Athena Institute

Magyar

The Rise and Fall of the English Defence League

2014-09-29
The EDL spread like wildfire after its establishment in 2009 and it became arguably the biggest and most infamous domestic extremist group in England in a really short span of time. However, the group was unable to capitalise on its initial success. Although they managed to recruit around a 1000-1500 members, their membership numbers soon started dwindling and less and less people were interested in their demonstrations. By 2012, several of the outfit's leading personalities left the group, and when Tommy Robinson quit the EDL in 2013 many thought the group would slowly fall apart and die. The future of the EDL seems bleak at the moment, but until it completely ceases to exist, its renaissance cannot be ruled out completely.

In 2009, after a group of Muslim radicals picketed the homecoming parade of the Royal Anglian Regiment, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson and others, mainly football hooligans, decided to establish the English Defence League (EDL) to counter Islamist extremism in England. The group spread like wildfire and it became arguably the biggest and most infamous domestic extremist group in England in a really short span of time.

The EDL's ideology uses a liberal facade to promote inherently illiberal ideas. They claim to fight against Jihadist and Muslim extremists to conserve the liberal ideas that Europe is based upon. However, their actions, the Islamophobic propaganda they spread and the fact that they support forced assimilation proves the contrary. The EDL is fundamentally an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and to a certain extent racist organisation that – between 2009 and 2011 – was the most active and dangerous extremist group in the country.

The EDL does not have a strict organisational structure. The group is comprised of a loose network of cells all around England that the members call divisions or chapters. They organised several anti-Muslim demonstrations and clashed with anti-racist demonstrators, the police and members of local Muslim communities on multiple occasions. Many of the outfit's members have criminal convictions mainly for violent offences connected to football hooliganism or far-right activities. Around the birth of the organisation, the authorities and anti-racist NGOs were deeply worried. The EDL had the momentum and relative popularity to become a huge threat to Muslim communities in England, a threat that could lead to major violent actions or even small-scale domestic terrorist attacks.

However, the group was unable to capitalise on its initial success. Although they managed to recruit around a 1000-1500 members, their membership numbers soon started dwindling and less and less people were interested in their demonstrations. As personal differences emerged within the group's leadership it started to lose momentum and the media's interest. It also got entangled in a power struggle with the Nick Griffin led British National Party (BNP) that started attacking the EDL for not being radical enough. Although it is much more likely that Griffin saw the group as a political rival that could lure away supporters from the BNP.

By 2012, several of the outfit's leading personalities left the group, and when Tommy Robinson quit the EDL in 2013 many thought the group would slowly fall apart and die. These assumptions have proven to be too optimistic. The EDL is still alive, however its membership numbers are nowhere near their peak (between 300 and 500). Furthermore, most of its divisions have declared autonomy from the main organisation and the outfit's leadership that followed Robinson is far from being as charismatic and influential as he was. The group right now is led by Tim Ablitt and Alan Lake with several other lesser known individuals within the leadership.

The EDL's fall was just as fast as its rise had been. However, it would be hasty and foolish to write the group off. Even though the outfit is fractured and it does not have the pull in the far-right scene that it used to, it is still a very large and influential domestic extremist group that arguably works as a channel for extremists towards more radical or outright neo-Nazi groups. The future of the EDL seems bleak at the moment, but until it completely ceases to exist, its renaissance cannot be ruled out completely.