The English Defence League (EDL) is an English far-right single issue group formed in 2009. Its stated aim is to oppose what it considers as the spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in England.
The EDL uses street-based marches against Muslim extremism. It presents itself as being multi-ethnic and multi-faith, and states that it opposes only "jihadists", not all Muslims. In October 2009, the EDL claimed to have thousands of members in scores of branches, the organisation's spokesman Trevor Kelway, explained that about 300 active supporters attended demonstrations with strong support from Cardiff, Swansea, Luton and Portsmouth. At the time an analyst believed the group to have 300 to 500 active supporters that it could mobilise at any given time. Police estimated 1,500 to 2,000 EDL demonstrators marched in Newcastle upon Tyne in May 2010. The Scottish Defence League is an offshoot organisation formed to hold demonstrations in Glasgow, while the Welsh Defence League was formed to demonstrate in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea. The EDL also incorporates a "Jewish Division" which has its own Facebook page.
The EDL originated from a group named "United Peoples of Luton", formed in response to a March 2009 protest against Royal Anglian Regiment troops returning from the war in Afghanistan organised by the extremist Islamist Al-Muhajiroun and including members of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah. The EDL evolved from the football casual subculture and is loosely organised.
When the Luton counter-demonstration led to arrests, local football supporters, using social networking websites, collaborated with other football casual groups. A major turning point was a June 2009 demonstration in Birmingham by Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah that featured an 11 year old white boy from Birmingham converting to Islam.
The British press describes the EDL as far-right. This has been contested by Bill Baker, organiser of the EDL's cancelled Harrow Central Mosque protest, who said: "The protest was organised by people from all walks of life, all religions and faiths – even the local Sikhs and Hindus were concerned. It wasn't a far-right protest. Although they might have been utilising the situation they were nothing to do with us. We are opposed to extremism on both sides of the political agenda."
Trevor Kelway, a spokesman for the EDL, has denied that the group is racist. He said he had taken over as spokesman because the previous spokesman was Islamophobic. "We would march alongside Muslims and Jews who are against militant Islam," he said. "There were none on Saturday and an all-white group doesn't look good. But they can join the EDL as long as they accept an English way of life. It is the people who threaten with bombs and violence and threaten and bomb our troops – they don't belong here."