- From Total Essex, 25.6.2010
Last week we revealed that the controversial group, blamed for creating racial tension and sparking violent riots at marches in their campaign against radical Islam, was recruiting in Essex.
The news sparked strong reaction from our readers and visitors to our website.
Meeting the EDL
AFTER reading the article I wrote in last week’s Chronicle, EDL leaders agreed to meet me to put forward their views, under the strict proviso that we would not identify them. We reluctantly agreed – after our numerous requests for an EDL response last week went unanswered – simply to get their side of the story. I was told that someone would meet me at Billericay train station at 5.30pm, and warned that people would be looking out for me, and if any of them spotted a camera or a photographer the meeting would be off. At 5.30pm on the dot, a man in his twenties approached me and asked me if I was a reporter. He said he had been told to take me to the nearby Lake Meadows park where the senior members of the group were waiting. We walked together along Radford Way and it soon became apparent that another man who was walking ahead of us was filming us as we approached the park. I had agreed that in return for members speaking openly about the group and their activities, I would not name them or print their photographs or pry into them as individuals. The need for secrecy seemed strange given that the reason they wanted to talk was to explain that they are not an extreme, racist or violent organisation. When we arrived we stood in an open area and waited a short while before I received a phone call, and was asked again for reassurance that no names were going to be revealed in my article and I was not going to try and photograph the people I was meeting. After I gave that reassurance, the man who brought me to the park left and I was joined by two other, older men, who gave me a written statement and answered all my questions.
In a clandestine meeting, and with guarantees of anonymity, the men responsible have spoken about why they take to the streets to confront what they call a "vile attack on British culture and values".
In a park in Billericay two men handed our reporter a written statement before speaking about the group's objectives – insisting they welcome members of any race as long as they are opposed to radical Islam.
They said: "We are not racist in any way, shape or form. We are not Nazis and we will have nothing to do with anyone who is.
"There are even gay members, and we are supported by black people, Hindus and Sikhs.
"It is true that because of the way we work we have attracted some people who have had the wrong idea – but they are not welcome and not tolerated.
"At one meeting someone gave a Hitler salute, he was immediately kicked out."
The men told our reporter that their main aim is to attend parades to show their support to returning troops.
One of the men said: "We have called off turning up at events recently because we know if we do there is likely to be trouble.
"We will go out of our way to avoid trouble because we are not a violent organisation.
"But we are not scared and we will not run, if someone starts a fight with us, we will fight."
They claim they are forced to attend parades when extremist Muslims are present, because the authorities have taken no action themselves to stop their hatred.
We were told that there is no central membership list for the group, either nationally or within Essex, so it is impossible to say how many people are members.
Veteran anti-fascist campaigner and journalist Gerry Gable, of Ilford-based magazine Searchlight, said divisions of the EDL seem to be "appearing everywhere".
He said: "Sometimes it is just a few mates that get together, sometimes the group will be a bit more organised."
The group's Essex Facebook page has 223 members, and nationally, organisers have spoken about mobilising thousands.
Mr Gable reiterated comments made by Essex Police to the Chronicle last week, that the danger the group poses is in its potential to inflame community relations.
He also said: "I have watched a lot of videos of these people and there are some I recognise from old football hooligan firms.
"The police cracked down heavily on football hooliganism, which was always tied to right wing extremism, and lots of them were barred from attending matches.
"Now the English Defence League is growing, some of these people are taking advantage of their first chance of some 'action' in a long, long time – it's my opinion that this is what has led to a lot of the support they are getting."
ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE: Your views on far-right group's arrival in Essex
THE Chronicle does not speak for me and most working class people.
I and many others are not vulnerable people. We are realists.
The Chronicle and its ilk should wake up and recognise the Muslim problem before it is too late.
The Chronicle article claims that violence is always the fault of EDL. This is not the case. The EDL is quite within its rights to protest at Muslims who have abused our troops – Luton, Barking.
No major political party is prepared to tell the truth on this issue.
Confrontation with AFL resulted in equal arrests not as you state. Why tell lies? The plain facts are 99 per cent of bombers and terrorists are Muslims. EDL is entitled to say this.
The majority of Essex people can make up their own minds. You are not in touch with the silent overwhelming majority view that Muslims are taking over this country aided by articles similar to this one in the Essex Chronicle.