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The British (Extremists) Are Coming — Or, the English Defence League Hearts Pam Geller

By Alexander Zaitchik on September 16, 2010 - 10:03 am, Posted in Anti-Muslim

Saturday’s 9/11 protest in downtown Manhattan featured the by-now-familiar chants and symbols of the debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque. But amid the sea of red, white and blue, there were a few new icons added to the usual mix. As featured in a series of pictures posted Wednesday by the New York Times, a handful of protesters—seven to be exact—came from England toting flags (and ski masks) bearing St. George’s Cross. White with red crossbars, the medieval flag is most famous for its use by British Crusaders. The flag also has a long history of use by far-right British nationalists in conjunction with other regional flags. In recent months, it has become the central symbol of the English Defence League (EDL), a thuggish anti-Muslim street movement that is rapidly spreading throughout the United Kingdom.

The EDL was in New York to show support for the event organized by Pamela Geller, who, according to the EDL, personally invited the group to participate. A post to the EDL website dated Sept. 16 states: “The English Defence League would like to thank Pamela Geller for inviting us over to her ground zero freedom rally.” This would seem to contradict Geller’s claim to have repudiated the group after learning that one of its leaders was a member of the racist and anti-Semitic British National Party. (Geller is Jewish.) In February, Geller wrote admiringly of the EDL on her blog. “I share the E.D.L.’s goals,” she said. “We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the West.”

The idea that the EDL is either rational or reasonable is quickly destroyed by an 11-minute Guardian documentary that recounts the group’s defining features: street intimidation and violent rhetoric. In the video, EDL activists are heard issuing targeted threats and speaking of upcoming “murders” and “stampings”. Among the British groups that have attached themselves to the EDL are violent neo-Nazi outfits such as Combat 18 and far-right racist parties like the National Front. Because of the increasingly ominous atmosphere surrounding its public gatherings, the EDL’s founder and leader Tommy Robinson was stopped last week by authorities at JFK Airport on a tip from British police and sent back to England.

According to the narrator of the Guardian video, a reporter who spent months inside the movement, the EDL is not “simply a rerun of previous far-right organizations.” Rather, “it has acted like a lightning rod with people with a range of grievances who appear to be coalescing around a rampant Islamaphobia.”

It makes sense that Pam Geller has found admirers among extremists across the pond. As Hatewatch reported last month, Geller, co-founder of the Muslim-bashing Stop Islamization of America group, also has a fan club among the generally anti-Semitic white power activists of Stormfront.org. Such unexpected mutual affinities are also a feature of the community flocked under the EDL banner. Unlike British skinhead groups of the past, the EDL features black and Jewish members, as well as non-Jewish members who have taken to waving Israeli flags and singing the Israeli national anthem at demonstrations. One of the EDL’s leaders is a brown-skinned, British-born Sikh whose family emigrated from the same part of the world as those the EDL refers to as “pakis.”

Such is the ecumenicalism of today’s transatlantic Islamophobia: Anybody is welcome, so long as they can chant “Islamic scum” and don’t mind rubbing shoulders with neo-Nazis.

  • Pete

    The point about the flag was clumsily made, but needs to be put in the context of the wider imagery that the EDL use.
    Basically, Crusaders. Now, for a supposedly multi-ethnic, multicultural organisation that is only against Extremist Islam, why choose the Crusader imagery? It’s pretty offensive to a lot of Muslims. Oh, and just a little bit Christian, too – it’s not just about being English, it’s about being English in a way that’s offensive to Muslims, which is why their supporters obsess about pork products and alcohol. While draping themselves in St George’s Flags that they have frequently defaced with slogans. So much for respecting the flag, eh?
    The EDL’s schtick about only being against Militant Islam is pure whitewash. They are against *all* Islam, as they call for a ban on building any more Mosques at all, and their leader demands that the Koran should be rewritten (despite never having read it himself).
    The claim to be multicultural and representative of normal Britons is nonsense, too. I’ve witnessed a couple of their demonstrations, and have seen one guy who might have had an African grandparent, and a couple of people who may have been sub-continental Indians. Really, I’ve seen more diversity in remote fishing villages.
    As for their politics, that card’s on the table now, too, since they forged an alliance with the British Freedom Party – a splinter group from the British National Party – with the unelected leaders of the EDL becoming the unelected deputy leaders of the BFP. The BFP has almost identical policies to the BNP (and is vocally anti-immigration), and most of it’s committee are ex-BNP committee members.

  • joe

    edl multicultural hahahaha they may have one ethnic member who they trundle out as a trophy they are biggots homophobes and speak nothing but hatred the good people of britain reject their views and laugh at them whenever they show up

  • Timhole

    @B Street Casuals:
    Then you are a moron. Only recently the leader of EDL Tommy Robinson (Stephen Lennon) was caught on film yet again shouting racist abuse at a muslim guy. The only reason they expressed hate on the BNP was because they want to present themselves as something they’re not.

  • B Street Casuals

    Everyone is forgetting the whole issue here it is not the flag of St George. It is about the EDL and them paying a visit to the USA with an invite from Pamela Geller. Pamela Geller is Jewish so there is no “white” racist hate there. And the EDL is multicultural and have been since the beginning of their inception. They hate the fact that they have been infiltrated by the BNP and the NF and try to curb them as much as possible. If there were a large population of Mexicans in England I’m sure they would be at The EDL marches too.
    I say this because I am a Chicano from So Cal and also an anti-racist skinhead. We spent many years in our little town fighting against nazi-skinheads and won. This town has had little to no “racist” skinhead activity for several decades.Some people call us SHARPS.
    I have been watching the EDL for over a year now since it started and saw it grow like wildfire on the Football Terraces. Jewish and black members were involved early on, but the media says they are being recruited to change their image.That does not seem to be true, and EDL members are forbidden to seig heil. There is alot of propaganda going on against this group and I hate to see people getting it wrong.
    The EDL is worried about Islamic extremists and Shariah law and true human rights they are more liberal than people think. It is the media and people in general who are being judgmental about them.They see a bunch of Football Hooligans and get scared. Well this books cover is way different. Football fans by nature are easy to organize and that scares people right away.
    The extremists are going to use English and American laws and rights against us and we will be hoodwinked before we know it. C’mon SPLC take a real good look and go investigate the EDL and see what is going on.

  • patch

    What is wrong with the symbolic use of a flag to associate yourself with an organisation. Nothing as long as it is not disrespectful to the flag or fellow man.
    Do not bring shame down on a flag that has earned respect and honour by the couragous actions of our British forefathers and now the Brtish warriors in Afganistan.
    Britain possesses many World famous flags as follows :
    1. Union Jack that unites all British flags,
    2. St Geoge Cross that is related or
    originated to the Knights Templar who
    assisted in perfecting civilisation,
    commerce and government.
    The Templars were Warrioir monks
    who were World respected cruel
    fiercesome fighters but they protected
    road to Jerusalem for the christians to
    the Holy City. Besides the Red Cross
    3. they also had a Battle Flag. One black
    and one White horizontal stripe these
    stripes split the flag in half.
    These dedicated people did not have
    football in their day. It was not invented
    in their days of glory.
    It was idiots who take pride in giving
    the rest of the World the perseption
    that the red cross represents bone
    heads.preaching violence and gagging
    for a fight. Shamefull not honourable
    4.The Saltaire represnts Scotland the
    proud fiercesome Brigades of Scots.
    5. Irish flags say no more a matter of
    choice just violence stupidity on both
    sides and people minus a brain who
    would rather blow up a food warehouse
    than presrerve the food.
    6. Welsh Dragon a symbol might,strength
    rugby and beer.
    There is nothing wrong wth flags but there is something wrong within this once great country when it is a proven fact that :-
    DEMOCRACY ends at the BUDGET BOX.

  • CitizenSpork

    SkinnyMinny, Harry’s Place is just a blog, a wretched, nasty, spiteful little blog and shouldn’t be used as an indicator of “what’s happenning in England”. I am sure Americans would be upset if us lot over here used Glen Beck as the benchmark for the feelings of all America.

    As for the EDL, they are not as popular in England as you may think, at each of their previous “rallies” they have been met with counter-rallies, usually organised by Unite Against Facism working with local anti-fascist/racist groups, that have seriously outnumbered them and generally sent them home with their tail between their legs. The most worrying thing is the support they recieve from the Police at these rallies where missile throwing and racist/islamophobic chanting is accepted but anti-fascists are arrested on an officers whim.

    Good work on the article, The EDL, and, to a lesser extent, the WDL need to be internationally exposed for what they truly are so other countries don’t fall for their “Nationalism isn’t Racism” schtick.

  • Jack

    SkinnyMinny I’m completely aware of the EDL, and they don’t speak for all English people. And just because they use the St. George’s cross, doesn’t make the flag a racist symbol. And I do remember when the day without an immigrant protest, and the only people getting ruffled by those Mexican flags WERE RACISTS YOU HYPOCRITICAL JERK!!!!

    Your demonization of the English is despicable.

    “it’s how we do it here” No, that’s how ignorant people do it here, ignorant people like you.

  • http://crossofstgeorge.net/forum/index.php Paul

    “if you are so adamant about this flag, then why are you here arguing with the staff of this blog. Why aren’t you taking your beef out with the EDL who is using your flag – it is your fellow citizens who misrepresent your country/flag, or whatever issues you claim to have. You do know that a street gang here have been using British Knights tennis shoes. Yeah, so much for image!”

    I am arguing with the staff on this blog because it is the staff on this blog that are making all sorts of false, arbitrary claims about the flag of England. The English Defense League are free to use the English flag all they like, it’s still the English flag. This article calls it “the cross of St George” and “the medieval flag” which is “most famous for it’s use by British Crusaders”. Never once does it point out that it’s the flag of England. I am questioning this, and rightfully so. And as for British Knights shoes, I don’t see them as being relevant to this discussion.

    “Again, why are they coming to the U.S. in the first place for this type of event? Americans that are from the same type group/thinking have been banned from Europe, arrested, in order to prevent them from giving speeches, and you’re complaining that some of your ‘problem child’ type residents coming to the U.S. to add to the problems we already have? ”

    I’m not sure what your point is. I’m English and from England, so I can’t make any comments about what Europe does. If someone from an American equivalent of the EDL was banned from entering England then that’s wrong in my opinion, but I’m not the English government (there is no English government). As for why they’re coming, they’re showing solidarity with people who share their views. It’s a pretty normal thing to do.

    “And for your information, I’m sure the author knows the difference of English and British, however, most people in this country have been doing this like forever – this is how we do it! As far as Americans are concerned, there is no difference!”

    Well just because you’ve been believing something for a long time doesn’t make it right. People thought the world was flat for a long time, and it turned out they were wrong.

    Britain is an island comprising Scotland & England & Wales. If you call English British then do you also call Scottish British and Welsh British?

  • skinnyminny

    Paul and Home Rule for England,
    if you are so adamant about this flag, then why are you here arguing with the staff of this blog. Why aren’t you taking your beef out with the EDL who is using your flag – it is your fellow citizens who misrepresent your country/flag, or whatever issues you claim to have. You do know that a street gang here have been using British Knights tennis shoes. Yeah, so much for image!

    Again, why are they coming to the U.S. in the first place for this type of event? Americans that are from the same type group/thinking have been banned from Europe, arrested, in order to prevent them from giving speeches, and you’re complaining that some of your ‘problem child’ type residents coming to the U.S. to add to the problems we already have?

    And for your information, I’m sure the author knows the difference of English and British, however, most people in this country have been doing this like forever – this is how we do it! As far as Americans are concerned, there is no difference!

  • Home Rule for England

    Yet another article where the author conflates English and British!
    If the author can’t even get that right what faith should we have that the rest of the piece has any validity?

  • http://crossofstgeorge.net/forum/index.php Paul

    Why do you insist on referring to the EDL as “British” when they’re obviously specifically ENGLISH? (The clue is in the name – EDL not BDL).

    You also mention that “St. George’s Cross. White with red crossbars, the medieval flag is most famous for its use by British Crusaders. The flag also has a long history of use by far-right British nationalists in conjunction with other regional flags. In recent months, it has become the central symbol of the English Defence League (EDL), a thuggish anti-Muslim street movement that is rapidly spreading throughout the United Kingdom.”

    This is so arbitrary!
    First of all, St, George’s Cross was used by ENGLISH Crusaders. There was no such thing as being British until Scotland and England united in 1707.

    Secondly, who are you to say what the English flag is most famous for? Have you done some sort of survey? And why does it even matter what it’s “most famous” for?

    The Cross of St George is the flag of England, I would suggest that that is what it’s most famous for. You may not have noticed the World Cup recently where English football fans went mad flying the English flag.

    You also suggest that British Nationalists have long used the English flag, but I think you’ll find that British Nationalists tend to use the British flag. It’s English Nationalists who use the English flag.

    What about the other people who use the English flag? Like the Church of England? Or England football fans? Or everyday English people flying it in their backyards? On St George’s Day the English flag flew from Downing Street, does that mean the British government is racist?

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Most Americans consider the “English” flag to be the Union Jack, but in the United Kingdom it stands only for that union. The St. George’s cross appears with the St. Andrew’s cross for Scotland. Identity in the United Kingdom is not only important to say, Irish Catholics, but Scots, English, and Welsh as well. It could be looked at as a “nationalist” symbol but then again there is an “English” national football team as there is a Scottish one as well.

  • skinnyminny

    Jack,
    let’s flip this script! What if ‘Mexicans’ came to the U.S. waving their soccer team flag at a, let’s use this for the purpose of arguments, protests at SB 1070! Or, let’s say, what if ‘Muslims’ from the ME or Europe came to the U.S. to counter-protests the protesters of the mosque in NY waving any flag from their country?

    Now, let’s go even further, remember we had the nationwide ‘day without an immigrant’ protests/marches – seems to me that mainly white Americans had a problem with the immigrants waving their flags. It seems that white Americans were making comments like, ‘how dare they wave their flags in this country, if they love their country so much they should go back…..’

    It is important for people to know what is happening in Britain, because, if you ask me, they are working together. Maybe you should read up on the EDL. Everything I have read on the EDL allege this group is a violent group that will assault/attack anyone, including law enforcement. What I find that is so sad, when a minority does something like this, it is repeatedly reported on the news, bail is set so high (violation of the constitution) that they can’t make bail. When white people do things such as this, if they are granted bail, sometimes it’s so low that it enables them to flee, or they are giving so many chances to go out and commit even more horrific crimes.

    And to say that this misrepresents England, wow, I’m so sure. When one black person does something, the entire black race is punished, when muslims does something, the entire muslim group is punished, when one latino does something, the entire latino race is punished. Not to mention, this country has a habit of calling any person that looks latino a Mexican.

    Lastly, if anyone wants to know what’s really happening in England, again, I invite you to view the website http://hurryupharry.org – as far as I’m concerned, SPLC is done an excellent job of pointing this out. Hell, the SPLC has even extended courtesies of being polite in their description of this group, whereas at Harry’s Place, he gives it to point blank and tells it like it is.

  • Jack

    The St. George’s cross is not “most famous” for being the flag of the Crusaders. It’s most famous for being the flag Team England football (soccer) fans. Many Englishmen fly that flag instead of the Union Jack because the Union Jack has been tainted by racists like the B.N.P. Are you SPLC guys insinuating that any flag representing England is racist? Because if so, I’ve lost serious amounts of respect for this organizaiton. I hope this is a one time fluke on your part SPLC, because the English don’t deserve to be lumped in with these racists anymore than Muslims deserve to be lumped in with all terrorists.

    The first paragraph of this article is disappointingly hypocritical, prejudiced and unmerited. Shame on you SPLC! I really like your organization but SHAME on you for this, it’s completely hypocritical.

  • Cedric

    The St George’s cross is also famous for being flag planted in the original 13 colonies, and to celebrate England as a country, separate from Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. To try and brand it as a racist symbol is itself a very bigoted and irresponsible thing for you guys to do, I usually love your work but this is unfair of you.

    Racists wave the American flag too, but that doesn’t make it a racist symbol.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Ah Pam Gellar, the crusader for women’s and gay rights- only when they are violated by Muslims.