- The Football Lads Alliance hosted an anti-extremist protest in London Saturday
- The demonstration, however, was attended by a notorious far-right figure
- It was also criticized by anti-racism groups
- A number of speakers were canceled last minute over extremist connections
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Thousands of football fans have gathered in London to protest extremism - but their message was tainted by links to far-right extremist groups.
Demonstrators stopped to take selfies with Tommy Robinson, the founder of far-right racist organization the English Defence League (EDL), according to Michael Bradley of Stand up to Racism who attended. Despite leaving the EDL in 2013, Robinson continues in his campaign of Islamophobia.
“The Football Lads Alliance” had encouraged sports supporters from across the U.K. to gather in the capital on Saturday with the stated purpose of showing concern about the “recent upsurge” in terror attacks.
Britain has been hit by a spate of deadly incidents in the last few months, including multiple deadly ramming and stabbing attacks in London and a bombing which killed 23 in Manchester.
The demonstration was to take place in silence, and some reportedly brought wreaths to lay at the site of the Westminster Bridge attack which killed five in March.
Given that English football fans have a reputation for hooliganism, and that racism continues to be widespread in stadiums, many were concerned about the planned march.
Anti-fascist group Stand up to Racism prepared a statement calling on the organizers of the protest to condemn right-wing extremists in the run-up to the event. It was signed by a number of politicians, including shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.
“We are worried about the presence of speakers linked to far right, racist and Islamophobic groups on the previous FLA demo in June,” the statement read, referring to a march on June 24.
“We believe that those leading the FLA are failing to take the threat of right wing extremism seriously,” they added.
Veterans charity “Walking With The Wounded” had pulled out prior to the event over concerns around the far-right presence.
A number of speakers were also canceled at the last minute, the Independent reported, ironically over apparent extremist ties. Among those pulled was Toni Bugle, who founded “Mothers Against Radical Islam and Sharia (Marias)”.
Organizer John Meighan had told the crowds: "We're against all extremism, no matter what the press say. We're just normal people."
In fact, some of the demonstrators lived up to their thuggish reputation, swearing and throwing objects at a small group of counter protesters who held up anti-racism banners.
Nationalist slogans also broke the planned quiet, with “England” chanted and the national anthem later sung, according to The Independent.
Stronger accusations were made against the demonstration online.
However, reports indicated that organizers were careful to make sure that protesters were well behaved.
Many online claimed about alleged under-reporting of the protest, which was covered only by a handful of British papers.
It is not surprising, perhaps, that the protest was ignored. Some have expressed concerns that FLA could be an attempt to launch a new far-right street protest movement with the disintegration of the EDL.
While effective opposition to extremism of all kinds is needed more than ever in the U.K., it seems that FLA is not the organization to offer that.
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