by Freddie Foot
The refugee crisis and the attacks in Paris has led to a reevaluation of European values and Europe’s overall unity. It has also stoked existing islamophobia and anti-immigration politics in the UK.
Those who were at, or read about, the far-right protest in Bristol in October would have noticed the organisers were the ‘Bristol United Patriots’ (BUP), a far-right group who ‘will defend our country our families and our culture against any threat to the peace and security of our nation’. The demonstration centered on opposing the housing of Syrian refugees while there was a British homelessness epidemic. The BUP had stated that “This demo is to highlight the homeless situation amongst the ex-service personnel living rough in Bristol and Somali rape gangs operating in this area. All nationalist and patriotic groups are welcome to fly their own flags.”
While Bristol has a strong history in anti-fascist activities and a relatively weak far-right, it is still worth understanding this new group and its intentions in the city. Readers will be pleased to know that it was difficult to look into the history of the far-right in Bristol. No one from the BUP wanted to speak to me about the protest or their organisation and seemed extremely defensive when I approached them.
The EDL caught the left by surprise, a broad, and reasonably popular shift away from traditional British nationalism. The far-right in the UK has been in disarray since the collapse of the national EDL in 2013, and the electoral demise of the BNP starting in 2011. The EDL was held together by a ‘charismatic’ leader and a lack of alternative organisations while the BNP has been eclipsed by UKIP. From the ashes a fragmented, barely aligned number of groups have emerged. The most successful being ‘Britain First’ run by Ulster loyalist funder James Dowden and former BNP councilor Paul Golding. The success of Britain First mainly lies in their social media presence, a tactic many other groups are trying to imitate. The BUP’s Facebook page features a post on average every hour and it is clear that it targets shareable condensed messaging.
This transition to a cultural-religious ideology can only be seen as the failure of traditional racist groups and fear of islamification.
The ideological landscape of the far-right in the UK has transformed over the past 30 years. The EDL sprang from the ‘United Peoples of Luton’ in opposition to the ‘Al-muhajiroun’ group in 2009 and shifted away from traditional National Front racism to a more cultural anti-jihadi, quasi-christian, pro-military ideology. This was and still is a general trend across Europe, a move which reached its zenith in the PEGIDA (Patriots Europeans against the Islamization of the West) movement from Germany which almost frames itself as anti-racist. This transition to a cultural-religious ideology can only be seen as the failure of traditional racist groups and fear of islamification.
Bristol United Patriots is headed by the Somerset and Avon district officer of the New British Union (‘Blackshirts’ fascist militia in 1920’s Italy) Ed Dowden. After abandoning the EDL national directive in 2014, the Bristol Defence League was created. After trawling through a graphic designer’s nightmare of a Facebook page, I found that the first use of the name Bristol United Patriots coincided with the march against ‘Somali grooming gangs’ on February 21st 2015 which was cancelled. The ideology seems to remain the same ‘non-racist’ anti-extremist variant seemly designed to depoliticise the far-right.
Links to football clubs and football casuals are commonly found when discussing far-right groups in the UK. The EDL emerged from Luton casuals. It appears to be the case in Bristol as well. Lee Cousins, an active EDL supporter was arrested at a City-Rovers game in spring 2014, given a FBO (Football Banning Order) and 300 hours community service. Self proclaimed hooligan and member of Casuals United Jay Butler, the City supporter appeared on a channel 5 program about football hooliganism brandishing EDL tattoos.
Groups such as Britain First and PEGIDA seem obsessed with forming a legitimised image, struggling with their violent wings
The divisions have damaged the far-right significantly as they split further into groups with seemingly similar opinions in a struggle to come across as not a bunch of hooligans. Groups such as Britain First and PEGIDA seem obsessed with forming a legitimised image, struggling with their violent wings. It’s not clear where the BUP stand in the mess but they seem to align with a string of similar groups such as the ‘English Volunteer Force’, a militaristic ’counter-jihad street movement’.
On the 24th of September 2015 the BUP met the BNP candidate for Kingswood Julie Lake to plan ahead of the march in October. The meeting resulted in the BNP’s support of a march based on the issue of homelessness in the face of Syrian Refugees being offered rooms in Bristol.
With an increasing crisis in the Middle East, the resulting refugee crisis and extremism in Europe more recently, islamophobia is on the rise in the UK. Bristol is a diverse city with a multicultural heritage and the far-right is weak and disorganised here, but we must still organise against them and counter their narratives.
Featured image © Dan Giannopoulos