LONDON, UK — The trial of two men accused of murdering a British soldier on the streets of southeast London in May, set to begin in the capital’s Central Criminal Court, was postponed on Monday.
Two British men, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, are charged with stabbing to death a 25-year-old soldier named Lee Rigby as he walked home to the Woolwich Barracks from a shift at the Tower of London.
Rigby left a 2-year-old son and a family that has asked groups not to “use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others.”
In the months since the murder, however, Fusilier Rigby’s death has become a rallying cry for a number of political groups, especially on the far right.
Outside the courthouse commonly known as the Old Bailey where the trial was about to begin, various groups gathered in the cold November mist to argue that everything about Rigby’s murder — its savagery, the government’s response, the defendants’ religion — was evidence of a country that had lost its way.
“Britain belongs to the British,” said Kevin Layzell, a bespectacled 19-year-old carrying a placard for the British National Party. “We don’t want to be part of this multicultural new world order.”
A splinter group from Britain’s ultra-right National Front, the BNP is a small national political party that advocates voluntary repatriation of immigrants and their descendants. It has protested against what it calls the UK’s “Islamification.”
Its protest was the largest, drawing a few supportive honks from passing taxis and delivery vans. A sound system blared “God Save the Queen.” Protesters shouted aphorisms through a megaphone (“Keep Britain British!”).
Soldiers with berets and medals on their chests held banners for the party’s veterans group. A few dozen people waved Union Jacks and placards bearing a noose and the words “Restore Capital Punishment” — which was outlawed in 1998.
Both Adebolajo and Adebowale are British citizens, born in London to parents of Nigerian descent. Protesters dismissed their nationality as “British by passport,” arguing that their actions were part of a larger problem of immigration.
“This kind of murder is no surprise,” BNP chairman Nick Griffin said. “Our leadership has declared war on Muslims in the Middle East. It’s also imported the problem here.”
Down the block, a knot of harder-looking men in black hooded sweatshirts held their own banner: “E.D.L. Woolwich Division. R.I.P. Lee Rigby. No Surrender.”
“We can’t merge with them. They’re racist,” said a man who gave his name as Wayne, nodding down the street at the BNP. He and the others were from the English Defence League, a right-wing street movement that protests Islamic extremism.
The group’s well-publicized protests and marches since Rigby’s death were helping to educate the public, Wayne said.
“They’re waking up to the truth of Islam,” he said. “Islam and all that filth is coming to the streets of London.”
Former soldier Robert Gray made the five-hour trip from York to stand outside the court in solidarity with the murdered soldier, his old regiment’s insignia bright against his charcoal beret.
Things are happening in Britain that he never thought he’d see, he said.
He couldn’t believe that Prime Minister David Cameron left for a Spanish holiday days after the killing, nor that one of his first actions upon his return was to visit a mosque, in a show of solidarity with London’s Muslim community.
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Gray said he disliked the BNP — they’re “racist,” he said — but felt that the English Defence League had “opened a lot of people’s eyes to what is happening in this country. It’s becoming a third-world country.”
“We get called racist for mentioning it, but how can you be racist against a religion?” he said, before correcting himself — “Well, it’s not a religion, it’s a cult.”
“It’s gone. Our freedom of speech is gone,” he said, before unfurling a banner and joining the protesters across the street.