They call themselves ‘patriots’. But as they invite a Koran-burning American pastor to speak at a British rally, the English Defence League have a truly chilling background they’d rather you didn’t know about
They call themselves ‘patriots’ and wear masks emblazoned with the red cross of the Knights Templar.
But behind the inflammatory propaganda and war paint of the English Defence League (EDL) — the far-Right ‘anti-Islamic extremism’ group that is fast becoming an even more pernicious influence than the BNP — we find such men as Jeff Marsh.
Like all the other EDL ‘patriots’, Marsh — or ‘Marshy’ as he prefers to be known — insists he is not racist. And he is absolutely true to his word in one respect: he was happy to stab or stamp on anyone, black or white, during his career as a football hooligan. ‘Marshy’ wasn’t bothered about colour; violence was the thing. To him, ‘it was better than sex’.
Masked menace: The EDL now has almost 40,000 supporters on its Facebook page. A year ago, it had just 1,500
So proud is he of his exploits during his heyday in the Seventies and Eighties with the Cardiff City Soul Crew that he has published his ‘memoirs’ on the internet. It would be hard to imagine a more disturbing glorification of sadistic brutality.
‘As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a hooligan,’ he recalls.
First match: Millwall. Mass fights. ‘I actually loved it. I was hooked. I’d never been interested in football and I wasn’t interested now, but I could see that football was an opportunity to involve myself in the ultimate gang war. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.’
He describes ‘systematically picking off Gooners’ (Arsenal fans), and ‘Stanleys [knives] glittering in the moonlight’ as they ‘slaughtered’ drunken Geordies. His trademark was ‘a stab wound or two in the leg, and I was famous for it’.
Just posturing? No doubt there’s some of that. But Marsh, now 44 and a father-of-four, has served three jail terms for violence, including a two-year sentence in 1989 for stabbing two Manchester United fans.
But now Marshy’s back, and his pernicious influence is being felt — not on the football terraces, but on the streets of towns across Britain.
Marsh, it can be revealed, is not just a rank-and-file member of the EDL. He is one of the key figures in the organisation which has invited anti-Muslim preacher Terry Jones to address a demonstration in Luton early in February.
The U.S. pastor caused outrage with plans to burn copies of the Koran at this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Though the Home Office has indicated that it’s unlikely Jones will be allowed to enter Britain, the news of his proposed visit comes as Adrian Tudway, the head of the police intelligence unit on domestic extremism, revealed that the EDL and related splinter groups have become his biggest concern.
He says: ‘We look at the extreme Right and Left, but currently our biggest single area of business is the various groups which call themselves defence leagues.’
Certainly, no one should doubt the group’s intention to bring race conflict on to the streets. The last time the EDL marched through Luton, 250 of them went on the rampage in an Asian area of the town. Shop windows were smashed, cars overturned and a number of people were attacked.
The EDL — and sister groups such as the Welsh Defence League — have been stirring up trouble for the past 18 months by exploiting legitimate concerns over Islamic extremism.
At the weekend, it was Peterborough’s turn to experience the face of prejudice when an EDL protest ended in a string of arrests for alleged public order offences, affray and possession of offensive weapons. In October, it was Leicester. Before that, Blackburn, Dudley in the West Midlands, Bolton, Stoke and Nottingham. In all, the EDL has held around 16 marches since being formed in 2009 — and the majority have ended in violence and invariably incur huge policing costs.
Some 1,000 officers from 18 forces were called in to police last Saturday’s Peterborough protests, which Cambridgeshire Constabulary said involved about 500 EDL members.
The aim of the EDL — to counter what it perceives as the Islamification of Britain — is just a cover. The members can’t fight in football stadiums any more because of increased security, so they have united and taken the fight somewhere else and found a new, convenient enemy.
Of course, Britain already has one neo-fascist organisation in the BNP. But alarmingly, the EDL believes the BNP doesn’t go far enough.
And this rhetoric is underpinned by a disturbing statistic: support for the EDL is increasing.
Though the organisation has no formal membership, it now has almost 40,000 supporters on its Facebook page. A year ago, it had just 1,500. It is also developing regional ‘divisions’.
Birmingham, the scene of previous EDL violence, is listed as a ‘division’ of the EDL along with Portsmouth, Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds and so on. Each ‘division’ is represented by the badge or emblem of the local football club. Next to the Millwall division, for example, is the club’s lion crest.
Thugs and former thugs, then, under one EDL banner — if anyone can really tell the difference between the past and the present in men such as Jeff Marsh. So who are the other leaders of the English Defence League?
One leading light is Stephen Lennon, 27, a carpenter from Luton.
Father-of-two Lennon was jailed for a year for actual bodily harm after punching and kicking an off-duty policeman during a domestic incident in 2004. Lennon is understood to have been one of the founders of the EDL.
The EDL’s spokesman is Trevor Kelway, of Portsmouth. They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. If so, Kelway’s Facebook page is particularly revealing.
Among Kelway’s other ‘friends’ is someone with a Sunderland ‘Vote BNP’ symbol prominently displayed. Another man in the set-up who has a BNP link is shaven-headed Chris Renton, 31. Curious how all ‘patriots’ seem to have shaven heads.
Renton works in the construction industry and lives with his Spanish girlfriend in a flat in a Victorian house with views over the Severn Estuary.
He declined to comment when approached by the Mail. But he had plenty to say during a recent demonstration in Birmingham. Renton was pictured confronting black and Asian protesters, his face contorted in visceral rage, having been corralled on to a bus by anti-riot police. He later gave a two-fingered salute from the window.
Before being put on the bus, he was standing next to an EDL banner which advertised the group’s claim of being neither racist nor affiliated to the BNP. Yet when the BNP’s membership list was recently leaked, it showed Renton had been a BNP activist since 2002. (The group claims that he has now been forced to relinquish his membership.)
And Renton is not just a rank-and-file member of the EDL. Internet registration forms reveal this is the same Chris Renton who set up the EDL’s website.
But not all members of the English Defence League are men. There is a small group of women, such as 42-year-old Leisha Brookes.
Brookes, who has tattoos and works in ‘security and promotions’, lives in an ex-council block in Southend. She was not in when we paid her a visit.
But at the Birmingham riot, she told reporters: ‘If an English person went to an Arab country they would be expected to dress appropriately, and all we are asking is for them to do the same. We are protesting against Sharia law and the acceptance of our government of Muslim extremists.’
Few people would disagree with this. But less appealing was her Facebook profile, where Brookes — a Tottenham Hotspur fan — had posted a link to the author of a book called Life As A Chelsea Headhunter: It’s Only A Game.
The Headhunters are the hooligans who associated with the National Front and its ultra-violent Combat 18 offshoot. Leisha Brookes has also been an administrator on the EDL website. But it is Jeff Marsh who is perhaps the most astonishing figure.
Marsh claims he is not — and never has been — an organiser of the EDL. Until recently, however, he was listed as the ‘global moderator’ of the EDL’s website — the gatekeeper, if you like — controlling access to its ‘inner circle’ forum, where members, vetted by a moderator, are trusted with details about meeting points before demonstrations.
After one such demo in Birmingham last year, which resulted in 90 arrests, one posting warned: ‘Next time we will be bigger. We’ll arrive unannounced and neither the police or the scum will know any details.’
In July, Marsh was also named as one of the leaders of the organisation in an EDL statement. Marshy is also frequently referred to in communications between EDL members.
Before a recent demonstration in Blackpool, this message appeared on the internet: ‘Me and 10 boys comin from wolves [Wolverhampton]. Day out then a protest before we go clubbing and strip clubs. what a f****** crackin day this will be. when will information on meetin times go out? Me and Marshy been speaking with Old Bill final details should go out tomorrow probably.’
All anyone really needs to know about Marshy, though, is contained in his online ‘biography’. One passage reads: ‘To a lot of us, putting a knife in your back pocket was as much a part of getting dressed as gelling your hair. You couldn’t leave the house without one. This was designer violence.’
Designer violence of the kind that, many would argue, is now infecting any town or city where the EDL rolls in. As Marsh said in one rallying cry on the internet: ‘The most ruthless street army in the country is arising and uniting in solidarity in the face of a threat that is now posed to the future of our Nation.
‘Did people think that “Casuals” [slang for football fan or hooligan] would stay silent whilst their families, friends and the neighbours’ lives were endangered?
‘This coming football season will see the “truce” work itself out, and the brothers and sisters throughout the land unite in their common cause, against their common enemies, foreign and domestic.
‘What has started cannot be stopped now. It has begun …’
In other words, mindless terrace violence by any other name.
Except this time there is a different ‘enemy’ — one chosen by these Right-wing yobs specifically to provoke far more damaging and troublesome consequences.