We Watched Nazis Fight Anti-Fascists in England on Saturday
Another weekend, another confrontation between the racist far right and the people who oppose them.
On Saturday, as tens of thousands gathered around the UK to declare that "refugees are welcome here," a couple of hundred neo-Nazis rioted through Dover. They were taking part in a demonstration organized by far-right groups the National Front and the South East Alliance, demanding that Britain closes its borders entirely and forgets about helping people who are fleeing barrel-bombs in Syria. I guess morals and ethics don't play a huge role in personal reasoning when you're a white-supremacist who fantasies about a Holocaust 2.0.
The far-right demonstrators were opposed by a slightly smaller number of anti-fascists, who tried to block their path. Violence broke out as missiles were exchanged between both sides. People chucked bricks, bottles, beer cans, and heavy metal padlocks that had presumably been brought along for the occasion.
I arrived at a large car park where there was a standoff between the Nazis and anti-fascists, with a couple of lines of riot cops acting as a buffer in between.
There had already been some pre-match skirmishes before we'd arrived; anti-fascists had blocked the depressing pub that was supposed to serve as a starting point for the far-right march, and when fascists tried to take it back, it all kicked off.
I spoke to an anti-fascist who had a bandage attached to his bleeding face. "There's not much to tell, really," he said, before telling me that the fascists had been throwing glass bottles. One had hit him in the face and split in half, and before long he realized his scarf was covered in blood.
Things had since calmed down a bit, and there was an edgy standoff between the two groups. On one side, flags fluttered on a continuum that ran from the Union Jack to White Power. On the other, red and black flags and banners reading, "Nobody likes a racist."
The anti-fascists chanted: "Say it loud say it clear, refugees are welcome here," and the chorus of Sham 69's "If the Kids Are United." Meanwhile, the fascists chanted the slightly less catchy, "No more refugees!" and, for some reason, "Pedos, pedos, pedos."
To give you an idea of the makeup of the far-right demo, this guy was holding a flag with an SS Totenkopf on it, venerating Combat 18—a neo-Nazi murder squad.
Then there was the National Front banner using the Mein Kampf-inspired "14 words."
The crowd seemed to range from the kind of ten-a-penny bigots who would have been slurring incoherently about Muslims at EDL demos a few years ago, to people happy to make their nostalgia for the Third Reich alarmingly public.
They weren't to be Blitzkrieg-ing anything quite yet, though. The left-wing activists were at the opposite end of the car park to the racist demo, linking arms to form a solid wall and block the march.
Before long, however, the word got round that the police might let the racist march take a different route towards its goal: the port of Dover. So the anti-fascists, all dressed in black and with masks covering their faces, linked arms once more and formed a human battering ram, breaking through police lines.
They ran along to the next junction, which they thought would now be on the march's route, and made a wall of linked arms, flags and lumps of wood with nails bashed through them.
Soon, the far-right march appeared from around a corner. It slowly surged forward as the police struggled to contain it, with fascists shoving against them. It was a bit like watching a bunch of hornets trying to escape from inside a sandwich bag.
Marchers sporadically began to break out of the first line of cops to run forward, wave their flags and give the finger to the waiting left-wingers.
They got ever closer, until the police made them go around the side of the anti-Nazi road block. This did not turn out to be public-order policing best practice, as it bought the two groups into close proximity again. With a thin line of police and some police vans separating them, a hail of half-bricks, the sticks from placards and beer cans started flying towards the anti-fascists, and before long they were being hurled back towards the Nazis. A padlock fell from the sky at one point, as did a particularly noisy banger.
As the fascists circled, the two sides peered through the police vans, jeered at each other, and called each other "scum." Activists and Nazis bounced off police officers like sumo wresters as they tried to get at each other.
With the path now clear, the march was able to continue to its rally, but not before turning around to do some more giving-it-large and chucking shit.
The police then got their dogs out to make sure the two groups were well and truly separated. They brought them forward, shouting, "Get back, this dog will bite you! Get back, this dog will bite you!"
A traumatized child standing near me started repeating, "That dog will bite you! That dog will bite you! That dog will bite you!" looking on in terror.
At the rally, a speaker blamed the crisis—or "invasion," as he called it—on an orchestrated conspiracy by "Zionist Jews." Of course!
The anti-fascists, meanwhile, ambled off to the nearest park, where a local retired man in a suit called Patrick Carey came up to them started thanking them. I asked what he thought about his town being targeted by the far right, as Saturday's was the third fascist demo the town has played host to in the last year.
"I'm very pleased to see these people here. I'm completely hostile to the neo-Nazi movement," he told me. "That's the second week they've been here. Last week I stood alone by a traffic light and shouted at them; there was no one else around. I think it's because of this long connection with refugees. Unfortunately there's been a deliberate focus on Dover to encourage racism and acts of violence against immigrants. I've seen it grow. I've read letters in the local papers. I spoke to a couple of girls today—working-class girls—and they were on the side of the EDL. That's a worry for me."
A spokesperson for the Anti-Fascist Network told VICE: " What happened in Dover on Saturday needs to act as a wakeup call to the left, who have largely underestimated the capacity for street violence the extreme-right have been developing over the past few years. But it should also be reassuring that militant anti-fascists took the far-right's rendezvous point, stood our ground when attacked by fascists and succeeded in delaying their march. Had we had greater numbers there is no doubt we would have prevented them from marching entirely."
Meanwhile, Nazi social media pages have been chalking this one up as a victory.
Kent Police were more sanguine in a statement, commenting that they had managed to "facilitate a peaceful protest," which is weird given that "one police officer suffered bruising to his shoulder and some parked cars were damaged in Russell Street after various items were thrown but the protest passed without major incident. There were no arrests. Kent Police would like to thank the community for its co-operation."
In the last couple of weeks, the zeitgeist seems to have swung away from migrant-bashing to getting behind the refugees. But it wasn't so long ago that David Cameron thought it was cool to talk about "swarms" of migrants and headlines asked, "How many more can we take?" rather than demanding something be done. In any case, the thing about zeitgeists is that they're fickle and fleeting and don't take account of what might be bubbling under the surface—those bullshit anti-refugee memes that are swooping around the internet are enough to tell you that.
Unfortunately, one thing definitely bubbling under the surface at the moment is the re-emergence of an increasingly violent neo-Nazi street movement.