Their leader is arrested. Low turnouts at Norwich rally. A hacked website. Abu Qatada released from UK prison on bail. Despite these shortcomings, don’t count the English Defence League out yet.
Life has been stressful for English Defence League supporters lately. Troubles began for them in early October when the young and charismatic poster boy for the movement, Tommy Robinson, resigned from his position as joint deputy leader of the British Freedom Party. He explained that he wished to focus his energy on the EDL, which he stated is where his true passion lies.
Just a week and a half later, Robinson was arrested in his Bedford home by the Metropolitan Police Service for attempting to use a fake passport to enter the United States in early September. Currently, he is being held in HMP Wandsworth, awaiting trial in January 2013. As expected, the EDL community has rallied behind Robinson’s cause, and are planning a rally on the 24th November outside the prison to bring awareness to his cause.
Though the month of October has been difficult for leaders of this polarising movement, the past week has stirred up additional anger, stress, and disappointment . Three demoralising events have kicked the soapbox out from under the feet of those aiming to keep Britain British.
1. The March on Norwich
A march organised by the EDL for the 10 November was meant to protest a decision made by the Norwich City Council to ban Pastor Alan Clifford, after it was discovered that he was distributing ‘hate-motivated anti-Islam pamphlets’. The Norwich community rallied around the council’s decision, and a coalition of 25 community groups organised a counter-protest called We Are Norwich, stating their goal was to fight back against fascism and racism. Reports from 10th November state that We Are Norwich protesters outnumbered EDL protesters by about 2000 to 200. A year and a half ago, EDL protests in Blackburn drew numbers closer to 3000. While EDL leaders called the protest a success, one wonders if the sharp decrease in participants is solely due to geographical reasons, or a diminished constituency.
2. EDL website overtaken
On 9th of November, the English Defence League’s website was hacked by an organisation entitled the Z Company Hacking Crew (ZHC). The hacked homepage now states “Fuck Zionists! Boycott Israel! Fuck the American Government! Fuck fascist organizations like the EDL”.
The ZHC posted a video in mid-October, threatening the EDL that they were planning an attack website and justifying their actions by describing the injustices of EDL ideology, entitled #Op EDL. The attack has continued since the hacking of their website. The second phase of their exposition on the EDL, called #Op Racism, includes a leaked list of male EDL financiers, released on the afternoon of the 13th November (The EDL has responded to this release, stating that the donor list is outdated). A description of ZHC’s motivations is listed on their YouTube page, stating “We Hack/Deface for a reason, our reason for defacing is to raise awareness of the issues in the world with a main focus on Kashmir & Palestine.”
3. Abu Qatada denied deportation
Despite attempts to have Muslim cleric Abu Qatada deported to Jordan, a UK court denied this request after discovering that witness evidence uncovered using torture would be allowed. On Tuesday 13th November Qatada was released from prison in Worcestershire on bail after spending most of the last ten years in UK custody. The case has cost taxpayers more than £1 million as of 13th November, and lawyers are estimating that before the trial is officially over it will cost at least another £1 million. Facebook groups supporting the EDL and Robinson have rallied around the cause, stating the injustice of the British legal system, with followers stating:
“England’s justice system should be ashamed!”
“ its not our country anymore, they have taken over it, and the govenment have let them, they take in all the waifs and strays of the world, just what have our grandparents fought for in 2 wars, jack shit. THEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED.”
“I would love to know how much of tax payers money has been wasted on him over 7 years just for him to walk free to go home and carry on claiming his benefits justice what justice it no wounded he always got a smile on his face”
Morale is low amongst EDL followers, yet they have much to look forward to. Diminished numbers at the Norwich rally give the appearance of diminished support, but a robust Facebook and Twitter community have rallied around these three recent incidents. The turnout at the rally in favour of Robinson in two weeks will be an indicator of the remaining motivation and passion for poster boy Robinson’s cause. Similarly, the results of his trial in January will have an impact on the movement, no matter the outcome. On one hand, if Robinson remains imprisoned, he might turn into martyr for their cause, creating greater unity amongst the organisation’s multiple factions. Yet one wonders who will fill the gap of the charismatic leader at local rallies and events. Robinson’s tendency to incite anger from local Muslims instills greater passions from both his followers and his critics; without his polarising presence the British public may lose interest in understanding the EDL’s beliefs.
Photo Credit: Roger Blackwell
Jill holds a degree in Economics and International Studies from La Salle University in Philadelphia, PA and an MA from the Department of War Studies, King's College London. Follow her on Twitter for issues related to social media intelligence and extremism.