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Pegida UK: Over Before it’s Started?

Despite attempts to co-ordinate anti-Muslim demonstrations across Europe, Tommy Robinson’s Pegida experiment on 6th February was a flop, with most events failing to attract significant numbers.

Washout in Birmingham

Joe Mulhall

A few days have now passed since the much-anticipated re-launch of Pegida UK in a sodden wet car park on the outskirts of Birmingham. Now that everyone’s clothes have finally dried out it has become clear just how much trouble Stephen Lennon’s (aka ‘Tommy Robinson’) fledgling enterprise is already in.

The chief problem was the disappointingly (for them!) low turnout on the day. Fewer than 200 people made the journey to the Midlands with the demonstrators being outnumbered by police and the phalanx of journalists frantically drying their lenses with drenched chamois cloths. Of course if the press had not made the effort the whole event would have passed without anyone noticing. The march started in the car park of the Birmingham International train station and crawled along empty roads before finishing at a derelict industrial estate.

Lennon and his leadership team Paul Weston and Anne Marie Waters all claimed that the demonstration was both the launch of something totally new and that it was inevitable that Pegida UK will grow exponentially in the coming months.

Anne Marie Waters and Paul Weston

Pegida’s Anne Marie Waters and Paul Weston in Birmingham 6 February 2016

One of these claims is simply wrong and the second is highly unlikely.

As our video shows there is nothing new about Pegida UK, it really is just a re-launch of the English Defence League (EDL). The organisers are the same, most of the speakers are the same, the security team is the same and many of the demonstrators are the same. The Birmingham demonstration clearly showed that besides the tactic of marching in silence, Pegida UK was little more than a rebranding exercise.

However, it was Paul Weston’s claim that Pegida UK would have 100,000 people on the streets by the end of this year that rang most hollow. It is one thing for people in Dresden to wander into their central square every Monday evening, quite another to think that Pegida UK supporters will travel every month, as Lennon is planning, to a deserted industrial estate. It is just quite absurd.

Pegida UK is not violent enough to attract the old EDL splinter groups; neither is it moderate enough to attract those who simply have concerns about radical Islam.

Lennon’s adoption of the silent march tactic, that has garnered some results in Dresden, simply lacks the excitement of the old EDL events, which was part of what motivated some activists. Also his tolerance of multiracialism, as shown by the waving of a Pakistani flag from the stage, has been greeted with hostility by former EDL splinter groups such as the North West Infidels (NWI). In the days following the Pegida UK event the NWI condemned the flying of a Pakistani and Israeli flag, stating: &lsqou;We burn them, not fly them!’

Conversely the aim of Pegida UK is to attract more moderate and respectable people, hence the rebranding exercise. However, in this Lennon has also failed. By bringing in anti-Muslim bloggers like Paul Weston and making ex-BNP supporter Jack Buckby their press officer, as well as reusing his old racist EDL security team, his rhetoric about a new moderate movement rings completely hollow. As you will see from our video the crowd was also littered will old EDL supporters and activists.

It is clear that Pegida UK really is just the EDL mark II.

Over Before It’s Begun?

Joe Mulhall

“Today is the first of many European wide demonstrations that will bring people together like never before […] It's planting the seed of something huge.”

This is what ex-English Defence League leader, Stephen Lennon, told his 200 listeners at a bleak industrial estate on the outskirts of Birmingham on 6 February.

After several months of planning, Lennon having travelled to Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Ireland to help arrange the “coordinated action”, the big day had arrived.

Unfortunately for him, and despite his exaggerations, it turned out to be such a failure that the whole enterprise now hangs in the balance.

Despite all the fanfare, only two of the planned events actually managed to attract numbers of any note. Dresden, the German home of Pegida, saw as many as 8,000 people fill the main square, many fewer than the 20,000 the organisers had expected.

Meanwhile, in Prague, estimates for the attendance ranged wildly from 1,000 to 5,000, for an event organised by the Bloc Against Islam (led by Martin Konvička, and Dawn/Úsvit (led by Miroslav Lidinský).

Low turnout

Despite the events in Dresden and Prague attracting some thousands, there is little doubt that the organisers of the “international day of action”, Lennon chief among them, will have been very disappointed by the turnout at the other demonstrations, not least because a number were either banned or cancelled in the week preceding 6 February.

In France, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve banned all public gatherings in the Prefecture of Calais for fear of violence and the planned event in Saint- Brieuc, Brittany, was also outlawed. Despite the bans, 35 people turned up in Brittany and 150 people in Calais, notably to hear a speech by General Christian Piquemal, a former commander of the French Foreign Legion.

The demonstration ended in scuffles with police resulting in 20 arrests, including Piquemal. The best-attended event in France was in Montpellier where just 350 people attended.

The leader of Pegida-Schweiz, Mike Spielmann, cancelled a planned demonstration in Basel due to safety concerns following announcement of a counter-demonstration by anti-fascists. In the near future, Pegida-Schweiz plans to submit additional requests for events in Aarau, Zürich, Berne and Frauenfeld.

It was not just in Switzerland that opposition groups destroyed Pegida’s plans. In Dublin for example, just days after Lennon had travelled to the city to announce the launch of Pegida Ireland, its small demonstration fled down O’Connell Street, hotly pursued by anti-fascists, and Peter O’Loughlin, chairman of the far-right Identity Ireland, was hospitalised.

Around 200 counter-demonstrators opposed the event held by For Frihed in Copenhagen. This demonstration will also no doubt have been a disappointment to Lennon who had visited the city with Anne Marie Waters and Paul Weston just weeks before to try and build support for it. Just 100 people turned up on the day despite high profile speakers such as Lars Hedegaard, founder of the International Free Press Society and a leading light in the international counter-jihad movement, addressing the crowd. Other speakers included Hans Erling Jensen who founded an Islamophobic website with Nicolai Sennels, founder of Pegida DK, and Gavin Boby the so-called “mosque-buster” from Britain who is the director of the Law and Freedom Foundation.

The Pegida Graz event in Austria saw just 250 people, including members of the fascist Identitarian Movement, show up to hear Werner Wirth of Pegida Styria.

A poorly attended event was held Tallin, Estonia, with several hundred attendees being reported while the Rajat kiinni (Close the Borders) event in Helsinki saw 150 protestors, outnumbered by a counter-demonstration by Ei rasismia minun nimissäni (No racism in my name).

Another Finnish demonstration was held in Seinäjoki with the speakers at the demonstration including MP Teuvo Hakkarainen from the Finns Party and James Hirvisaari from the nationalist Suomen Sisu.

PEGIDA march in Dresden, Germany

PEGIDA march in Dresden, Germany December 2014. Photo Caruso Pinguin from flickr

In Amsterdam, a pitiful 70 people were left disconsolate after a suspect package caused the event to be moved, leaving the Pegida supporters unable to set up stage before being escorted away on buses.

The planned rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, was also a flop, its billed speaker, Siegfried Däbritz from Pegida in Germany, withdrawing to step in and address the crowd in Dresden where Lutz Bachmann had cancelled due to illness. Just over 100 people turned up to the event organised by Velka narodna a proruska koalicia (Odvaha).

Outside Europe, the few Pegida-linked events that did happen failed to buck the trend of abysmal turnouts. A Reclaim Australia event, held in Canberra, actually kicked off the day of “global protests” due to the time difference but saw just 250 people attend. In Canada, the numbers were excruciatingly embarrassing with just 15 people in Montreal and 11 in Toronto.

Tensions inside the right

In a number of countries, attempts to form domestic franchises of Pegida have been severely hampered by existing nationalist or far-right parties who have sought to scupper or undermine the formation of what they are intent on preventing from becoming a competitor.

This is most evident in Poland where a planned Pegida Polska demonstration in Wroclaw was hurriedly cancelled after the far-right Radical Nationalist Camp (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny – ONR) threatened to sabotage an event it deemed a “German import”.

While the Pegida Polska event in Wroclaw was scrapped, a demonstration in Warsaw organised by the far-right Ruch Narodowy party went ahead with one of the speakers being Tatjana Festerling from Pegida in Germany.

The event, which saw 2,000 people attend, shows that some existing far-right and nationalist groups, while hostile to the formation of Pegida in their own country, are happy to accommodate leading individuals from Pegida in Germany.

This is also the case in Belgium, where the far-right nationalist party, Vlaams Belang, has been reticent to support Pegida in Flanders, seeing it as a potential rival. However, it is more than happy to entertain contact with Pegida in Dresden. The same is true in Austria where the Freedom Party of Austria sees Pegida Germany as a potentially beneficial partner but Pegida Austria as a “No, no”.

Whether as a result of attempts to undermine the launch of Pegida by the established far right or other contributing factors, it is clear that the much-anticipated day of coordinated action was a serious failure for the organisers.

Other than Dresden, Prague and Warsaw, the Pegida demonstrations attracted tiny numbers. The failure to attract serious numbers, and the fact that so many events were attended by far-right activists, will be a serious setback for Stephen Lennon and his fellow organisers.

Key Players in Pegida UK

Stephen Lennon (aka ‘Tommy Robinson’)

Stephen Lennon

Stephen Lennon – aka ‘Tommy Robinson’ (the pseudonym he adopted from a Luton soccer hooligan) – is the most high profile figure on the UK ‘Counter-Jihad’ scene and has been central to the international efforts to launch foreign branches of Pegida. In preparation for the relaunch he has travelled to Dresden to meet with Pegida’s leadership as well as events in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland and Ireland. His aim has been to encourage a Europe wide day of action on 6 February under the Pegida banner.

Lennon has long been involved in organising ‘counter-jihad’ street protests. In June 2009 he co-founded the anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL), building it into the premier street protest group within the far right. His central role in the expansion of the EDL has seen him lorded and emulated by counter-jihad activists across Europe and North America, with copycat foreign ‘Defence Leagues’ emerging with varied success.

In 2011, Lennon announced a pact between the EDL and the British Freedom Party (BFP), a counter-jihad group led by Paul Weston (one of the Pegida UK leaders). Lennon became joint vice-chairman of the BFP, with his cousin Kevin Carroll, and the idea was to target local elections. However, he soon split away to refocus his efforts solely on the EDL.

Lennon has a checkered past that involves a period in the far-right British National Party (2004) and a series of spells in prison. He has served 12 months in prison for actual bodily harm for assaulting an off-duty police officer during a domestic incident in 2004. During the assault he kicked a police officer in the head. In July 2011 he was convicted for his football hooliganism after leading a brawl involving 100 football fans. He received a 12-month community rehabilitation order and a three-year ban from football. In November 2011 he was again convicted but narrowly avoided another custodial sentence, this time for assault for head-butting another EDL member at a demonstration. That same month he was also arrested following a protest on the rooftop of the FIFA headquarters in Zurich which resulted in him being detained for three days and fined £3000. In 2013 he was jailed for 10 months after entering America on someone else’s passport. He went in using a passport of the name Andrew McMaster and then returned on his own passport which bears the name Paul Harris. In 2014 he was imprisoned for 18 months after being found guilty of mortgage fraud.

In October 2013, Lennon announced that he, and his cousin Kevin Carroll, had left the English Defence League. The announcement came at a press conference held by the London-based ‘counter-extremism’ think tank, Quilliam. For a period after his exit he seemed to be deradicalising, even apologising for some of his blanket statements about Muslims and accepting that the EDL was ‘part of the problem’. He claimed that in the future he intended to tackle extremism on all fronts, including the far right.

However, his withdrawal from anti-Muslim activism was short lived and in October 2015 he travelled to Utrecht, Holland to address a rally of PEGIDA Holland. At the event he declared that he was ‘proud’ to have set up the EDL and described EDL activists as ‘brave and fearless’. Following this he took control of Pegida UK, which had been inactive for some time.

Speaking at a Pegida demonstration, in Dresden, Germany, at the start of December 2015, Lennon announced that he was going to hold a big anti-Islam march in England on Saturday 6 February as part of a European-wide day of action.

Of course, when Lennon talked about ‘anti-Islam’ he meant ‘anti-Muslim’. He told the crowd that he wanted a Europe “free from Halal food”, “free from Muslim rape gangs”, free from “the visual scars of minarets” and the “sounds of call to prayer” and free from people “who cover their faces, walk around our streets and refuse to integrate.”

He effectively told the crowd that Muslims have no place in his Europe.

His extensive work over the last few weeks to build Pegida internationally has seen him once again become a central figure in the international ‘counter-jihad’ scene.

Anne Marie Waters

Anne Marie Waters

Anne Marie Waters has been recruited by Stephen Lennon to join the leadership team for his relaunch of Pegida UK.

Waters spent many years as a Labour Party member, running twice as a candidate. She was a spokesperson and co-director for the One Law for All campaign, and was a council member of the National Secular Society. In 2013 however, Waters shifted dramatically to the right, writing regular blogs for the International Free Press Society’s Dispatch International on subjects such as Sharia law, immigration and ‘Muslim crime’. In May 2014, Waters joined the populist right-wing party, UKIP.

In April 2014, Waters launched Sharia Watch UK in the House of Lords. The group campaigns ‘for recognition of the dangers posed by sharia law in the UK, particularly in relation to women’s rights’. At the launch a new report, ‘Sharia Law – Britain’s Blind Spot’, was published. The report attempts to portray the extremism of all Muslims, analysing the beliefs of apparently ‘mainstream’ Muslim organisations.

Sharia Watch UK primarily functions as an internet resource. Contributors to articles include Sam Solomon, a key player in the UK’s anti-Muslim scene and Alan Craig of the right-wing Christian People’s Alliance, who campaigned against the building of a new mosque in east London. Despite Waters’ links to extreme anti-Islamists such as Lars Hedegaard and Alan Ayling (one of the original financial backers of the EDL), Sharia Watch UK has been used as a credible source for stories about ‘Islamic extremists’ allegedly ‘infiltrating’ schools, universities and ‘even Scout groups’ by both the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph newspapers.

The organisation has worked closely with the Lawyer’s Secular Society and has links to the highly controversial International Civil Liberties Alliance. Waters has refused to release information surrounding Sharia Watch’s funders, stating ‘it isn’t the EDL, or Lars Hedegaard, or Nick Griffin, or Mossad, or Peppa Pig’.

Sharia Watch UK was one of the key players in organising the cancelled Muhammad cartoon exhibition in London in September 2015.

After being announced as a member of the leadership team for Pegida UK, Waters accompanied Lennon to Copenhagen in January 2016 to help build support for a Danish Branch of Pegida.

Paul Weston

Paul Weston

Paul Weston is chairman of Liberty GB, an anti-Islam, anti-immigration political party. While his party is tiny and has little to no impact, Weston himself is quite an influential player on the international ‘counter-jihad’ scene, with extensive links with leading anti-Muslim activists.

He has been a regular contributor to one of the most infamous counter-jihadist blogs, the Gates of Vienna, since 2007, writing frequently about impending civil war with Muslims and ‘White Genocide’ in Britain. He has also been president of the International Free Press Society in England and spin off from the International Free Press Society (IFPS) led by Lars Hedegaard in Denmark.

He had previously stood as a parliamentary candidate for UKIP in London in 2010, and for the British Freedom Party (BFP) in 2011 alongside members of the EDL and former BNP members. After the abject failure of the BFP he launched Liberty GB in 2013 alongside George Whale. With Weston today is Jack Buckby. In his early 20s, Buckby, a former BNP member and founder of the short-lived National Culturists, was for a period tipped to be a serious player on the British far right but has faded into obscurity along with Liberty GB.

Unlike Stephen Lennon, Weston was involved in Pegida UK during its first incarnation attended the inaugural demonstration in early 2015. He has now been brought into the new leadership team while his colleague from Liberty GB, Jack Buckby, has joined as well, now acting as Pegida’s press officer.

Short history of Pegida

Pegida UK is a franchise of the German Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Pegida)/Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the Occident that was formed in October 2014 in Dresden, Saxony (Germany), as a reaction to public concern about violent street clashes between supporters of the Kurdish PKK and Islamist extremists in the city.

Pegida’s targets are Muslims, refugees, the media and mainstream politicians, not least federal chancellor Angela Merkel. Among those addressing its rallies have been the populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders (who has called for the Qu’ran to be banned), the German extreme-rightist Götz Kubitschek, the Turkish extremist author Akif Pirincci and Stephen Lennon (former leader of the anti-Muslim street movement, the English Defence League, and now running Pegida UK).

Until April 2015, when it had begun to falter, Pegida marched almost every Monday evening in Dresden. Starting with 300 people, the demonstrations grew to a peak of 25,000 in January 2015 and led to numerous unsuccessful attempts to replicate them across Germany.

The refugee crisis that commenced in 2015 has come to Pegida’s rescue. It had been in a downward spiral after scandals involving Lutz Bachmann who was pictured dressed as Hitler. This was compounded by competition from the more politically adept and influential right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party. However, the 2015 crisis has breathed life back into the movement and demonstration in Dresden reguarlary get thousands of people.

Pegida’s initial successes in Dresden spawned copycat groups around Europe, which all badly flopped. 6th February 2016 will see a further attempt to revive such groups via a series of coordinated demonstration across Europe, one of which is the Pegida UK event in Birmingham.

A History of Pegida UK

Pegida UK was initially launched in Newcastle in March 2015 but did not appear to have the full blessing and cooperation of the German parent organisation. Instead of the usual band of suspects who try to occupy any new movement in Britain’s overcrowded far right, a small clique of previously unknown individuals took centre stage.

Although the organisers of the event (aside from Donna Treanor, a London BNP official who had appointed herself as an "adviser") were relatively unknown, the event in Newcastle did manage to attract everyone from the leader of the British National Party (BNP) Adam Walker to seasoned English Defence League (EDL) activists and jackbooted National Front nazis. With around 300 participants, it was the biggest far-right demonstration in Britain in 2015.

The BNP, EDL and a host of smaller satellite nazi groups attached themselves to the group but it was troubled from the start. By the time Pegida made it to London for a demonstration outside Downing Street in London, it had already taken a very different shape. Members of the EDL dominated the small protest whilst associates of Stephen Lennon skulked in the background.

The organisation collapsed not long afterwards, its early leadership having succumbed to the attractions of internecine disputes and carousing with hardened nazis.

Matthew Pope, who wrestled control of the organisation, then appeared to fall under the spell of Lennon who assured him that he had no interest in leading the group but merely wanted to advise him.
In October 2015, Lennon addressed Pegida’s first anniversary rally in Dresden. Referring to the refugee crisis, he likened the mass movement of people across Europe to the Crusades, telling his 20,000 listeners:

"Our borders are being overrun. There is little or no control.
A country that cannot control its borders will soon not be a country… We need one banner. Save our culture. Save our country. Save our future. Unite to save a future for our children."

He was also uncompromising in his hostility to Muslims and not just Islamist extremism.

He told the crowd that he wanted a Europe "free from Halal food", "free from Muslim rape gangs", free from "the visual scars of minarets" and the "sounds of call to prayer" and free from people "who cover their faces, walk around our streets and refuse to integrate."

Pope was rapidly shoved aside to make way for Lennon though the former EDL chief was always keen to have a front man to hide behind. In December, he installed former mercenary Timothy Scott as his puppet leader but within twenty-four hours Scott had quit after an extraordinary car-crash interview with Channel Four News exposed his intellectual shortcomings.

With nowhere else to turn, Lennon was back in January of this year with his old friends and co-conspirators, Paul Weston of Liberty GB and Ann Marie Waters of Sharia Watch and UKIP.

PEGIDA rally in Newcastle February 2015

PEGIDA UK rally in Newcastle February 2015

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