Steve Eason, Kate Bradley and Ashmeet T report from the counter-demonstration against the far-right South East Alliance, who marched through Dover in very small numbers on 2 April ,2016.
Following the violent demonstration by various far-right groups in Dover on the 30 January, the fascist South East Alliance (SEA) called a “unity march” on the 2 April. A counter-demonstration was called by Kent Anti-Racism Network, supported by London2Calais, Unite Against Fascism, LGBT Against Islamophobia, London Antifascists, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, and a variety of other groups.
Coaches travelling to Dover were led by Kent police cars to a B&Q car park just outside town, where individuals were searched and questioned. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was used to justify the confiscation of anything which could be used as a weapon or face covering, including flag poles and scarves. The move signalled a shift in approach to Dover demonstrations, after violent attacks by fascists in the town on 30 January. Coaches were not held after being searched, and at least 5 coaches travelled on to Dover for the two protests.
Around 300 antifascists rallied in Market Square in Dover at midday. Bridget Chapman of Kent Anti-Racist Network told the crowd that “while the fascists spread their message of hate, we are sending an aid convoy to Calais”, and a car and a van decorated with messages of support for refugees and migrants set off for France. The counter-protest attempted to accompany the convoy of aid to the docks, but police kettled the demonstration on the road to the ferry port to allow the South East Alliance to march through.
Both demonstrations were heavily policed, with the operation including several hundred police officers, more than 10 police vans and at least 6 police horses. During the kettling, several antifascists were arrested for no clear offence. Some reports suggest that these arrests may have been in connection with January’s protest, although precise details were not clear.
At 3pm, approximately 30 police officers escorted the Fascists’ march of no more than 50 people along the Dover coastline past the antifascists, and their march was generally subdued and demoralised. One of their racist banners read “Rapeugees Not Welcome”, and another small group carried an ‘English Volunteer Force’ flag. The march passed the assembled antifascist protesters, who were held back by the police and chanting “Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here” and “Master race? You’re having a laugh!” as the neo-Nazis walked past. As they passed inaudibly, several antifascist protestors commented, “Is that it?”
According to a photographer at the scene, the SEA rally was short and unimpressive, with one man shouting “Shall we march back again?” and a another muttering “Oh, alright then”. Russia Today footage shows one middle-aged white man wearing an SEA T-shirt burning an EU flag, addressing the crowd to say “That’s what we think of Europe. Up your arse mate. Keep your immigration, keep your foreigners, we don’t want them.” They then marched past the anti-fascists for a second time, which did not take long.
The relative sizes of the protests suggests that antifascists can currently mobilise greater numbers than far-right activists in the South East. The SEA struggled to attract many supporters, and rumours of infighting between neo-Nazi groups before and at the demonstration suggested a divided and weak far right. The show of strength by antifascist groups meant the fascists had to be contained and protected by the police. For the racist South East Alliance, the day was a definite humiliation.