March for England Briefing
The Sunday after St George’s Day (April 27th) will once again see the arrival of the March for England in Brighton. As with each time in the last four years there will be a counter demonstration. This briefing by Stop the March for England aims to give a quick overview of this controversial event and explain why we are opposing it.
Who are the March for England?
The March for England have always claimed to be an innocent celebration of patriotism. We have consistently challenged this.It is fair to say that this year the March for England’s mask has finally slipped. For years, despite all the evidence to the contrary the organisation’s spokesmen claimed that the Brighton march was ‘a harmless family day out’. We have taken great pains in previous years (link to 2013 fact file) to expose the MfE’s links to a host of unsavoury far-right and racist groups. This year they’ve done it for us.
This January a meeting was held in Southend, Essex, under the banner of a new group – the United British Patriots. On the platform was ‘Pompey’ Dave Smeeton – the March for England’s central organiser. Also represented were Casuals United, the English Volunteer Force, the South East Alliance, the East Anglian Patriots, the Bristol Defence League and one-time main EDL organiser Tony Curtis.
These groups and individuals see their opportunity in the collapse of the English Defence League. Some of them, such as Dave Smeeton, have been active on the far right since the days of the National Front. Others cut their teeth with the English Defence League (EDL). As the EDL falters following the jailing of leader Tommy Robinson, they hope to become the new hub of extreme nationalism in the U.K.
Their full account of the meeting is given below but as far as Brighton is concerned one key point emerged. This years march is a ‘Unity’ event for all these groups. They are all being actively encouraged to travel to Brighton for the weekend.
So far the advertising for this event has focussed entirely on ‘smashing’ Brighton and the ‘left’.
The MfE have been coming to Brighton every year since 2009 (see timeline for more). Their message of intolerance and hate has been continually and comprehensively rejected. For the footsoldiers of the far-right Brighton represents everything they hate – a cosmopolitan, liberal and diverse city that is willing to stand up to them.
This year we will do so again absolutely certain that March for England stand for nothing but racism, bigotry and intolerance.
The March for England has been coming to Brighton for six years. At first we, as anti-fascists, gave them the benefit of the doubt. A “family day to celebrate our patron saint” might not be for everyone but is not in itself racist or offensive. After two years and the rise of the EDL it became more obvious that MfE is an organisation based on political bigotry with multiple longstanding connections to the far right. So the people of Brighton began to counter-mobilise.
Why do MfE come to Brighton? As far as we can tell the majority of those who organise it live in Portsmouth. For years they congregated at the train station for the simple reason that the majority of them travel from outside the area for their day out by the sea side. The local membership of the EDL consists of less than a dozen people.
The answer is because they consider Brighton to be a centre for ‘anti-English’ activity. They come to Brighton specifically because of it’s reputation as a tolerant, cosmopolitan, left wing city. They are aware that their message isn’t welcome but delight in bringing it here anyway. They have done this under the guise of a ‘family fun day out’ – something a swift glance at the profile of those attending shows is very far from the truth.
Who are the MfE?
The March for England (MfE) is both an event and an organisation. Although the annual march in Brighton is the main public event organised by the group, their banners can be found at many other right wing protests across the country.
In June 2009 the March for England organised a protest in Luton, to counter an earlier demonstration by Muslims against returning troops. The event ended in violence with Asian owned businesses attacked- Daily Mail report
Subsequently long term MfE spokesman and organiser ‘Pompey’ Dave Smeeton denied having anything to do with organising the event.
It was this riot that gave birth to the English Defence League, of whom many if not most of the MfE membership are enthusiastic supporters. English Defence League demonstrations are a by-word for drunken racist hooliganism.
Since then March for England have been a constant presence on English Defence League demos – as these photos of an an event in Barking in 2012 show
MfE membership overlaps significantly with other groups such as the English Defence League, English National Resistance and Casuals United. Their focus is on a sense of English rather than British identity, and an opposition to Islam and immigration.
They are best understood as a far-right splinter group, part of the ‘counter-jihad’ movement currently on the rise in Europe. Of course the counter-jihad’s most famous exponent to date is Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer.
Although the MfE claim to simply be patriots – what they mean by ‘english values’ swiftly degenerates into racism, specifically (although not entirely limited to) anti-muslim statements. They conflate the activities of a tiny minority of pro-sharia law activists with the entire Muslim population. They have also attempted to stir up race-hate by claiming that the sexually abusive behaviour of ‘grooming gangs’ is endemic among Muslims while ignoring similar behaviour by others. The word ‘muzzie’ , the modern day version of ‘paki’ is never far from the discussion on their forums or facebook profiles.
Groups that are associated with the MfE, such as Casuals United and the English Golden Dawn are nakedly racist and white supremacist organisations.
During their last outing in Brighton the MfE openly displayed English Defence League flags and chanted “Allah is a paedo” – a nonsensical and offensive slogan.
MfE and the rest of the Far Right
The murder of Lee Rigby by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale on May 22nd 2013 caused a sudden upsurge in support for far-right groups. It is estimated that up to 2,000 attended the demonstration in Newcastle that followed on the heels of the murder. The next few months saw a spike in attacks on Muslims and mosques that included assaults and arson attacks.
Since then, numbers attending EDL demonstrations across the country have fallen with under 200 making it to Slough for the most recent demo. The collapse in numbers and the defection, then jailing, of the EDL leader Tommy Robinson has caused far right splinter groups to scrabble for position. MfE is involved in nationwide appeals to “unite the right” making the arrival of full blown Neo- Nazis in Brighton this year all the more likely.
This year MfE have been busy networking and attending “unity” events trying to boost attendance to their big annual event in Brighton. Below are some of the groups and people who are talking about attending the march in April and on whose events MfE have been seen.
South East Alliance
The SEA describe themselves as a non-political street based movement. They were formed following a split in the Essex EDL. They share the Islamophic anti-immigration philosophy of the English Defence Leagues . They describe their “mission” as standing against “the formation of an islamic state within our shores.” . Paul Pitt (or Prodomorou) is the main public face and speaker of the SEA. He is also the ex-leader of the Essex EDL. He was also seen in attendance at a recent Golden Dawn demonstration outside the Greek Embassy.
English Volunteer Force
A self described “patriotic counter-jihad street movement” who also have connections to the loyalist movement in Northern Ireland. They are opposed to all Islamic immigration to the UK, arguing that to be a Muslim is a direct threat to the “English” way of life.
They are organising the first Unity demo for the United British Patriots – a march on Parliament on March 15th.
Casuals United are another islamophobic anti-immigration organisation that claims a base amongst football hooligans.
“we will NEVER accept Sharia law in our country. If you hate this country and the way we live here feel free to go live in Afghanistan in a cave, where you can have as many wives as you want. We will never change our culture to please ungrateful immigrants. End of story.”
The Casuals are strong supporters of MfE and are the group currently making the most public calls for violence on the day.
Casuals United were behind a trip to Brighton on June 2nd 2013 to take ‘revenge’ on the inhabitants of Brighton following the successful counter-mobilisation against MfE in 2012. Despite a heavy police presence groups of them ran around Kemptown throwing bangers and shouting homophobic slogans. Stephen Sands, long time MfE stalwart and perpetrator of a vicious attack against an anti-fascist in 2010 , was arrested and plead guilty “discharging a firework in a public place”. In the end fourteen of the casuals were arrested – two for drug possession.
Britain First is a party stepping directly in the political footseps of the BNP. They are a pro-Christian anti-muslim patriotic group. They say:“Local people are routinely pushed to the back of housing queues to make way for incoming economic refugees and migrants – this must stop, fairness must be applied to all, not just favoured groups who play the ‘victimhood’ card to gain an unfair advantage over the local community.”
Their chairman is Paul Golding, an ex BNP coucillor and one-time national ‘director of communications’. He was recently arrested after organising ‘Christian Patrols’ in Whitechapel. These ‘patrols’ consisted of handing out lager and cigarettes from the back of a Land Rover outside East London Mosque. Nobody, muslim or otherwise, rose to the bait.
England’s Golden Dawn
Possibly the nastiest of the groups threatening to be in attendance is England’s Golden Dawn. Unrepentant neo-Nazis headed up by ex Combat 18 member Eddie Stampton they are fortunately few in number but make up for it with the toxicity of their ideology.
They’ve also had an interesting Facebook spat with March for England in which they threatened to reveal how main MfE organiser Dave Smeeton has Nazi tattoos on his legs. For more see EDL News
Their first Brighton outing was in April 2008 and was unopposed . Eyewitnesses reported racist abuse directed against the public, but we have no direct (i.e recorded) evidence for this.
2009 saw another largely unopposed demonstration.
This year saw the first significant counter-mobilisation by anti-fascists to the MfE as by then it was seen as a front group for the then expanding EDL.Unite against Fascism (UAF) staged a counter demonstration against the MfE, taking the form of a rally opposite the King and Queen pub on the Old Steine, the end point of the march. Other non-aligned anti-fascists actually joined the MfE, by taking them at their word as being anti-racists and joining their parade to announce why . They were roundly condemned by the MfE on the day and received a great deal of abuse for handing out a leaflet celebrating a different kind of pride in Englishness (see “England For All”, right).
One MfE marcher, Ryan Williams from Dorset plead guilty to assault (in October 2010) following an incident on this march.
This intervention by antifascists provoked the English Nationalist Alliance, a more overtly racist grouping run by Bill Baker, to return on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday weekend. This time round the ENA mustered around fifty supporters and due to a large mobilisation by Sussex Police were able to march from the train station to the Old Steine although their march was re-routed due to action by anti-fascists. Chants on this march included “You lot all take it up the arse” and “Allah is a paedo”. Although this wasn’t billed as an official MfE event it still features on their website.
One prominent member of MfE – Steven Sands was arrested for GBH after knocking out and hospitalizing an anti-fascist protestor during an ambush outside the Fountainhead pub. Charges were subsequently dropped despite the fact that at least one police office recorded having witnessed the assault.
- October 2010 – the English Nationalist Alliance attempted to disrupt a SMASH EDOdemonstration with leader Bill Baker saying “SmashEDO is an organisation funded by Palestinian Exiles and Islamic groups to generate socialist political activities against companies that provide military technology to our armed forces so as to weaken our capabilities in carrying out military activities in the Middle East conflict and Afghanistan.” The organisation claimed to have infiltrated Smash EDOs ranks.Although organiser Bill Baker didn’t actually make it on the day, MfE steward Mark Crosby was involved and was arrested for Affray.
On April 5th a mob of around thirty EDL, including known faces from the March for England such as Mark Crosby, attacked a meeting being held by Unite Against Fascism on the subject of ‘Defending Multiculturalism’. Only the determination of a handful of people on the door prevented them gaining access.
- April 22nd Just three weeks later, Brighton saw a huge mobilisation by Sussex Police to push the MfE through town during the Royal Wedding bank holiday weekend. They were met at the station by a significant counter-mobilisation of over two hundred. However a large police operation escorted the right-wingers through town while holding the counter-demo in a pen.
March 17th Brighton EDL, headed up by none other than Mark Crosby staged demonstrations outside a book launch and later met up at Churchill Square to harass the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s stall. Three of them were arrested. Links to videos of the event.
- April 22nd – The March for England was met with a resounding counter-demonstration that forced the march to be re-routed. Brighton residents turned out in their hundreds if not thousands to line the route of the march and let MfE know they were not welcome. For an account of the day
- June 2nd Casuals United attempted to return to Brighton announcing “you have sown the wind ..now you will reap the whirlwind”. In the event a robust anti-fascist presence and the presence of 500 police turned the event into a flop with the far-right crowd marched out of town.
January 19th – a handful of far-right activists demonstrated outside the house of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes, a Guantanamo detainee. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz71HdCRgsA
April 21st The March for England is met with the biggest counter demonstration yet. An estimated 2,000 people turned out to line the route of the march and oppose them. In the event the march was routed along the seafront. The only way the MfE could march was by being surrounded with police inside temporarily erected steel walls.
November 22nd – St Edmund’s Day – This was publicised as another revenge mission to Brighton to avenge the insult to the honour of England’s ‘real’ patron saint. Nothing happened of interest to anyone other than medieval historians.
The MfE announce their intention to return on April 27th – watch this space!
We stand in opposition to the March for England not because we are anti-free speech. We have no problem with anyone celebrating their national, regional or ethnic identity or criticizing organised religion. We are not calling on the police or local government to ban this march. However we believe that ideologies of hate flourish when they are ignored and want the people of Brighton to show that the hate speech of the English Defence League isn’t welcome here or anywhere. Last years events showed the overwhelming rejection of the MfEs message of hate by the ordinary people of Brighton. The MfE were given the benefit of the doubt the first few times they appeared here, a mark perhaps of our city’s laissez-faire attitude and reputation for tolerance, however they’ve used their platform to spread a message of hate and that we did not allow.