By Tash Shifrin
The network of shadowy strategists behind the English Defence League is now under the spotlight as the identities of its leading figures are revealed.
The group of viciously Islamophobic ideologues supports and brings together far-right racist and fascist groups across Europe.
It has been centrally involved in the EDL from its beginnings in 2009 and has overseen the alliance announced last month with the British Freedom Party – a splinter group of former British National Party leaders – and its chair Paul Weston.
‘Alan Lake’, the mastermind behind the strategy to unite football hooligan firms into the EDL’s army of anti-Muslim racist thugs, was exposed as wealthy investment fund director Alan Ayling by the Sunday Times this week.
The paper also named the influential figure known as ‘Gaia’ and ‘Dominque Devaux’ as Ann Marchini, who runs a buy-to-let property empire from her £1.6m mansion in Highgate, north London.
Now we can also reveal the identities of others in the anti-Muslim racist network – whose members call themselves ‘counterjihadists’.
They include Chris Knowles, known by the alias ‘Aeneas’, who has run the EDL’s media operation and is central to its links with European and US far-right groups.
Ayling, who under his ‘Lake’ alias described Anders Behring Breivik’s Norway massacre as ‘chickens coming home to roost’, was until January a director of Pacific Capital Investment Management, a City investment fund that was wound up in August.
It was at Ayling’s £500,000 Barbican flat that the EDL was established in 2009, according to disaffected founder member Paul Ray. The founding meetings brought together Lake and the counterjihadists together with Ray, Stephen Yaxley Lennon – AKA ‘Tommy Robinson’, the former BNP member who now leads the EDL leader – and his cousin Kevin Carroll.
‘Gaia’, named by the Sunday Times as Ann Marchini, was also at the founding caucus.
Marchini coordinated the European wing of a well funded US organisation, the Center for Vigilant Freedom, now folded into the International Civil Liberties Alliance, which exists to promote Islamophobic organisation.
It backs the EDL and organises its links with far-right and fascist groups across Europe and the US.
Marchini’s lawyer has denied she is ‘Gaia’ or ‘Devaux’ but confirmed she is a BFP member and friend of Weston. Ann Marchini, with a Highgate address, is on a list of EDL donors leaked last year. She was also named as the contact on a CVF press release announcing a 2007 Counterjihad conference, although it was ‘Devaux’, who was the CVF’s public face in Europe at the time.
The CVF/ICLA was formed from a discussion group – ‘the 910 Group’ – around the deeply Islamophobic website, Gates of Vienna run by Edward May (‘Baron Bodissey’) who is now a director of CVF.
It is not just an internet group, however. CVF has received substantial donations, including on at least one occasion a single helping of $70,000, which it uses to fund its work beefing up the Islamophobic far-right in the US and Europe.
Another CVF director is Christopher Knowles, a key player in the EDL although unknown to most of its supporters. Under his alias, Aeneas, however, he has been in contact with Ray since 2007.
‘Aeneas’ runs the CVF’s ICLA website and coordinates its European work from his West Yorkshire base.
Ray names Aeneas/Chris Knowles among the clique who met to set up the EDL, and he has remained an important behind-the-scenes figure and a link between the EDL, the moneyed CVF strategists and other racist and far right groups internationally.
The third director of CVF is Christine Brim, whose day job is chief operating officer for the multi-million dollar, right-wing and Islamophobic US think tank, the Center for Security Policy. She is prominent on US anti-Muslim demonstrations.
The Gates of Vienna website also hosts other well known Islamophobic ideologues. They include the former UKIP candidate Paul Weston who last month was hurriedly installed as chair of the BFP. Weston is fond of unleashing predictions that war between ‘native Europeans’ and Muslims is ‘inevitable’ unless Europe ‘wakes up to the danger it is in and expels all its Muslims’.
And the site published the poisonous racist outpourings of a blogger known as Fjordman – real name is Peder Jensen – who was named by killer Breivik 111 times in his manifesto.
Alan ‘Lake’ Ayling says: ‘People ought to read him, he is good,’ while on the BFP website Weston says Fjordman ‘should be required reading’.
They show no compunction in championing the ideologues who inspired Breivik’s murderous hatred of multiculturalism, Muslims and the left.
The CVF/ICLA organises Counterjihad conferences and other international activities that bringing together supporters of Geert Wilders’ Islamophobic populist PVV in the Netherlands with fascists from the Sweden Democrats and the Belgian Vlaams Belang – and now the EDL.
A photograph shows Weston (left) with Knowles (centre) in Amsterdam last year, when the EDL staged a miserably unsuccessful attempt to get a ‘European Defence League’ off the ground.
The third man pictured is Robert Bartholomeus, who admits that he is not Jewish but has been a Facebook admin for the EDL’s so-called Jewish division – although his support for a US group called the ‘Jewish Task Force’, led by convicted terrorist bomber Victor Vancier has proved an embarrassment, even for the EDL.
It was at Counterjihad summit in London in September that the lash-up between EDL leaders Yaxley Lennon, Carroll and ‘Jack Smith’, the BFP and Weston appears to have been hammered out.
They were all there, along with Marcini/Gaia, Knowles/Aeneas and May and far-right strategists from Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the US.
‘Gaia’ reported approvingly for both the BFP and EDL websites when the move was officially announced at a meeting of EDL regional organisers and activists on 19 November.
The alliance gives the EDL-BFP the classic two-pronged attack of fascism: a street army and a suit-wearing, electoral wing.
State of flux
It also illustrates the rapid development and state of flux both within the EDL and across Europe.
The EDL’s move to ‘go political’ in alliance with BFP has not been popular with all its street thugs. And Lake and his fellow ideologues are distrusted by the cadre of football hooligans and many of those with backgrounds in the BNP, National Front or Combat 18.
But as the BNP collapses, UK fascists are looking for a new home. Activists and supporters are drifting between the BNP, British Freedom, the EDL and its splinter ‘Infidels’ group.
And throughout its existence, the EDL’s frequent internal splits and realignments have allowed the racists and fascists – and their strategists – to try out new formations and harden the organisation’s politics. It has moved increasingly towards fascism, and now violently threatens and attacks trade unionists and the left as well as Muslims.
The ‘counterjihadist’ network also creates a meeting point for different currents on the far-right. In Europe, these range from hard-core Hitler-style fascists like Hungary’s Jobbik and the cleaned-up suited ‘Eurofascists’ of the BNP or French Front National to Islamophobic populists like Wilders and the EDL’s street thugs.
This creates the potential for new realignments, cross-fertilisation and hybrid organisations to develop.
The CVF’s ‘Devaux’ is certainly no stranger to British fascism. She was hobnobbing with Richard Barnbrook at an Islamophobic demo in Cologne, Germany, just a few months after his 2008 election as a BNP London Assembly member (see picture).
And Christine Brim suggested back in 2007 on the now defunct (but archived) CVF website that the BNP and Le Pen’s French FN might be included in ‘counterjihad’ loop if they ditched their traditional antisemitism and Holocaust denial.
Racists and fascists in Britain and internationally are seeking the best way to capitalise on the economic crisis a rising tide of Islamophobia that has been encouraged by mainstream politicians, such as David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy.
Antifascist mobilisations across the country over the past two years have helped hold the EDL back, and its internal tensions are often on display. But its backers are serious and although there may be more realignments to come, the threat is not going away.