English Defence League

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The English Defence League is an organisation which claims that it seeks to 'Remove Islamic Fundamentalists from our streets, and Remove ALL practice of Shari'ah Law in England.'[1]

The EDL is part of the wider international anti-Muslim 'counterjihad' movement, an ideology which links US conservative supporters of the 'War on Terror' with a growing section of the populist right in Europe.[2][3]

The most distinctive contribution of the EDL to the counterjihad movement since its emergence in 2009, has been the employment of football supporters in street demonstrations.[4] A number of the EDL's leaders have criminal convictions related to football hooliganism.[5]



Precursors of the EDL include the United British Alliance (UBA) and the March for England (MFE), which were involved in protests against Abu Hamza outside the Finsbury Park Mosque in the early 2000s.[6] The EDL coalesced out of these and similar small groups following events in Luton in early 2009.

On 10 March 2009, a small number of Muslims extremists took part in a protest at the Luton homecoming of the Royal Anglian Regiment. Following this event, Luton-based Counterjihad activist Ray applied to hold a St George's Day parade but was turned down by the local authority.[6] Instead, an illegal counter-protest took place in Luton on 13 April 2009.[7] According to Searchlight, far-right football hooligans were among those taking part in the demo.[6] Videos of the event supplied by Ray were posted by Counterjihad bloggers such as Pamela Geller and Gates of Vienna's Baron Bodissey"[8][9]Baron Bodissey credited a contributor called "Gaia" with tipping off Gates of Vienna about the Luton story.[10]

According to Searchlight's account of this period, early incarnations of English and Welsh Defence Leagues were linked to Casuals United, run by football hooligan Jeff Marsh. These groups worked with MFA and the UBA until Ray fell out with MFE leader Dave Smeeton.[6]

According to the Guardian, Tommy Robinson ( a pseudonym) was a key mover in the subsequent formation of the EDL:

Only a handful of Muslim protesters disrupted the Anglians' homecoming parade, and they were drawn from a small extremist group that had already been ostracised by the mainstream Muslim community. However, it was enough for Robinson and others to set up a group called United People of Luton, and look across the country for support.[4]

The Luton group linked up with Birmingham-based British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists to form the English Defence League. Robinson set up the group's website in March 2009.[4]

Early protests

According to the Times, fewer than 100 supporters turned out for an EDL March near the Bullring in Birmingham on 8 August 2009, where they were heavily out-numbered by Muslims and anti-Fascists. Clashes between the two groups led to 35 arrests.[11]

The EDL acquired a new spokesman, Trevor Kelway, at around this time.[4]

The Telegraph reported on 21 August that the Home Secretary had granted an order banning marches in Luton ahead of a planned demonstration by the EDL on the bank holiday weekend.[12]

The order states: "This order prohibits any procession or march involving members or supporters of, but not limited to, the English Defence League, UK Casuals United, March for England and United People of Luton or any associated group or any march which has not been applied for in accordance with Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986, shall take place anywhere within the Borough of Luton."[12]

A second EDL demonstration in Birmingham on 5 September 2009, led to further clashes in which 90 people were arrested.[13]

On 6 September 2009, counterjihad activist Alan Lake made an apparent reference to the EDL in a speech to the Sweden Democrats:

Another strategy we're trying to do in the UK, is reach out to more physical groups like football fans, get them involved. Well actually they're contacting us, because they're concerned, and these are people who are happy to go out on the street. I mean your average intellectual is happy typing on his PC, but we've reached the end of that road. You're not going to get a fat lot more mileage out of that.[14]

On 13 September 2009, members of the EDL were involved in a stand-off with pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Central London:

There were several brief confrontations as EDL activists chanted "We hate Muslims" and "Muslim bombers off our streets".
Hundreds of police officers kept the two sides apart as the march made its way to the Mall. Scotland Yard said there were no arrests.[15]


In October 2013, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon announced he and 12 other senior members were leaving the EDL, in a move 'facilitated' by the Quilliam Foundation.[16]

Links and networks

Counterjihad links

Paul Ray

Prior to the EDL's foundation, founder member Paul Ray had a number of contacts with the US counterjihad movement.

In January 2007, Pamela Geller interviewed Ray on BlogTalk Radio.[17]

In January 2008, Phyllis Chesler interviewed Ray after he was accused of inciting racial hatred. In the resulting article she stated that she had been alerted to his situation by Carol Gould. She wrote an update to the piece after Ray's pro-BNP views were made known to her:

I myself no longer demand purity or conformity in my political alliances. I think we are at war and we must make alliances with people with whom we may not agree on every issue. However, others believe that there are some people who, no matter what, are “off-limits” where civilized political and military alliances are concerned.[18]

Christian Action Network

Martin Mawyer and Jason Campbell of the Christian Action Network (CAN) interviewed three members of the English Defence League during a visit to London in August 2009. During this meeting they invited the EDL members to the George Restaurant in East London a few days later. CAN also invited Robert Spencer, Douglas Murray, Adrian Morgan and Paul Weston to the George on the same date.[19] Spencer and Murray later said that they had not known the EDL would be present and did not meet with them over the course of the evening. Morgan did meet with them, but said he did not condone their tactics.[20]

Alan Lake

The Guardian reported in September 2009 that Alan Lake was advising the EDL:

"We are catching a baby at the start of gestation," said Lake, who is considering funding the EDL. "We have a problem with numbers. We have an army of bloggers [in the far-right] but that's not going to get things done.
"Football fans are a potential source of support. They are a hoi polloi that gets off their backsides and travels to a city and they are available before and after matches."[4]

Lake's counterjihad networking website 4freedoms.com lists both the English Defence League and the International Civil Liberties Alliance as affiliates.[21] Both sites have reciprocal links back to 4Freedoms.com.[22][23]

Counterjihad Zurich 2010

The EDL was represented at the Counterjihad Zurich 2010 conference in Zurich on 12 June 2010, along with counterjihad organisations and activists from across Europe.[24]

An account by counterjihad blogger Aeneas described the EDL's role as follows:

The EDL presentation to the conference, entitled ‘The Anatomy of an EDL Demo’ used the recent demonstration at Newcastle as a case study of street level activism. The presentation included organisational dynamics, deployment, logistics and transportation, the importance of having productive working relations with the police, the stewarding system, divisional structure, inclusivity of all those who have a stake in or interest in opposing sharia to create a diverse, varied and effective organisation, the networking and social possibilities that are created by demonstrations, opposition tactics, and the issue of merchandising and its relationship to the creation of group identity and organisational presence.[2]

BNP links

A significant number of people involved in the EDL have had associations with the British National Party, including its co-founder and leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon aka Tommy Robinson.

EDL founder Paul Ray wrote in 2007 on his Lionheart blog that " if there is a political party who cares about the British people and its way of life then it has got to be the British National Party"[25]

EDL organiser Davy Cooling admitted to the Guardian that he had attended BNP events when younger, but said he was not a member of the party.[4] His name nevertheless appears, with his former Luton address, on the list of BNP members leaked to Wikileaks.[26]

Chris Renton, listed as an "activist" on the BNP's leaked membership list, set up an EDL website. [4]

The EDL website links to the Soldiers Off The Streets campaign, an alleged front group for the BNP.[27]

However, suggestions that the EDL is a BNP front seem to be wide of the mark. Searchlight has suggested that disaffection with the Luton BNP on the part of activists associated with the 'Men in Gear' group of football hooligans contributed to the rise of the EDL.[28] The BNP has proscribed involvement in the EDL for its members.[29] Nick Griffin has denounced the EDL, saying "This is a neo-con operation. This is a Zionist false flag operation."[30] What this comment elided was that the BNP had itself sought to establish links with the Counterjihad movement through figures like Adrian Morgan prior to the EDL's emergence.[31]

Hooligan links

Searchlight journalist Nick Lowles has said of the EDL:

All their key people are football hooligans – many with related convictions and banning orders. Most of the people they are mobilising around the country are from the football hooligan networks. I do not call the EDL a fascist organisation because it is not (though this doesn’t make any less dangerous and of course there are many active fascists within it and at a senior level) but organically linked and driven by football hooligans it is. I should add racist and Islamophobic as well.[32]

A special investigation by the Daily Mail revealing the people and ideas behind the EDL also argued that the group's alleged aim of fighting Islamic extremism is just a "cover" for engaging in violence:

The aim of the EDL — to counter what it perceives as the Islamification of Britain — is just a cover. The ­members can’t fight in football stadiums any more because of increased security, so they have united and taken the fight somewhere else and found a new, convenient enemy.[5]

Ulster Loyalist links

BBC journalist Paraic O'Brien has said that he attended a meeting of the EDL leadership at the Barbican, East London, in late September/Early October 2009:

During the conversation it was also let slip that someone purporting to be from the Ulster Defence Association had been in contact, interested in starting a branch in Northern Ireland.[33]

On 23 October 2009, EDL founder Paul Ray posted pictures of himself with German neo-Nazi Nick Greger holding up t-shirts emblazoned with a UDA logo and a picture of loyalist Johnny Adair, a friend of Greger's.[34][35]

The Sunday Mercury reported claims that the EDL had linked up with loyalists in late October 2009:

Senior members of the Ulster Defence Association, said to be behind more than 250 killings during the Troubles, have reportedly been in contact with leaders of the right-wing English Defence League.
The sinister development brought an angry response from Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood.
“The EDL are becoming more dangerous,” the Perry Barr MP said.[36]

According to the paper, EDL spokesman Tommy Robinson refused to be drawn on the issue:

“People from all walks of life come along to our meetings and we don’t ask questions,” he said. “Every town that has an Islamic community has a group of extremists and Belfast is no different."[36]

Israel Lobby links

Though the Board of Deputies of British Jews has rejected EDL's support for Israel, EDL members have appeared jointly with Zionist Federation at protests in support of Israel.

On 29 June 2010, the EDL website posted the 'first press release' from 'EDL Jewish Division.' It is signed by Morrigan Emmaleth and Cassandra Victoria. The division, according to press release, supports, 'the British Armed Forces, the IDF and the British people'

We are here to fight for all people - Jews in England in particular - against attacks by pro-Islamic, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel media propaganda and lies, relating to Jews, Jewish culture and beliefs, and against blood-libels propagated by the left, Nazis and Muslims.
We are committed to waking up the sleeping Jewish press, e.g: The Jewish Chronicle, to the threat of Muslim attacks on Judaism, Zionism and to Muslim attempts to delegitimise Jews, the Jewish state of Israel and to force, by stealth and overt means, sharia law on England.
Our EDL units have gays, transgender, Black, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and ex-Muslims (apostates) members. We are professionals of ALL classes!
We are the only organisation in the UK that demonstrates against Muslim violence and discrimination against women, such as forced marriages, underage marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings. Not one so-called feminist has spoken out against these terrible things, preferring to collude with male Muslims and respect these appalling acts as “culture”!...
Our fight is worldwide: against Muslim hegemony, polygamy, misogyny, sharia law, the building of any more mosques in the UK, racist attacks on non-Muslims (or kuffar as they call us!), homophobic attacks, Islamic no-go areas for British people, Muslim-only services paid for by the tax-payer, laws just for Muslims.
We repudiate preferential treatment for Islamic hate-speakers, terrorists and groups/organizations like IFE, Muslims against Crusaders, who, apart from being sponsored by terrorist organizations, proselytise against our armed forces and against the freedoms that the generations of English people have fought for![37]

The EDL Jewish Division's Facebook page has over 800 members.[38]

EDL Jewish Division's most visible figure Roberta Moore is known for her extremist views and the Israeli paper Ha'aretz has described her as 'an unrestrained Kahanist' (follower of the racist Rabbi Meir Kahane who founded the Jewish Defense League)[39]

EDL involvement in violence

Involvement of individual EDL members in violence related to EDL activity

  • EDL youth organiser Joel Titus was arrested and cautioned following an allegation of assault by a photographer at a Stop Islamisation of Europe demonstration in Harrow on 13 December 2009.[40][41]
  • EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was found guilty of "using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour" during a clash between rival football fans in Luton on 24 August 2010. The court heard that he chanted EDL slogans during the incident.[42]

Other violent and criminal activity by EDL activists

  • According to Searchlight magazine, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in 2005 for assaulting an off-duty police officer.[43]


Key People

  • Stephen Lennon - Co-founder, carpenter from Luton, jailed for 1 year for physically assaulting an off-duty policeman in 2004.
  • Kevin Carroll[44] former co-leader.
  • Trevor ­Kelway - Spokesperson, Portsmouth, reported links with fascist groups including BNP
  • Chris Renton - EDL website registered to him, registered BNP activist since 2002
  • Jeff Marsh (Marshy) - Founder of Welsh Defence League, listed as EDL "global moderator," repeatedly referred to in organizational messages as an EDL leader, served 3 jail terms for violence, including stabbing 2 people in 1989.[5]


Political reactions

The EDL was strongly attacked by Communities Secretary John Denham in September 2009:

“You could go back to the 1930s if you wanted to - Cable Street and all of those types of things. The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups.”[45]

Denham also said that the Government would announce measures aimed at white, working class communities to undercut far-right support.[46]

Police reactions

The National Public Order Intelligence Unit was due to produce a briefing on the EDL ahead of a meeting chaired by Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe of West Midlands Police in September 2009.[46]

On 24 September, Metropolitan Police Chief Constable Sir Paul Stephenson said the EDL and Stop the Islamisation of Europe were not extreme right-wing groups and could not be barred from protesting:

“the concern to me is how groups like that either willingly or unwillingly allow themselves to be exploited by very extreme rightwing groups like the National Front and the British Freedom Fighters”.[47]

In February 2016, Derbyshire police compared the English Defence League and the British National Party to the Islamic State, saying they are 'just as much of a real threat in terms of community division, hatred and deplorable acts'. A spokesperson for the BNP told the Huffington Post UK they would be contacting police to demand an apology. EDL chairman Alan Spence wrote that 'the murky world of hate crime and counter-terrorism is a totally different world from which the EDL operates. We are no closer to that world than are UKIP, the Conservative Party or any other legal political grouping or national charity.' [48]

Mainstream anti-Islamist reactions

The Spectator's David Blackburn and Martin Bright criticised John Denham for over-stating the EDL's significance. Bright wrote:

My real concern here is that talk of rising tension between Muslims and the white working class becomes self-fulfilling. The rise of al-Qaeda, the bombing of civilian targets by extremists and the emergence of home-grown networks of terrorists has not led to retaliatory attacks and long may that continue.
But that doesn't mean the situation isn't serious. There are extremists within the Muslim community and the white working class who would like nothing more than a conflagration.[49]

Michael Burleigh also criticised Denham in a Standpoint blog post:

Although the liberal-Left has not so far proved any connection to the BNP, the so-called Communities Secretary, John Denham, has been making fatuous analogies between the English Defence League/Stop the Islamisation of Britain, and the BUF members who invaded Cable Street in the 1930s.The BUF were bent on assaulting Jews qua Jews, not in protesting against a structure which could very well be conceived of as a magnet for the propagation of anti-western extremism.[50]

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens took issue with this in another Standpoint post the following day which noted the BNP connections of EDL members Chris Renton and Davy Cooling:

Within the world of anti-jihadism, there is a clear divide between those who consider all Muslims to be a threat and those who understand that the problem lies within a small but very influential section of the Islamic world. Siding with the former should not be an option as it requires a total disavowal and abandonment of liberal and pluralist values based solely on the basis of a mutual foe.[51]

Lucy James of the Quilliam Foundation said in September 2009 that it was "not the time to panic" but that far-right activists could prove disorder by targeting mosques:

“They can be very calculating in getting a response,” said Ms James. “It is important that people do not react with violence and do not themselves appear as threatening to the local community.”[52]

Douglas Murray wrote in October 2009 that he would have nothing to do with the EDL because of the group's BNP links and [[Paul Ray] ]'s comment that he opposed "all devout Muslims". He added:

For years, our political class has allowed militant Islam to thrive in Britain and ignored those who have been warning of the consequences. Now the entirely predictable street-level response has begun. In the ensuing noise, as actual fascists from all sides try to clear the ground for themselves, those of us who hate them all will need all our care and caution to work out who is who.[53]

Cyber Attacks

The EDL's website has been successfully targeted by hackers on several occasions. In December 2010 a hacker broke into the website and leaked the names of "nearly 350 customers of the EDL merchandise site"[54] as well as names of EDL donors. A BBC article reporting on the event emphasized that EDL supporters were now "vulnerable" and publicized an EDL warning to its members saying those affected should "remain extra vigilant where their home and personal safety is concerned."[55]

Related, Resources, Contact, Notes


External Resources



  1. Trevor Kelway, The UAF (United Against Fascism) spark 'near' Race Riots in the centre of Birmingham on the 8th August 2009, English Defence League, accessed 17 September 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aeneas, English Defence League Represented At Counter Jihad Zurich 2010, International Civil Liberties Alliance, 17 June 2010.
  3. [Toby Archer, Countering the 'Counter-jihad', RUSI Monitor, September 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Robert Booth, Matthew Taylor and Paul Lewis, English Defence League: chaotic alliance stirs up trouble on streets, The Guardian, 12 September 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Paul Bracchi And Tim Stewart, "Special Investigation: English Defence League and the hooligans spreading hate on the High Street", Daily Mail, 13 December 2010
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Gerry Gable, Simon Cressy and Tom Woodson, A hot August?, Searchlight, August 2009.
  7. Sally Anne Johnson, Luton Today, 14 April 2009.
  8. Pamela Geller, PUSHBACK AGAINST MUSLIM EXTREMISTS IN THE UK, Atlas Shrugs, 20 April 2009.
  9. Baron Bodissey, Luton Takes to the Streets, Gates of Vienna, 19 April 2009.
  10. Gates of Vienna News Feed 4/15/2009, Gates of Vienna, 15 April 2009.
  11. Nico Hines and Costas Pitas, Far-right group, the English Defence League, in disarray after Birmingham fracas, Times Online, 10 August 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Luton bans marches amid fears of protests, Telegraph, 21 August 2009.
  13. Mark Cowan, POLICE were today studying CCTV footage in a bid to identify more of the hooligans involved in the violent clashes., Birmingham Mail, 7 September 2009.
  14. Seminar about islamization, speaker Alan Lake, part 3, YouTube, uploaded 10 October 2009, accessed 12 October. Quote from 3 min. 19 secs to 4 min. 32.
  15. Matthew Taylor, Far-right supporters confront pro-Palestinian protesters, Matthew Taylor, 13 September 2009.
  16. Ian Dunt, Tommy Robinson quits the EDL, politics.co.uk, 8 October 2013.
  17. Atlas and LIONHEART, blogtalkradio, 9 January 2007.
  18. A Profile in Courage: An Interview with "Lionheart," The British Blogger in Hiding, by Phyllis Chesler, Chesler Chronicles, Pajamas Media, 9 January 2008.
  19. Robert Spencer, Libelblogger Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs digs deeper, adding new lies to his original ones, JihadWatch, 9 September 2009.
  20. Richard Bartholemew, The EDL Dines Alone, Bartholomew's Notes on Religion, 10 September 2009.
  21. 4 Freedoms Worldwide, accessed 13 October 2009.
  22. English Defence League, accessed 13 October 2009.
  23. International Civil Liberties Alliance, accessed 13 October 2009.
  24. Baron Bodissey, Slouching Towards Zurich, Gates of Vienna, 16 June 2010.
  25. Paul Ray, 'Shame' on the British Government - Under Cover Mosque, Lionheart, 15 January 2007.
  26. Wikileaks, BNP Membership List, accessed 11 October 2009.
  27. Screenshot, Link to Soldiers Off The Street on English Defence League website, captured 5 January 2010.
  28. Tom Woodson, Well connected: English Defence League remix a familiar tune, September 2009.
  29. The English Defence League — A Statement from the BNP’s National Organiser, BNP, accessed 28 December 2009.
  30. Nick Lowles, BNP blame Zionists for EDL, Hope Not Hate blog, 27 September 2009.
  31. Nick Lowles, The men who are creating a new BNP ideology, Searchlight, March 2007.
  32. Nick Lowles, Calling the EDL what it is, HOPE not hate blog, 30 September 2009.
  33. Paraic O'Brien, Under the skin of English Defence League, Newsnight, 12 October 2009.
  34. Paul Ray, A United European & International Christian defence force, Lionheart, 23 October 2009.
  35. Richard Bartholomew, Paul Ray Identifies with Northern Ireland Loyalist Groups, 23 October 2009.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Ben Goldby, Birmingham MP's fears after EDL 'join forces' with UDA, Sunday Mercury, 26 October 2009.
  37. Morrigan Emmaleth and Cassandra Victoria, EDL Jewish Division Issues First Press Release, EDL, 29 June 2010
  38. EDL Jewish Division, Facebook, accessed 21 July 2010
  39. Shaul Adar, What are Israeli flags and Jewish activists doing at demonstrations sponsored by the English Defence League?, Haaretz, 13 August 2010
  40. Marc Vallée, EDL & PRESS FREEDOM, marcvallee.co.uk, 15 December 2009.
  41. Phone call to Metropolitan Police Press Bureau, 9.40pm, 18 December 2009.
  42. EDL founder Stephen Lennon guilty over football brawl, BBC News, 25 July 2011.
  43. Nick Lowles and Simon Cressy, The BNP past of the EDL leader, Searchlight, July 2010.
  45. Robin Henry, Fascism fears: John Denham speaks out over clashes, Times Online, 12 September 2009.
  46. 46.0 46.1 Paul Lewis, Matthew Taylor and Robert Booth, Minister warns of 1930s-style fascists on Britain's streets, guardian.co.uk, 11 September 2009.
  47. James Boxell, Police play down threat from far right, Financial Times, 24 September 2009.
  48. Steven Hopkins, English Defence League And British National Party Are As Dangerous As Islamic State, Derbyshire Police Claim, Huffington Post, 18 February 2016.
  49. Martin Bright, Should John Denham Shut Up About the Extreme Right?, 12 September 2009.
  50. Michael Burleigh, Right to Defend?, standpointmag.co.uk, 14 September 2009.
  51. Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Hooligans, Racists, Bigots: We Don’t Want Your Help, standpointmag.co.uk, 16 September 2009.
  52. James Boxell, Police play down threat from far right, Financial Times, 24 September 2009.
  53. Douglas Murray, Who's Who in These Riots?, standpointmag.co.uk, October 2009.
  54. Demotix, "English Defence League Donators Revealed on Pastebin", Demotix, 12 December 2010, accessed on 20 December 2010
  55. BBC, "Hackers steal English Defence League membership list", BBC, 20 December 2010