Far right figures used rallies to spread 'anti-Muslim agenda' in Sunderland, says new report
Far-right figures are using rallies to spread "anti-Muslim agenda" and "deliberately distort the truth" to incite "discriminatory and hateful attitudes" among supporters, according to a report.
The Commission for Countering Extremism looked at several examples of protests to measure the effect of such behaviour and the response to the incidents, including Sunderland.
The city saw a combination of "a small active group of far-right supporters" and "high concentrations of asylum seekers" has "often created a tense atmosphere", the report said.
Tensions erupted in September 2016, when a woman claimed she had been gang raped by a group of Middle Eastern men.
When no suspects were prosecuted, "prominent far right figures" took up the woman's cause, organising 13 marches in 13 months which at their height drew up to 1,000 participants.
The report said the right to protest peacefully is a "cornerstone of democracy" even if it involves the "promotion of views that are offensive or critical", but added: "A democratic process like protesting can turn into hateful extremism when protesters deliberately distort the truth to persuade their audience to adopt discriminatory and hateful attitudes."
It also found that "key figures in protests" were "promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media", adding: "Prominent far-right figures including Anne Marie Waters, Jayda Fransen and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon attended marches, and some used them to spread anti-minority and anti-Muslim agendas."
The report added: “Many protesters were not motivated by hate; they had concerns about their safety and the safety of those in the community. However, Far Right agitators exploited these local grievances. Members of the movement had links to banned group National Action.
“The shared belief of these figures and groups was their antipathy towards minorities, immigrants and particularly Muslims. Most of those involved share a pronounced prejudice against Muslims.
“Harm We were told that sections of the local white community which would not normally support the Far Right were “stirred up by activists”.
“By co-opting people in this way and promoting their narrative, those activists aggravated social division.