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LauraMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 28-Jun-17 16:00:45

"I used to be in the EDL - now I work to fight extremism"

Former EDL member Ivan Humble explains how he was drawn into extremist ideology - and says parents need to look out for the warning signs of radicalisation

Ivan Humble

Former EDL member

Posted on: Wed 28-Jun-17 16:00:45

(29 comments )

Lead photo

"It's surprisingly easy to be drawn into extremist ideology, especially if you are vulnerable or feeling isolated."

Following the tragic terror attacks we have witnessed in the UK in recent months, the issue of countering radicalisation and building cohesive communities is more important than it's ever been. But, as the attack in Finsbury Park shows, we can’t simply single out radical Islam as the problem.

After the EU referendum last year there were increasing reports of far right extremism across the UK. It has made the work that I do to counter extremist and radical far right views even more crucial, and I should know. Until five years ago I was a regional organiser for the far right group, the English Defence League (EDL).

You might be shocked - but it's surprisingly easy to be drawn into extremist ideology, especially if you are vulnerable or feeling isolated. I was a single dad, bringing up two children on my own. While I was changing nappies my mates were out at the pub, and they eventually drifted away.

I was bored scrolling through Facebook one day and saw a video of a homecoming parade in Luton for our troops returning from Iraq. They were being abused by an extremist Muslim group. I was horrified and furious.

I left a comment on the video and within 15 minutes I had a message from a man who shared my anger and disgust. We got chatting and soon after he asked me if I wanted to help out as an administrator for a Facebook page for the EDL – a way to stand up against extremist Muslims. I said yes immediately. I had found my voice, and finally someone cared what I had to say.

After my first demo with the EDL I was hooked. I was surrounded by people who shared my point of view and who cared what I thought. They were the same as me, the friends I had been craving - I finally belonged.

Several years later I started to question my views after a chance meeting with a Muslim convert from Norwich called Khalil. I introduced myself as an EDL member - he invited me to speak to him about my views, and he shared his. He didn't judge, he just listened and questioned and over time we found some common ground to build trust. And I thought, if he was more like me than I realised, how many more Muslims are like that? Shortly after that I met another Muslim, Manwar, who was building a local community centre, a space for all races and religions to come together, and I respected that.

Be aware of changes in mood, appearance or behaviour, or becoming abusive to individuals who are different in race or religion


After the tragic murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in 2013 both Manwar and Khalil rang me to apologise and reassure me these men's actions were not a reflection of true Islam. We arranged to march silently together to lay flowers at the local war memorial to honour him. It opened my eyes.

Leaving the EDL was hard at first; I was scared to leave this bubble of hate and the people I thought of as family. I found myself alone again but I started to realise I had something to offer, that I could use my experience to be part of the solution, not the problem. I contacted the Suffolk Hate Crime Service and spoke at some workshops about my journey through radicalisation. I really enjoyed it - it was much more satisfying to use my voice for more than standing on the street shouting abuse at somebody.

It wasn't long after that the Westminster City Council's Prevent Team got in touch with me and asked me to do some talks with young people. Prevent is part of the Government's counter terrorism strategy which aims to safeguard people who are vulnerable to extremism and radicalisation. It's about community engagement, being able to have open discussions on controversial issues and challenge extremist and hateful ideologies.

I was part of the council's Gangs and Radicalisation project, which recognises that the same vulnerabilities that can lead to young people joining gangs - like the isolation and frustration I used to feel - can also make them more of a target for extremist views.

The young people are first given a chance to discuss and explore their grievances. They then have a chance to listen to the stories of people, including me, who have turned to gangs, crime or extremism as an answer - and the negative impact that’s had on their lives. Now I'm proud of what I do, and I'm a positive role model for my children.

Children and young people could be radicalised in many ways but often it takes place online through exposure to extremist videos and imagery, or other forms of propaganda which can lead to a distorted world view where extremist ideology seems reasonable. And as with the case with me, the initial contact can be as simple as liking a post or video.

As parents, we have to try to spot the warning signs. It’s important to be aware of who your children are socialising with and what they are viewing online. There is no checklist of things to look out for - but be aware of changes in mood, appearance or behaviour, or becoming abusive to individuals who are different to themselves either in race or religion. If you are concerned about someone, the next step is to find out of what can be done to help and support them.

Contact your Local Authority Safeguarding or Prevent Lead, or the NSPCC if you want to seek advice or are concerned about someone. If you have concerns about someone’s immediate safety call 999.

By Ivan Humble

Twitter:

GeekLove Thu 29-Jun-17 13:49:01

Your story is most insightful. More people should be made aware that those who are marginalized and isolated will be more vulnerable to extremists.
I applaud your honesty in telling your story and how you realised that the ideology of the EDL was wrong. It is much harder to stand up to your friends than those you perceive to be enemies. I wish that more people would have the courage to admit when they are wrong. There is much more honour in admitting you were wrong about something than to entrench your views regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

RaspberryBeretHoopla Thu 29-Jun-17 14:47:05

Great post. Thank you for writing this and I am so glad that you are doing the work that you are, it is so vital.

LineyWimey Thu 29-Jun-17 14:47:05

After my first demo with the EDL I was hooked

I'd be interested in knowing more about how that actually worked? We've had two EDL marches where I live and they were openly racist.

SunnySomer Thu 29-Jun-17 18:11:56

Fascinating to read your post and very timely for me as I've just been reading for work about someone who has moved away from the extreme right wing in Germany. As a result of reading that book, I've been watching YouTube videos about young people who were radicalised and became Pegida members.
Those young people talked about feeling welcome in the group, having a sense of belonging and family as well as a sense of purpose- even though they later realised it was the wrong purpose.
I'm glad you've come through it and are able to share your experiences- one of the big concerns that the parents featured in the documentary had was that they hadn't seen it coming and really couldn't comprehend that their formerly loving sons suddenly changed so utterly.

IrritatedUser1960 Thu 29-Jun-17 18:30:55

Sounds like one of those, I used to be a witch now I found Jesus articles.

RaspberryBeretHoopla Thu 29-Jun-17 18:33:18

hmm

DancingLedge Thu 29-Jun-17 19:33:36

Good points.
Extremism of all kinds is something we need to more aware of.

HopelesslydevotedtoGu Thu 29-Jun-17 20:08:31

Interesting story

I think the point about isolated people finding purpose and belonging through extremism is really important.

If you do an update, I'd be interested to hear whether you had any doubts when you were active in the EDL, and how your children have responded to your changing beliefs

OlennasWimple Thu 29-Jun-17 23:13:32

Thank you for your post (and to MN for hosting it).

One of the things I find particularly invidious is the right wing use of social media. I have had to point out to FB friends so many times that "liking" that seemingly innocuous post about 'supporting our brave boys' or 'wear your poppy with pride' or even the made up 'this Muslim shop keeper refused to serve someone wearing a TA uniform / wearing a poppy / not wearing a hijab' stuff can be giving support to groups like Britain First, EDL or the BNP. Look closely at where the posts come from, folks!

NanFlanders Fri 30-Jun-17 00:12:20

Thanks for coming on here and sharing your story. Respect to brave people like you and Maajid Nawaz who are brave enough to leave extremist groups and can speak from experience about how they hook people in.

AnniesTurn Fri 30-Jun-17 08:04:43

An insightful read, thank you.

My dad is in the EDL and I've had to go no contact with him because of it. I hope one day he sees the light.

TravellingFleet Fri 30-Jun-17 08:14:49

Thank you for sharing your story. I can imagine it was very hard to leave the support and feeling of community of the EDL, even though you knew it was right.

ReleaseTheBats Fri 30-Jun-17 10:18:27

Thanks for an interesting post, OP.

Tommy Robinson, who founded the EDL, also left it because of his concern about extremism within the organistaion.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24442953

English Defence League leader and founder Tommy Robinson has left the group, saying he has concerns over the "dangers of far-right extremism".

The EDL organises protests across the UK against "radical Islam". Mr Robinson said it was still his aim to "counter Islamist ideology", although "not with violence but with better, democratic ideas".

Huffletuff Fri 30-Jun-17 17:43:24

Nah, sorry. It's not "surprisingly easy" to become an extremist. The hate has to be in you. I know that I, nor the people I associate with wouldn't find it easy at all. While it's insightful to tell your story, please don't assume that anyone could become radicalised, because they couldn't.

TinselTwins Fri 30-Jun-17 20:19:00

I know that I, nor the people I associate with wouldn't find it easy at all.

"strong", sensible people are only a few traumas away from becoming vulnerable and susceptible to a bit of love bombing from the wrong person/people.

Huffletuff Fri 30-Jun-17 20:31:56

I disagree. I've had so much trauma in my life to the point that I have severe, clinically diagnosed PTSD. I know I could never hate a fellow human for being a different religion /colour/sexuality etc alone.

TinselTwins Fri 30-Jun-17 20:49:40

If people are targetted when they're down, they do all kinds of things the never thought they would. Like getting into abusive relationships, putting up with toxic friendships etc.

Several things have to happen at once, the person feeling helpless and lonely etc… and the "Groomer" targetting them.

There are also people who are just thugs and seek causes to justify their innate anger.

Huffletuff Fri 30-Jun-17 21:04:25

I completely agree with you there, that some people would do things they wouldn't normally because they're in a vulnerable position. Not everyone though - I'd say a minority would actually go as far as being radicalised, or it would happen to a lot more people. I didn't like the way it implied that it would be easy for anyone to be radicalised because that's certainly not the case. Also, that amount of hatred isn't natural, it sort of has to be in your belief system to be able to hate that much, if that makes sense.

And then there are those who just hate.

Kigali04 Fri 30-Jun-17 23:09:44

I'm sorry I really don't buy this, so basically OP is saying I saw one or two racist incidents against people whole looked like me, I was vulnerable and so became a racist hmm.

As a person of colour I have been a victim of and witnessed racism for most of my life and have never thought or behaved like OP.

Being a racist is not something people switch on and off, it's ingrained, it's a belief that their race is superior than others and a belief that you can treat another group of people badly because they are different from you.

I cannot begin to state the trauma OP and his fellow friends would have caused others with their actions. I wonder if people on here would be so forgiving if OP was part of any other extremist group hmm

Kigali04 Fri 30-Jun-17 23:12:51

The whole piece by OP tries to sugarcoat and indicates that this could happen to anybody, the EDL is the equivalent to the KKK, as a vulnerable Brown person I would not trust anybody like this. The hate was already there, these hate groups just give these individuals a purpose and direction.

TinselTwins Fri 30-Jun-17 23:32:22

I wonder if people on here would be so forgiving if OP was part of any other extremist group

It's the exact same process. It is not "forgiving" to try to understand the process in order to begin to think about prevention.

It's the same process for any extremism, gang membership or organised crime

some, as you say, are hate filled and seek an/any outlet or justification for their violence (but nobody is born hate-filled!)

And some are vulnerable and are groomed.

With the increase in hate crimes it is clearly not working to just brush it off as a few bad eggs who were that way inclined anyway.

SleightOfHand Sat 01-Jul-17 07:49:14

Do you not believe the OP has changed then? Or that people can change in general, have an epiphany so to speak.

OP, I notice in your post that there is no mention of sorrow and regret on your part. Do you feel sorrow and regret for the hurt you caused towards others?

ReleaseTheBats Sat 01-Jul-17 08:27:55

I think some pp are perhaps ignoring the fact that the EDL may have changed from the time the OP joined it.

I was bored scrolling through Facebook one day and saw a video of a homecoming parade in Luton for our troops returning from Iraq. They were being abused by an extremist Muslim group. I was horrified and furious.

Does this seem an unreasonable iissue to want to protest about? The EDL was formed to protest against Muslim extremists abusing returning British troops. I don't know about anyone else but I find that admirable. I think it is a disgrace that the authorities would let extremists publicly abuse soldiers returning from Iraq, whatever one thinks about the intervention there. (I was strongly against, but that is irrelevant. The troops do not deserve abuse).

So the OP joined EDL to take part in a reasonable demonstration. As I said above, Tommy Robinson who founded the EDL left several years later because he felt it had become extremist. So it seems the EDL changed and evolved in a more extremist direction, which probably tells us something about the process of radicalisation but I'm not sure what. I think exploring this process would be productive.

SewMeARiver Sun 02-Jul-17 14:23:12

I'm very happy for you OP and salute your bravery in disassociating yourself from your former 'family' who probably gave you support at a difficult time in your life, albeit they were the worst kind of people. Whilst I don't believe everyone will succumb to hate, a lot of people from all backgrounds do subscribe to national or ethnic superiority, and that I think, added to a certain combination of factors, can result in some people being extremist. Overt nationalism is dangerous and has resulted in wars and attempted genocide. When people store all their identity by what nation they come from, they may feel threatened by a different community, or culture that appears to, or does 'tread' on that feeling of nationalism which which they have tied up so much of their identity that they may turn to hate. Thing is everyone to a degree defines themselves by their ethnicity, culture or country of birth. The question is how much? And how much is too much? I'm a person of colour and occasionally find I have to mentally challenge certain stereotypes of white people for example. I check what I hear: if a black person is killed by police for e.g. I try and check the facts, before assuming it's a hate crime, and for that reason I stay away from large resistance groups as there are always extremists on the fringes of all such groups, even if the aims of the movement are essentially good. Its a lot to think about. Thanks for the post.

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