The Pendragon name was new to me, but at least one of the faces on display wasn’t – the footage was live streamed to Facebook by Davy Russell, former EDL member, whose previous stunts have included tearing up and spitting on the Koran.
On Friday, Khan greeted the news of the US President’s cancellation of a planned trip to London by saying Trump had “got the message” that he wasn’t welcome. This seemed, for a change, like something on which a divided nation could pretty much agree.
But as Khan was about to address the annual conference of the Fabian Society the next day, he was forestalled for 15 minutes by the aforementioned group, who stood up and announced they were going to make a “citizens’ arrest”. They didn’t – Khan idly flicked through a newspaper while security staff saw the protestors off, joked that they were “very stable geniuses”, and delivered his speech as planned.
From photos the group posted, it transpired they’d brought a homemade gallows with them, leading people to question why there had been no arrests for threatening behaviour. In fact, they’d bravely concealed it in a street behind the venue.
ITV News spoke to one of the protestors as they were ejected, and tried to make sense of the confused explanation of who they were and what they wanted. The Fabians, the man said, were “subverting society” and Magna Carta; and Khan had no right to be Mayor of London because of his religion.
While the Islamphobia wasn’t surprising, the attack on the moderate, centrist Fabians would have been to anyone blessedly unfamiliar with the randomness of far-right groups – the Fabians have cropped up before in confused conspiracy theories.
As to the name, the white dragon flag was adopted by English nationalists in the 1980s. The symbol is of course most commonly associated with Welsh mythology, but we’re going to have to abandon concepts like “things making sense” at this stage of our journey. What’s key is that it’s mythologically associated with Anglo-Saxon leaders, and that these boys love them some Anglo-Saxon (a handy way of saying “white” without being overtly racist).
Over on YouTube, an unnamed but, it will transpire, very typical Pen Dragon – white, male, middle-aged and with hypnotically poor delivery – promises to explain the group’s philosophy – this turns out to be fake news, appropriately for Trump supporters.
We do learn that the WPDs will be “standing for Parliament” and that the group are “very intelligent” (more Trumpish echoes), amid a stream of consciousness about patriotism, common law, and “taking back control”.
The clip is rendered entertaining only by extremely loud heckles from his off-camera budgie, who seems to be trying to do us all a favour by drowning out his owner with continuous squawks, clicks and whistles. We are then urged: “Lawful rebellion (budgie: Click! Whistle! AAAWWWKKKK!) – Article 61– (SQUAWK!!) the Magna Carta – you’ve got to look into it, just go on the internet (whooshhh! CLICK!).”
Article 61 is something of an obsession of various online groups, all seemingly connected to the WPDs – a supposedly removed clause of the Magna Carta allowing lawful rebellion by “the barons”. A still-live and very long petition on 38 Degrees to the Queen asks her, as far as I can make out, to use it to revoke the power of the EU.
Ah, Magna Carta, as Tony Hancock once movingly asked – did she die in vain? Not where this lot are concerned – they’ve even got a Magna Carta mug: yes, they do merch.
As the budgie approaches meltdown, I steel my nerve and dive deeper down the rabbit hole via several of the WPD websites.
“The People’s Bailiffs” site is run by one Graham Moore, and heavy on the Trump quotes – Drain the swamp, etc.
In his introductory video, Moore sounds by turns menacing and hysterical as he tells us that his father was called George, his father before him was called George, his great grandfather was Edward, and that they were all fishmongers.
Aside from noting WPDs don’t have mothers, it’s not immediately certain what this is telling us, but we then run slap-bang into a photo of “our patron, Mr [Enoch] Powell”. Moore tells us Powell’s words, “What do they know of England, who only England know”, have long inspired him and speak for his family. It’s unfortunate that this is actually a line from a Kipling poem, in which the poet is castigating the ignorance and small mindedness of Little Englanders.
I consider the possibility that Moore is in fact a skilled satirist, but no – a little research shows he’s a former UKIPer who stood for the the nationalist English Democrats in the 2016 Tooting byelection, and garnered fewer votes than the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Of the other sites, groups and random posts under the WPD umbrella, some are quite subtle, others have their white supremacy to the fore. One is just a Nigel Farage speech attacking Islam set to stirring music.
On the Take Back Control website, another middle-aged white man with an almost identical voice to Budgie Bloke, but sadly no avian interruptions, gives us a few minutes on oaths, another big WPD thing.
We began with the oaths that Members of Parliament take, which the speaker says are a pledge to “protect our rights” (they’re not, actually – the oath of allegiance is to support the monarch). MPs supposedly break these sacred oaths and have been doing so for years; and breaking oaths used to be more serious than murder (not true either – murder has always been a pretty big deal). Moving onto the jury system for reasons that remain unclear – the Pen Dragon motto should really be Non sequitur – we’re told that juries used to be called judges (they didn’t) and that this is somehow important.
Elsewhere on the website, I learn that Take Back Control considers itself a political party and that its officers are Graham Moore, Stephen Lang and David Russell. Its aims include the outlawing of the Fabian Society and Muslim Brotherhood as “treasonous organisations”.
We hear that “the ethnic English” should “remind themselves that this modern word... was made primarily by Anglo Saxons. Almost all the benefits of modern life, including law, education, transport, medicine, entertainment and communications were derived from the exertions of the English... wherever the English established themselves, for the most part, only benefit came from their presence.”
Where to begin? The first university was founded by a Muslim woman Fatima al-Fihr, 1,200 years ago. Muslims invented flying machines, algebra and the camera to name but a few. Black men invented touch-tone phones, 3D effects and the mailbox; Black women, cataract removal surgery, caller ID and heating furnaces.
As for “only benefit” resulting from the British Empire – at the risk of upsetting the Daily Mail, which lost its mind last time I spoke about the Empire – it’s now generally acknowledged to have been fairly murderous and oppressive, not just by modern historians, but by its administrators then, who destroyed hundreds of thousands of files.
Millions were killed, mistreated, displaced and tortured: 1.5 million Kikuyu people in Kenya illegally detained in concentration camps where they were abused and raped (and Barack Obama’s grandfather was tortured). India’s wealth was stolen, and enforced deindustrialisation caused millions of deaths from famines in which Britain chose not to intervene. Partition caused the death of another million.
Massacres of Indigenous Australians were carried out by the British right up until the 1920s.
The death toll goes on.
So, the White Pendragons are imperialists, White supremacists, Islamophobics, Brexiteers, Trump fans and people with a tenuous hold on reality.
How seriously should we take them? They’re just one small group, but part of a wider and more disturbing rise in White supremacists. And if the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that we must not underestimate the confused and unjustified anger of not-very-bright white men.
Louise Raw is a historian, broadcaster, author of ‘Striking a Light’ (Bloomsbury) on the 1888 Matchwomen’s Strike, and organiser of the annual London Matchwomen’s Festival
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