Exactly who are the fascist bullies?

“Badgers… don’t give us a bad name. Badgers… please don’t give us a bad name.”

The middle-aged woman, dressed snout to claw in black and white, topped with homemade headgear and a megaphone, pleaded with the protesters.

“Badgers… come out of the road. Please don’t give us a bad name.”

On Saturday, opponents of the badger cull, who had massed in London to protest the animals’ impending slaughter, had strayed down Westminster’s Victoria Street, emerging at the Houses of Parliament to chance upon a 50-stong BNP protest against the death of Lee Rigby. As always, the BNP had been met by a counter demonstration of several hundred anti-fascists, many under the banner of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

Some of the “badgers”, distinctive in their monochrome garb, had joined UAF ranks, blocking the road outside parliament, preventing cars from moving around the Palace of Westminster.

One last cry: “Don’t give us a bad name”. The “badgers” reluctantly moved on. For the anti-fascists it was too late – the damage had already been done.

By 4.30pm that afternoon, more than 30 of those opposing the BNP had been arrested under section 14 of the Public Order Act. By the end of the day the figure was nearer 60. At least one member of the BNP was given a bloodied nose, allegedly by one of the anti-fascist throng.

According to the UAF, the 58 arrests were “not because of violent clashes” but because “the police decided to extend by an hour the time allowed for the BNP protest, but asked anti-fascists to leave at 4pm.” The Anti-fascists were arrested “for refusing to leave”, they said. That may be so, but the tone of the protest was not one of peaceful opposition… it also doesn’t explain the bloodied and battered BNP member.

Having reported on several far-right demonstrations, this was not the first time I had witnessed aggression, criminal behaviour and a disregard for the rule of law by those claiming to walk against fascism.

Opposing the BNP, like opposing the EDL, is an essential political expression. The BNP is a fringe political party that campaigns on a plank of anti-immigration, playing on the fears of a white working class marooned from any type of upward social mobility.

The EDL are nothing more than a disparate group of drink-sodden thugs, politicised around a single anti-Muslim sentiment, and seemingly nostalgic for the days when you could fight at football matches.

Neither group has any genuine interest in Lee Rigby, other than using it as an excuse to wheel out clichéd admonishments towards “evil Muslims” and the threat of “creeping Sharia”.

However, the BNP had a legal right to march. A right, ironically, the anti-fascists tried to deny. The UAF had a similar right to demonstrate, but the tone was such that they looked close to becoming exactly what they were protesting against – vicious bullies.

Had the anti-fascist mob spent a minute looking at the BNP protest they would have seen 50 or so tired, haggard, middle-aged men barely worthy of a passing car horn let alone a huge counter demonstration. Some of the BNP struggled to string a sentence together. I asked one man waving a flag why he was there. “They’re killing our soldiers, aren’t they.” He could offer no more by way of reasoning.

What about the BNP threat? There were more journalists at the rally than ‘National Party’ supporters. There is no threat. Still, that didn’t stop those opposing Griffin’s party from acting like a violent mob – masked, angry and hysterical.

“Don’t give us a bad name,” shouted the badger woman. It’s a sentiment everyone who opposes fascism will hope supporters of the UAF start to heed.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.