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Loud and proud

Passion and politics in the English Defence League

Hilary Pilkington

‘Loud and proud’: Politics and passion in the English Defence League is a study of grassroots activism in what is widely considered to be a violent Islamophobic and racist organisation.

The book uses interviews, informal conversations and extended observation at EDL events to critically reflect on the gap between the movement’s public image and activists’ own understandings of it. It details how activists construct the EDL, and themselves, as ‘not racist, not violent, just no longer silent’ inter alia through the exclusion of Muslims as a possible object of racism on the grounds that they are a religiously not racially defined group. In contrast activists perceive themselves to be ‘second-class citizens’, disadvantaged and discriminated by a ‘two-tier’ justice system that privileges the rights of ‘others’. This failure to recognise themselves as a privileged white majority explains why ostensibly intimidating EDL street demonstrations marked by racist chanting and nationalistic flag waving are understood by activists as standing ‘loud and proud’; the only way of ‘being heard’ in a political system governed by a politics of silencing.

Unlike most studies of ‘far right’ movements, this book focuses not on the EDL as an organisation – its origins, ideology, strategic repertoire and effectiveness – but on the individuals who constitute the movement. Its ethnographic approach challenges stereotypes and allows insight into the emotional as well as political dimension of activism. At the same time, the book recognises and discusses the complex political and ethical issues of conducting close-up social research with ‘distasteful’ groups.

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Introduction

Transgressing the cordon sanitaire: understanding the English Defence League as a social movement

Hilary Pilkington

Introduction Transgressing the cordon sanitaire: understanding the English Defence League as a social movement This book is political – but not by design. It is rendered so by its object of study (the English Defence League) and its context – the rise of a new ‘far right’1 and ‘populist radical right’ across Europe and, more recently, America. It argues that establishing an academic ‘cordon sanitaire’ (Mouffe, 2005: 72), in the form of typological and classificatory approaches that focus solely on the ideological dimensions of such movements and confine them to

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Conclusion

Passion and politics

Hilary Pilkington

meanings individuals in movements of the populist radical right attach to their activism. It is also to suggest that such studies have political as well as academic value. Ethnography: a choice between politics and knowledge? Traditional studies of the far right tend to forefront the analysis of ideological frames and organisational effectiveness and take little account of the people who maintain such movements; individuals appear largely in the form of agglomerated socio-demographics of ‘supporters’ or ‘voters’ or as an undifferentiated mass following a charismatic

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‘Loud and proud’

Piercing the politics of silencing

Hilary Pilkington

increasingly assertive arguments made by, or on behalf of, white working-class communities, Kenny (2012: 24) has asked whether we should rethink our tendency to treat them as expressions of ‘resentment, racism and grievance’ and consider whether they might be thought of as a form of recognition politics and, in some cases, as demands which have a ‘rational’ basis and ‘merit a more sympathetic hearing by the state’. This raises a deeper question in relation to our understanding of democracy of the possibility that populist radical right movements such as the EDL may

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Robert Fine and Philip Spencer

check. In the 1820s, the emergent opposition between Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question may be illustrated through the debate between the older and allegedly more conservative Hegel and the radical German populist and student radical, Jacob Fries. In a pamphlet titled On the Danger Posed to the Welfare and Character of the German People by the Jews , Fries maintained that the harm caused by Jews was such that they should be prohibited

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Doing the hokey-cokey

Everyday trajectories of activism

Hilary Pilkington

subcultural or direct-action movements linked to the extreme right rather than formal political parties (Mudde, 2014: 4). In this study too, almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of respondents were under 35 years of age (see Figure 3.1). While this might appear to confirm the youthfulness of the EDL suggested above, in fact young people were significantly less visible in the movement than expected and the achieved age distribution was driven by the focus of the larger MYPLACE project on youth activism and receptivity to radical political agendas (see the Introduction

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Tommy Robinson's barmy army?

The past, present and future of the English Defence League

Hilary Pilkington

-Jihad’ movement including the Pax Europe Citizens Movement, Stop Islamisation of Europe, and its American affiliate, and the formation and links with Defence Leagues11 in a number of north European and Nordic countries (Copsey, 2010: 24) has also suffered from the wider instability. While there remains a commitment to international collaboration, such links are on the back-burner until ‘we’ve got our own house in order’ (Eddowes, 2015). ‘Every single one of you is a leader’: organisation and structure Existing literature on radical, right wing and populist parties suggests

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Introduction

Universalism and the Jewish question

Robert Fine and Philip Spencer

the dangers of antisemitism, that few in mainstream society still claim adherence to antisemitic ideologies, and that some ultra-nationalist movements are reluctant to embrace antisemitism. Liberals have paid tribute to the success of the new Europe in transcending ethnic nationalism and recognising rights of difference. Radicals have affirmed that many forms of racism still prevail in Europe but insist that antisemitism is no longer one of them. The

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Hilary Pilkington

in far right or populist radical right movements (in the same position the majority do not take this route), there is evidence from other studies that among young men who ‘drift’ in and out of right-wing politics, racism increases at particular stages of fragmentation and insecurity in both economic well-being and sense of identity (Cockburn, 2007: 551). How these feelings of social and economic exclusion (Chapter 6) and of cultural ‘othering’ (Chapter 5) are implicated in the activist routes taken by respondents in this study is explored in the following chapters

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‘One big family’

Emotion, affect and the meaning of activism

Hilary Pilkington

emotions in ­movements – shared and reciprocal (Goodwin, Jasper and Polletta, 2001: 20) – as well as between emotions as the social expression of feelings and affect as non-conscious movement between one experiential state of the body to another. In studies of anti-globalisation protests, this has led to nuanced discussion of how activists perform their networks through diverse bodily movements, techniques and styles, generating distinct identities and emotional tones (Juris, 2008: 89). In contrast, in studies of extreme and populist radical right movements, an