Interview: Opposing the Far-Right in Dover

by Novara Reporters

18 January 2016

On Saturday 30 January, fascists and assorted racists from a range of far-right groups will descend on the port town of Dover. Their aim is to incite racial hatred, primarily against Muslims, exploiting the so-called ‘migrant crisis’ to call for cast-iron border controls and white unity.

In response, antifascists from across the country will be turning out to oppose the far-right and its message. NovaraWire sent a reporter to interview Sam* from the Anti-Fascist Network (AFN), a UK-wide coalition of antifascist activists, about developments in the far-right and the growth of community-based antifascism.

NovaraWire: You are organising the second antifascist mobilisation we’ve seen in Dover in recent months. Could you tell us a little bit more about the organisations you are mobilising against? What happened the first time?

Sam: We’re mobilising against a coalition of far-right groups** which has developed in part as a reactionary response to the migrant crisis. The coalition is made up of nearly every group on the far-right which has a street presence, with the exception of Britain First. The two main groups behind this protest are the North West Infidels and the South East Alliance (SEA), although the National Front is also heavily involved, particularly Kent organiser Mark Freeman. Between them they’ve mobilised nearly every group which split from the English Defence League (EDL) and a handful of neo-Nazi groups. They’ve also been able to mobilise some of the more violent EDL groups who don’t seem to have a problem working with neo-Nazis.

Last time we were in Dover there were around 200 fascists from more than 13 different groups opposed by roughly 150 anti-fascists, predominantly from the AFN but also including some locals. We took the far-right’s rally point and were then attacked by the fascists who had formed up at a nearby pub. We successfully repelled the fascist attack before the police intervened. Safely behind police lines the far-right started throwing masonry at us from which a few people picked up minor injuries. We were surrounded by the police but broke out of the containment and blocked the route of the far-right march. We were then surrounded by police again who created a space for the far-right to go around us. Then the far-right broke through police lines and attacked our group again, throwing a range of missiles at us while we were surrounded by the police.

When it kicked off we lost some of our less militant support so at this point there were only around 80 of us trying to hold the street. Realising we were significantly outnumbered and having been unable to prevent the fascists from marching to the roundabout at the entrance to the port we decided to pull out of the area. This was actually the second time we had mobilised in Dover, the first time we were in town was in January 2015 where there was a much smaller turn out on both sides. There was a lot of shouting and a mass brawl on the seafront but not a lot to write home about. However, there was a far-right protest a few months before at which Nick Griffin [former leader of the British National Party] spoke and which was completely unopposed.

NW: How large is the threat from the radical right at the moment? What is the significance of this mobilisation?

S: Well the far-right aren’t really in a position where they’re anywhere near seizing power, but they’re a threat which the left needs to be taking seriously. Even in January, this could be the most significant antifascist mobilisation to take place this year and it’s probably more important than any of the mobilisations since the peak of the EDL.

Following the collapse of the British National Party (BNP) and the demise of the EDL, the far-right has been in a period of regroupment. The SEA is led by a Greek-Cypriot called Paul Prodromou who is obsessed with the idea of far-right ‘unity’; he’s been trying to bring together all the disparate parts of the far-right for years, often with little success. But the last Dover mobilisation was the first time something he’s been involved with has pulled significant numbers and the right think it was a big victory for them. If they get what they think is a victory again in Dover they will potentially be more unified; the organisational links developed at the last Dover protest will be strengthened, and there’s a risk something longer lasting will come out of the coalition.

Another thing people need to be concerned about is the far-right developing its capacity for violence against the left. The last Dover protest came about a month after London-based SEA supporters organised an attack on left-wing football fans in Thamesmead which saw a game get called off. Had that not happened they would probably not have been as confident as they were when we took their rally spot. Off the back of [previous demonstrations in] Dover far-right groups have been mobilising to oppose refugee solidarity events, in Portsmouth and Bristol in particular. They wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that if it hadn’t been for their perceived victories in Thamesmead and Dover.

If they get what they think is a victory again in Dover there is a very real risk for increased violence towards the left from the far-right, and this could move away from the terrain of antifascism and into other spheres the left organise in. If we get a clear victory in Dover we could put back the process of far-right regroupment and seriously dent their capability to organise against us. I’ll never forget seeing how timid Prodromou looked when he was hiding in a ditch at the first Dover protest we opposed. We want the whole of the far-right to be that timid, all the time.

NW: One of the positive developments in the AFN last year was the development of relationships with other, perhaps less militant organisations, and a real attempt at developing a mixed approach to antifascist mobilisation. How is this process developing?

S: Firstly, I think we’ve always advocated a mixed approach to antifascist mobilisations. If you look at our big mobilisations over the past few years they’ve generally all been community mobilisations where we’ve pushed for people to take direct action. I’m thinking here of ‘March for England’ in Brighton and things like the EDL’s attempts to march through Tower Hamlets and Walthamstow. When the SEA were protesting in Cricklewood in north west London we worked with community groups and trade unions in a group called North West London United.

But yeah, a couple of things have happened in the past year which have been really positive. One is groups across the autonomous/activist left affiliating to the AFN, the other is an influx of socialists and trade unionists off the back of the victory in Liverpool against neo-Nazi youth crew National Action.

Stopping National Action’s ‘White Man March’ was exactly the kind of mobilisation we want to be organising: a large community mobilisation supported by militant antifascists which collectively takes direct action to prevent the far-right from taking to the streets. Funnily enough this is what the better Unite Against Fascism (UAF) activists always used to tell us they were trying to do through UAF.

Now UAF has lost a lot of its influence in the wake of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) rape crisis, a lot of these antifascists have started working with the AFN and we also have fairly good relationships with a few grassroots UAF supporters. The collapse of the SWP has really hit UAF and it’s created a bit of an organisational vacuum in British antifascism which we’re trying to fill. We need more support from the labour movement but we’re doing alright.

NW: What can people do to help and how can they get down to Dover?

S: People need to support their local antifascist groups: get involved, give time and money, but most importantly make sure you’re in Dover. We need as many people as possible in Dover to ensure we outnumber what could potentially be quite a large far-right mobilisation. Last time the far-right had people from Scotland flying down to support their protest, we need to be matching that at least and getting everybody down there.

At the moment there are coaches going from London, Brighton and Berkshire [starting from Oxford] and more are being planned. If people can get to one of those areas tickets are relatively cheap. Manchester Antifascists are also sorting out some transport and I’m aware of a few other groups who’re organising stuff in their local areas. People should contact their nearest antifascist group, if there isn’t one people should look at the possibility of getting a crew together and driving down. There’s also public transport to Dover and if anybody feels like coming over from France it’s only a short ferry ride away.

NW: Finally, what can we expect to see from the far right this year? How is AFN developing to keep on top of this?

S: The group to watch are probably Britain First. They’re never going to unite the far-right but they are capable of hoovering up disaffected Ukip voters and the kind of people who went on EDL protests but don’t like neo-Nazis. PEGIDA UK will be a flop (again), the BNP will continue shrinking, the National Front will probably split again and National Action will carry on as if more than 3m people haven’t seen a video of black guys throwing bananas at them. As for the rest of the groups attending Dover, a lot depends on what happens on the 30th.

One of the big trends in the far-right over the past few years has been people getting involved in the EDL and then drifting further right. There aren’t really fresh people getting involved in the EDL now but a lot of people who passed through it will continue drifting to the right. We can expect to see neo-Nazi groups flourishing in relative terms and the EDL getting closer still to winding up.

We can also expect to see more violence directed towards the left. Last year saw a range of far-right attacks on antifascist and left-wing targets and we can expect these to continue and increase in intensity, unless the left starts taking antifascism seriously.

The AFN is continuing to organise against the far-right, monitoring their activity and intervening where necessary. We have been growing and as we get more organised and more people get involved we will have more successes. We’ve shown what we can achieve with a tiny fraction of the resources UAF had access to – imagine what we could achieve with a similar level of support from the labour movement.

*This name has been changed.

**Full list of far-right groups expected in Dover: National Front, South East Alliance, North West Infidels, East Kent Patriots, English Volunteer Force, Scottish Defence League, Right Wing Resistance, Berkshire Infidels, Bristol United Patriots, Bishop Auckland Against Islam, West Midlands Infidels, North East Infidels, Misanthropic Division, National Action, National Rebirth of Poland, and some current and former EDL groups.

Photo: David Holt/Flickr

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