An undercover pint with the EDL

We drank beer with the English Defence League. One of them wants to ‘smash some Paki face in’

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The English Defence League are most commonly known for getting pissed and shouting racist bile in the street every now and then.

We wanted to find out why they were in Newcastle, and figured joining them for a few pints under the guise of far right sympathisers would be the best way to do this.

Members were keen to include me in their pictures

Pre-march, Pumprey’s pub
 seemed the best place to find out what its members really think. Over a pint you can talk to anyone about anything, and we could speak to people one on one – without the bullshit of the mob mentality it would be easier to get to the heart of what these guys really think.

We would target the EDL before the march and pose as two guys up from London who just happened to be in the pub. Would the EDL members take kindly to a southern posho quizzing them on their ideology? Researching the North East division of the EDL, it was evident they were not nice people. Many of them were violent with a history of criminal convictions, and they were scary.

Wearing trackies, trainers and hoodies, we met at Monument and walked down to the pub going through our story. An EDL protester and his pit-bull walked by and we felt even more threatened.

Inside you could smell the testosterone – almost everyone was a white middle-aged man. Most had tattoos and EDL shirts on: “no surrender”, “foot soldier”, “Newcastle Crusaders” they read. People looked and gossiped, they knew we were not one of them and when we tried to spark conversation we were met with grunts.

In the corner of the room was the most brutish man, he was fat, bald and across his face he had tattoos- he looked familiar. I swear I had seen him on a Vice documentary about some shit suburb in Liverpool. We were shaking, Ben told me how his knees were buckling. Our luck changed when we approached a group of guys our age behind us.

Ben (centre) tries his best to blend in

We struggled to introduce ourselves over shouts of “E,E,EDL!”, “Mohammed is a Paedo” and “Yorkshire, Yorkshire!”. We asked Cal from South Shields to take a picture of us to break the ice.

We asked Cal to take this photo of us (Ben left, George right)

But instead of chanting passionately about their team, they were united by their hatred of Islam. Cal told us the EDL was a modern crusader movement fighting against Islam. I asked him why he joined the organisation.

“Through my dad”,
“No, I mean why did you join?”
“We are against Muslims, they rape our women and girls.”
“In Newcastle?”
“Yeah a couple of weeks ago as well, it’s just the Muslims man, well… not all Muslims but it’s them!”

Their small group had a stand-out leader, Roachie. He was tall, unshaven, badly kept and obviously very rough and drunk. He used racial slurs often and told us stories about his fights. Talking to him it was apparent how confused the EDL actually was.

Roachie told us the EDL stood against black people, he spoke of “fucking niggers in our country” but then said “it’s not about black people, it’s about Muslims. My best mate is mixed race and he is just as much of a mad dog as I am. He’s my brother man.”

He said he joined the EDL “to smash some Paki face in”. Roachie was starting to creep us out, he shouted in my ear and told Ben to tell our mates in London about him. “They will know this mad dog mate”. We decided to ditch and speak to some other members.

On the inside looking out. 

Donna and Mary were more friendly – they gave me a balaclava, an England flag “to use for the march”,  and handed us some money for a pint. They even trusted us enough to look after their drinks when they went to the loo.

I asked them what the EDL was fighting. “Mark my words, in ten years’ time England will be a Muslim country, Islam isn’t even a religion – it promotes paedophilia. Under Islam, six year old girls can marry older men and that’s not right. The EDL is against these paedophiles coming into our country with their four or five wives and claiming our benefits. All they want to do is enforce Sharia.”

Ben then asked Donna what Sharia was. “Sharia is their law, it’s against gays, they want to kill them, and it lets them have multiple wives”.

She told us she wasn’t racist and the EDL did not promote violence: “We’re not violent, it’s the Muslims who are violent and racist, they start everything. We won’t kick off but if they do we will respond and fight back”.

I doubted this, looking around the pub it was full of military symbolism: people were in army trousers, they wore crusader shirts emblazoned with St George’s cross. These people genuinely think they are fighting back against something.

Peace and love? Donna gave me an England flag and balaclava

Eventually came the time to march, and people were getting fired up.  Roachie was shouting and the veins on his forehead were bulging – they were all raring to go.

We left pretending to go for a fag to avoid marching but were followed by Cal and Roachie. They gave us money to buy them cigarettes and asked us if we had ID and we quickly realised they were underage.

We were torn – we didn’t feel it was right just to fuck off with their money (despite them being thugs) but coming back with fags would mean marching. I gave them a few of mine and we walked away quickly, our hearts were racing and we were desperate to avoid them.

Police outnumbered the EDL.

On the way to the counter demo we spoke to a girl working in Greggs who told us how last year the EDL had attacked an Asian girl on their march right in front on the shop. Their rep for violent behaviour was soon confirmed when they directed their anger towards a Muslim family with three kids, shouting “Muslim Paedos burn in hell”.

We recognised some faces in the crowd, one of them had congratulated me with a handshake earlier, thinking I had just joined the EDL.

EDL on the march

Visiting the counter demo was like a warm summer breeze. They were happy, they danced and there was great diversity – members told us they joined because “we’re not dicks”.

The counter demonstration was much more friendly

It seems like the EDL aren’t demons but rather working-class people who’ve fallen on hard times. They’ve been left behind by the government and so they’ve joined the cult to vent their anger.

What Ben said to me after we left the pub resonated: “The EDL is basically football hooliganism.” Like a team, the EDL is something they travel up and down the country for. Just like a match, the march is the main event and they socialise with other supporters in the pub before hand. Except their team isn’t Newcastle FC, it’s anti-Islam.

Their personal commitment is frightening. There were guys there with EDL tattoos across their chests and even faces, some had “Infidel” tattooed in Arabic – their ink is testament to their devotion.

These people are united as the rejects of mainstream society, but the EDL itself is a rag-tag group of conflicting beliefs and little direction. They’re all quick to slam Islam, but fundamentally its members are confused.