With a number of British cities having been affected by violent riots, groups of citizens have mobilised to protect their neighbourhoods. These vigilante groups are often depicted as right-wing racists, but after following one of their patrols, our Observer in London says this is a generalisation that doesn’t always hold true.
British police estimate that in the past few days London has seen its worse rioting in over 30 years. In response, authorities have deployed an exceptionally high number of security forces throughout the city and made over 770 arrests since Saturday.

“I didn’t hear a single racist or political comment during the whole patrol”

Patrick Hayes lives in London. He contributes to Spiked, a far-left Web magazine.
On August 9, I followed a patrol of ‘vigilantes’ in the London neighbourhood of Enfield. There were about 300 of them. Most, but not all, were working-class white men. And yes, they were mainly Tottenham football supporters. Nevertheless, they weren’t the right-wing extremists most media make them out to be. I didn’t hear a single racist comment during the whole patrol. Or even a political one. There are several other vigilante groups, and some may well be politicised or have ties to the EDL [English Defence League, a group that defines itself as against radical Islam], but that wasn’t the case in Enfield. I did notice that a few of them had had quite a lot to drink, but at no time did the situation get out of hand. At one point, a few of them got agitated because they thought they had spotted rioters, but the rest of the group told them to calm down.
Photos of the Enfield defense committee, taken on August 9. Courtesy of @patrickhayes
Personally, I’m not in favour of this kind of defence committee. I realise that it can be dangerous for people to take ‘justice’ into their own hands. Yet I saw for myself that these people weren’t the fascists described by certain media. They were just working-class people who saw their neighbourhood being savaged and decided to defend it. They were locals who felt abandoned by the police and decided to take action. I prefer those to the ones who do nothing.”
(Asked about the Enfield patrol, a spokesperson for the police said that the force “didn’t need these so-called vigilantes, who appeared to have been drinking too much and [were] taking policing resources away from what they should have been doing – which is preventing the looting".)
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Julien Pain.