Hundreds of far-right protesters have gathered in London to protect statues during anti-racism protests.
A group of football fans who describe themselves as patriots yesterday said they would meet in Whitehall to protect statues, including the Cenotaph and a statue of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, from being vandalised.
Footage posted on social media showed the group chanting at police, holding ‘All Lives Matter’ signs and singing God Save the Queen on Saturday morning.
Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, could be seen wearing a ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt.
Several statues, including the Churchill statue opposite parliament and the Cenotaph, were boarded up on Thursday in preparation for a weekend of Black Lives Matter protests.
Protesters have been targeting statues for their links to racism and the slave trade.
The Cenotaph, which commemorates Britain’s war dead, was spray-painted with the letters “BLM” during a rally last week, while the statue of Churchill was vandalised with the words “was a racist”.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday urged people to stay away from rallies, saying they had been “hijacked by extremists intent on violence”.
“Whatever progress this country has made in fighting racism – and it has been huge – we all recognise that there is much more work to do,” he said.
“But it is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence. The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent.”
Mr Johnson said he understood the outrage people were feeling following the death of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis, but condemned the covering up of statues.
“We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations,” he said.
“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”