By Sophie Gregory and Ben Sladden
Far-right protestors were met with chants of “Nazi scum, off our streets” as they arrived at a counter-demonstration in Durham on Saturday.
In response to the anti-refugee march of the North East Infidels (NEI) and Bishop Auckland Against Islam (BAAI), the County Durham Anti-Racist Coalition and Unite Against Fascism North East organised a counter-protest.
The counter-protestors met at 12:45 in Millenium Square, prior to the North East Infidels and Bishop Auckland Against Islam marchers, who arrived in Durham at 13:00. Approximately 40 marchers were met by a group of counter-protestors comprised of around 300 individuals.
The initial demonstration was organised by the NEI and BAAI in retaliation against Syrian refugee families being allocated housing provisions within County Durham. The posters used to advertise their event contained lines such as “no more terrorism, no more refugees”.
Both sides of the protest held signs and the counter-demonstrators chanted throughout. Such chants included “Say it loud, say it clear: refugees are welcome here”, “Whose streets? Our streets” and “There are many, many more of us than you”.
Shariah Rahman, who addressed the counter-protestors, made a speech in which she said: “The importance of counter demonstrating should never be understated.”
After the protest, she told Palatinate: “It’s so important for us to show we are the majority and they are the minority – join the movement.”
Emails sent through colleges warned students: “Previous demonstrations have shown that these groups can be verbally hostile to Muslim people and others who they identify as ‘foreigners’. However, the Police will be closely monitoring the demonstration and have a detailed operational plan in place in response to it.”
Durham People of Colour Association (DPOCA) voiced similar concerns about safety.
In a statement on their Facebook page, DPOCA stated: “They are extremists, and we advise students of colour (particularly Muslim students) to be cautious if you do decide to attend the static counter-protest.”
A police presence was also necessary due to the threat of violence breaking out. Both protests were static and the different sides were separated in Millenium Square by a number of police. Police Liaison Officers were also present on either side of the protest.
In a statement to Palatinate, Simon Mulligan on behalf of County Durham Anti-Racist Coalition said: “We have received widespread support on social media. It’s really important that we all as a community stand up to hate, division and racism. We are shocked and saddened that Durham Police have allowed this racist hate demo to be held in Durham.”
When asked about what motivated the counter-protest, Mulligan stated: “We believe if you tolerate such a demonstration of racism, hate and division, groups such as this will continue to attempt to intimidate, blame and condemn any group of people that [do not fit with their narrow hate-filled view of the world. Together we are stronger.”
Mulligan also spoke to Palatinate about the presence of groups such as these in the North East. He said: “These groups are vile, they [peddle] hate and lies about the problems that face us all. How does this protest make you feel as an organisation, for example? We feel angry that after all the appalling events of the last century that people still push racism and fascism. Hope must conquer hate.”
When contacted for comment, NEI said: “We don’t talk to the press and our promotion video says it all now f*** off lefty t*** and don’t contact us again [sic]”.
In addition to the signs held by the counter-protestors, a Scottish Defence League flag was also present. Signs held by the NEI and BAAI read ‘no more mosques’ and a large banner was unfurled that featured claims about Muhammad. Another sign read ‘rapefugees’.
One student, Jazmine Bourke, said of this sign: “It’s really interesting that these people only care about rape and women when it’s useful to them. They are misogynists. They use the guise of women to make their racism more palatable.”
The far-right groups left at 13:50. There were subsequent isolated scuffles on Silver Street.
In the wake of the protests, there has been some contention regarding the organisation of the counter-protest.
Durham for Refugees posted a statement on their Facebook page in which they stated: “We wanted to say that Durham for Refugees will be sharing our views with the organisers about the ways in which the Counter-Protest was carried out – as we, and many others, were disheartened by the rhetoric of hate and rivalry.”
“We believe so strongly that changing the (quite frankly, horrific) views of some members of the public can only be done in loving and respectful ways”
This was met with frustration from members of Durham People of Colour Association, who responded in the comments condemning “respectability politics” and emphasising that “love and respect” has done little to thwart ideologically driven Nazis in the past.
Photograph: Maddie Fisher