Kent Anti Racism Network (KARN) was formed in October 2015 in response to the fascist South East Alliance’s (SEA) demo on September 12 in Dover. It was at the Castle Inn pub and the car park opposite that we witnessed firsthand the violent intent of SEA; chains, bricks and bottles were thrown at us. The Anti Fascist Network (AFN) and around 40 locals put up a brave defence that day. We managed to break out from a police kettle and held our ground on the dual carriageway.
But, it was obvious to all of us that we needed a bigger mobilisation to defeat them, given that Kent police were willing to facilitate the SEA march regardless of their violence towards us and that we needed a local organisation to coordinate with local anti fascists and those from out of town.
Around 10 of us met up to discuss setting up a local group just after the SEA demo. In October we formalised our group and came up with our name for it. Our aim was for local groups to operate under an explicit anti racist banner whilst maintaining their independence. Anyone who wanted to fight racism and fascism were welcome at our meetings, regardless of political affiliation.
We decided to hold a ‘Refugees are Welcome Here’ event on October 17 in Dover and work in conjunction with National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) who were planning a No Borders demo on the same day. 500 people came along – 250 of them locals. It was a fantastic day. When we reached the docks, KARN announced their intention to call a counter-protest on 30 January and invited all anti fascists to support the call out against SEA who planned to come back to Dover.
It’s worth noting what an enormous task and responsibility this placed upon us. Kent has a fine tradition of beating back the fascists, but UKIP have made serious inroads into the political mainstream and the Tories hold every seat in Kent. There is a low level of struggle in all arenas here; only two functioning Trades Councils, and in many areas it’s very deprived. This has provided a fertile terrain for the Tories, UKIP and fascists to blame migrants for cuts, lack of housing and services.
Moreover, Kent is a big place, so meetings are difficult for people to attend if you’re 30 or 40 miles away. Given that the fascists favoured sites of contestation are Dover and Liverpool, we decided to concentrate our small forces in East Kent and attempt to bring people together to build a vibrant, inclusive anti racist network.
30 January – the Battle of Dover
There have been numerous accounts of January 30, Dover, but we felt we’d like to put our version of the day and its political consequences.
Once we got home after the Refugees Are Welcome here demo, we set up a facebook event page for the 30 January counter-protest. We began contacting political parties, anti fascist groups and local community organisations and trade unions asking for their support. A couple of our members contacted Brighton AFN to arrange a meeting to discuss coordinating our mobilisation.
KARN held weekly meetings to organise the day’s events and leafleted nearly every Saturday and sometimes during the week. Wherever we could, we raised the demo (at meetings, gatherings and even social occasions). We constantly argued that the more of us there were, the safer we would be.
We decided upon a rally in the Market Square where everyone could come along. This provided both a focal point and a safe space for those who wanted to show their opposition, but not necessarily confront the fascists. It also gave us a place where locals and those from out of town could gather so that we could march together in opposing the fascists at Dover Priory station.
By mid December, we had garnered support from local CLP’s, community groups and trade unions. South East Region of Unite paid for their members to get on transport. We could see announcements on social media of extra coaches being filled. Many different groups came on board, including Bromley TUC, South Thanet and Shepway Labour party, LGSM, London2 Calais, Act Up London, NCAFC, UAF, autonomous Antifa groups to name a few and of course the Anti Fascist Network This really helped to boost our confidence.
We kept our eyes on the fascists’ facebook pages and increasingly noticed threats of violence towards us. ‘Smash the Reds’ was a constant refrain. Numerous pictures of weapons they intended to bring appeared on social media. After the violence of 12 September, we knew what they meant by it. However, this made us more determined to do everything we could to make sure we outnumbered them as it was the only way to stay safe. So you can imagine how we felt, when we were told at a KARN meeting two days before the counter-protest that the local police inspector had commented “that we were all as bad as each other!”
On the day:
At 11am, Market Square, people began to gather for the rally. We had speakers from across the movement including Diane Abbott MP, Keith Taylor MEP, George Binnett from Camden Unison and Maya Konforti from L’Auberge des Migrants. Around 250 locals gathered. We were joined by the AFN and others. The AFN’s mobilisation was magnificent – eight coaches, plus cars and minibuses from across the country. London2Calais sent a full coach and UAF and many autonomous groups also organised transport
KARN members were in a state of nervousness, as we were wondering how we were going to get to the Dover Priory station without being arrested or kettled. We then heard the news that 5 of our coaches had been delayed as Nazi Combat 18 and the Chelsea Headhunters had attacked our comrades at the service station in Maidstone. It was a tense situation when we realised that we would be facing the fascists with lower numbers than expected. Nevertheless, we decided we would give it our best shot.
Around 12.30, the call to move was given. Some hadn’t realised that we would be moving so swiftly, and we apologise that we didn’t let everyone who was gathered at the square know. But, to our amazement, almost everyone followed us to the station. It was a brilliant sight to see everyone marching together in a fantastic display of solidarity.
When we arrived at the station, we were in a jubilant mood – singing and chanting together as we realised we vastly outnumbered the fascists. When we spotted the fascists forming up to begin their march, many of us began to link arms to stop them passing. At first, it seemed we could hold them back, when suddenly a group of them appeared in Effingham Street by the petrol station and began throwing broken pavement slabs and bricks at us. These must have been stashed somewhere previously because of the sheer volume of them and the fact they came out of nowhere.
There was a moment of total mayhem. Some of us tried to find cover, others batted bricks out of harm’s way and some stopped the fascists breaking through to us. To our astonishment, Kent police did nothing – they let the fascists continue to throw bricks at us.
The police then decided they would kettle us instead. This turned us into a sitting target for the volley of hardcore. It became clear the cops would do everything in their power to facilitate the fascist march despite the violence and injuries. Regardless, our side stood firm in the face of violent provocation and state acquiescence. A couple of KARN comrades helped people escape the kettle by hoisting them up a grass bank to safety and local kids led them away from fascist bricks raining down from above and below.
The police became desperate to contain us, but we became more determined not to give an inch. Sensing the police weren’t going to arrest them, and that we were not going to collapse in the face of their violence, the fascists felt emboldened to come out openly to attack us. The more we held our ground, the more risks they took.
Finally the police managed to get the fascists through, allowing them to openly seig-heil, carry Combat 18 and White Power flags and practice their hate speech without molestation. They continued to their designated spot at the Eastern Docks, many of them leaving the march to attack people along the route. The police also permitted them to continue their hate speeches at the Docks.
For everyone who was there, it will never be forgotten. Dover made national and international press and numerous blogs, videos and articles began to appear. Local papers, particularly the Dover Express, vilified us and the Tory MP Charlie Elphicke as well as the police, accused us of being different sides of the same coin. KARN members were shell shocked for a while, as we faced a fierce political backlash. This made us slow to issue a statement defending ourselves and our comrades. We eventually put out a robust statement in response to the Dover Express’s vicious lies about us. Being slow to respond is a mistake we won’t make again!
In the days and weeks that followed news began to filter through that the police were rounding up and arresting people. It came as no surprise to us that so many fascists were arrested; 55 of them to date. This represents at least a third if not half of their hardcore members. One of them, Peter Atkinson was given 7 years for GBH with intent after a ferocious attack on a journalist which left him needing reconstructive surgery. Roy Junior Price, the right-hand man of SEAs leader Paul Pitt, and 3 other fascists will be sentenced Friday 10 June. There are many more in the pipeline.
Fascist numbers have been reduced to mere handfuls that are willing to travel to Dover now. Many of them are fearful of the ongoing police investigation into 30 January.
On Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 May, Paul Pitt promised a two day weekender of ‘Pride and Passion’ with a Nazi Blood and Honour gig in Dover. They managed a get 23 of their number out on Saturday and were forced into holding their gig in Maidstone where around 30 at most attended. They didn’t even show up for Sunday. We had anticipated this and mobilised around 60 of us on Saturday 28 May but we rightly didn’t put a call out for the Sunday.
We should never forget that holding our ground on 30 January forced the fascists into making tactical errors. Had we not been there, we would still see the same number, if not more on the streets of Dover and elsewhere. Everyone who was there can rightly claim credit for reducing their ranks. However, we cannot be complacent.
The poisonous, racist cheerleading in the EU Referendum led by the Tories and UKIP, further erosion of our services, less social housing and privatisation of our beloved NHS can help provide the political terrain for the far-right to thrive. Furthermore, the UK state has made us a possible target for a terrorist attack given its military actions in Syria, Iraq and Libya. If it happened it’s feasible it could act as a lightning rod for the far-right to coalesce into a unified force.
This means all of us must come together to fight both the Tories and UKIP’s racist agenda and oppose the fascists wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads.
In Solidarity – No Pasaran!
Kent Anti-Racism Network