Datelinegetsundercover with the far-right English Defence League, as protesters travel the country spreading their extreme anti-Islam views.
If you keep up with the news, you would be forgiven for thinking that at the moment there is a worldwide campaign against Islam, what with threats in the US to burn the Koran, protests against a mosque planned near the 9/ 11 Ground Zero, Europeans banning the burqa, or how about this one - the Swiss recently - believe it or not - banning minarets. Now it turns out in the UK, the Islamaphobe virus is close to plague proportions. Matthew Taylor from 'The Guardian' newspaper's TV unit spent months filming - mainly undercover - with a growing bunch of characters, hell bent on spreading their particular anti-Islam hate message. They call themselves the EDL, the English Defence League. Warning, some of the language in this report is pretty offensive.
REPORTER: Matthew Taylor
PROTESTERS, STOKE-ON-TRENT, 23RD Jan 2010: Fucking come on, you fucking Paki-loving bastard!
PROTESTER: Next car full of Jihads, we'll all pile out and fucking stamp on them.
Since it was formed just 11 months ago, the English Defence League has become the most significant far right stream movement the UK has seen since the National Front in the 1970s. The organisation's leadership claims it is peaceful and non-racist concerned only with Islamic Extremism.
PROTESTER: Asians, don't like the bloody Asians.
But the 'Guardian' found that explicit racism and violence were never far away.
PROTESTER: They're taking over aren't they, they need knocking down a peg, don't they?
REPORTER: Taking over what?
PROTESTER: Everywhere, civilisation, they're just breeding like mad.
PROTESTER: God bless every single person in this country - of all religions, creeds and cultures and you know what - even God bless the Muslims, they will need it when they're burning in fucking hell.
The 'Guardian' spent four months following the EDL around the UK, I watched as the movement grew filming them secretly and in the open as they gathered in London, Dudley, Bolton and Stoke. One of their leaders told me how excited he was by what had been achieved in just a matter of months.
EDL LEADER: We're only nine months old, and look at it - biggest street movement in England. Whenever there is a problem, the people of Britain hit the streets.
The Guardian did look at it and found a movement growing in strength, a movement that plans a summer long campaign targeting some of the UK's biggest Muslim communities. The English Defence League was formed in Luton in June last year. It has brought together a desperate group of football hooligans, far right activists and many who've never been on a political demonstration before. What unites them is a rampant and sometimes violent Islam phobia.
January 2010, it is 10. 30 am on a cold Saturday morning in Stoke and the EDL are gathering at the Reginald Mitchell pub. The police are ready and waiting too. Inside the pub EDL supporters take advantage of the early bar, as the drink knows the atmosphere becomes highly charged.
PROTESTER: We all hate Muslims;. Muslim bombers off our streets!
After four hours drinking inside the pub, EDL protesters spill on the streets attacking police lines. Officers are outnumbered and 17 people are arrested.
NICK LOWLES, "œSEARCHLIGHT' - ANTI FASCIST MAGAZINE: What we're seeing now is the most serious, most dangerous phenomenon that we've had in Britain for a number of years, the EDL protests that are growing week in, week out, there's a chance, a major disorder and a major political shift to the right in this country.
In early March the EDL converge on London, meeting in a pub near the Tate Britain on the banks of the Thames. Once again the police are waiting for them. This time the EDL are on better behaviour. The Dutch politician and infamous Islamaphobe, Gert Wilders has been invited to screen an anti-Islamic film in the House of Lords and the English defence league is come out in support.
This time they are granted permission to march from the Thames to Parliament. On the way they meet with opposition.
GIRL: You're going to hell. Go to hell.
Groups opposing the English Defence League have faced a campaign of threats and intimidation, Weyman Bennett received this anonymous phone call the day after a counter-demonstration in Bolton.
CALLER: You're a coward - you're a far-right piece of coward commie bastard. You come to Birmingham, you are going to get sorted - you piece of shit.
Bennett is Head of Unite Against Fascism a group that staged a number of demonstrations against the English Defence League, he's received countless abusive and threatening messages, this one was left on the office phone on 21 March 2010. It's currently been investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
CALLER: Anti-fascist, your Al Qaeda, you remember that. You'll be sorted, motherfuckers. You behave like a coward. You can't come on the streets without a hundred people behind you - because you're a piece of shit. Come to Birmingham - your going to get sorted, you prick!
WEYMAN BENNETT, UNITE AGAINST FASCISM: I think you can see the situation is hotting up and they've been much more aggressive, they are openly planning to attack people I believe, and I think that something should be done about this.
Journalists covering the rise of the EDL have also faced intimidation. Jason Parkinson has filmed many of their demonstrations.
JASON PARKINSON: We've seen a lot of journalists being punished and hit and suffering other sorts of assaults as well.
NICK LOWLES: What we are seeing is that small groups of far right activists are latching on to the EDL and trying to use it and direct it in a particular way to cause trouble and we've seen Combat 18 people and National Front, BNP people, moving in, trying to organise people, trying to divide people and use EDL as a political fighting force.
EDL is run by a secretive leadership team. The Guardian has requested interviews on several occasions to put these allegations to them, but they refused to appear on camera. Towards the end of March comes news that a rally is planed in Bolton. More than 1,000 people have turned out to oppose the EDL.
POLICE: Keep moving guys, keep moving please.
There is much more tension in the air today than there was in London and police make 73 arrests, 54 of them anti-racist protesters from Unite Against Fascism, including Weyman Bennett.
PROTESTERS: I'm England till I die, I know I am, I'm sure I am, I'm England till I die!
On the other side of the barrier the English Defence League arrives in force. The Guardian talks to some of its supporters.
PROTESTER: It's a backward mentality. A backward religion, they're backward.
PROTESTER: Blacks and niggers, they're alright, but the Pakis, man.
REPORTER: Have you always felt like that?
PROTESTER: Yes, since being a little kid.
It is too easy to dismiss the English Defence League as a rerun of previous far right organisations. It has acted as a lightening rod for people with a range of grievances who appear to be co-aliasing around a rampant Islam phobia.
PROTESTER: I'm a patriot, not a racist. Patriot, patriot - I believe in freedom of speech, which Muslims, Islam won't allow. No they don't. I believe in gay and lesbian rights, in women being with me at work and in family rights. Is there anything wrong with that? No there is not. As long as I'm here with blood in my heart I will demonstrate against in what we don't believe in.
PROTESTER: I want British jobs for British people.
MATTHEW GODWIN, ACADEMIC, MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY: The message of Islam phobia can rally groups beyond your traditional white British voter and the EDL has actively tried to galvanise those. Does this mean that the EDL believes in a truly pluralist multicultural society, no I don't think so, does it show that there are sections of this population that have concern about Islam beyond the core constituency of the far right, yeah.
Two weeks later I travel with the EDL supporters for a demonstration in the Midlands town of Dudley. Things got much worse. Posing as an EDL supporter I spoke to this man, Singh, a British Born Sikh and one of the EDL core leadership team. He told me the organisation is planning to target some of the most iconic Muslim communities in the UK.
MR SINGH: Bradford will be huge, the problem with Bradford is the security threat - it is a highly populated Muslim area and they are very militant as well. It don't take much for those Pakis to set a bomb off. There's a big security thing, so once we get over that we will go to Bradford. Bradford has got to be hit. Tower Hamlets;we're sorting that out. That's going to be fun - in Tower Hamlets - you've got the East London Mosque, you have the IFE, the Islamic Forum for Europe;. That is basically the epicentre, the headquarters for Islam.
NICK LOWLES: Up until now the police have been able to control these EDL protests. But all we need is for one to go wrong, for there to be a major disturbance and I think you will see it spread across the country and a real summer of violence.
It is clear the organisation is aware of its potential to spark serious violence.
PROTESTER: If them barriers break one day and our lads get through. They'll murder them all.
A few hours later those predictions appear to be coming true. After tearing down fencing, hundreds of EDL supporters went on the rampage and only a huge police presence prevented serious disorder. Many of the EDL demonstrations I attended felt like they were on a knife edge. One serious incident could have led to widespread unrest.
GEORGE NEGUS: I don't know about you, but I don't think I will invite that lot home for tea. We debated the pros and the cons of running that guardian piece, so we hope it informed you even though it no doubt offended some of you as well. By the way, as you saw there -Gert Wilders, the rabidly anti Islam Dutch MP that Mark Davis profiled for us a few weeks back, has become the poster boy of the EDL. Mark's report is still on the website where it has attracted hundreds of comments. There's more on the website on the EDL and I've actually been around long enough to have covered the neo-Nazi National Front marches in the UK in the early 80's, and there's a few words with yours truly on what's changed there and what obviously what hasn't changed on the website. Tell us why you think I'm right or wrong.
19th September 2010