Nelson Mandela’s statue in London has been boarded up amid fears of attacks by the Far Right as concerns about street violence in England this weekend shifted to other cities and towns where extremists and some football supporters are planning to confront Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors.
BLM organisers called off a planned protest at Hyde Park at 1pm on Saturday, warning that “many hate groups” were threatening the safety of those planning to come.
However, while some Far Right groups are still expected to be present on Saturday in London, discussions on their online forums among football gangs has turned to mobilising in other cities and towns including Leeds, Bristol and Sunderland, against perceived threats to contested historical monuments. In Poole, locals have prevented the authorities removing a statue of the founder of the Boy Scout movement, Robert Baden-Powell.
Chatter among Far Right activists has also turned to targeting statues such as Nelson Mandela, perceived to be associated with their opponents, according to researchers at the campaign group Hope not Hate (HnH).
HnH warned of a particular potential flashpoint on Saturday in Leeds, where football groups and the Far Right have more traditionally been more interwined than elsewhere, as well as in towns such as Shrewsbury, which is home to a Clive of India statue as well as the English Border Front, a football hooligan firm of the League One club Shrewsbury Town
“One of our concerns is that, generally, the Metropolitan Police are quite experienced in managing big demonstrations now, but forces in some of the smaller towns are not as experienced,” said Nick Lowles, Chief Executive of HnH.
“Many on the far-right who tried to pretend they didn’t care about race, only culture and identity, let the mask slip and openly started talking about whiteness and race again and threatened to pull down the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square,” said Lowles.
Earlier today British prime minister Boris Johnson said in an intervention that removing statues is “to lie about our history” and claimed the Black Lives Matters protests “have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence”.
A statue of war-time leader Winston Churchill has also been boarded up for protection, after it had “Churchill is a racist” daubed on it last weekend.