‘Defence leagues’ plan Amsterdam show of support for Geert Wilders

EDL Bradford4Far right groups modelled on the English Defence League have been set up across Europe and are planning to demonstrate in Amsterdam in support of the Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

French and Dutch “defence leagues” will join the EDL and several other anti-Islamic organisations on 30 October to coincide with the end of Wilders’s trial for hate speech and inciting racism.

Critics say the demonstration in Amsterdam is a sign of the EDL’s growing influence among far right and anti-Islamic groups in Europe and the US, and part of its self-proclaimed “international outreach work and networking”.

The EDL refused to answer the Guardian‘s questions today but its leader, who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, wrote on the group’s website that the Amsterdam demonstration would “take the English Defence League global”.

“The EDL has been in contact with our European brothers and sisters and we have decided that on Saturday 30th October the European defence league will be demonstrating in Amsterdam in support of Geert,” Robinson wrote. “We hope that all of you will be able to join us for this, what promises to be a landmark demonstration for the future of the defence leagues.”

The Amsterdam protest will see EDL supporters join other activists from countries including Germany, Belgium and Switzerland for the launch of what is being called the “European Defence League”.

One group planning to attend is the French Defence League, or Ligue de Defense Française. It was formed in July and one of its co-founders confirmed it was modelled on the EDL. “We were indeed inspired by their [EDL’s] statutes and by the spirit of openness which enlivens them,” a spokesman wrote in an email to the Guardian.

Like the EDL, the French group denies it is racist or violent and says it aims to fight the “threat” Islam poses to France’s values and customs. “We who wish to keep our values and our liberties must unite and fight those who are willing to sell the nation and our country for a politician’s sash,” the spokesman said.

The growth of the EDL and similar groups is of growing concern, says the Labour MEP for London, Claude Moraes, who chairs the all-party European parliament group on anti-racism.

“The EDL’s racist and Islamophobic message is resonating across Europe as we can see from the formation of these groups,” he said. “This is particularly dangerous because they are using this virulent Islamophobia as an excuse to promote what is a dangerous agenda of hate and division.”

The European connections are part of a number of international links forged by the EDL in the past year. In August it emerged that the EDL had received endorsements from Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, opponents of a Muslim community centre being built near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York. In one of her blogs Geller wrote: “I share the EDL’s goals … We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the west and not leave it solely to fringe groups like the BNP.”

Last month Robinson and at least seven other EDL supporters flew to New York to attend a protest against the community centre near “ground zero”.

In April EDL supporters attended a demonstration in support of Wilders in Berlin, and in June EDL delegates spoke at a “counter-jihad” conference organised by the International Civil Liberties Alliance in Zurich, where they gave a presentation entitled The Anatomy of an EDL Demo.

Guardian, 9 October 2010