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Anti-racist campaigners to oppose Football Lads’ Alliance rally on eve of Arena attack anniversary

The Football Lads’ Alliance (FLA) is to march through the streets of Manchester on Saturday, just three days before the upcoming anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack. Stand Up to Racism, an anti-racism campaign group whose president is Diane Abbott MP, have organised a counter demonstration to the FLA, who they accuse of being a far right organisation harbouring old school Nazis from the National Front and other racist/fascist organisations.

A march by the FLA in London last year saw counter-demonstrators being abused and threatened by FLA members who were reported to have said to them: “Mug. I’ll f***ing open you up… F***ing paedophiles”. A Guardian investigation gained access to the FLA’s secret Facebook page prior to a march in Birmingham on 24 March 2018. The page included posts calling for London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan to be “hanged” and for Britain’s first black female MP, Diane Abbot, to be “run over” and also calling her a “primate with lipstick”.

One of the organisers of the counter-demonstration, which starts at 11am Saturday 19 May, St Peters Square, is Rusholme Labour councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, who says:

“We don’t need the Football Lads’ Alliance coming into our city peddling racism. It is an insult to the memory of the twenty two people who lost their lives and the hundreds who were traumatised in the Arena attack last May,”

The far-right English Defence League (EDL) organisation marched through Manchester a week after the Arena attack last year, creating chaos in the city centre in an attempt to turn the grief of the city into hate towards minorities. The EDL marchers gave Hitler-style salutes, brandished pigs heads, threw bottles, and used CS gas against counter-demonstrators.

The organiser of that post-Arena rally was Tommy Robinson, co-founder and spokesperson for the EDL. Robinson has attended the previously mentioned FLA marches in London and Birmingham. He was recently banned from Twitter due to contravening their hateful conduct policy, which prohibits the promotion of violence and the incitement of violence to others. Both the EDL and the FLA claim to be opposed to terrorism and hate crimes. But it appears Robinson’s opposition may be selective. The ex-head of UK anti-terror policing said there was “no doubt” that material posted online by Robinson had contributed to the radicalisation of the Finsbury Park mosque attacker Darren Osborne – who crashed his van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers, killing a grandfather and injuring several others.

After losing his brother in the Manchester Arena attack last year, Dan Hett set up the Survivors Against Terror to help survivors of terror attacks and those who have lost a loved one to terror. He is appalled at the planned FLA march and has used Twitter to condemn it, saying:

“If you’re appalled at the idea of these no-class racist f***s descending on a city that’s still reeling from the loss of 22 people, make your voice heard and oppose them. spread the word. hit the street on Saturday with us.”

Opposition to the march has been gaining momentum. Sixteen MPs and over forty Councillors from across the region have signed a statement opposing the FLA rally:

“We believe that any FLA event in a multicultural city like Manchester can only promote
division in our community and open the door to racist, Islamophobic and far-right groups and ideas to grow.”

Julie Ward is one of the MEPs in the North West opposing the FLA:

“We love our music and our football and we despise organisations such as the FLA who seek to exploit the personal tragedies of those caught up in violent attacks. Whether you support United or Man City this is one issue where we need to come together and stand firmly against racism
and Islamophobia. We are one, we love Manchester!”

The poet Tony Walsh, who read ‘This is the place’ at last year’s Arena vigil, has stated his opposition to the FLA, along with the anti-racism in football group Show Racism the Red Card. The Premier League has warned clubs that “the group is using fans and stadiums to push an anti-Muslim agenda”.

Rabnawaz is a Manchester United fan. But he will not be going to watch the Cup Final on Saturday: “I will be standing here in Manchester shoulder to shoulder with the people in unity to make sure the Football Lads’ Alliance can not peddle their hated and bigotry in our city.”

Despite the FLA’s claims of believing in “…being inclusive and acceptable to all colours, creeds, faiths and religions” and wanting to “ …bring communities together…” the general consensus from concerned groups and individuals is that the FLA are wolves in sheeps’ clothing; a common strategy seen in the early days of many far right movements. Will their woolly superficial statements stand up, or will their big sharp teeth show through on Saturday?

 

Conrad Bower

Stand Up To Racism Manchester counter protest, 11am Saturday 19 May, St Peters Square. For more information– click here

Full statement against the FLA – click here

Full list of politicians opposed to FLA – click here

Feature image – Youtube screenshot (FLA marchers in Birmingham)

 

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