Richard Baker / Contributor
Hundreds of far-right demonstrators from across the country today travelled to Parliament Square in London to "defend" a statue of Winston Churchill, before attacking police and fighting among themselves.
Last week, a statue of Edward Colston, a slave trader, was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol, prompting conversation around controversial British statues and memorials. Today, veterans, self-identifying "British patriots" and far-right individuals and groups – including members of Britain First and The Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) – travelled miles to "protect" the Churchill statue, perceived by some to be at threat after it was graffitied by protesters last week. As a result of these tensions, workers had boarded up the statue earlier this week.
On a bright, sunny day, the atmosphere among demonstrators in Parliament Square was tense, fuelled by alcohol and drugs. Many of the mostly white, middle-aged men had bought large quantities of beer, wine and spirits to consume, and many were already inebriated by midday. Individuals were openly bumping keys of coke and taking laughing gas, exacerbating the aggression directed at many passers-by. Few were wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as gloves or face masks.
Demonstrators took particular aim at journalists and photographers, heckling and shouting at those identifying themselves as press. There was a large anti-media sentiment, with some fights starting because of the presence of a film camera. A number of demonstrators shouted "fucking report this" after they began to clap a Black man on a bike who had cycled into the crowd.
By early afternoon, a large group of men in military and para-military outfits turned up to the demonstration, prompting cheers, chants of the national anthem, and a rendition of "Rule Britannia." As the crowds became drunker, police began to cordon off Parliament Square, leading to fights between police and demonstrators, as well as fights within the group. Riot police descended on the crowd to control it.
One demonstrator, standing next to a sign that read "All Lives Matter" and wearing a Union Jack face mask, said he showed up to "protect the desecration of the statues, and we’ve asked for the statues to be boarded up, so they can no longer be desecrated and vandalised. And that’s why we’re here: to say it’s wrong to desecrate the statue of Winston Churchill because he killed Hitler."
Hitler died by suicide.
One man was photographed urinating next to the memorial to PC Keith Palmer, who lost his life while stopping a knife-wielding terrorist from entering the Palace of Westminster.
After a week of Black Lives Matter protests across the UK, pulling in thousands of peaceful protesters, the news of far-right counter-protests led to a last-minute change of plan to avoid clashes. Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, warned Londoners not to take part in marches planned for this weekend in order to avoid potential confrontation.
Many peaceful Black Lives Matters protests took place in smaller groups across the city and country.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.