Today's so-called "Day for Freedom" heralds a realignment and coming together of Britain’s far right around an avowedly anti-Muslim agenda.
As I write, thousands of people are gathering in Westminster for the self-defined “Day for Freedom demo”. It is likely to be the largest, and possibly most important, far right gathering in the capital for many years.
Proposed and compered by Raheem Kassam, the editor of the Islamophobic fake news site Breitbart London, the event involves the support of longtime far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), anti-Muslim, anti-feminist personality Milo Yiannopoulos, and the alt-right’s favourite pseudo-philosopher Stefan Molyneux. Numerous others are involved.
This is just the latest in a spate of so-called ‘free speech’ events involving far-right activists here in the UK in recent months.
The event is being supported by the football thugs of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a breakaway group from the Football Lads Alliance. Led by hooligans from Millwall, the DFLA will gather at Speakers Corner at 1.30pm and then march down to Whitehall where they will connect up with the larger “Day of Freedom” rally.
Among this crowd will be violent football hooligans and, if previous demonstrations are anything to go by, supporters and members of the Loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association. Clearly the irony of support from people involved in an Northern Irish terrorist group, which has been responsible for the murders of innocent people, is lost on the leaders of groups supposedly protesting against terrorism.
As my colleague Joe Mulhall so clearly explains, the Day of Freedom has nothing to do with freedom of speech but everything to do with the freedom to hate. The speakers, and most of those in the audience are quite happy to deny the freedoms of those they dislike, especially Muslims. There is no freedom of speech when it comes to them.
Stephen Lennon is a former BNP member. He was once deputy leader of a party that called for Muslim immigration into Britain to be banned, mosques to be closed down and no new mosques built. He has doorstepped and intimidated journalists who have written negative articles about him and, more recently, when challenged by a Muslim who said that he would come round to his house to debate Islam, Lennon replied that if he did, he would kill him.
The other speakers also show double standards on free speech. While freedom to say what they want for themselves, they want to restrict it for others.
But this demonstration is more significant than the probable large numbers it will attract. It brings together many of the world’s most high profile activists on both sides of the Atlantic for the first time. Their combined social media reaches well over 10 million people and it reflects their growing confidence to shape and direct the narrative.
The rally is also the latest and most important evidence of the realignment on the British far right.
Following UKIP’s virtual wipe out in Thursday’s local elections, there is little chance of any political resurgence for Britain’s far right in the short term, the focus really does appear to be on the street. Over the past year we have seen the emergence of Football Lads Alliance and demonstrations of 10,000 and 30,000 respectively in London. While the FLA genuinely attempt to separate itself from the far right at the outset it soon drifted right.
Today, these football hooligans will be joining UKIP activists, traditional neo-nazis, the young Generation identity activists and the secretive figure behind Britain’s “counter-jihad” movement. On top of that the ranks of today will be swelled by lots of non-aligned people who follow and support the growing anti-Muslim narrative of Britain’s far right.
The demonstration is also being supported by Breitbart and Westmonster, the social media platform of Aaron Banks and Leave.EU.
The people behind Leave.EU have formed an increasingly close relationship with Paul Joseph Watson and while Nigel Farage’s recent interview with InfoWars have raised some eyebrows, it is further evidence of this wider realignment on Britain’s far right.
And, significantly, this is all happening under Stephen Lennon’s direction. He may be a violent thug, convicted fraudster and football hooligan, but he is also the most charismatic figure to emerge on Britain’s far right for years.
Where this will all lead is yet to be known. Will Lennon want to set up a new organisation to organise his swelling ranks of supporters or will he be content to simply keep them online and milk them for their money? His experience of running the EDL is likely to prevent him from wanting to run a new organisation but then he will also now that there is a limited to what a street movement holding the occasional demonstration.
Perhaps we will know more in the days to come, but what is for sure is that today’s rally is the most significant for years and heralds a realignment and coming together of Britain’s far right around an avowedly anti-Muslim agenda.