Far-right extremists ‘exploiting’ LGBT people with fake Orlando memorials, watchdog warns

Far-right groups have been accused of exploiting the Orlando massacre with an event designed to look like an LGBT Pride march.

An event set to be held in Stockton-on-Tees on Saturday had billed itself as a Pride march in ‘Solidarity for the Orlando and Nice Attacks’ organised by an LGBT group.

It purports to have been set up by ‘LGBT Stockton on Tees’ – a group that was recently set up, has no identifiable contact information, and seems to never have held other LGBT events or actions.

However, an anti-extremism watchdog has warned that it appears to be a ruse set by affiliates of prominent far-right extremist groups, including the English Defence League and Pegida UK, who are seeking to stir conflict.

Tell MAMA, an anti-extremism body set up with backing from the UK government that monitors anti-Muslim sentiment, warned that many of the organisers of the march were activists associated with the EDL, despite portraying the event as an innocent LGBT march.

It warned: “Anyone coming across this page would rightly think that this silent march was something that would not only show solidarity against the senseless murder of so many people enjoying a night out in the US, it would also provide an opportunity for communities to come together.

“Nothing on this Facebook page would point to the motives behind such a page and where community issues are being appropriated as potential fronts to draw in people who may have some deeply questionable views.”

The organiser of the event is Tommy Cook, who goes by the name Tommy English on social media, and formerly ran the so-called ‘LGBT wing’ of the English Defence League,

Several people listed as attending the event on social media are members of far-right extremist groups including the National Front, United Patriots, EDL, Britain First, Pediga UK – though the event page itself shows no hint of this extremist viewpoint.

However, English mocked the report, tweeting: “Tell MAMA’s report has backfired, I have received messages of support and more people attending my silent anti-terrorism walk on Saturday.”

The disturbing new tactic is not new in itself; far-right groups including Britain First have previously been accused of exploiting a number of causes including animal welfare and women’s rights in order to recruit and accrue donations.

However, anti-extremism bodies are concerned that LGBT rights could also be exploited to drive an extremist agenda, due to the groundswell of pro-LGBT sentiment online.