This summer may have been a washout so far, but the English Defence League didn’t need their St George’s flags to keep them cosy when they battled with anti-fascists and riot police in drizzly Bristol this weekend.
For those who haven’t been paying attention, the EDL is a group that seems to sincerely believe that Britain is under imminent threat of being taken over by fundamentalist Muslims. Ignoring the hundreds of years of evidence which suggests that Britain is run by a cabal of rich, white, Christian men, the EDL have set about nipping this imaginary problem in the bud by marching drunk into towns and cities and slurring their inarticulate rage at the local Islamic population.
Which would be kind of cute, except the EDL’s members seem content to do this without worrying too much if the Muslims they encounter are fundementalists or not, or if the local non-Muslims have any desire to be “defended” from “creeping Islamification”.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s demo, posters had been put up around Bristol reading:
“On the 14th of July the EDL want to march through our city to promote HATE. Let’s all give them a PROPER Bristol welcome. See you there my lovers.”
VICE photojournalist Henry Langston and I enjoy it very much when fascists and anti-fascists collide, so we jumped on a train to the West Country.
EDL divisions arrived on trains, coaches and in cars, and the police carried out their standard tactic of herding them into a car park before they set off on their march.
It took a while to corral the dispersed Islamophobes to the muster point. This gave the antifa who had been lurking around town an opportunity to get in some opening shots. The police tried to arrest a few guys for lobbing bottles at the EDL, but two of them escaped when their mates bundled in and saved them from a night in a cell.
This man had no such luck, though, and was subjected to a tea-bagging he’ll never forget.
When they were safely in the car park, some of the lads decided to spend the time engaging the locals and warning them of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism:
We also bumped into Henry’s career advisor. Small world!
It was a surprise to see a member of the EDL advocate turning Norwich into a caliphate. If you look at this picture carefully, you can see that his message has been painted over another sign reading “FUN DAY →”. I hope this guy is happy at the thought of some kids getting lost on their way to the coconut shies just so that he can peddle his badly punctuated message of rage.
Still, his message was crystal clear compared to this guy’s:
He’s got a degree! A bloody degree!
As the march set off over a bridge, a small pink and black bloc turned up to jeer at the EDL from a nearby jetty. This is because the demo coincided with Bristol Pride, much to the chagrin of the Pride organisers.
Without wanting to lump a group as diverse as the Bristol LGBT community into a homogenous mass with a hive mind, the debate can be summed up thusly:
Bristol LGBT community: Hey, EDL, can you not ruin our day with your discrimination vibes, please?
EDL: But we’re pro-gays because we’re anti-Muslamics. Excluding us on account of our prejudice is prejudiced.
Gays: Well, we can see a certain irony there, sort of. But seriously, fuck off you racist pricks.
Anyway, let’s examine the EDL’s claim to have a gay-friendly agenda by watching one of their members call a bystander a “fucking arse bandit”:
Clearly this guy was not “on message”. But a transgender EDL member made a speech at their rally, so they can’t be homophobes. Just like how it’s impossible to be racist if you tip the guy who brings you your pizza.
As the march continued, Bristolians lined the river banks to hurl abuse at the EDL.
While I was hanging out with the antifa, Henry was on the other side of the river with the EDL. That’s him in front of the railings near the police tugboat. Here’s a snap I took of him whilst he was filming the video which follows. How’s that for 360 coverage?
I wonder what this fleet-footed antifa rascal had done to draw the attention of the policeman that you can see behind, giving chase.
I don’t think they caught him, whatever it was. I took this picture about 15 seconds after the previous one. Maybe he just wanted to kiss him?
Eventually, the EDL reached a square for the rally where they gave incoherent speeches about paedoMuslims and suchlike. Apparently non-Muslim paedos don’t warrant a mention.
With the rally out of the way, they were marched back to the car park. By this point they were tired and grumpy, so they unsuccessfully tried to break out of their cage. To be fair, I’d get a bit pissed off too if my half-formed political beliefs forced me to spend half my life touring the nation’s car parks.
Before those who had travelled to Bristol on coaches were driven home, there was time for a quick stone throwing contest with the locals. I think it was a draw.
That just left the non-coach bound EDL, who still needed to get back to the station. The antifa formed a line, planning to immobilise them by wrapping them up in a big green ribbon. Possibly in order to give them a lecture on diversity, possibly to smash their faces in, IDK.
Anyway, here’s how that went:
The police waded in to separate the two sides. Everyone started tussling over the banner in the most balls-to-the-wall game of tug of war I had ever seen.
The people on the far left and the far right of this photo came joint first in the “who can look most nonchalant in a riot” competition…
…a contest in which this guy got the wooden spoon.
The two cops at the right of this picture seem to be smiling. I guess these situations must be pretty fun if your armour renders your opposition harmless.
The angry words of the antifa probably hurt the fuzz’s feelings, but words are no match for batons, so they were slowly pushed back.
Every so often, an anti-fascist would stack it and have to be helped up by his comrades to avoid being trampled into a bloody pulp under the boots of the cops.
But the antifa had more than just vitriol up their sleeves, setting up a tactical wall of stench to repel the cops.
Someone shouted: “To the barricades!” and the antifa pegged it.
They regrouped behind their now flaming wheelie bin fortress like an army of vagabond serfs defending a castle made of shit.
Unfortunately, the cops quickly bypassed it and now had momentum on their side. The thin, blue line parted like the red sea to allow some pigs on horses to gallop through. After the cavalry had charged, the foot-soldiers formed a line again and followed up. It was a tactic they used several times and it worked. You can see what it looked like in the following video. Think the footage is a little shaky? Well, you try filming whilst running away from a line of angry riot cops screaming “MOO” at you, smart-arse.
By this point, the gloves were well and truly off. I mean that metaphorically – obviously the police wear thick gloves to that they can punch people in the back of the head without making their knuckles bleed.
Speaking of blood, bleeding from the head is usually a bad thing, right?
This guy told us what happened: “As the police line advanced someone fell over right in front of me and the police were beating her. She couldn’t get up. As I grabbed the policeman’s truncheon to stop him from beating her, another cop hit me in the head repeatedly, like two or three times.”
The cops had bludgeoned their way to victory, leaving the antifa to throw the occasional bottle at them before melting away into the side streets.
With the roads cleared of all but a group of antifa with a rasta flag and a soundsystem, the police were free to escort the EDL back to the station. Saying stupid things is kinda their modus operandi, so they chanted things like “We go where we like,” whilst being in a moving kettle.
With that, the EDL completed another exercise in utter futility with a poor turn-out. The police have become so adept at keeping them the fuck away from the people of towns that they visit that their rallies tend to preach to an audience of the converted and the cops. Officially, they’re claiming the antifa disorder as some kind of propaganda coup. But they were shouting that the antifa were “pussies” as they were marched back to the station, so positioning themselves as peace lovers is a bit rich.
Of course, the anti-fascists are also claiming victory, and so are the police. Who’s right depends on your perspective – tactically speaking, I’d probably have to hand it to the police on a technical knock-out. Last year Bristol was well ahead of the summer’s rioting curve. I wonder if Bristol is some kind of riot bellwether. If so, we’ll soon be warming ourselves by fires in the streets countrywide, before they get extinguished by another torrential downpour.