Desperate leftists vs fantasy fascism
Anti-fascists can't admit that the EDL is crumbling because posturing against this allegedly Nazi grouping is all they have going for them.
The decision of English Defence League (EDL) founder and leader Tommy Robinson to quit his post last week has prompted much debate. His justification is that the EDL’s street protests against Islamic extremism were ‘no longer productive’ – if, of course, they ever were.
In truth, the EDL has been a spent political force for a couple of years. In 2011, when it was at its peak, it could get together several thousand people for its demos; today, it is hard pushed to reach triple digits. In fact, you’ll find fewer EDL supporters than police officers on a typical EDL demo today, the police’s primary role being to keep the EDL away from the ranks of anti-fascist protesters that trail around after the EDL like aggressive groupies. The EDL doesn’t even have any real membership base to speak of, often referring to the number of ‘Likes’ on its Facebook page as evidence of its alleged popularity.
Given how personality-driven the EDL has been, the departure of the charismatic Robinson, alongside his deputy Kevin Carroll, is likely to prove terminal for the group. Attempts by relative unknowns to assume leadership, most notably former Lincolnshire councillor Elliott Fountain, have led to ridicule and bafflement among followers. A planned demo in Bradford last weekend went ahead and mobilised a few hundred, but it quickly petered out due to a lack of speakers.
It seems that the 30-year-old Robinson’s decision to quit was as much personal as political – he says his political activities were causing his young family problems. But there does seem to be another element to his decision, too. Announcing his departure at a press conference organised by the anti-extremist group the Quilliam Foundation – formed by reformed Islamists – Robinson said the EDL has been hijacked by ‘Nazis’. He has grown tired, it seems, of having to defend the actions of certain ‘extremist right-wing’ members of the EDL, singling out an individual in a press conference who recently sported a tattoo on his chest with a mosque being blown up. ‘I want to lead a revolution against Islamist ideology’, he said. ‘I don’t want to lead a revolution against Muslims.’
Robinson’s sudden self-rebranding as a moderate has been as much of a shock to anti-fascist protesters as it has been to his loyal ‘soldiers’ in the EDL. Having spent the past couple of years waving banners comparing Robinson to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik – ‘different face, same evil’ – anti-fascist commentators are now absurdly claiming that Robinson’s latest move is part of a fascist conspiracy to gain mainstream acceptance.
According to some observers, Robinson is a wolf attempting to wear sheep’s clothing. ‘Magically’, one writes, ‘[Robinson] now appears more moderate in comparison with his former image: an image that he created, then labelled extreme. In the process, he makes everyone else on the political bench scooch up or scooch down.’
This transformation was typical of the likes of Robinson, explained Steve Hart from Unite Against Fascism. ‘Leopards do not change their spots’, he said. This is the same tactical retreat that has been deployed by other European far-right leaders, he continued. ‘Robinson and Carroll will use other methods – possibly through electoral means – to spread their Islamophobic message.’ A commentator for the Guardian agreed: ‘The far-right throbs and expands, blooms, then folds into itself and subdivides like an amorphous but sentient blob from a 1950s B-movie. It reinvents itself constantly.’ Such language sums up the feverish, almost conspiratorial mindset of those who, against all the evidence, believe that fascism is swarming modern Britain.
‘There will always be a handful of people to keep the flame of this devilish faith burning’, warns another commentator. ‘Tommy Robinson may have decapitated the EDL’, argued a Telegraph blogger, ‘but the headless corpse of fascism will live’. In fact, not only will fascism live; apparently it will thrive. Don’t be fooled by Robinson’s move, said a writer for Comment is Free; apparently Robinson is planning to ‘weaken honest debate as a whole and drag the entire landscape towards intolerance and the politics of otherness’.
Headless corpses, leopards, flame-wielding devils, magicians, B-movie blobs… it makes you wonder whether these anti-fascist commentators and activists have been watching too much late-night TV. But these borderline conspiracy theorists are sincere. As one puts it, it is ‘only by understanding this elegant, deceitful, unpredictable and organic process [that we can] hope to counter it’.
No matter how dire the fortunes of the far right in the UK might be, left-wing activists and others will continue to wring their hands over its ‘elegant deceit’ and its dangerous ‘headless’ spread into more areas of life. And there’s a good reason for this: leftists and mainstream politicians alike need groups such as the EDL and the British National Party (BNP) as patsies, as bogeymen they can posture against in order to imagine themselves as somehow similar to Second World War warriors defeating the dark forces of fascism all over again.
Indeed, it seems the people who would be most upset if ‘Nazi’ street groups such as the EDL disappeared are the activists, community workers and professional politicians who make a living or gain a sense of moral purpose from ostentatiously standing against such ‘fascism in our midst’. They wildly talk up the EDL’s threat because without the EDL their own political lives would become meaningless.
Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.