Police arrested four anti-fascists at a demonstration against the National Front in Oxford on Saturday. The National Front had called a national mobilisation against “Asian grooming” and antifascists had gathered to prevent them from marching through Oxford. Two of the arrested antifascists are now facing charges. Sophie Williams and Nick Evans report.
(pic of anti-NF demonstration by Dan Fearnley)
Antifascists gathered at noon in Bonn Square in the centre of the city, while scouts reported that the National Front were in a bar by another square, Gloucester Green. Antifascist numbers grew to around 50 before we marched there to confront the Nazis.
The demo had been called by Oxford Unite Against Fascism and Oxford Activist Network. Oxford Black Women’s Group and Oxford Feminist Network were also there with banners. Others stayed near to the city’s Central Mosque to defend it if necessary.
On Gloucester Green, the antifascists were separated from the NF by a line of police and by the buildings around the bus station between the square and the bar. Antifascists held an initial rally at the square’s centre, then moved towards the police line at the edge closest to the bar. Some groups moved to another side of the square, passing through into the bus station, intending to get closer to the NF. They were separated from the group by new police lines, and it was at that point that the arrests happened.
Hearing of the arrests, the remaining group packed in around the initial police line. More antifascists arrived, including both Green and Labour councillors and a Muslim community leader. A number of passers-by joined the counter demo – by this point our group had grown to around 80.
Two fascists were allowed to infiltrate the counter demonstration and started chanting “EDL, EDL”. The police took them to one side and then allowed them to rejoin their group. The police then let the National Front march through the centre of the city while anti-fascist demonstrators were kept on Gloucester Green. Eventually we were allowed back towards Bonn Square, but then kettled with horses in a side street before reaching the square. A fourth anti-fascist was arrested here, although he was quickly de-arrested.
(pic of National Front supporters by Arthur Goldberg)
Police had previously written to Oxford University Services to inform them that there would be “a counter protest involving a number of left wing groups” and that they were “concerned that this may lead to a confrontation”. The police promised to mount “a significant operation” involving “large numbers of uniformed officers within the city”.
The timing of the National Front’s demonstration suggests its leadership is attempting to regroup the far right following recent crises in the British National Party and the English Defence League. Their choice of Oxford for their demonstration appears to be related to the recent conviction of a gang of men who sexually abused young women in the city between 2004 and 2012. The fascists are attempting to feed off the way this appalling crime has been racialised in the mainstream media.
We have a rape culture in Britain. Most sexual abusers are white men. Some of them, like Rolf Harris, Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith are extremely powerful and are allowed to abuse their victims for years. Institutions habitually ignore the victims of sexual abuse, especially if they are girls from working class families.
The victims of the Oxford gang repeatedly reported their abuse to the police and social services between 2004 and 2012. Instead of listening, the police threatened to charge one of the victims with wasting police time for running away. Social services told one girl it was “inappropriate” when she tried to speak them about her abuse. None of the senior officials responsible have resigned.
Now the police have chosen to protect Nazis demonstrating in Oxford, while arresting antifascist demonstrators. We need to make sure there is a bigger counter demonstration next time, and we need to do everything we can to build solidarity for those arrested. Those charged will have a court hearing at 2pm on Monday 11 August in Oxford. A solidarity statement is being drafted and will be published shortly.
previous rs21 coverage of antifascism