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Sound and Fury

Anti-fascist protesters on College Green
Anti-fascist protesters on College Green. Photo by Iain Walker.
Police response to protesters, including mounted officers
The events were supervised by the police, who later stepped in to break up a brawl. Photo by Iain Walker.

I was on my way to see Macbeth at the Watershed when I came across a protest on College Green. Speaking to these ‘Antifascists’ I learnt that they were protesting against a march of roughly forty members of the Bristol United Patriots (BUP) – a far-right street protest group described as racists by the demonstrators. The BUP were in turn protesting, according to their Facebook page, “to highlight the homeless situation amongst the ex service personnel living rough in Bristol.” By the time I’d arrived the police had contained the BUP in a small area between Bristol Cathedral and the Marriott Hotel to prevent them from clashing with the anti-fascists.

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The police keep the anti-fascist and BUP protestors apart. Photo by Iain Walker.

Now intrigued and sensing a big story, I decided to drop all commitments, put on my reporter’s hat, and investigate. I found another group of  ‘Antifascists’ gathered at the opposite end of the blockade by At-Bristol. Before long, the BUP demonstration continued, marching down the stairs towards us. One protestor carried a flag with ‘no more refugees’ and ‘no more mosques’ written over a St. George’s Cross. As they walked past the aquarium, tourists, families and onlookers from Za-Za-Bazaar were equally confused. The ‘Antifascists’ from College Green quickly caught up, and a chant-off began. Shouts of ‘E-E-EDL’ and ‘keep St. George in our flag’ from the BUP were countered with ‘Nazi scum off our streets’ and ‘say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here’. Passers-by stopped to take photos of the event, while BUP protestors took pictures of the ‘Antifascists’ who were following them, with the police were filming everyone – the Bristol Post reports that there were over thirty officers in attendance. The BUP then crossed over Pero’s Bridge towards Queen’s Square, but the counter-protestors were stopped from following them.

The protestors face off at Pero's Bridge. Photo by Iain Walker.
The two groups of protestors face off at Pero’s Bridge. Photo by Iain Walker.

Thinking the protest had largely finished, I wondered whether it was too late to get into Macbeth. Then, to my surprise, there was a sudden eruption of violence in the opposite direction. The ‘Antifascists’ had come into contact with another BUP group who’d been drinking in the pub, resulting in a massive brawl during which tables, chairs and bottles were thrown. The police, including two galloping horses, rushed to break the fight up. The BUP demonstration then fizzled away. Seven people were arrested as a result. There was only one smaller stand-off after this, although the ‘Antifascists’ continued to march for a while, sucking in more and more spectators.

Of course, there’s more to this story than a single clash in Bristol. This is evidence of increasingly polarised social attitudes in Britain. While protestors on both sides agreed that the lack of affordable housing and rising homelessness were big problems, they placed the blame on different people and sought different solutions. While those attending the protests aren’t necessarily representative of the country as a whole, it does seem like we’re becoming a more divided nation.