EDL: From Network to Organization
The English Defence League (EDL) emerged in Luton in March 2009 in the aftermath of a protest by a handful of Islamist extremists at the home coming parade of the Royal Anglican Regiment through the town. Anti-Islamic in its outlook, it now has thousands of supporters across the country. What began as a loose alliance of people around various internet social networking sites is increasingly turning itself into an organization with a national, regional and local structure.
With the demise of the British National Party (BNP) in recent months the EDL is now the largest right wing threat in the UK today, with over 38,000 supporters on facebook and able to bring 2-3,000 people out onto the streets on a regular occurrence with little difficulty.
The group’s leader is “Tommy Robinson” whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a former British National Party (BNP) member who served 12 months for an assault on an off-duty police officer. Number two in the EDL is Kevin Carroll, Yaxley-Lennon’s cousin. He has also been a BNP supporter and signed the nomination papers for Robert Sherratt, a BNP candidate in Luton in 2007. Sherratt was also an activist in the tiny neo-Nazi group, the November 9th Society.
The organisation is supported by Alan Lake from North London who has links to Christian evangelical groups in Britain and the US and who sees the EDL as both a “street army” and a bridgehead towards the creation of a larger anti-Islamic movement. Lake operates a series of anti-Islamic internet sites, of which the EDL forms just one part. He is in touch with Christian evangelical groups, both here and in the US, has had discussions with middleranking officers in the UK Independence Party and is now suggesting that Britain needs a Tea Party-type organisation.
EDL Protest: White and Racist
The EDL is quick to highlight the involvement of black and Asian supporters within their ranks but these are few and far between. At the EDL protest in Bradford there were fewer than 10 non-white people in an EDL crowd of over 800. EDL demonstrations are always accompanied by anti-Muslim chanting and signs. More general racist chants are heard and there have been examples of Hindus and Sikhs being abused and even attacked by EDL supporters.
EDL protests have been frequented by members and former members of the British National Party, the National Front, the Racial Volunteer Force, the British People’s Party, Blood and Honour and Combat 18. Since the decline of the BNP in recent months a growing number of their activists, including organisers, have been turning up at EDL events. While the EDL leadership try to publicly distance themselves from these people there is no attempt to stop the racist chanting or the general anti-Muslim abuse. With the demise of the BNP we are seeing more BNP activists turning up on EDL protests around the country. Some of these BNP members are now in prominent positions within the EDL.
The EDL leadership is keen to establish links with like-minded groups in Europe and North America. They have links with anti-Islamic organizations and far right political organisations in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States. Eight EDL leaders recently attended the right wing demonstration against the planned Islamic Centre at Ground Zero on the anniversary of 9/11. Last weekend the EDL was co-hosting a demonstration in Amsterdam in support of Geert Wilders (see: „Treffen der europäischen Islamfeinde“).
And, there is a German connection. Exiled Northern Ireland terrorist boss, the frequently convicted for violence, Johnny Adair was reported during the summer of 2010 to be plotting to take over the EDL with the assistance of former Dresden and Berlin nazi Nick Greger and with Paul Ray, self-styled spiritual guru of the EDL. Greger helped issue a “notice of expulsion” to the EDL leadership, along with a demand for control of the group’s websites and had helped “out” EDL chief Tommy Robinson as former nazi BNP member Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. Adair struck up his friendship with the convicted Greger in the mid-1990s when he was in jail for directing terrorism.