Report back from Free Tommy demonstration, 23rd June

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On Saturday supporters of Tommy Robinson, recalled to prison last month for breaching the terms of a suspended sentence, attempted to demonstrate in Leeds to demand his release. Hoping for a repeat of the 1st June demonstration in the city, their numbers fell well short of that, topping out at around 150. The police, having been caught off-guard by the previous demonstration, had called in extra support ahead of time and contained them at their meeting point by the courts.

Leeds Anti-Fascist Network were out on the streets at short notice to counter the racist demonstration and to build support ahead of a further pro-Tommy demo planned for the 7th July. Reportedly a planned Stand Up To Racism counter-demo was called off, meaning if Leeds AFN had not been out Tommy’s supporters would have been unopposed and likely allowed to parade their hatred around the city again.

While the numbers yesterday will have been a disappointment for the far-right, we must not become complacent and we cannot rely on the state to deal with a movement so symbiotic with its own ends. For more information on the 7th of July, please follow us on Facebook and find our event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2153130104922289

Tommy’s recall to prison, and the issue of grooming gangs, is being weaponised by the far-right to rebuild, leaning heavily on the idea that the state has silenced Tommy and that his incarceration is a free speech issue. We are not cheerleaders for the state, the prison system or the law, but the Free Tommy movement has already revealed itself for the racist and Islamophobic initiative it is – and it cannot be allowed to divide our communities.

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Statement from Leeds AFN re: Free Tommy march on 7th July 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: leedsantifascistnetwork@riseup.net

Leeds, UK, 13th June 2018 – Leeds Anti-Fascist Network is calling for a mass public mobilisation to directly oppose supporters of Tommy Robinson on the 7th July, when they plan to return to Leeds to protest at the courthouse and march through the city centre. A Leeds AFN spokesperson said, “Tommy Robinson’s supporters demonstrated on the 1st of June that they were determined to provoke unrest and religious and racial hatred in our city. Our community must come together to stand against a mass racist protest by what is essentially a resurgent EDL. The arson attacks against a gurdwara and a mosque in Beeston just days following the recent march show just how urgent this is.”

On the 1st June around 400 people descended on Leeds in support of Tommy Robinson following his recall to prison for breaking the conditions of his suspended sentence. While assembled under the guise of protection of free speech and opposition to grooming gangs (those of a narrow racial/religious demographic) the march was overtly racist and Islamophobic, and in spite of the lack of any organised direct opposition, nonetheless aggressive and violent in its conduct. It was in all but name, a spontaneous resurgence of the EDL, the violent far-right street group Tommy formed in 2009. In the days following the demonstration, a mosque and a gurdwara in Beeston, south of the city centre, were subject to arson attacks, and prominent racist graffiti appeared across Leeds.

The threat this street movement poses is much the same as its previous incarnations – it can only grow if unchallenged, it emboldens individuals to act on their prejudices in social lives, at work and in the street. A government already tacking hard to the right in both economic and social policy will only feel encouraged to go further. If you look behind the fig leaf of co-opted language from the left, libertarian and feminist movements, the same old reactionary, racist, homophobic and misogynistic currents persist. We cannot allow this movement to grow, and they must not be allowed to parade their hatred through the streets of Leeds – so we’re calling on our communities to come out in number on the 7th July in Leeds to oppose the Free Tommy demonstration.

Leeds Anti-Fascist Network is a group of people working together to create stronger anti-racist communities in Leeds. We aim to organise in our local areas of Leeds to build a network capable of confronting far-right and racist activity, based around information and skill sharing events. By building a strong network we aim to stop them from taking our streets. We regularly meet up in different areas of Leeds – so if you want us to help organise something in your area get in touch.

Recently there has been increased far-right activity and mobilisations in Leeds and around the country – we want our communities to feel safe for all, the far-right and the government want to divide us based on our differences. We believe that job insecurity, bad housing, cuts to public services are policies to ensure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We have to unite against this and the racist lies that would pit us against one another.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2153130104922289
Leeds AFN on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leedsafn

ENDS

F.A.Q.

Isn’t this different to the EDL?
The marches are largely not being held under the ‘EDL’ banner – although a recent one in York was. The EDL proper is now a relatively small concern on the far-right but the same currents that drove it have returned it to our streets once more.

Aren’t you supporting state incarceration of activists?
We are not cheerleaders for the state or the prison system, and believe empowered people and communities will ultimately overcome fascist threats better than the penal system ever will. Tommy’s recall for breach of the conditions of his suspended sentence have been deliberately misconstrued as a rush to miscarried justice, but was ultimately routine for the justice system. We believe Tommy’s martyrdom was largely choreographed – he was well aware of his conditions and broadcast his actions publicly on Facebook.

What about freedom of speech?
We don’t believe that hate speech, speech which advocates for the denial of liberty for specific minorities or oppressed groups, can really be considered ‘free’. Tommy aside, the rallies in support of him have consisted largely of hate speech – chants of “fuck Islam”, “Allah is a paedo”, and placards decrying the “rape of whites.” Perversely, Tommy’s intervention may have damaged the credibility of the proceedings and handed the defence ammunition to move for a mistrial.

Is it fair to criticise Islam?
As with Christianity and Christians, we believe it’s dangerous to conflate critique of Islam as a religion, with the demonization of Muslims as people. A religion – an idea – cannot be victimised, and it is right to look at religion critically. However, since the its inception the EDL, along with Tommy Robinson, and various associated movements across the right have used criticism of religion as a thin veil for their anti-Muslim hate speech. Instances of extreme adherence to the Christian faith, however, go undiscussed by these groups, because of the associated cultures and ethnicities.

Aren’t there valid feminist critiques of Islam?
There are valid feminist critiques of all organised religion – the world views and power structures involved are often toxic and patriarchal, preoccupied with policing and subjugating women. As with the free speech and anti-religious arguments, issues such as FGM, honour-based violence, and liberty for women at large, are being weaponised by the far-right. It’s disingenuous at best, when the narrative is so often simply one of saving “our women.” The Free Tommy march in Leeds on the 1st of June this year was majority white male by a massive margin, and on that basis alone it’s hard to take seriously the women’s rights angle. Conservative and reactionary politics are inherently hostile to feminism, no matter how much the right tries to cloak itself in an increasingly socially liberal world.

Is it racist to stand against grooming gangs and paedophiles?
Of course it’s not – unfortunately in spite of the numerous instances of sexual abuse on the right and amongst high-profile white offenders, the Asian grooming gang trope has become an emotive and effective mobilisation tool for the far-right. Naturally we saw no outcry from the ranks of the EDL, Britain First, et al when the Yew Tree revelations came to light as there’s no mileage in that for them. Everyone should be as disgusted by grooming gangs as they are Saville, and indeed all sexual abusers. Tommy Robinson’s decision to cast light only on Asian abusers is racist.

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Call-out: Oppose the EDL in Keighley and Bradford, Saturday 2nd September

On Saturday the 2nd of September, the remaining dregs of the English Defense League plan to descend on West Yorkshire, to march in Keighley and Bradford. In keeping with their usual tactics, as grief-vultures of the highest order, they will try to leverage high-profile grooming scandals and terrorist atrocities as a way to foment racial and religious hatred, and drive a wedge through our communities.

We’re not having it.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the demonstrative outrage the EDL employs in spreading its divisive message is that the EDL itself, and indeed much of the far-right, has a rich history of harbouring nonces and rapists. White ones, of course.

Tommy Robinson stood by Richard Price when he was convicted of posessing child pornography. Retford EDL plankton Luke Atkinson, recently collared for grooming girls as young as 13, is on a four-year course of her majesty’s porridge. Alan Boulter, would-be Infidel, EDL footsoldier, and templar knight(!) travelled to pay a 13-year-old girl for sex only to be confronted by anti-child exploitation activists when he turned up, cash in hand. Ryan ‘Johno’ Johnson, another EDL paedo put behind bars. Terry Maughan raped a 17-year-old at a party. Dale Hewitt. Kristopher Allan. Michael Roles. Paul O’Brien. James Swindlehurst. Michael Kinnear. You’ve got Google, right?

The EDL’s ilk in National Action, who also made a big deal of going on ‘paedophile hunts’, numbered among their ranks one Ryan Flemming, now behind bars for sexual activity with a child. As was remarked at the time, presumably the ‘hunt’ consisted of looking at their own friends lists?

The point is, not only are the far-right disingenuous in their exploitation of the justified public disgust at paedophiles and their abuses – they figure in alarmingly high numbers among their organisers and supporters.

And EDL H.Q. is oddly quiet on these convictions. No marches, no righteous ire raised over Saville or Heath. I know why. You know why. They know why.

And that’s why the EDL must not go unopposed.

Show the #PaeDL the door on the 2nd of September. Leeds AFN will be streets to oppose the EDL’s cynical explotation of the abused to further their own racist and islamophobic agenda. To get involved, contact us at leedsantifascistnetwork@riseup.net, or via our Facebook page.

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Leeds Resistance Training at Physical Resistance in Brighton

Last weekend members of LAFN and others from Leeds Resistance Training – a local antifascist self protection and boxing club – travelled to Brighton for Physical Resistance – an antifascist martial arts festival hosted by Brighton Antifascists.

It was a grand weekend with gorgeous weather down in Brighton. The atmosphere was comradely and welcoming, with fighters from Leeds and Brighton joined by folks from SolStar Sports Association in London along with other “fight clubs” and antifascist martial arts associations from across the South. Although LRT was the only club from the North able to attend we gave a good account of ourselves during the boxing, with seven fighters from Leeds taking part in eight seperate bouts. This was followed by an excellent seminar on combat sports, applying MMA and “cage fighting” techniques to self defence on the streets.

If you’re interested in getting involved with the antifascist martial arts scene in Leeds, just search Leeds Resistance Training on Facebook, or email leedsantifascistnetwork@riseup.net 

Leeds Resistance Training and supporters pose for a photo before sparring

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Public Meeting Outcome

Last week we hosted a film showing and discussion on combatting racism and xenophobia in the wake of the recent EU referendum, which has already seen a surge in racist attacks and harassment across the UK. The event saw campaigners from various backgrounds come together to discuss the way forward, how to respond collectively to racism on our streets, the legal rights we have when taking action to protect ourselves and others.

The main part of the discussion focussed on practical ways we can help each other in the face of the current rise in racist violence and harassment. We discussed our planned sticker campaign encouraging people to stand up to racist attacks and intervene when possible to protect themselves and others. With the help of several volunteers who came forwards at the meeting we hope to produce materials in several languages detailing peoples legal rights and suggesting different ways of taking action. We also discussed setting up a “chat tree” via WhatsApp to alert each other to racist attacks in different areas of Leeds, and mobilise anti-racists to confront them and offer solidarity.

We will be holding more public events in the weeks to come. For more information, like our page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and WordPress. No Pasaran!

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Public Discussion & Film Night – How Do We Combat Racism and Xenophobia on Our Streets?

The vote to leave the EU has been interpreted by some as vindication of their racist beliefs, and in the aftermath there has been a well-documented spike in verbal and physical attacks against minority groups in the streets, shops and on public transport. This cannot go on. We urgently need to explore ways of confronting and resisting racism on our streets, to stem the rising tide of hatred.

To that end, we invite you to a public discussion, where we’lll be screening a short film, talking about the rights we have in relation to racist attacks, and the steps we can take to defend ourselves and each other. We’ll be talking about our views and experiences, and what we can offer in terms of practical skills and training, but we want to involve as many people as possible in discussing the way forward and the shape of the anti-fascist, anti-racist movement we need more than ever.

Meet us at Wharf Chambers, Wharf Street, LS2 7 EQ, this coming Wednesday the 7th of July at 7:30 pm. Wharf Chambers Co-operative Club is a members’ club, and you need to be a member, or a guest of a member, in order to attend. To join, please visit wharfchambers.org.

Membership costs £1 and requires a minimum of 48 hours to take effect.

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Vigil for Jo Cox and victims of fascist violence

Leeds Anti-Fascist Network will be holding a vigil for Jo Cox outside Birstall Library at 1 PM this Saturday. We won’t go into the background and our analysis here – for that, please see our previous statement. The vigil will be an opportunity for people to remember, show their solidarity with Jo and all victims of fascist violence, and affirm the collective will to resist and oppose the politics of hatred that killed her.

We urge all to stand with us on Saturday – the Facebook page for the event is here.

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