The far-right English Defence League sought to capitalise on the planned attack on their backers by calling for a major show of support at their next rally on Saturday.
Tommy Robinson, the head of the fractured and feuding EDL, promised the demonstration against a planned mosque in Leeds, West Yorkshire, would be a “lively one” in comments posted Twitter after the guilty pleas.
Experts warned that any attack on the EDL would likely have sparked a war on the streets of Britain between rival groups of extremists and provided a potential recruitment boost to the EDL. The group, described as the biggest populist street movement in a generation, has been in the doldrums after a series of personality clashes, power struggles and weakened by jail terms for senior leaders.
The EDL emerged in 2009 in response to protests by radical Islamists at a homecoming parade for soldiers returning from Iraq. It cultivated international links and shuns electoral campaigning in favour of street demonstrations primarily against immigration and the Muslim community.
Gary Hastings, editor of the anti-fascist EDL News, said: “It could well have been a rallying point if the attack had happened with splinter groups going back to the EDL, and it would have helped them recruit more people on the streets. It would have been a bit of a disaster.”
The Demos thinktank said that the EDL had built up an active membership of up to 35,000 people through its online operations and protests, though splits within its ranks have meant that its volatile street demonstrations are mustering only a few hundred people.
West Midlands police said yesterday there would have been a “significant challenge” to deal with any potential backlash in the event of a successful attack. “We had a sensible conversation around managing the ongoing risk” with the EDL, said Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale.
He said there had been no backlash following news of the arrests from far-right militants taking up arms with security services sceptical of their ability to pose a significant security threat, said Dr Matthew Goodwin who wrote a paper for the Chatham House thinktank on the group.
The Government’s own counter-terrorism strategy in March this year stated that the rival extremist groups “feed off one another and try to create enmity, suspicions and hatred between our communities.”
It said that 17 people were serving prison terms in 2011 for right-wing terrorist-related activities.