English Defence League

English Defence League
English Defence League (EDL)
Abbreviation EDL
Motto In hoc signo vinces
Formation 27 June 2009 (2009-06-27)
Type Far-right
Purpose/focus Anti-Muslim,[1][2][3] anti-Islamism, anti-sharia law, anti-immigration[4]
Location Originated in Luton, England
Leader Tommy Robinson
Key people Tommy Robinson
Guramit Singh
Alan Lake[5][6][7]
Website englishdefenceleague.org

The English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right[8][9][10][11][12] street protest movement which opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in the UK.[13][14][15][16][17][18] The EDL uses street marches to protest against Islamic extremism.[19][20] At many of their gatherings, EDL members have clashed with counter-demonstrators, including supporters of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).[21][22]



The EDL originated from a group known as the "United Peoples of Luton", which itself was formed in response to a March 2009 protest against Royal Anglian Regiment troops returning from the Afghan War[23] organised by the Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun and including members of the group Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.[24] The EDL evolved from the football casual subculture and is loosely organised around figures in hooligan firms. When the Luton counter-demonstration led to arrests, local football supporters, using social networking websites, collaborated with other football casual groups, including those associated with hooliganism.[14][25]

Tommy Robinson, the EDL founder, has reportedly considered forming a political party.[26] Another senior member is Alan Lake, who has been described as the EDL's chief financier, a claim Lake says is false.[27] According to Searchlight, Lake plays an important role in expanding the EDL's international network.[28]

Membership and support

EDL supporter and a police officer at an EDL march

EDL membership figures are not clear. Nigel Copsey notes that "There is no official membership card, or fees/subs as such". This, he suggests, allows the advantage (in contrast to the BNP) of not having a membership list to leak.[29] In October 2009, the EDL claimed to have thousands of members in scores of branches,[30] and the organisation's spokesman Trevor Kelway explained that about 300 active supporters attended demonstrations with support from Cardiff, Swansea, Luton and Portsmouth.[19] At the time "an analyst" claimed the group had between 300 to 500 active supporters that it could mobilise at any given time.[13][19] Researchers have suggested that the EDL is unusual among far-right groups, because it seeks to attract non-white support, but its discourse is seen as "one that reflects that of the BNP and others albeit tailored to be more inclusive and by consequence, more relevant to contemporary Britain’s inherent diversity".[9][31] The EDL leadership has estimated that the EDL has 100,000 members.[32]

Yaxley-Lennon has previously issued an anti-Nazi statement and taken part in the burning of a Nazi flag in a warehouse in Luton.[33] 'Tommy Robinson' was the pseudonym used in two books by Yaxley-Lennon about the Luton Town MIGs hooligan firm, published before the foundation of the EDL. The EDL expressed support for the monarchy by vowing to rally in support of the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, but later cancelled the event.[34][35]


Since its foundation the principle activity of the EDL has been street demonstrations. In the main these have involved counter demonstrations, violence and frequent arrests.

Association with violence and anti-social behaviour

Video of damage being caused to a restaurant in Leicester. A supporter of the English Defence League was later convicted for his involvement in the attack, and admitted causing criminal damage worth £1500.[36]

The group states that its aim is to demonstrate peacefully in English towns and cities,[30] but conflicts with Unite Against Fascism (UAF), local opposition and other opponents have led to street violence, anti-social behaviour and arrests. A proposed march in Luton in September 2009 was banned by the police, citing a threat to public safety.[37] There is normally heavy policing of these demonstrations, due to the likelihood of violence. The cost of policing these demonstrations has ranged from £300,000[38] to £1 million.[39] Journalists that have covered EDL marches have received death threats,[40] for instance journalist Jason N. Parkinson from The Guardian wrote about receiving a death threat by email from someone he described as an EDL organiser, as well as death threats sent to Marc Vallée, a fellow journalist.[41] The National Union of Journalists also released a statement about journalists who had been intimidated after covering EDL demonstrations.[40]

Four specialist national police units involved in policing hooliganism, extreme violence, and terrorism are investigating the EDL.[25] After their second demonstration in Birmingham Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe of West Midlands Police: "Really, there was no intent to protest. I think they knew that the community was very much against them coming to the city, which... potentially would generate violence".[42] Before their Manchester demonstration of October 2009, the EDL held a press conference, during which they burned a Nazi flag and asserted that "There is no militant undertone. We will peacefully protest but we will not be scared into silence".[43] During the Manchester city centre demonstration Mat Trewern, from BBC Radio Manchester reported that "At one point, earlier on, when it became extremely tense, members of the UAF tried to break the police line between the two groups”. Greater Manchester Police confirmed a man, believed to be heading to the protest, had earlier been arrested in Birmingham on suspicion of distributing racially aggravated material.[44] One week later, at a Welsh Defence League demonstration, supporters burnt an anti-Nazi flag and made Nazi salutes.[45]

In January 2010 in Stoke-on-Trent, EDL members broke through police lines; four police officers were injured and police vehicles were damaged. The BBC's Matt Cooke said there had been few problems with the Unite Against Fascism demonstration.[46]

In March 2010 in Bolton, 74 people were arrested in the demonstrations; at least 55 of the arrested were from the UAF and nine from the EDL.[47][48][49][50] Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism was arrested and charged with conspiracy to organise violent disorder,[51] Martin Smith, of Love Music Hate Racism and Dr. Moran, joint secretary of Greater Manchester UAF were among those arrested on conspiracy charges.[52] Police said that UAF protesters were responsible for most of the trouble and that they had turned up intending to cause trouble saying "It is clear to me that a large number have attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable."[53]

At their second Dudley protest, on 17 July 2010, there was widespread damage to local property, the local council estimated the bill to be over £500,000.[54] On 11 September 2010, police in Oldham received an advance call from the EDL. Around mid-day approximately 120 supporters had descended on the town. A separate mob of around 50 members attacked a police car with bottles. There were 8 arrests for public order offences.[55][56]

On 9 October 2010, a police officer and several civilians were injured during protests by the English Defence League and Unite Against Fascism in Leicester. A Sky News van was attacked by members of the English Defence League[57] who had earlier thrown fireworks, smokebombs and bricks at police[58] and smashed windows of the city's International Arts Centre.[59] There were also clashes between EDL supporters and local black and Asian youths as a group broke out of the EDL protest site at Humberstone Gate East and engaged with the locals. One man from Tyne and Wear was later convicted of causing criminal damage to the value of £1500 to a restaurant in this area of the city.[36] Riot police fought to maintain control over the sporadic fighting that ensued.[60] Thirteen people were arrested, one on suspicion of assaulting a police officer,[61] only one was from the city of Leicester[62] and the cost of policing the demonstration was put at £850,000.[63]

In February 2011, prior to an EDL march in Luton, national British newspapers ran headlines with expectations of violence.[64] The march, which was held on 5 February 2011, was concluded without major incident.[65]

On 10 August, during the 2011 England riots Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Tim Godwin expressed concern that the EDL and the BNP were seeking to exploit the situation after 90 EDL members joined vigilantes in Enfield claiming that their physical presence would discourage trouble-makers.[66][67] The EDL also gathered in Eltham for the same purpose.[68] EDL officials claimed they were safeguarding local businesses, but separate reports claimed the EDL were attacking black youths.[69]

On July 2011, the EDL visited Muslim MEP Sajjad Karim at his home with a crowd of EDL members, which Karim believed was an attempt at intimidation and threatening behavior.[70] A video was later released of the protest, in which Karim refused to accept a letter from the EDL.[71] The EDL has been accused of spray-painting and attacking mosques,[72][73] and charged with arson against mosques.[74][75] Extremist members of the EDL have been involved in physical assaults against Muslims.[76][77] EDL members have been convicted of graffitying EDL initials on mosques and Asian-run businesses.[78]

EDL members have been reported attacking an anti-fascist concert in Yorkshire.[79]

Some news reports have shown pictures which are claimed to depict EDL members posing wearing paramilitary outfits, with guns and crossbows.[80][81]

Views and reactions

An English Defence League protest with flags and EDL placards

The British press describes the EDL as far-right[82][83][84][85][86] or right-wing.[87][88][89]

Nick Lowles, the editor of Searchlight, has stated that the EDL poses two risks. One is the formation of a street army prepared to travel around the country to fight and provide organisational support. The other is the group's tactics of carrying placards and chanting in places that are potential flashpoints. Searchlight added that not every leader of the EDL is a fascist or hardcore racist.[25] Meanwhile, on the BBC's Sunday morning Andrew Marr show on 13 December 2010, Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti described the EDL as "modern day blackshirts".[90] Other analysts have described the EDL as an anti-immigration group.[69]

The creation of an EDL "Jewish division" in June 2010 was condemned by all the main organisations of the UK Jewish community.[91][92][93]

MP Jon Cruddas, writing in The Guardian, describes the EDL as "a dangerous cocktail of football hooligans, far-right activists and pub racists... a bigger threat than the BNP... providing a new white nationalist identity through which they can understand an increasingly complex and alienating world. In a similar way to how football hooligans once coalesced around support for Ulster loyalism and hatred of the IRA, the followers of the EDL genuinely believe they are "defending" their Britain against the threat of Islam. What makes the EDL much more dangerous is how it reflects a wider political and cultural war."[94]

The EDL's leaders say they are opposed to racism and that the EDL is an "multi-ethnic, multi-religious movement and we are proud of that".[95] Trevor Kelway, a spokesman for the EDL, has denied that the group is racist. He said he had taken over as spokesman because the previous spokesman was Islamophobic. "We would march alongside Muslims and Jews who are against militant Islam," he said. "There were none on Saturday and an all-white group doesn't look good. But they can join the EDL as long as they accept an English way of life. It is the people who threaten with bombs and violence and threaten and bomb our troops – they don't belong here."[19][96]

Government, local government and police

British Prime Minister David Cameron stated in the 2010 election campaign, "The EDL are terrible people, we would always keep these groups under review and if we needed to ban them, we would ban them or any groups which incite hatred."[97] Former Home Office secretary Phil Woolas stated of the organisation's tactics, "This is a deliberate attempt by the EDL at division and provocation, to try and push young Muslims into the hands of extremists, in order to perpetuate the divide. It is dangerous."[98] John Denham, the then UK Communities Secretary, has condemned the EDL, saying its tactics are similar to those of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, although he stressed that they did not present anything like the same "potency, organisation or threat". He was commenting after clashes between different groups at a new London mosque, during a demo by the group Stop Islamisation of Europe. He singled out the EDL in particular: "If you look at the types of demonstrations they have organised, the language used and the targets chosen, it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke, to get a response and create violence".[99][100]

The leader of Dudley Council, Anne Milward, stated after the second EDL demonstration in her city: "We are extremely saddened that Dudley has again been targeted by the English Defence League. Yet again this group of outside extremists have shown they are incapable of demonstrating peacefully and have brought public disorder and violence to our town."[101]

The response from British police has been negative. Det Supt John Larkin of West Midland's Counter Terrorism Unit has previously expressed concerns that the EDL's Islamophobia fuels extremism and undermines counter-radicalisation efforts.[102][103] Dr. Robert Lambert, co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) at the University of Exeter and previously head of the Muslim Contact Unit (MCU) in the Metropolitan Police, has written that the EDL has undermined efforts by British Muslims to tackle terrorism and extremism.[104] Adrian Tudway, National Co-ordinator for Domestic Extremism has written that "In terms of the position with EDL, the original stance stands, they are not extreme right wing as a group, indeed if you look at their published material on their web-site, they are actively moving away from the right and violence with their mission statement etc”,[105][106] also writing they were a threat to community cohesion.[107]

An attendee at an EDL demonstration was revealed to be a Tory party councillor and was suspended after attending an EDL rally in Southend. During the Southend gathering, Tommy Robinson expressed links with the local Tory councillor, Blaine Robin, with Tommy Robinson stating "I am proud that the first politician I have ever met who actually represents his constituents is a man outside, a black man, who is a local politician in Southend"[108][109].

Academic analysis

Matthew Goodwin, an academic who specialises in the study of far-right extremism, has argued that the press are more sympathetic to the Islamophobia of the EDL than they were to the anti-Semitism of the National Front in the 1970s:

The reason why the EDL's adoption of Islamophobia is particularly significant is that unlike the 1970s, when the National Front was embracing antisemitism, there are now sections of the media and the British establishment that are relatively sympathetic towards Islamophobia. It is not difficult to look through the media and find quite hostile views towards Islam and Muslims. That is fundamentally different to the 1970s, when very few newspapers or politicians were endorsing the NF's antisemitic message.[110]

Furthermore, it has been argued that while the group differs from other British far-right groups such as the British National Party or the National Front by publicly promoting an image of multi-ethnicity, inclusion, and liberal values of tolerance, its affinities with other right-wing groups, its Islamophobia, and the outspoken racism of its membership tend to belie this image.[10]

Offshoots and divisions

The Scottish Defence League (SDL) is an offshoot division of the English Defence League. In 2009, the Sunday Herald revealed links between the SDL and the British National Party (BNP) though both groups have publicly tried to distance themselves from each other, with the BNP claiming it would expel members found to be active in the SDL and its English counterpart, the EDL.[111]

The EDL has separate Jewish and gay divisions.[112]

The EDL has formed Welsh offshoot of the EDL (the Welsh Defence League), but the Welsh division is reportedly defunct.[113][114].[115][116]

The EDL incorporates a youth division[117] and a womens division.[118]

International activities and support

EDL flags and banners at a demonstration.

American talk radio host Michael Savage became the first popular media figure to publicly announce support for the EDL, stating, "How does England take the Islamofascists spitting on their war dead, without letting the English Defence League wade into them with pipes and beer bottles, I'll never understand".[119] Erick Stakelbeck, a terrorism analyst and commentator for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, also expressed support for the EDL and compared its members to the members of the American Tea Party movement as being "mostly non-political average guys, many of them working class, who are fed up with their government's encouragement of destructive policies".[120]

The EDL is reported to be developing links with right-wing elements within America.[121]

Gainesville, Florida pastor Terry Jones, whose calls to burn the Qur’ān provoked violence that resulted in numerous deaths, was invited to a rally in Luton in February 2011 "to share his views on Islamic extremism." Anti-fascist group Hope not Hate successfully petitioned the Home Secretary to have Jones banned from entering the UK.[122][123]

In October 2010, American tea party activist Rabbi Nachum Shifren, travelled to England to speak at a rally.[124][125][126][127][128] In his speech, he called Muslims "dogs" and told the EDL that "history will be recorded that on this day, read by our children for eternity, one group lit the spark to liberate us from the oppressors of our two governments and the leftist, fifth column, quisling press, and that it was the EDL which started the liberation of England from evil."[129]

The Canadian Jewish Defense League has held a demonstration in support of the EDL,[130] saying that the two groups will "take a stand against the forces of political Islam". The Canadian Jewish Congress has opposed the alliance.[131]

Norwegian Anders Breivik claimed to have hundreds of EDL members as Facebook friends, and reportedly had extensive links with senior members of the EDL.[132] Breivik wrote online about how he attended an EDL Bradford demonstration.[133] On 31 July 2011, Interpol requested Maltese police to investigate Paul Ray, a former member of the English Defence League who blogs under the name "Lionheart". Ray conceded that he may have been the inspiration for the Norwegian mass murderer, but deplored his actions.[134][135] On 26 July 2011, EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon denied any official links with Breivik and said that acts of terrorism are unacceptable.[136]

See also


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