On May 6th, what was purported to be the biggest free speech event the UK has ever seen (a “free speech Woodstock”) took place outside of Whitehall. Far left activists and the mainstream media have labelled the demonstration as “fascist” and “far right” respectively, while alt-right white nationalist figures like Millennial Woes and Richard Spencer have disavowed the event as being “demoralising” and overly-liberal for being too inclusive of non-whites, homosexuals, “freaks” and “trannies.” But how was the view from inside?
The event was triggered by a collision of illiberal decisions made by the British state, especially over the last year. Non-violent right-wing speakers banned from the country on the ludicrous grounds of “anti-terrorism,” a legal crackdown on “offensive” jokes, extremely inconsistent application of “hate speech laws” (that, according to many people associated with the event, is disproportionately invoked to defend Islam from vilification) and what is perceived as a willful ignorance of pressing problems concerning crime, censorship, media bias, immigration and Islam (the last of which was especially prevalent, which we shall return to in due course) by the government and establishment media.
Given the indignation that I’ve felt over the absolutely inconsistent use of “hate speech” laws to censor political dissidence and even insensitive comedy, I was hungry for a gathering like this. The speaker’s roster boasted various controversial figures known for defying politically correct boundaries and taking a stand for free speech, and the very need for and concept of the event brought together numerous disparate tendencies, from classical liberals and conventional free speech activists, to populist nationalist groups and various anti-Islamisation street movements, to MAGA-manic “shitposters” and Kekistanians.
I arrived at Speaker’s Corner several hours early. The event was to kick off at 3pm, but there was an optional march hosted by the DFLA (Democratic Football Lads Alliance) and Veterans Against Terrorism at 1:30pm from leading from Speaker’s Corner to Whitehall. The corner was rather quiet when I arrived. There were two Christian preachers, an Islamic preacher, a (very well-argued and impressive) mens’ rights activist, somebody promoting veganism and a couple of regular crazies that shout different conflicting absurdities every week. It started out looking like a normal Sunday morning at speaker’s corner, but over the span of the next hour the deplorables began to gather. Union flags, England flags and DFLA flags began to show up. A Gadsden flag appeared. Several MAGA-style “Make Britain Great Again” caps, an Infowars shirt, Pepe memes, Generation Identity activists, local candidates for UKIP and For Britain, a “free speech” Martin Luther King shirt: within the span of an hour speaker’s corner was transformed from its ordinary pedestrian pace to a crowded orgy of (mostly right-wing) political dissidence.
By this point the DFLA had begun to concentrate, and many more conventional British patriotic flags were being raised. It was an unusual and electrifying mix: typically British patriotic street protest movements merging with Tea Party or ‘Battle for Berkeley’-like Americanised eclecticism. Having said that, although the flags and flashy shirts were the most attention-grabbing, most of the people present were dressed casually and behaved moderately. From where I was standing, the gathering seemed to be composed mostly of outraged citizens that network through Facebook and learn far more from alternative media than they do from the BBC or Channel 4.
(On the DFLA: the Democratic Football Lads Alliance are a splinter group from the slightly larger FLA. The split was related to the leader of the FLA who the DFLA felt was not running the movement democratically and transparently enough, however FLA supporters are still welcome on DFLA marches. While they may look like the EDL from afar, the DFLA have a VERY good track record of keeping their movement clean and free from corrosive (racist) influences, which is something of a first for this sort of movement as they have proven to be incredibly difficult to self-police in the past. Both groups describe themselves as anti-terrorist or anti-extremist movements, who have a strong emphasis on Islamic terrorism (as it is obviously the kind that Britain is most inflicted with) but have also condemned the Finsbury attack and have made clear that they are opposed to right-wing extremism, and their very clean track record is a testament to that.)
Media coverage of this event seems intent on establishing it as some kind of all-whites rally, which could not be further from the truth. The first representative of the allegedly far-right For Britain Party that I met was a young and enthusiastic Indian lad. The best footage of the event was captured by Jonaya English and Red Pill Phil, both black folk with mixed heritage (as far as I can tell). This clip from Phil’s livestream shows himself and several other people of colour mocking Antifa claims that this was a white nationalist movement (the time stamp is 18:50 if it fails to load at the right point). Here is Eddyisok’s perspective on the day (14:03). Here is Jonaya’s interview with Raj, both enthusiastic and outspoken supporters of the demonstration. Does this look like white nationalism? While I hate to even have to raise the matter of people’s skin colour, as it’s such a non-issue, it is important in order to counter the lies of the media. I saw lots of black folk, light and dark skinned, as well as Asians. Grant you, they were a minority, but this is certainly changing within right-wing movements. I saw one young black girl carrying a sign that read “HATE SPEECH = FREE SPEECH.” She did not look like a neo-nazi, though perhaps looks can be deceiving. I also met several Sikhs with full turban walking unapologetically side by side with football casuals and other misrepresented white working proles that the media deplores. There were also numerous gay pride flags. I wasn’t even the only person present with dreadlocks: I saw at least two others, which boosted my self-esteem as they both looked decidedly more hippie than me. I still looked rather out of place, but could not have felt more at home.
While I was in speaker’s corner, there was a frustrated lady quizzing somebody’s sign (which featured pictures of speakers for the event) about why there were no left-wing free speech activists involved. This is, of course, because the majority of the left have abandoned free speech and liberalism. The contemporary left, in its populist, parliamentary and critical forms, is very communitarian, censorious, sectarian, puritan and authoritarian. While there are a few big names associated with the left that are still more-or-less free speech absolutists (Noam Chomsky and Shami Chakrabati come to mind) they seem to be the exception, at least as far as the vocal and visible majority are concerned. And the few hold-outs that do remain liberty-leaning are often opposed to sharing a platform with right-wingers and stern critics of Islam.
While this was centrally a free speech event, the emphasis on Islam was undeniable. This is comparable to the Tea Party’s fixation with Obama and universal healthcare, despite the principles of the movement extending far more broadly than that. I think it would be fair to say that the majority of the attendees were concerned by the spread of Islam in the UK, and certain social ills and violent crimes that are statistically associated with that rise. Some in attendance believed that Islam simply would not work in the West, and that there was no hope of an agreeable resolution, while others were more optimistic, encouraging reform and moderation in modern British Islam and supporting those dissident Muslims that are working to reform Islam from within. I’m somewhere in between, as I expect that most were, and I reserve my opinion on Islam in Britain until I’ve done the adequate research.
What I can say for certain is that the legal standards of what qualifies as hate speech are invoked in an absolutely unfair and arbitrary manner when it comes to Islam in this country. I grew up listening to black and death metal, and I was also a big fan of Marilyn Manson, so I’ve seen every form of blasphemy invoked against Christianity imaginable. I’ve seen every inverted cross and heard every pop-Satanic diatribe. I was also very into Crass at one time, and if you know of their music you’ll know a certain intro that is VERY blasphemous against Christianity. These same actions taken against Islam instead of Christianity will either get you landed in jail on hate speech charges by the state or flooded with death threats from radicals, most likely a combination of both. And there have been many complaints that those reporting death threats to the police are being told that it is their own fault for making provocative statements and that the death threats are no less of an expression of free speech than their religious opinion. There is a conversation about this in the above interview with Raj.
This is partly why this emphasis was so strong. It’s the one area that seems to benefit from the privilege of special protection more than any other, and as has been said by Lauren Southern and others, Britain is now resurrecting medieval blasphemy laws, except they’re now longer in favour of the host religion. This was a common grievance amongst many attendees, and it was a prominent theme throughout. Some people I overheard conflating Islam with Islamism completely, others I heard refer to the “good muslims” that are also oppressed by the broader muslim community, and other positions that sounded more like Quilliam than Britain First. But again, the average attendee seemed to me to be somewhere in the middle.
There was some confusion about whether or not Ali Dawah would be given an opportunity to speak at the event. Ali Dawah is an orthodox Muslim, YouTube personality, regular at speaker’s corner and Tommy Robinson’s arch-nemesis/hilarious double act. He is a figure that most of the crowd would almost certainly be hostile to, but it seems as though some of the organisers invited him to have his say as a kind of demonstration of the sincerity of their principles. I fully endorse this idea, and I think it would have made a brilliant end to the day. It would have massively compromised the bad publicity and shut up the critics that say we only want free speech for ourselves. It would also have been some great comic relief at the pinnacle of the day and would make for timeless footage, especially if it turned into a back-and-forth between Tommy and Ali. From what I can tell, Tommy disagreed with his crew and they were ruled against. There are probably personal and sensitive reasons for this, and I don’t want to pry where things are none of my business, but I do think this would have been a great end to a wonderful day. Sargon agreed, he said in his speech that he was unhappy Ali wasn’t able to speak, and I think this was also Sargon’s way of making his classical liberal values clear, and ensuring that he is sincere about his principles and is not willing to conform to the opinion of others if he disagrees, even when they are peers and allies. Raheem Kassam also offered to read Ali’s speech for him, but Ali declined. I am unwilling to make the perfect the enemy of the good however, and whilst this might have been a missed opportunity it was still a glorious day from start to finish.
Unfortunately, I found out when I get home that there were a couple of scraps at the barricades. This was something to do with a conflict Ali and his security, and some of the demonstrators. From the footage I’ve seen, the first punches seem to be thrown by the demonstrators on our side, which is very disappointing. Ali’s security Mohammed said some things that my have been interpreted as provocation or threat, but nevertheless the trouble seems to be caused by a few aggro casuals that were ostensibly “on our side.” It is unclear what happened exactly from the footage (Mohammed also seems to punch a police officer, which seems uncharacteristic and counter-productive), but whoever did instigate the violence I wholeheartedly disavow. Numerous voices on ‘our side’ can be heard appealing to the more hot-headed hooligans to “leave it out” and “not give ’em any ammo” but unfortunately it just takes a couple of violent renegades to bring bad press on everybody else. Whoever started it, I hope that they don’t make their presence felt at future demonstrations.
And believe me, there will be future demonstrations. Many of the speakers made this perfectly clear. The media have resorted to very dirty tactics to paint this as some sort of Charlottesville-like nazi fest, while the government are tucking their heads between their legs and ignoring it. But people are fed up, and this is only a sign of bigger things to come. The smears of ‘far right’ and ‘fascists’ can only go so far, and the upward mobility of minorities within the movement is quashing claims that we are some sort of neo-nazis in disguise. While white nationalist Richard Spencer was tweeting his discontent with the performance of Vanity Von Glow, a drag artist singing Shania Twain songs to open for the speakers, her (his? never sure how drag queens like to be identified) club contracts were being cancelled as she was being denounced as “far right” by members of the LGBT community. We’ve seen this all before. Some kind of minority transcends the left-wing bubble that they’re expected to represent and they get called a traitor, an “uncle Tom”, a “coon.” Just read the comments in the video of that Raj interview. As a white man, I can complain about anti-white rhetoric all I like (and I am right for doing so), but the real victims of the left are the minorities that refuse to be posterboys for socialism, Islam, or whatever ideology the establishment left is fighting to enforce. And this is only the beginning. There has been a seismic shift in consciousness, from the USA and Canada to Europe and Britain, and this demonstration was only the first tremor. The establishment left are panicking. “I love the way that Candace Owens thinks.” So do we Kanye, so do we.
For the best unbiased report, read this article by James Innes-Smith of the Spectator