This guide introduces Pegida UK, how it is linked to the wider right wing spectrum of movements and the issues it is seeking to highlight.
Speaking at a press event announcing the February 6th re-launch of Pegida UK its leadership promised a well-organised, family-friendly demonstration at which participants can engage in passive resistance to a ‘refugee influx’. Acknowledging his past involvement with the English Defence League (EDL), Pegida UK ‘coordinator’ Tommy Robinson promised that alcohol would not be permitted on the launch march, that there would be no face covering, and no EDL-style chants. A street demonstration was necessary because, according to Robinson, conventional politics was ‘not an option’. Newly announced Pegida UK leader Paul Weston said that until politicians were more frightened of those who resist Islam than Islam itself, politicians would ‘continue to capitulate before Islam.’
Where does Pegida come from?
Pegida UK takes its name from a movement originally founded in Germany – Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) in Dresden in October 2014. The group began through a series of weekly protests at the end of 2014. On the 12th of January 2015 Pegida staged its largest protest so far, attracting a reported 25,000 demonstrators. They were met by around 9,000 counterdemonstrators.
Although demonstration sizes seem to have tailed off, a number of Pegida offshoots have appeared in Germany and internationally. In the UK, Pegida UK was first launched with a demonstration in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the 28th of February 2015, and London on the 4th April, 2015. The group petered out following the London demonstration.
What do they stand for?
Aside from a name, Pegida UK also seems to take inspiration from the original German movement. Shortly after its founding, the original German Pegida published a position paper composed of 19 statements outlining the movement’s positions (an English translation can be found on the Conservative website UKrants). These included commitments to take in refugees (point 1), to uphold the rights to sexual self determination (12) and resistance to violent political ideologies but not ‘self integrating’ Muslims (10). Crucially, point 13 says that Pegida is for the protection of the ‘Judeo-Christian Characteristics of the Culture of the West’.
As with Pegida UK’s press conference, the original Pegida’s position at first appears moderate and distant from the stereotypical picture of an extreme right movement. The group stressed human rights in its literature and embraced a broad Europeaness, as opposed to narrow nationalism. To further emphasise the point that they are political moderates, some versions of Pegida’s logo features a swastika, along with symbols representing ISIS and the far-left, being tossed into a bin. Similarly, the UK logo used on the group’s YouTube page follows a similar theme, featuring a swastika and an Islamic crescent moon symbol being thrown in a bin.
Despite these claims, Pegida UK politically resembles, and shares significant links to, a developing strand of extreme right politics sometimes referred to as the counter jihad movement. The counter jihad movement has emerged from attempts by the extreme right to distance itself from explicitly fascist ideologies. Front and centre in this project has been incorporating the language of democracy and human rights into party manifestos and other literature. Narrow biological conceptions of race have been replaced by a broader and seemingly more inclusive vision based on culture.
For the counter jihad movement, these trends have been built into an extreme right movement that stereotypes and demonises Muslims, but does so while claiming to defend the rights of others including sexual minorities, women and the Jewish community. The counter jihad movement in particular prides itself on its anti-fascist credentials, often pitching itself as defending the west from ‘Islamofascism’.
Pegida UK – the leadership
All three members of the Pegida UK leadership team have close connections to the counter jihad movement.
Paul Weston has previously been involved with the short-lived British Freedom Party and currently heads fringe ‘anti-Islamisation’ party Liberty GB. Weston is a prolific writer, having contributed a great deal of material to Gates of Vienna, a website that also contains writing by Fjordman (AKA Peder Jensen) whose work composed a significant portion of the political compendium posted by Anders Breivik prior to killing 77 people in Norway in July 2011.
Anne Marie Waters was a former candidate for UKIP. Waters founded the website ShariaWatch in April 2014, with a launch taking place in the House of Lords hosted by cross-bench peer Baroness Cox who was one of the group of peers that extended an invitation to Geert Wilders to screen the controversial film Fitna in the Lords. Waters also attracted some infamy when she attempted to organise a draw Mohammed contest in London, along the same lines as the contest in Garland, Texas which was attacked in May 2015. The UK contest was cancelled over security concerns. As with Weston, essays by Waters have appeared on the Gates of Vienna website.
Robinson himself has spent time in prison for mortgage fraud. Within days of the press conference he was rearrested over an incident that took place in prison in 2015. He claims this is an attempt by the state to squash the Pegida UK launch. Most infamously, Robinson led the English Defence League between its inception in 2009 and his departure over concerns with its extreme elements in 2013. The EDL attracted football hooligans and gained a reputation for violence at its demonstrations. It also maintained close connections with the wider counter jihad movement. In 2013, prominent US counter jihad figures Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller were invited to address an EDL rally but were denied entry to the UK. The EDL has also attracted wider support from within the counter jihad movement with key US blogger and editor of the site Gates of Vienna, Baron Bodissey (AKA Edward May) who called Robinson a ‘courageous scrapper’ on his departure.
Choice of Birmingham for the re-launch
Although the Pegida UK team highlighted that they would be staying away from predominately Muslim areas, the choice of Birmingham for the first rally could still be seen as symbolic. Described as the ‘epicentre for terrorism’ by Robinson in an interview, Birmingham was also the home of the six men who attempted to attack an EDL rally in Dewsbury on the 30th June 2012. The attack failed when the EDL rally ended early and supporters were gone when the men arrived. The six were arrested following a routine traffic stop on their way home.
The timing of the re-launch could be seen as opportune. The Paris attacks in November 2015 and a series of sexual assaults in Cologne and other German cities on New Years Eve of the same year, linked to men of middle-eastern backgrounds, have provided impetus for mobilisation. That February 6th 2016 also coincided with the annual conference of anti-fascist campaign group Unite Against Fascism, thus potentially reducing the number of counter-protesters could also have been a factor in the selection of the date.
How has Pegida fared so far?
Over a year since its inception, the atmosphere around Pegida in Germany has soured. One of the original founders, Lutz Bachmann, was forced to temporarily step down in January 2015 over pictures of him apparently posing as Hitler. At a rally to mark a year since the founding of the movement in October 2015 addressed by speakers including Robinson and Bachmann, attacks on members of the press were reported. More worryingly, the activities of Pegida in 2015 have coincided with a tide of attacks on asylum seekers and refugees, as well as the stabbing of Henriette Reker, a mayoral candidate in Cologne by a man ranting about an ‘influx of refugees.’
At the moment the retooled Pegida UK is an unknown quantity. Potentially, it may break with the EDL legacy and produce the inclusive, well-ordered and family friendly movement it has promised. This guide will be updated as new research and information becomes available. At present most academic research on this topic relates to the broader counter-jihad movement, relevant links are contained below.
Carr, M. (2006). You are now entering Eurabia. Race & Class, 48(1), 1–22.
Jackson, P. (2013). The License to Hate: Peder Jensen’s Fascist Rhetoric in Anders Breivik’s Manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. Democracy and Security, 9(3), 247–269.
Berntzen, L. E., & Sandberg, S. (2014). The Collective Nature of Lone Wolf Terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the Anti-Islamic Social Movement. Terrorism and Political Violence, 26(5), 759–779.
Bartlett, J. (2015). Across Europe with Tommy Robinson: inside the new wave of anti immigration protest coming soon to Britain. [online] available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/12031679/Across-Europe-with-Tommy-Robinson-inside-the-new-wave-of-anti-immigration-protest-coming-soon-to-Britain.html accessed: 26th January 2016.
The opinions expressed in this guide are those of the author, Dr Benjamin Lee, and not of RadicalisationResearch.org. Dr Lee researches the far-right and counter-jihad movements and in addition to editing this site is also Senior Research Associate in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University.