The English Defence League, have you heard of them? Most people probably haven't, but they were in Leeds last weekend for a demonstration against Extremist Muslims and the EDL's belief that the government is not doing anything to stamp out the 'threat' that such people bring to our society.
You can find an extract of their speech in Leeds and in two sections a piece about the EDL, Part 1 and Part 2 which they billed "an hour long documentary on us" on their website. Which actually turned out to be 13 minutes on Newsnight. You would be forgiven for thinking the failing to burn the swastika business was part of some Channel 4 mockumentary. But no, they were trying to prove a point. In balaclavas. In a disused warehouse.
I wasn't able to attend the demonstration - I was on holiday - but before I went I tried to get in touch with the EDL to see if they would answer some questions about their (then) proposed visit to Leeds. They're up with technology it has to be said, for not long after I'd sent off an email someone had replied saying they would answer any questions I had. They would be answering through email on their phone though, so not to expect long, detailed answers. Fair enough...
They formed because "the situation was unbearable", they are "nothing like the BNP, we are not political, we let blacks in etc" but they do admit that prior/alongside to joining the EDL "some members are/were in political parties including English democrats, ukip etc but as we are non political it's not an issue." The demos are in response to "the governments inaction concerning the issue of Muslim extremism and sub issues such as uncontrolled immigration."
I asked why Leeds, what was their justification for bringing the demonstration here. "Why Leeds? Ha. I take it you haven't seen shalid maliks speech then?" I think they meant Shahid Malik the MP for Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Malik most recently stood down from his role as justice minister when the expenses scandal broke, only to come back as junior community minister when he was cleared. Quite why they didn't go to Dewsbury I do not know.
"What do we Aim to gain from the Leeds protest? Awareness of the problem, let the english people know we are there for them." Slip of the tongue? They claim on their website to invite all races and faiths to join them. But now...just as long as they're English? No wonder the EDL has gained a reputation for being racist, fascist and the new breed of The National Front. They claim this is wrong, they are none of these things and they are not political. This is about a key issue. And possibly other little issues tacked on as well such as immigration. Viewing the video of the leeds speech, I do not feel comforted that the EDL are 'here for me'. They interrupt the national anthem with cut-ins of "no surrender!" and "EDL!" If there wasn't such a ridiculous element to it, I'd feel a bit intimidated.
I flagged up the fact that the EDL also have their own range of merchandise, including a hoodie with a burkha face mask for sale. Surely this just ignites controversy? "what about people that wear burkhas in a Christian country?" Well quite. No matter what your reaction to the EDL, it becomes very hard to take seriously an organisation which would stoop to such tactics. They probably think it's addressing the balance.
But back to the Leeds demo. I wasn't there, but Jason N Parkinson from the Guardian was. He claims that the local BBC coverage told a slightly different story to the one he saw. The BBC he claims, did not report all the un-peaceful elements of the protest which he saw. Parkinson has since been issued with a Fatwa by the EDL. Yes that is correct, an organisation supposedly against Islamic Extremists has sent a Fatwa. It seems like they really want to discredit themselves wherever possible.
Will the EDL have gained many new followers from the Leeds demo? Quite possibly. I think it would be quite easy in today's current climate for a certain section of society to be drawn into the EDL's ideology. Coupled with how fast momentum and supportive material can be fed through new media, it is a slightly worrying thought. Some would argue we shouldn't give such organisations the coverage or right to voice their opinions, hoping they would slink away. But as we saw with Nick Griffin on Question Time, if you give a man enough rope he will surely hang himself. Or prove to be the bumbling, inept fool so many of us knew he was.
The EDL will next be appearing in Nottingham on December 5th, just in time for panto season.