Far-right activists fought with the police on Armistice Day as they “defended” the Cenotaph in central London from a peace march that was taking place a mile away.
The Metropolitan police said its officers had “faced unacceptable violence, including people throwing missiles and a metal barrier” during a remembrance event.
As the 11th hour of the 11th day approached, far-right hooligans, many of them drinking and some of them wearing black balaclavas, surrounded the Cenotaph. One attendee chanted: “You’re going home in a fucking ambulance” (to no one in particular).
Footage showed how a group of a few hundred far-right activists walked from Embankment and broke through police lines in order to reach the Cenotaph.
After the two minutes’ silence, far-right groups broke away in different directions. Tommy Robinson, founder of the English Defence League (EDL), led a group of around 100 to Chinatown before jumping in a taxi and leaving, according to anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, as his remaining supporters were cleared away by riot police.
A group of around 100 far-right protesters were kettled on Westminster Bridge. Outside of the kettle, protesters shouted abuse at people holding Palestine flags or wearing keffiyehs who were on their way to the demonstration for Palestine, and chanted “you let your country down” at the police.
GB News presenter Martin Daubney was in Westminster, and a video shows him trying to hold back a far-right protester who is bleeding profusely from the head. “An emotional moment, but I tried to keep things calm, as best I could”, Daubney said on X/Twitter.
A mile away from the Cenotaph, hundreds of thousands of people marched for a ceasefire to end the killing in Gaza, in the biggest such march so far.
Around Westminster, there were reports of dispersed groups of far-right activists intimidating and attacking pro-Palestine demonstrators on the periphery of the protest. As dusk fell, members of the far-right attacked marchers on Vauxhall bridge.
82 far-right activists were arrested at a pub in Pimlico to prevent a breach of the peace, police said. 126 arrests were made throughout the day, including possession of offensive weapons, affray, and possession of drugs. Assistance commissioner Matt Twist said, “The extreme violence from the right wing protesters towards the police today was extraordinary and deeply concerning.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign March “did not see the sort of physical violence carried out by the right wing”, Twist said, although breakaway groups behaved in an “intimidating manner”. The Met is also investigating offences in relation to hate crime and support for proscribed organisations.
These events came after a week in which the government and rightwing press stoked tensions around the march. Home secretary Suella Braverman has called pro-Palestine marches “hate marches”. She called for Saturday’s march to be banned, and claimed that the police are biased in favour of pro-Palestine demonstrators.
Pro-Palestine demonstrators had been banned from the area around the Cenotaph, but far-right protesters had not, as the police mistakenly believed that far-right “counter-protesters” would not cause trouble on their own.
At a press conference on Saturday morning, deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor told reporters, “Counter-protest will be allowed in Whitehall, because the sole purpose and intention is to protect the sanctity of the Cenotaph and remembrance. I don’t anticipate there’ll be any disorder from that group – the disorder will come from a pro-Palestinian group going into that area whilst they are there if they are there.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak released a statement criticising “the EDL” and “Hamas sympathisers attending the national march for Palestine” for “violent, wholly unacceptable scenes”.
“The despicable actions of a minority of people undermine those who have chosen to express their views peacefully,” he said.
Braverman has yet to comment.
Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.