The controversial English Defence League (EDL) will march through the Shropshire town of Telford today, citing its need to "protect communities and property", despite the Home Secretary's decision to ban the gathering.
But whatever unrest the group's mobilisation there may engender, it is as nothing to that which could erupt if its planned march through the London borough of Tower Hamlets goes ahead in three weeks' time. The group, whose supporters number in the tens of thousands, gained attention this week when it co-ordinated efforts to defend the streets of Enfield in north London and Eltham in south London from would-be looters and rioters. The police did not welcome the "assistance".
The group's founder, Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Lennon, said of the Tower Hamlets march: "The police have told us that it will be the most hostile environment they have seen... in 20 years. They say marching through there will be absolute suicide ... but we will go ahead with it, whether it is banned or not."
The EDL claims not to be a racist organisation and was set up with the declared aim of protesting against the spread of Islamic extremism in England. Previous marches through Luton, Birmingham, Bradford and Oldham have seen young white males singing pro-English football chants and have occasionally turned violent. Tower Hamlets, which is to the east of the City of London, is one of the capital's most ethnically diverse and impoverished neighbourhoods. It is also home to the large East London Mosque, capable of holding 5,000 people. Abdul Azim, 34, emerging from the Mosque after Friday prayers, asked: "Why do they want to come here?" Mr Azim is a stallholder at the Whitechapel Road street market, which runs through the area.
"They are not from here. They just want to antagonise. They say they're not racist, but there are many thousands of them.
"How can they say there are not many in their group who want to attack us?"
It is an argument that Mr Robinson does not accept: "There's racists in the Met, there's racists in the Labour Party. When we find racists we kick them out." The police have agreed to a 1.2-mile route for the march. The Home Office can only move to ban the march when it receives a request to do so from the police or the local council. So far no such request has been made. Mr Robinson believes that if the march is banned, the trouble will be worse.
Salman Farsi, a spokesman for the East London Mosque, said: "The EDL is an extreme far-right organisation. On their marches many of their members cause disorder and unrest and they seek to stir up hatred and tension within communities. From our point of view we have advised the local authority to ban this march from taking place.
"If it does go ahead we can expect to see a repeat of some of the scenes we saw earlier this week."Reuse content