[I]n a speech to EDL supporters in Peterborough on 11 December, EDL leader “Tommy Robinson” – a former BNP member whose real name is Stephen Yaxley Lennon – issued a threat to student demonstrators.
His speech alternated attempts to whip up anti-Muslim hatred with attacks on the thousands of school and college students who have protested against fees and education cuts over the past weeks. He threatened:
The next time the students want to protest in our capital, the English Defence League will be there.
In terms that will come as news to millions of working class school and university students, he claimed:
You had students living off their dads’ f***ing bank cards who have never lived a normal way in their life. They do not understand what it is to be a working class member of this community.
And in a single scattergun blast, he lashed out at students, Unite Against Fascism and “communist scum”. His speech followed streams of hate directed at students on the EDL’s forums.
The EDL has so far been an organisation that united violent rightists, racists and outright Nazis in a common cause against British Muslims. But in the recent past, it has started to denounce trade unionists and disrupt left-wing political meetings, and with this shift is becoming much more like a traditional far right street organisation, though not yet one with sufficient cadres to actually control the streets anywhere. Unite Against Fascism argues that the EDL is doing this because the fascist core is trying to ideologically harden its membership and supporters. This makes sense in terms of who and what the EDL are. In my ISJ piece, I argued that the Nazi strategy in the EDL was analogous to past strategies of fascist paramilitarism:
What appears to be happening is that the organisational and “intellectual” spine of the organisation is being supplied by organised Nazis while the foot-soldiers are recruited from among football casuals and other violent right wing, but non-Nazi, groups. This is not the first time that such a tactic has been pursued. The National Front used to infiltrate and mobilise skinhead and football hooligan groups during the 1970s in order to attack the left and ethnic minorities. It is also analogous to the general tendency by fascist organisations to use paramilitaries, comprising many who are not ideologically committed fascists, both as weapons against opponents and as socialising institutions that can help produce a disciplined fascist cadre.76 This is one reason why it is a mistake to simply dismiss the EDL as thugs who can be dealt with by police as a public order issue.
I see that the BNP has declared that its strategy for the future will be much more oriented toward street activity, as its 2010 general election failure has made the electoralist approach resoundingly unpopular with the membership. Again, this would be congruent with a strategy of hardening the political support of the organisation. But there may be more to the EDL's turn than pressure from the fascist hardcore. I think there will be an element of competition and antagonism between different factions in the EDL - its schismatic nature was made clear when Paul Ray and Tommy Robinson were issuing Youtube threats to one another. And perhaps the aim is to make the EDL a broader rightist political movement than the BNP can be. Perhaps, as the cuts take hold, and the anti-cuts coalition emerges, the EDL may be trying to position itself at the helm of militant reaction, waving the flag and sticking up for authority when the traditional parties of the right don't seem able to do so. However that turns out, it is vital that as the EDL broadens its targets, the coalition organised against the EDL and like-minded groups broadens commensurately. If the EDL want to have a go at students, organised workers and the left, rather than just beating up Asian women and smashing up shops, they'll find themselves rapidly outnumbered and outgunned.