UPDATE 13 October 2018: For some live coverage of the day’s events see the Dream Deferred twitter page. We’ll have a full report, with pics and video, and a post-demo analysis on this site later.
UPDATE 19 October: Here’s the post demo analysis
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) is set to hold its first major demonstration since the turbulence that split the original FLA on Saturday 13 October. And the far right racist organisation made up of football hooligan firms aims to mobilise sizeable numbers.
This demo is set to maintain the presence on the streets of a large-scale primarily anti-Muslim racist movement that has developed over the past 18 months. The DFLA is part of a growing movement of the far right in Britain and across Europe, which has also been buoyed up by Donald Trump’s US presidency.
Saturday’s DFLA demo has been timed for football’s international break to maximise turnout and the signs are that the main London hooligan firms that make up the core of the DFLA – including those associated with Spurs, West Ham and Millwall – are mobilising seriously for the event.
The expected large contingent from West Ham is notable – when the original FLA split over the leadership of its founder John Meighan, amid disagreements over money and strategy, the West Ham firm stood aside. Although individual members turned out for events called by the rival FLA and DFLA factions, the firm did not mobilise en masse.
Now, with the far right street movement (minus Meighan) reunited under the DFLA banner, West Ham’s numbers are set to boost Saturday’s turnout substantially.
While DFLA has lent its support and token mobilisations to demonstrations called by others – most recently the march in Sunderland on 15 September, which attempted to racialise the serious and complex issues of rape and sexual abuse – the London demo on 13 October is its own event and intended as a show of strength.
Unlike other sections of the far right, the DFLA’s hooligan firms are experienced at operating under the radar, and organise largely out of sight, maintaining only a token open social media presence.
The core of the march is likely to be the London firms who first combined to put together the original FLA demo of 5,000 in June 2017 – which we were the first to cover here and its second march – which was around twice the size, with 10,000 or so on the streets – in October last year.
But since then the rival FLA and DFLA marches in Birmingham and the 2,000-strong DFLA demo in Manchester, along with local protests and stunts in other areas have been part of a strategy of building up the organisation outside its London heartlands.
The DFLA has recently been somewhat eclipsed by the movement around “Tommy Robinson” (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) that erupted over the summer, with Robinson’s own “Day for Freedom” event and the even larger demos sparked by his imprisonment.
We have argued that it makes sense to consider both the DFLA and the wider milieu gathered for which Robinson is the figurehead as parts of a developing new far right movement on the streets. Robinson and the DFLA have overlapping constituencies – many DFLA supporters, branches and leadership figures have publicly shown support for Robinson.
But at the same time, the DFLA is keen to maintain its own separate identity, while Robinson in turn has chosen to keep his own growing “brand” separate.
New far right
Within the wider new far right street movement the DFLA, Robinson, smaller fascist groups such as the nazi Generation Identity and various other far right ideologues are competing for leadership and influence. This situation is a fluid and continually developing one.
But a key difference between the DFLA and the English Defence League – in many ways its predecessor – is the DFLA’s more organic leadership, which comes from the football firms themselves.
The EDL’s strategy, devised by ideologue and sometime funder “Alan Lake” (real name Alan Ayling) and outlined by him to a seminar organised in Sweden by Kent Ekeroth of the fascist Sweden Democrats party, was to use football hooligans as the footsoldiers, ready made fighters for an Islamophobic street movement.
(Lake has recently been getting more visibly involved again, turning up at the July “Free Tommy” demo in London and again at Robinson’s September court hearing.)
Robinson, the EDL’s former leader, was himself a Luton Town football hooligan as well as a former member of the fascist British National Party, while the EDL had other BNP members among its leaders.
By contrast, the FLA and then DFLA has retained the self-organisation and leadership of the hooligan firms – although many of these have their own links with far right figures and organisations. The DFLA is keen to keep hold of its chunk of the new far right movement.
Within the DFLA’s ranks, the individual hooligan firms are also keen to assert a level of autonomy alongside their much-vaunted unity under the DFLA umbrella – the reason behind the pre-march gatherings of different firms in pubs before marching into the main event.
But the strength of this summer’s “Free Tommy” movement has had an impact on the DFLA. On Saturday, although its march route largely follows that of last October, this time the DFLA will end with a rally in the middle of Whitehall, outside Downing Street – a location effectively seized for the far right by Robinson’s demos. This continues the far right’s attemt to “normalise” provocative racist demonstrations in the heart of the capital, at the centres of parliamentary democracy and state power.
And in Manchester, despite the DFLA’s declaration that it would be holding a silent march, it was unable to prevent large numbers of marchers singing in Robinson’s support.
This summer’s huge Tommy Robinson events, with speakers ranging from far right ideologues with massive social media followings to leading figures from Europe’s main fascist and far right parties, will have given the DFLA’s supporters a boost in confidence too.
Far right marchers will also be encouraged by the continuing advance of fascist and far right parties across Europe and beyond – they have been able to celebrate a string of successes, including most recently the gains made by the fascist Sweden Democrats.
It is important to note that the FLA / DFLA has always been a far right racist movement. We exposed the notorious Islamophobic speakers at the first FLA march in June 2017 – and the presence of harder fascists among the marchers. But it is noticeable that leading figures in the DFLA are now more open about their wider political leanings.
In the run-up to Saturday’s demo, leading figures in West Ham’s firm, for example, were circulating a call-out notice urging members to turn out against “politically correct gender benders” and “Sadiq Khan lovers” – the Labour mayor of London, who is Muslim, is a particular target for the DFLA and wider far right, alongside Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, who is black.
DFLA supporters are also increasingly directing hatred and vitriol at antiracists and antifascists.
The DFLA has also received a boost from UKIP leader Gerard Batten, who has assiduously courted the organisation, along with other far right figures including Robinson – he even supported the call for UKIP conference to vote to allow Robinson to join the party – in a marked departure from the strategy of former leader Nigel Farage, who attempted to distance the party from known fascists or the street thugs of the EDL.
Batten is seeking to rebuild UKIP, which has suffered a collapse following the Brexit referendum, with an eye on the way the far right AfD in Germany built up its support from the racist Pegida street movement. In turn, the DFLA seeks to claim a measure of political influence from its relationship with UKIP.
And increased nationalist rhetoric, along with Islamophobic racism, from mainstream Tory politicians has also provided legitimisation and encouragement for the DFLA.
Saturday will provide a look at the DFLA’s own organisational health. But it will not be the only indicator of the strength of the wider new far right street movement over the next few weeks.
Robinson is due back in court on 23 October and is set to be greeted with a large demonstration of supporters, as he was for his court date in September. Whatever the results of his re-trial, we can expect more large mobilisations by his supporters as well as those of the DFLA.
Antifascists and antiracists should be aware that the rapid growth of the far right in Britain shows no signs of abating.