many a pub quiz, and some confusion about the state of welfare provision for the unemployed, immigrants and invading French armies in 18th Century England, Nick told the attendees that they were a proud army standing up to invasion, rather than some fascists in a car park hating on the vulnerable.
Then Griffin said, "I'm very happy to stand here with people from all parties, I don't want people pretending with one party or the other. You know who I'm with, the British National Party, until they expel me for standing with some of you lot. You know who I am. I'm here, I appreciate every single one of you for coming very long distances to stand up for our cause." It shows how far the BNP have fallen that Nick's willing to shed any pretence at respectability and hang out with the National Front, former EDL organisers and random neo-Nazis. Not long ago he would have spurned these people as an extremist fringe ruining his legitimate politician look with their violence and Nazi iconography. Now he's happy to be among them.
Maybe it's not all that weird - after all, he used to work for the National Front in his youth.
As they marched, they described themselves as the sword and shield of England. In light of schisms within right-wing groups such as the EDL, was the sword of the far right re-forged on a hot afternoon in a Dover car park? I think not. These groups appeared nothing but confused, gathering around a figurehead in hope of guidance. But when that figurehead had his peak in 2009 when he was elected as an MEP, a seat that he failed to hold onto this year, shedding 100,000 votes in the process, you're probably in trouble.