LONDON (AP) — Tentative links are developing between supporters of the Tea Party movement in the United States and right-wing fringe groups in Britain that are opposed to what they call the “Islamification” of Europe.
The movements are not formally aligned, but the relatively new English Defense League — which warns that Islamic fundamentalism will soon engulf Britain — is seeking guidance and inspiration from some U.S. figures taking a similar stance.
The British activists are less drawn to the anti-tax, anti-big-government Tea Party message and more attracted to elements taking an active stance against the spread of Islam, like Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a long-shot Republican candidate for the California state legislature who plans to visit England next week in a trip sponsored in part by the English Defense League.
The trip was organized by Roberta Moore, an English Defense League activist who has formed a “Jewish division” of the group. She said the rabbi will speak at an Oct. 24 rally in London.
“He plans to speak about the dangers of Islamification both in this country and in America,” Moore told The Associated Press. “He will talk about the issues we have with immigration and the danger of Sharia law coming to the UK. We have the same objectives as the groups in the USA, and we want to exchange information and work with them.”
Matthew Goodwin, a University of Nottingham professor and author of a new book about extremist groups in Britain, said the links being developed with American activists are potentially important.
“We’re seeing groups across Europe trying to form a transnational challenge to Islam,” he said. “Going to the United States is particularly interesting because the far right in Britain has never gone that way, it has always gone toward Europe. If it did forge strong links to the Tea Party, it would be important because the Tea Party has significant resources.”
He said the English Defense League has gained momentum in the last year and can now draw roughly one thousand people to its confrontational rallies. The membership includes mostly white, working class men, including many with links to football hooliganism, he said.
Some English Defense League protests have turned into clashes with police and the group Unite Against Fascism, which opposes the anti-Muslim movement.
Shifren — sometimes called the surfing rabbi because of his penchant for riding the waves — has given talks at Tea Party events. He said in a telephone interview that he plans to warn Britons that their country is being lost as fundamentalist Islam gains strength.
“I see England going down and I want to cry out and do everything I can to prevent that, to work with the EDL,” he said.
Moore said the English Defense League has also reached out to Pamela Geller, the prominent U.S. activist who leads an organization called Stop Islamization of America.
Geller said she supports the English group’s approach but has not met with its leaders or agreed to any joint projects.
“I share their goal of resisting Islamic supremacism and defending free societies,” she said.
British businessman Alan Lake, who said he is “heavily involved” with the English Defense League and other like-minded groups, believes it is important to reach out to activists in the United States and on mainland Europe.
“The benefit of joining with these other organizations is logistical and political, but also emotional,” he said. “It’s such a relief to find people in other countries who feel the way you do.”
(This version corrects name of group to “Unite Against Fascism” instead of “United.”)