Several years ago I contacted the EDL through Facebook and booked a place on a coach to Bradford with them. At the time the burgeoning far-right street movement was making waves as a controversial and explosive pocket of society and I wanted to take some photos. I had one of the most memorable days of my life.
We were bussed into the town, and unceremoniously dumped at the demo ground where a mini riot ensued. The scenes I photographed reminded me of photos I’d seen from Northern Ireland: 3000 EDL bayed at police and anti-fascists, scores of military-style police were hidden behind heavy-duty metal fences fitted with viewing panels. It was very bleak.
Someone threatened to stab me when I took a photo, we were kettled, then loaded back onto the bus. On the way out of the town the coach was ambushed by anti-EDL groups, lots of people quickly piled out of the coach and several skirmishes ensued. As we left Bradford, we passed several attempted roadblocks organised by angry locals.
Back in London, the driver got lost and we ended up outside an East London mosque, just after Friday prayers. The EDL members were banging on the coach windows like rabid dogs as Muslims poured out of the mosque. Since that day I’ve observed far-right politics with real interest – the psychology, extreme political ideology and secret world its members inhabit fascinate me.
Filming Angry, White and Proud, I tried to be as non-judgmental as possible. I sought the human side of all the people I met – that way we were able to engage with one another and find common ground. When you watch the film, I think it is obvious that even though I might not agree with the people I filmed, I am genuinely interested in what they’re doing, and very importantly – and why.
Everyone I met had a story. Some people had witnessed extreme violence when growing up, or awful things had happened in their lives that led them to the far right. This isn’t an apologist’s view of the far right – it’s a complex issue and these motivating factors are important to help examine the phenomenon.
There is a very strong “us against them” outlook. If you’re inside a nationalist group looking out, then the sense of camaraderie is very powerful. TI can see why people find it hard to leave. People build intense friendships around the adrenaline-fuelled shared experiences of demos and direct action – and that can be very addictive. That said, it is a movement rife with division and infighting, hence the current proliferation of splinter groups.
Anger at personal circumstance and a changing world, disillusionment with the government and immigrant blame are common themes that attract people to the far-right. The ideology behind the movement isn’t hugely dissimilar from Ukip’s. In fact, a lot of people involved in the right told me that they plan to vote Ukip.
Even though large groups like the EDL look imposing, I think it’s the lone wolves/small extreme groups that are the real danger – and that can come from any extremist ideology. The most serious European extremist attack of recent times wasn’t by a Muslim extremist; it was by Anders Breivik, a white Neo Nazi.
When you watch Angry, White and Proud, I hope that it offers an honest insight into the lives and motivations of people seen as far right extremists. The movement they’re caught up in and issues they promote are divisive, controversial and unsettling. It’s important to explore the motivating factors for their involvement in order to inform our understanding of these complex issues – and the nature of extremism itself.