The EDL has been described as the “biggest populist street movement in a generation“. They’ve also been called thugs, racists, idiots and a threat to social cohesion. They describe themselves as “dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism … and promoting the culture and traditions of England.”
Huffington Post Photographer Ed Thompson spent three years documenting EDL rallies, attempting to get beyond the typical portrayal shown in the media. “I was within touching distance and it’s very different from most of the press stuff which is long lens, over the shoulder of the police or a wide lens as one of them is being dragged away to be arrested.” “I was within touching distance and it’s very different from most of the press stuff which is long lens, over the shoulder of the police or a wide lens as one of them is being dragged away to be arrested.” – – Ed Thompson
“What’s chosen to be on the front page or in a magazine is never indicative of the reality. If it bleeds, it leads. I’ve only got one bit of blood in the whole thing and it’s a guy looking down looking very pathetic, he’s not screaming, he’s not shouting.” – Ed Thompson
There have been various calls for EDL marches and the group itself to be banned for being “dangerous” and “damaging to community relations.”
The EDL have long been an easy target to lampoon in the media. But a number of studies suggest the typical image of an EDL member as an uneducated yob is a simplified version of a bigger picture. “Supporters are older and more educated than many assume: 28 per cent are over 30; 30 per cent are educated to university or college level; and 15 per cent have a professional qualification.”
“Supporters of such groups are not necessarily young, uneducated, economically insecure or politically apathetic. They are not simply anti-Muslim or overtly racist, but profoundly hostile towards Muslim immigration.”
Unlike what the media likes to accuse the EDL of, they are not racist, not antisemitic, not homophobic, not xenophobic, just anti-Muslim.
“You got some young guys, their fathers haven’t worked in a generation, they’ve got no work and some guy comes up to them and says: ‘Y’know what? This is the problem’. And they go: ‘Oh, ok'”. – Ed Thompson
“Some of it’s really sad like the woman giving a speech because she’s just lost her son in Afghanistan, She’s looking for answers and she’s very angry.” – Ed Thompson
“If you look at the photos, ideologically it could go either way. Dissing the EDL, what do you want, a medal? It’s not hard is it?” – Ed Thompson
“Whatever you think about them they are a working class movement and they are genuine. You have to respect that no matter what you feel about their ideology”.- Ed Thompson
“It’s all too easy to say: ‘They’re the enemy’. What have they really done? Marches, they’ve gone and vandalised something. But as far as we know they haven’t killed anyone. They haven’t bombed anyone. They haven’t stabbed anyone. People want to project this big enemy onto them. Look at them. That’s the threat?”– Ed Thompson
“A lot of the vernacular of the EDL is very simliar to football, that’s where it al started from. So you’ve basically got lads coming out, waving flags. Generally there are no Muslims there to shout at, you might get the UAF. That’s the game. There’s no football game just a meeting, the clash and they all go home. That’s the populist element.”– Ed Thompson
“Belonging to a group is a powerful dynamic. Walk along with the EDL with the flags waving and the chants which are all subverted football chants.” – Ed Thompson
One of the most notorious incidents to occur at an EDL march and one quoted by Tommy Robinson himself when he left the organisation was the ‘exploding mosque tattoo’.