The far-right nationalist group Britain First has restarted its campaign of what it calls “Christian Patrols” in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, drawing widespread condemnation for what experts have described as a desperate push for relevance from a dying organisation.
A video posted to the Britain First Facebook page showed a number of the group’s activists driving through east London in an ex-army issue Land Rover and declaring that they are making “our streets safe for our people”.
Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, has condemned the display of “hatred and intolerance” that took place in her constituency on Friday night.
Footage of the “patrol” showed the self-proclaimed “street defence” organisation’s chairman Paul Golding and its former parliamentary candidate Jayda Fransen approaching people on the street in Brick Lane and Whitechapel with leaflets calling for the banning of mosques and niqabs.
The leaflets claimed that “Muslim patrols are operating in this area confiscating alcohol and harassing women”, and activists can be seen describing the area they were moving through as “occupied London”.
The footage, which show Golding declaring that their leaflets are “pretty provocative to give out in a Muslim-occupied area”, ultimately ends with a large police presence being called in to prevent violent clashes between the group’s activists and local residents.
It is the first “patrol” carried out by Britain First in around six months, and comes after Government ministers issued a letter to Muslim leaders saying they needed to explain how Islam “can be part of British identity” following terror attacks across northern France that killed 17 people.
Matthew Collins, an expert with the campaign group Hope Not Hate who has followed Britain First’s progress for a number of years, said its revival of “Christian Patrols” had the potential to provoke a violent backlash – and that members of the public could well get caught in the crossfire.
He said the group had been “struggling” for both funding and numbers on the ground since its major backer removed his support in the summer, and that they had “no choice” but to bring back the so-called patrols in a last-ditch attempt to attract numbers.
“Britain First’s dream is that they believe a religious war is coming, and lots joined up thinking they’d be part of this bible bashing defence force,” he said.
“It’s turned into a T-shirt making, money-grabbing enterprise – but Golding has set the wheels in motion now and people will react violently.
“He kids people into thinking he is targeting Al-Qaeda, when really he’s winding up ordinary members of the Muslim community – and it will be him that pays the price.
“There’s potential for a backlash, and Britain First will be the target – but anyone could also be a victim of it. He’s putting himself and members of the public at extreme risk.”
Local Labour MP Ms Ali told The Independent: “Time and again, people in the East End have come together to reject hatred and intolerance.
“The divisive rhetoric of fringe groups such as ‘Britain First’ has no place in our East End, the proud home to one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in the UK.”
Steve Rose, from the interfaith thinktank Faith Matters, said the relaunch almost a year on from the first “Christian Patrols” and the threat of more around the country had “become an ongoing joke” in their attempts to provoke ordinary Muslims.
“Hints that patrols also took place in other parts of the country demonstrate their opportunism,” he said. “Often, far-right groups are galvanised by trigger events such as the atrocities in Paris in an effort to divide and undermine cohesion when Muslim communities feel on edge.
“This renewed tactic deserves wide condemnation.”
Britain First controversies
Britain First controversies
1/8 20 November 2014: Britain First claims credit for success of Ukip campaign
With the Tory defector Mark Reckless forecast to win the hotly-contested by-election in Rochester and Strood, Britain First suggested they only campaigned “to bolster the Ukip campaign”. Prior to the start of the vote some bookmakers had Nigel Farage’s party as huge 1/100 favourites to take the seat, which would make Mr Reckless their second MP at the expense of the Conservative Party. And with things going so smoothly for Ukip, the far right-wing group Britain First has tried to claim some of the credit
2/8 5 November 2014: Britain First accused of hijacking the poppy as Remembrance Day approaches to promote its own agenda
The far-right group used the symbol, which is a registered trademark of the Royal British Legion, on its website masthead and in Facebook posts driving more people to its page. It is seen alongside Britain First’s logo telling people to “take our country back” and crudely superimposed into the centre of the European Union flag with a message about “national sovereignty”. Members of opposition group Exposing Britain First believe many Facebook users are sharing poppy posts without realising who it comes from or what they stand for
3/8 28 October 2014: Britain First accuses Ukip of 'playing political game' with snub over Rochester photo
Britain First accused Ukip of “playing the political game” after Nigel Farage’s party reprimanded its campaigners for posing for a picture with members of the far-right group. A spokesperson for Ukip said the picture, taken while both parties were campaigning for the Rochester by-election on Saturday, was a “mistake” would “not happen again”
4/8 25 October 2014: Britain First starts 'direct action' on Mail and Sun journalists over Lynda Bellingham post
Britain First encouraged its followers to boycott the Daily Mail and The Sun after it was accused of using actress Lynda Bellingham's death to boost support. The party has threatened to launch "direct action" on the journalists after they said that the group used the cancer victim's death as a way to gain more attention on social media. Britain First posted a photograph to their Facebook subscribers of Mrs Bellingham with co-star Christopher Timothy, above the caption: "RIP actress Lynda Bellingham. Britain First", which garnered more than 6,000 'likes' and 500 shares
5/8 28 July 2014: Britain First founder Jim Dowson quits over mosque invasions and 'racists and extremists'
The founder of Britain First resigned from the far-right group over its “provocative and counterproductive” mosque invasions. James “Jim” Dowson, a former British National Party (BNP) member and anti-abortion campaigner, announced his departure on 27 July 2014. While Britain First blamed “media pressure” and family issues for the decision and said he would be missed “enormously” in a saccharine post, Mr Dowson publicly shamed the group’s tactics as “unacceptable and unchristian”
6/8 15 July 2014: Britain First 'battalion' invades mosque demanding removal of 'sexist' entrance signs
A self-styled battalion of the far-right group Britain First “invaded” a mosque in south London. The stated aim of the altercation was to “demand the removal of sexist signs” outside the Crayford Mosque. The signs designate separate entrances for men and women, so they can enter for segregated worship as is the custom in most mosques. Men and women also sit apart in Orthodox Jewish synagogues and some Sikh gurdwaras. A film of the encounter was posted on Facebook, set to dramatic drumming music and ending with the slogan: "Britain First Defence Force. No fear. No retreat. No surrender."
7/8 27 June 2014: Britain First's Facebook page taken down for 'hate speech'
Britain First’s Facebook page was taken down for hate speech – only to be restored again an hour later. Facebook claimed the extremist group’s page was taken down by mistake but a screenshot posted by anti-fascist campaigners Hope Not Hate seemed to show the social media site had removed Britain First in response to a complaint. With almost 500,000 “likes” Britain First’s page has a following that far outstrips the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, arguably making it the UK's biggest political site
8/8 27 April 2014: Inquiry over far-right Britain First party's use of Lee Rigby slogan on voting slip
The election watchdog faced an inquiry over its decision to allow a far-right party to use a slogan referencing the murdered soldier Lee Rigby. The Electoral Commission apologised for allowing Britain First to use the description “Remember Lee Rigby” on voting slips for next month’s European elections but Jenny Watson, the chair of the commission, said on Sunday that “an immediate and full independent investigation” would follow to “prevent this from ever happening again”
In a brief statement issued on behalf of Tower Hamlets Police, the Met said it was “made aware of a number of people distributing leaflets in the Brick Lane area” on Friday 16 January.
“Officers from Tower Hamlets attended and spoke with the participants,” the statement said, adding that no arrests were made and that the activists left the area “a short time later”.