Troops face court martial over EDL links

The EDL leader tweeted this photograph, saying: “Armed forces support Edl

The EDL leader tweeted this photograph, saying: “Armed forces support Edl

A surge in anti-Islamic sentiment among members of the Armed Forces has prompted concerns over links to right-wing groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party.

Serving soldiers have risked court martial by sharing inflammatory and racist images and jokes via social media while expressing their support for far-right groups.

The EDL’s “Armed Forces Division” Facebook page has attracted expressions of support from more than 12,700 people, some of whom are believed to be serving soldiers. On the day of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder it was visited at least 21,000 times.

The increase in anti-Islamic activity comes as the Ministry of Defence tries to boost recruitment from within the Muslim community. The MoD has previously confirmed it is investigating the activity of at least ten forces personnel in relation to their support for the EDL, but yesterday it reiterated that it believed the problem to be among only a “tiny proportion” of its 170,000 staff.

Tommy Robinson, the EDL leader, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has repeatedly called for the support of the Armed Forces, presenting them as natural allies.

On June 2, he tweeted: “Armed forces support Edl, Edl support armed forces,” with a photograph of a masked British soldier in Helmand province, Afghanistan, posing with a weapon in front of an EDL flag.

Individual soldiers from The Rifles, The Mercian Regiment, The Royal Artillery, The Royal Logistics Corps, The RAF Regiment, The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Royal Navy have all shown support through the EDL’s Armed Forces Division. All were identifiable as serving or recently serving from information posted on their social media profiles.

One soldier from the Mercian Regiment wrote on the day that Drummer Rigby was murdered: “What the f*** is going on with this country … you dirty f***ing scumbags!! get the f*** out of our country!! where the f*** are the BNP when we need them most.”

Earlier this week two British soldiers in Germany were convicted of abuse of Afghan civilians.

Serving Colour Sergeant Glen Hughes was last week accused of planning a sponsored walk so that EDL supporters could get money to the charity Help for Heroes, after it rejected funds from the extremist group. He also tweeted “dirty Muslims” and spoke of the need to “get rid of the scum” before deleting the offending posts. He has denied any involvement with the EDL.

Searchlight, the anti-fascist organisation, said it believed there had been an increase in forces representation at EDL rallies in the past 18 months. “You have got to be careful because you get people turning up to EDL marches in regimental berets who have never served a day in their lives,” said Gerry Gable from Searchlight. But he added: “Last year one MoD officer said to me that there are real concerns about infiltration by the far Right in the Army.”

Searchlight published a number of recent articles about Ralph Hebden 32, who it believed had attempted to build far-right support in the Royal Marines. Marine Hebden served two tours in Afghanistan. He was found dead in the North Sea after disappearing in March. He was later the subject of a lengthy obituary on the BNP website, which said that he had acted as personal security for its leader, Nick Griffin.

Forces chiefs said last year that the services must work harder to recruit from ethnic minorities, particularly the Muslim community.

Major General Nick Carter, who is heading the Army 2020 reforms programme, said that socio-economic brackets from which the forces were primarily recruited would be 25 per cent ethnic minorities by 2020. There are currently just 610 acknowledged Muslims serving — around 0.3 per cent of the total Armed Forces. The Muslim community is estimated at 4.6 per cent of the population.

An MoD spokesman said: “Of course we would be concerned with attempts by any organisation that promotes activity which is contrary to the values and standard of the Armed Forces. All those who are found to fall short of the Armed Forces’ high standards or who are found to have committed an offence under the Armed Forces Act are dealt with administratively — up to and including dismissal — or through the disciplinary process.”

From Hope Not Hate . Report by John Simpson and Tom Coghlan. 07.06.13

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