A far-right rally at Derby Square, Liverpool – organised by Mersey Nationalists to coincide with the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march in London on Sunday 9 December – failed to materialise as anti-fascist counter-protesters gathered at the location an hour ahead at 9am.
Anti-fascist campaigners from Unite Against Fascism and Merseyside Together speculated the rally’s organisers were setting up a wild goose chase intended to confuse or demoralise the counter-protesters seeing as they had not applied for a permit. Others suggest they were too cowardly to appear once counter-protesters were already there.
Counter-protesters remained on site for over three hours to ensure the far-right didn’t occupy the square, wanting to make clear that fascists are not welcome in Liverpool. Others were positioned elsewhere in case the Derby Square site was a diversion.
Drivers of cars and buses beeped their horns in support, and pairs of police walked laps to monitor the situation.
Some attendees brought a speaker to provide music between speeches by those such as Mayoral Lead for Equalities and Labour councillor Anna Rothery, and the National Education Union’s Peter Middleman.
Banners were unfurled, highlighting the presence of a range of groups including Walton and Riverside Constituency Labour Parties, Unite Against Fascism, Merseyside Together, Merseyside Anti-Fascist Network, Unison, Left Unity, and Liverpool for Europe.
The ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march from Dorchester hotel on Park Lane to Westminster in London, led by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (alias. Tommy Robinson), was organised by UKIP, who claim “quite a few thousand” joined the rally. Anti-racist campaigners of the Stop Tommy demonstration claim counter-protestors numbered between 8,000 and 15,000, while the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ protest attracted around 3,000.
One member of the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ protest carried a model scaffold and hangman’s noose. Another held a sign referring to the murder of Jo Cox leading up to the EU referendum as a false flag.
Gerard Batten’s appointment of English Defence League (EDL) founder Tommy Robinson as a Special Political Advisor (SPAD) to help campaign on Brexit has signalled a significant shift of UKIP’s public presentation.
This move is the final straw for many of UKIP’s elected officials, prompting the resignations of many UKIP MEPs along with Nigel Farage and former leader and North West MEP Paul Nuttall to resign their memberships.
In Farage’s resignation letter, published by The Telegraph, he proudly states former BNP and EDL members were banned from joining UKIP under his leadership and accuses the party of now being obsessed with Islam.
Farage now makes much the same criticisms as UKIP’s founder, Alan Sked, who accused the party in 2004 of becoming “infected by the far-right.”
The international far-right
A number of groups other than UKIP were present at the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ protest. The Anti-Fascist Network highlights on Twitter the presence of Generation Identity flags.
Generation Identity originates in Génération Identitaire, the youth wing of Bloc Identitaire, a French street protest movement set up in 2003. Génération Identitaires is organised in autonomous, local chapters, and targets primarily young people for recruitment.
The British version even pays homage in its rhetoric to the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th century and the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.
They warn of a ‘white genocide’ and the replacement of Europeans by foreigners, they call for the segregation of people along racial lines, and they use provocative stunts to harass Muslim communities.
In summer 2017, donations primarily from American activists, allowed Identitarians in Europe to rent a ship with the intention of picking up refugees in the Mediterranean near Libya and returning them to that country.
By the end of that summer, over £180,000 was raised and the project received support from former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader David Duke, former BNP leader Nick Griffin, and alt-right website Breitbart.
There has been contact between such European far-right groups and the American ‘alt-right’, with Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute (NPI) hosting conferences in Europe, and an attempted establishment of an American Generation Identity chapter.
Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, Steve Bannon, who was previously executive of Breitbart, which he declared in 2016 to be “the platform for the alt-right”, has also toured Europe meeting with figures with far-right figures coinciding with Trump’s visit in July.
Bannon is setting up a foundation to provide right-wing populists with “polling, advice on messaging, data targeting, and think-tank research” ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2018.
He distances himself from “ethno-nationalist parties” who may be too immigrant focused, but he has praised Italian deputy prime minister and leader of Lega, Matteo Salvini, who has called for a crackdown on immigrants and a street by street mass cleansing, and hinted at mass deportations of Roma communities. Bannon also spent a week in London’s five-star Mayfair hotel with Raheem Kassam, hosting leading right-wing figures from Europe.
Kassam was Bannon’s last ally in Breitbart when he left his role as editor of the London bureau in May 2018, and he is a former chief advisor to Nigel Farage. Unlike the former leader, Kassam has remained in the party, the leadership of which he unsuccessfully contested in 2016 with the slogan of ‘make UKIP great again’.
He also received the backing of Arron Banks, the businessman currently under investigation by the National Crime Agency who are examining whether “impermissible money” (the source of political money must be clear, transparent and British) was used by the Leave campaign ahead of the 2016 EU referendum.
Both Kassam and Bannon have voiced supported for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (alias Tommy Robinson). Kassam appeared alongside Yaxley-Lennon and UKIP leader Gerard Batten at a rally claimed to be in defence of free speech in May.
The role of social media
As with the Gilets Jaune and the Arab Spring, it is claimed the internet and social media have played a role in the organisation of far-right movements and protests, allowing geographically dispersed people to connect with others sharing similar ideas. The latest attempt at a rally in Liverpool saw the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram to promote the gathering.
Counter-protesters describe the far-right as cowardly and stress the importance of not becoming disheartened or complacent just because they failed to show up this time.
The role of social media is questionable, however, as even the fewer than 10 far-right protesters of ‘Frontline Patriots’ in November featured ‘the usual crowd’, the names of some of whom are known to Liverpool’s anti-fascists.
Although the organisers were no-shows, the Mersey Nationalists page on Instagram features an image of the counter-demonstrators gathered at Derby Square. In the caption, they mock ‘Merseyside Antifa’ for being “easily manipulated and brainwashed” while Mersey Nationalists were down in London.
There was talk amongst anti-fascist counter-demonstrators about the possibility of this being a wild goose chase, and groups were sent to keep an eye on Moorfields station and other locations in case the far-right made an attempt to converge.
Additional reporting and videography by Olly Wicks.
Featured image: Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism placards adorn the steps of the Victoria Monument, Liverpool, 9 December 2018. (Danny Rigg).