Far-right activists on Saturday clashed with police in London, claiming they were in the city to protect monuments from anti-racist protesters.
British nationalists, including Britain First, Football Lads Alliance and other groups, put out a call ahead of weekend protests in an effort to protect statues that they believe essential to British culture and history. The main focus of their actions was the Churchill statue at the Cenotaph, a war memorial on Whitehall in London.
The Churchill statue had been boarded up for protection after Black Lives Matter protesters scrawled “is a racist” on it. Protesters against police brutality and racism had taken to tearing down other statues, mostly of slave traders, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson called an attempt “to lie about our history.”
Crowds of mostly white far-right activists clashed with police outside the Cenotaph, hurling traffic cones, flag poles and smoke flares at the police before breaching the police barriers, according to the BBC. Police fought back with batons to maintain their line.
The activists, some adorned in “White Lives Matter” or “Proud Loyalist” shirts, then moved to Trafalgar Square, where police headed them off to prevent a clash with Black Lives Matter protesters in Hyde Park.
Many in the crowd chanted “Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland,” and singing “God Save the Queen.” The Telegraph estimated that 3,000 people had turned out, most of them drinking beer throughout the events.
Government officials immediately denounced the violence, with London Mayor Sadiq Khan warning residents to stay away.
“This is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate attacks on our police and perpetrators will feel the full force of the law,” Khan tweeted on Saturday. “It is clear that far right groups are causing violence and disorder in central London, I urge people to stay away.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel called the violence “thoroughly unacceptable thuggery.”
“Any perpetrators of violence or vandalism should expect to face the full force of the law. Violence towards our police officers will not be tolerated,” she tweeted, adding a warning about the coronavirus and urging residents to return to their homes.
Black Lives Matter organizers had urged people to not join rallies this weekend in anticipation of trouble from far-right groups. Britain First organizer Paul Golding had posted videos across the week in which he slammed BLM as a “vile racist group,” and the group had organized a number of White Lives Matter protests across the UK.
Protesters turned out in cities across the U.K. almost in defiance of the counter-protests, including in Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Belfast.
The Met police issued a Section 60 order, giving police greater power to stop and search citizens. The decision to extend powers was granted after the Met received reports of individuals coming to the city with weapons.
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Police moved to clear the area around Waterloo station as word of “pyrotechnics and knives” raised concerns of further violence into the night.
The protests were meant to wind down by 5 p.m. BST, but it does not appear that all protesters or activists have complied.