The weekend around St George’s Day will once again see the arrival of the March for England in Brighton. As with each time in the last five years, there will be a counter demonstration. This briefing by Stop the March for England (http://stopmfe.wordpress.com/) 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 (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.
MfE’s central claim regarding the Brighton march is that it is ‘a harmless family day out’. We consider that to be far from the truth.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 opposition to Islam and immigration.
They are best understood as a far-right splinter group, part of the so called “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 limited to) anti-muslim statements. They conflate the activities of a tiny minority of pro-sharia law activists with the entire Muslim population. The word ‘muzzie’ , the modern day version of ‘paki’ is never far from the discussion on their forums or facebook profiles.
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 Far Right
The March for England has been coming to Brighton for five 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.
Since the 2010-11 heyday of the EDL, when up to 3,000 were attending demonstrations, numbers involved across the country have fallen. The collapse in numbers for the EDL has left far right splinter groups scrabbling for position. MfE is involved in nationwide appeals to “unite the right” making the arrival of full blown Neo- Nazis in Brighton 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 andwhose events MfE have attended.
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 Islamophobic 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 is the main public face and speaker of the SEA. He is also the ex-leader of the Essex EDL.
From left to right: Dave “Pompey” Smeeton (main organiser of MfE), Tony Curtis (ex EDL) and Paul Pitt (aslo ex EDL) main speaker for the SEA.
Bottom left corner Paul Pitt, top left Eddie Stampton. Neo nazi and leader of the English Golden Dawn
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 promising to attend this year’s event. They threaten: “this year, if Brighton police fail to stop Anarchists and other left wing thugs from attacking the MFE march, and fail to enforce Section 60 and/or make arrests then we will be coming back to Brighton for a series of day trips again”
In fact Casuals United organised a trip to Brighton last year on June 2nd to take ‘revenge’ on the inhabitants of Brighton following the successful counter-mobilisation against MfE. Despite a heavy police presence groups of them ran around Kemptown throwing bangers and making homophobic remarks. 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.”
Thier chairman is Paul Golding, an ex BNP coucillor and one-time national ‘director of communications’. They have recently been involved with the MfE in demonstrations against radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada that lead to their naming in an injunction in the high court.
Paul Golding of Britain First
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. For more examples of some nasty racism and publicity for the April March for England see the EVF Sussex page.
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
MfE, Omar Deghayes and Islamophobia
Omar Deghayes was detained without charge in Guantanamo Bay from 2002-2007. His family originated in Libya but fled persecution to Sussex where he was granted asylum as a child in 1987. He was tortured in Guantanamo and lost the sight of an eye as a result of his treatment. Omar’s plight attracted the support of a large number of people in Brighton, who wore orange badges with his internment serial number 727. The U.S government had no evidence against him and public pressure eventually secured his release.
He has since settled back again in Brighton – but recently the MfE have decided that he is a “terrorist and fund raiser for the Taliban” and together with SEA, Casuals United and Sussex Defence League organised a demonstration at what they claimed was his home address in Brighton Marina. They produced a video of the event
Islamophobia Watch has reported that March for England, along with Britain First, English Defence League, South East Alliance have been the subject of a High Court injunction in relation to their intrusions upon the home of Muslim cleric Abu Qatada (see above under Britain First) and this link
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 a event in Barking in 2012 show
History in Brighton
Why do MfE come to Brighton? As far as we can tell the majority of those who can be termed organisers live in Portsmouth. They congregate annually 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 do 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.
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 EDO demonstration 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 – Last years 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. In Brighton Magistrates Court, an Essex police officer stated that he was aware of both racist and homophobic “attacks” in Brighton bars, mostly in the Kemptown area by EDL supporters.
January 19th – a handful of far-right activists demonstrated outside the house of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes.
We stand in opposition to the March for England not because we are anti-free speech. We have no problem with anyone celebrating 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 religious prejudice, racism and fascism of the English Defence League isn’t welcome here or anywhere. Last years events showed the overwhelming rejection of the MfE’s 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.
We aim to bring the people of Brighton out onto the streets again to let the MfE know exactly how welcome they are.