The leader of a British anti-Islamist group said on Friday his populist protest movement, which critics say represents a new far right in Britain, would form a political party in May. Stephen Lennon, head of the English Defence League (EDL), said the three-year-old grassroots group wanted to move on from holding street demonstrations to contesting elections.
“The British political anti-Islamist party will be launched in May at our Luton demonstration,” Lennon told Reuters, saying the new body would be called the Freedom Party. At the Luton demonstration, the whole country will hear an anti-Islamist political party that gives everyone an option in a non-racist way – the opposite to the British National Party.”
The EDL gained international attention last July after Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in what he said was an international mission to counter Islam, claimed to have had contact with EDL members and leaders.
The EDL has denied any formal links to Breivik and Lennon rejects the description of his group as far-right, arguing that genuine extremists hate him. “We hate Nazis, we’re anti-Nazi,” he said, emphasising his group’s support for Jews and Israel. “In England, we’re the only organisation that stands up for the Jewish community.”
However, critics and commentators accuse the EDL of being an acceptable face of a new far right, which was not just opposed to violent Islamism as it says but racially opposed to all Muslims, with members who include former soccer hooligans.
Lennon himself was convicted last year over a street brawl involving soccer fans and was also found guilty of assault during an altercation at an EDL rally. How successful the party will be is unclear.
The far-right British National Party, a nationalist group which wants an end to immigration and the voluntary repatriation of immigrants, won two seats to the European Parliament in 2009. “If the BNP got two seats, we’ll get more than two seats,” said Lennon, who added he would not be the new party’s leader.
“The problem is militant Islam and the problem’s spreading across Europe like a wildfire,” Lennon said. “Brave people like Marine le Pen and brave people like Geert Wilders are prepared to put their lives on the line.”