In which Andrew Day takes a look at the far-right groups operating in our part of the country..
With anti-racist organisation Hope Not Hate’s ‘State of Hate 2019’ report stating that ‘divisions within Britain are likely to increase…and boost the far right’s populist anti-politics message’, we decided to take a look at the far-right, fascist and fascist-adjacent groups operating in Medway and Kent.
English defence League – Kent Division
Active in Medway, the Kent branch of street fascists the English Defence League most recently met in Rochester, most probably related to their opposition to their building of a new Gillingham mosque. The English Defence League was founded in 2009 around anti-Islamic values, but drew members from older hate groups such as the National Front and the BNP. Although largely defunct and discredited until recently, the surge in right-wing racism after the Brexit vote in 2016 seems to have re-invigorated the EDL’s Kent chapter.
Although nominally ‘anti-extremist’, like their brethren in the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, the English Defence League practices a racialized opposition to Islam, which focuses on almost anyone Arab looking or vaguely brown (‘it is disingenuous to claim that Islam has no colour. There is actually quite a strong racial dimension to Islamophobia. Muslims in the UK are predominantly brown, Asian or Arab, and there have been instances where non-Muslims from Asian communities have been lumped together with Muslims and discriminated against.’).
Although it’s difficult to parse their support from their Facebook followers, the EDL Kent Division do have central coordination and an ability to organise which at the moment marks them out as the most active far-right group in Medway.
Far-right hate group have previous in Medway, having brought their own brand of Islamophobic street fascism to Chatham and Rochester in 2014. Although Britain First has been haemorrhaging members in recent years, it still managed to scrape together a massive eight people hand out leaflets opposing the extension of Maidstone’s mosque.
Football Lads Alliance – East Kent
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance, like the EDL, is a fascist organisation rooted in football hooliganism that preaches an ‘anti-extremist’ agenda, focusing on the classic racist trope of protecting ‘our’ white women and children from Arab-appearing men (look at any racist ideology from 19th century anti-black prejudice to 20th century anti-Semitism and the idea that ‘these people’ can’t be trusted around ‘our’ women and children comes up again and again).
Like anti-Semites with Judaism, the DFLA posits Islam in the UK as a ‘foreign’ and destructive influence, casting British Muslims (i.e. anyone south Asian looking with a beard or a headscarf) as terrorists and paedophiles. Funnily enough, the DFLA don’t seem to apply these prejudices to Muslim footballers N’Golo Kanté, Mohamed Salah, or Paul Pogba.
The East Kent DFLA attended last years’ ‘March Against Extremism’ in London, where several DFLA members were witnessed assaulting police officers and screaming death threats. The Kent DFLA chapter is mostly based around the Kent Coast and most recently organised to harass Kent Anti-Racism Network activists who were staging a ‘refugees welcome’ vigil in Folkestone.
South East Coastal Defence
A group of far-right ‘patriots’ who claim to patrol the Kent coast between Deal and Dungeness. Given that refugees are generally transported in small, unseaworthy boast by people smugglers, vigilante groups stopping them landing puts them at serious risk of death.
Generation Identity are the middle class hipster end of fascism who trade in ‘identarianism’, an ideology founded in white supremacy that believes in ‘re-patriating’ non-white Europeans. Readers will be amazed to note that Generation Identity’s characterisation of ‘ethnic’ white Europeans skirts dangerously close to Aryan ideals. Generation Identity were active in Sevenoaks last year, but have since been hit by proven links to neo-nazism and high profile resignations from their leadership.
The National Front
The National Front are largely defunct, along with the fascist South East Alliance. That didn’t stop ex-South East Alliance member and National Front member Mac McElhinney from going on a one-man NF stickering campaign in Canterbury this month.
The University of Kent in Canterbury was also vandalised with swastikas and ‘KKK’ slogans last year, although that may be more likely to have been done by the kind of ‘middle class white boy who watches too much Youtube’ demographic that makes up Generation Identity.
UKIP Gillingham and Rainham
As mentioned previously on this site, there has been significant overlap between the far-right and UKIP in recent months. Up until recently, UKIP Gillingham and Rainham’s Facebook page was enthusiastically supporting fascist poster boy Tommy Robinson, although since Robinson was booted from Twitter and Facebook and demonetised on Youtube for practising hate speech, this support has tailed off. Luckily, the Facebook page has managed to stay on-brand, with its followers posting comments comparing Labour’s Diane Abbot to a chimpanzee. Local matters aside, uit’s worth noting that both UKIP leader Gerrard Batten and Tommy Robinson used Polish neo-Nazis from the DFLA as security at a march in Salford this year, an ambitious crossover to make even the Marvel Universe jealous.
There is huge overlap and interplay between different far-right groups and UKIP, with regular collaboration and co-operation, often under unifying figures like tommy Robinson. Factors that unite all of these hate groups and organisations are:
- Islamophobia (bad news: attaching essentialist, negative stereotypes to people who look Arabic and share a religion is *really, really, racist*[especially when you ignore Muslims who are white, black, or east Asian]).
- Anti-immigration rhetoric (people fleeing probable death in conflict zones, then risking probable drowning, then probable incarceration in an immigration detention centre, are ‘just in it to claim benefits’)
- Misogyny (‘they are also virulently misogynistic, queerphobic and transphobic in their focus on the nuclear family and on the position of women in society’).
- Anti-black racism (in particular over Diane Abbott and a racialised reading of knife crime).
- A two-tiered approach to free speech (anti-fascists ‘prevent’ free speech, but Tommy Robinson intimidating journalists is ok).
- Pro-Brexit sentiment, in particular pro-hard Brexit support, along with classifying Theresa May and remain-supporting MPs as ‘traitors’. The ‘traitor’ narrative has led to the violent intimidation of MPS and journalists, in a situation worryingly similar to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
- A crude meme culture that shares material from far-right adjacent sources (Tommy Robinson, Paul Joseph Watson etc.), uses fake, photoshopped images to demonise Muslims, or features clumsily assembled patriotic imagery.
- Sharing fake or cherry picked news to spread hatred.
To read a full run-down of hate groups and fascism in the UK, check out Hope Not Hate’s ‘The State of Hate 2019’ report.
Andrew Day is a Medway based musician, activist, and librarian.