Six months ago I joined a new local anti-racist network after Britain First decided to target my local mosque that had been given planning permission to be rebuilt. The idea of racists in uniform marching through my town intimidating my Muslim neighbours was not something I wanted to see.
The group communicates through Facebook, so when a notification pinged on my phone that they were in the town centre handing out hate literature and as I was at a loose end I thought I would head into town to do something, especially as it was a week to the day since the Charlottesville riot and murder.
Walking the mile or so into town unfortunately gave me some time to think… What if it was just me there? No one else seemed to say they were heading to town. What am I actually going to do? What do I say to them?
As someone who has been on hundreds of protest marches over the years, organising a fair few too, I don’t mind making my position on a issue clear and I’m not afraid of debating or speaking in public, but not knowing what was going on in town was unnerving.
There were eight of them, all dressed in their uniform. Military “marching” music was blaring from a sound system as they handed out leaflets. The leader of the party was with them. I couldn’t see anyone from the anti-racist group.
One of them approached me with a leaflet. I asked a couple of innocent questions and he asked if I wanted to speak to their leader. I said yes. If they spent time talking to me then they would have less time to talk to the public.
I spoke for a few minutes with him and disagreed politely with everything he said. I asked why he thought my Muslim neighbours should not be allowed a nice mosque to worship in. His explanation was predictably hate fuelled. He told me that the Koran instructed Muslims to do things such as stone people, I pointed out that the Bible has similar instructions – his literature claims that Britain is a Christian country. Although I’m a Pagan Druid with a keen interest in pre-Anglo-Saxon era, I decided to refrain from pointing out the irony trying to complain from a Christian perspective about Islam, a religion from the Middle East, being in Britain. Obviously these people cannot be considered Christians and I know my Christian friends would be as offended by their claims as I am.
I told him that their actions were not welcome, especially in the shadow of Charlottesville just 7 days before. He cited Barcelona as a counter argument to which I replied that I condemn that violence too. He then cut the conversation off and his security man approached me.
The security man said that he was there to make sure there was no trouble. He was a good 4 inches taller than me, half my age and twice my weight. He clearly works out. Standing there in front of me in his shades with his arms folded, he was there to intimidate.
The security man told me to go away. I refused.
Britain First claimed to have come to town to talk to local people. I said that I was a local person and I wanted to talk to them. He looked down at me. I said that I will just stand where I was then, in the pedestrian area of the town centre.
He told me that if I don’t go away he would make me. I asked if that was a threat. He said it was a fact. I stood in front of him for a few minutes remembering that Druids reportedly stood between opposing armies on the battlefield and that would have been much scarier than where I found myself.
Now I had a choice. My knowledge of law isn’t perfect but I am aware that threats are assault, so what to do next? Stay there and see what he did next or let the police know. I would have done both but the music was too loud to make a phone call so I moved away and phoned the police.
After a minute or so on the phone to the police, they brought their music over to me to try to disrupt my phone call. I moved further away and the group jeered at me.
While I was still on the phone they packed up their stuff and walked off in the direction of the mosque. I told the police woman this and suggested that she might want to ask a patrol car to pop by the mosque in about 10 minutes. I told her that I was going there myself and she advised me not to.
I phoned the Imam as I walked quickly to the mosque. Arriving before the protestors I went inside. There mosque was full of children learning about Islam and the Imam was there. He was calm. This was the third time in a month that Britain First had protested against them. I remembered reading a few months ago that the Imam had invited them in for tea but I wasn’t aware that they had been as many times as this.
I arranged to speak again with the Imam when we had more time and I left the mosque just as the protestors arrived outside. There were more jeers from them but I walked straight past and headed home. As I crossed the road I could see that they had decided not to protest outside the mosque and were heading away. A small victory? Maybe.
Later in the afternoon the anti-racist group talked about tactics. In Germany, one town was donating money to anti-racist causes for every kilometre that racists march through their town. The more they marched, the more money was raised. We decided to do something similar. For every Britain First member that turns up we will crowdfund £10 towards the building of the new mosque. They more that come, the quicker our Muslim neighbours will get their new mosque. Obviously we will let Britain First know this.