This weekend Brighton’s seafront once again became the setting for an ideological stand-off, as the March for England, a gathering of nationalist protestors, left the city centre in lockdown.
According to organisers the march was established as a family day out to celebrate St George but it was swiftly hijacked by political groups. Now far-right nationalists are met by furious anti-fascist protesters, divided by barricades and political views, but united in their love of whistles and shouting.
Confused as to why anyone would want to spend their Sunday walking up and down a road in the rain, BuzzFeed decided to find out.
1. The nationalist marchers say it’s all about St George.
Bill Wiggins, a march organiser from Peacehaven, told BuzzFeed that he wanted to celebrate St George’s Day in the same way people celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Presumably with less Guinness and more shouting.
Wiggins and his fellow marchers refused to be photographed in case the anti-fascists tracked them down and “put a brick through the window” but repeatedly insisted that they “definitely weren’t racist”.
2. And more importantly, it’s about the flag of St. George.
To prove their patriotism protestors showed me more chest tattoos of poppies and Winston Churchill than I could stomach.
A man who gave his name as “Gaz English” and said he was a second commander of the English Defence League from Rugby, insisted he wasn’t “far-right or extreme” but he is “anti-Islam”, a feeling shared by many of his comrades in red and white.
Marchers complained that the English flag has “a racist stigma” attached to it. But shouted racial abuse at non-white protesters anyway.
3. The marchers said they want immigrants off the streets.
Apparently, immigrants were liable to murder people in the streets if the borders weren’t closed.
4. But they’re not racist, OK?
Definitely not racist. Or violent. Most of the scuffles that broke out at previous marches were started by anti-fascist protesters said Matt Silver, a march organiser from Brighton. He said anti-fascists are the real problem.
5. Anti-fascist protesters were less than happy about the march.
Police estimated that up to 500 anti-fascist protesters lined the barricades of the march to share their feelings, compared to 200 flag-waving nationalists.
“I’m here to send the message of peace,” said Jessie, a student from Brighton. “And to tell the fascists to fuck off. Go home Nazis!”
6. It turns out skinheads are easily distracted.
Halfway through the procession, marchers ground to a halt at the sight of a woman giving them the finger from a nearby window.
After half a minute of leering and gesticulating from the legion of would-be Romeos, they resorted to a chorus of “GET YOUR TITS OUT FOR THE LADS” and went on their way.
7. Police horses are majestic, terrifying and expensive.
Last year, just under £500,000 was spent by police in maintaining order during the March for England, and this year was just as full of riot gear and meat wagons as ever.
Mounted police were on patrol to keep events under control, especially when anti-fascist protestors climbed over the barricades to unfurl a banner in the road.
8. Banners played a big part in the proceedings.
It’s probably fair to say that the anti-fascists had an advantage, both in terms of numbers and the fact they could hurl abuse from every angle.
Literally taking the high ground enabled them to unfurl banners from windows at every opportunity, with one individual whipping out a trombone to blart down at the marchers below.
Since this march is now an annual event, the banners have probably been stored under the sofa for the last twelve months. That said, the trombonist could have done with a bit more practice.
9. Brightonians had a message for the marchers.
Some of the more peaceful protesters were happy to go on the record with their reasons for coming out.
“We’re a multicultural town,” said Clark French, an activist from Brighton, “so we don’t want them on our streets.”
Unlike last year, there was no sign of far-right supporters distributing pamphlets between themselves outside of the march itself. There may be such a thing as “fair weather fascists”?
10. The march caused major disruption around Brighton. And it got pretty messy, as this footage shows.
After the march itself, nationalists were kettled by the police to be escorted through the city centre back to the station. But some people still managed to break away.
The thugs featured in the video above included the same individuals who were so keen to show BuzzFeed their patriotic tattoos before the march, insisting how they had “come for a peaceful protest” about how “immigrants were free to murder people in the streets”.
They refused to give their names at the time because, as one put it, they would lose their job if they were associated with the march.
11. It wasn’t just the marchers who got in trouble. This anti-fascist protestor was also arrested for refusing to remove his V for Vendetta mask.
He was arrested for refusing to remove his mask, in breach of section 60aa of the Criminal Justice and Public Order act that outlaws the use of disguises in certain circumstances. Witnesses said he removed the mask after being instructed to do so by a police liaison officer but police arrested him anyway.
12. Events got more serious as the far-right marchers returned from the seafront to the station.
With almost 20 riot vans and ten police horses, the procession back through Brighton caused serious delays to traffic and day-trippers as police blocked roads and pavements to ensure the nationalists and more militant branches of anti-fascist protesters didn’t mix.
There were no running battles as with previous years but 27 people were arrested by the end of the day, for a mixture of public order offences, and police superintendent Steve Whitton reported there had been a small number of “minor injuries”.
Fearing a repeat of last year’s scuffles across the city, police surrounded most of the March for England all the way back to the station.
This only give the anti-fascists the freedom to run riot through the streets. By the time they reached the station all hell had broken loose. That police budget was starting to look a little more necessary.
13. And then anti-fascists blocked the route.
Angry that a leering mob of far-right marchers had dared to pick Brighton as a holidaying spot, the anti-fascist protesters momentarily lost their minds, trashed the street and blocked the route to the station.
Police eventually cleared the road and kettled these protesters, allowing the marchers to get to the station and head home. But given that the anti-fascists had spent the last few hours screaming “off our streets” in the faces of their opponents this seemed like a terrible decision.
14. Everyone was a bit embarrassed after that.
The more militant members of the anti-fascist brigade melted into the side-streets once police regained control, leaving the remainder to mill about with the slightly embarrassed air of teenage party-goers who had been busted dancing on the sofa in their shoes when mum got home.
Slightly ashamed they had ended up behaving worse than the group they were there to oppose, the final, drunken stragglers managed to raise a few shouts before shuffling off to the nearest pub.
“We came out to oppose fascism by giving voice to our love of Brighton and it’s groovy culture,” Scrapper Duncan, a local political blogger, said while clutching a loud hailer and ignoring the surrounding debris. “And to trade insults with the opposition.”
Ah, so there we have it. Maybe the true meaning of the day is the good old British tradition of adversarial combat. Much like St. George.