Finally (not including the bumbling first attempt that was swiftly ‘hidden’ on Indymedia), at long last, Leeds AF have issued a statement about the incursion of 5 EDL members into a ‘militant antifascist’ meeting they held on July 3rd. Unfortunately, it raises more questions than it answers.
Bearing in mind the importance of this incident, and the acrimony that has surrounded it – the boastful crowing of the EDL, the numerous (around a dozen) ‘hidden’ threads on Indymedia, the derision of other antifascists – not to mention the embarrassment caused, it really is pretty poor that Leeds Anarchist Federation have taken so long to issue this statement.
Obviously, we take all posts and comments by the EDL with a very large handful of salt, but there have been numerous posts and comments on Indymedia, which are clearly made by genuine antifascists, and which do not paint Leeds AF in a flattering light. What we can say about the meeting for certain is as follows:
1) It was not very well advertised.
The only place it was advertised appears to have been Sheffield Indymedia. Since only 10 antifascists apparently turned up, including Leeds AF themselves, it was very clearly not well known about.
2) No other local antifascist groups appear to have been invited.
Leeds has a good reputation for militant antifascism, with an established Antifa group and numerous old AFA members active in the city, but these people were not there. Had they been, things would have been very different. Comments on some of the ‘hidden’ threads appear to indicate that they were not invited.
3) Security for the meeting was very poor.
There was no re-direction for the meeting and it was held at the pre-advertised location. There was no security, either at the venue entrance or at the door of the meeting room itself. Five unknown individuals (who turned out to be the EDL) were ‘buzzed’ into the meeting simultaneously.
4) At some point the EDL announced who they were. They were not confronted physically. Nor were they physically ejected, but left of their own volition after having had their say.
Leeds AF now appear to be trying to sugar-coat this disastrous meeting – badly conceived, badly advertised, badly attended, and badly secured. That does not change what actually occurred, an incident quite shameful for antifascists with pretensions of militancy, which has wider implications for antifascists outside their group. To characterise the EDL incursion as “at most a mild inconvenience” is not only shameful, it is fundamentally dishonest.
It might be regarded as trying to run before they’ve even started walking, but in view of the fact that Leeds AF claim to want to build (or at least ‘head up’) an antifascist coalition in the city, why did they not first of all establish their own antifascist credentials and enter into talks with other antifascists operating within Leeds? Not to have done so smacks of both arrogance and stupidity, not to mention sectarianism. Perhaps the truth is that they simply have SWP-like aspirations for recruitment, and did not want to be ‘shown up’ by the attendance of more experienced antifascists. That said, bearing in mind the numerous dismissive and derogatory comments about Leeds AF on the many ‘hidden’ Indymedia threads, perhaps any approach would have been rebuffed, possibly for good reasons. Why did the AF not at least put some substantial effort into advertising the meeting, beyond a post on an Indymedia site in a different part of Yorkshire? Considering their lack of effort in this regard, they can hardly be taken seriously.
Since this was a meeting called to discuss a militant antifascist response to the EDL, and considering that the EDL have a recent track-record of turning up mob-handed to anti-EDL meetings, not to mention the track-record of West Yorkshire police, it really is inexcusable that security for the meeting was so incredibly lax. Incredibly, Leeds AF are now claiming they “were aware of the EDL’s intention to attack the meeting” prior to it taking place! Yet they still did not employ any proper security measures, thereby endangering anyone who might have turned up. Frankly, their belated claims to ‘preparedness’ sound like bullshit. One wonders what the AF’s response would have been if someone outside the AF (assuming there were actually other antifascists there) had done what they shamefully failed to do themselves, and confronted the EDL. Would they have been backed up, or restrained and even thrown out? More than likely, none of these, they would have simply been ‘on their own’.
Whatever occurred inside the meeting, and one might be inclined to take both AFED and EDL accounts with a large pinch of salt, the AF got off very lightly, and things could have been far worse. However, in view of the fact that no ‘re-direction’ was employed and that the meeting took place in the advertised venue, the possibility that the meeting may have been monitored by the police cannot be discounted.
Nationally, AFED policy is supposedly to take on the EDL “head on” – physically – so the belated weasel excuses of Leeds AF for not physically confronting the 5 EDL members who provocatively walked into their meeting sound rather pathetic. Just what kind of ‘militant’ antifascist ‘coalition’ is this?
Judging by the numerous comments of those within the city of Leeds who know members of Leeds AFED, the fiasco does not come as a surprise. The group appear to have a poor reputation locally, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that so few antifascists attended their meeting (bearing in mind that the total number was around 10, one wonders how many of those attending were not in the AF.)
Leeds AFED may have been able to manipulate Indymedia coverage of the incident, but undoubtedly the truth is out there, and what has occurred has only further damaged the reputation of a group that seems to have been “piss-poor” to begin with. If we are to genuinely confront the EDL, both in terms of what they pass off as ‘politics’, and on the streets, we are going to have to do a lot better than this. Genuine antifascists might well consider looking elsewhere, or working autonomously, before they compromise their security and their personal safety by being taken in by a group with no apparent experience of confronting fascist groups and no idea of how to go about it. Leeds AFED appear to be a shortcut to a kicking or a jail cell, and are at best a waste of time.