The Islamophobe International: Vigilant Freedom and the English Defence League PDF Print E-mail

Tom Griffin, 2 September 2011 

In the wake of the Utoeya massacre in Norway, it is no longer possible to ignore the dangers of the growth in far right, Islamophobic counterjihad ideology. So a new report published by the Center for American Progress is particularly timely. 

Fear, Inc.The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America demonstrates that a remarkably small core group of people are responsible for spreading Islamophobia in the US: 

 A small group of foundations and wealthy donors are the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America, providing critical funding to a clutch of right-wing think tanks that peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam—in the form of books, reports, websites, blogs, and carefully crafted talking points that anti-Islam grassroots organizations and some right-wing religious groups use as propaganda for their constituency.

The report comes as recriminations over the Norway massacre may now be exposing some of the Islamophobia network's links in Europe. In particular, a bitter dispute between the leadership of the English Defence League (EDL) and counterjihad activist Paul Ray is shedding new light on the EDL's origins.

Ray was last week questioned by Norwegian police, who said they were treating him as a witness. While Ray has denied knowing Utoeya killer Anders Breivik, he is undoubtedly well-informed about the spread of counterjihad ideology in Europe.

Well before the rise of the EDL, Ray had contacts with elements of the US Islamophobia Network identified in Fear Inc, including David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine, Pajamas Media and blogger Pamela Geller.

In September 2006, FrontPageMag published an article attacking the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement:

One of our volunteers in the United Kingdom for Stop the ISM managed to infiltrate the ISM late last June in the Holy Land where the ISM operates in direct support of terrorists. Our volunteer (who prefers to remain anonymous to avoid retaliatory attacks) has had prior experience going undercover for the police in the UK. The photos and intelligence he brought back are proving invaluable to intelligence agencies watching the ISM and have been in official hands for over a month prior to this publication.

In a rebuttal of the FrontPageMag article, the ISM named the infiltrator as Paul Cinato, later revealed to be identical to Paul Ray.

Ray would go on to be interviewed by American counterjihad bloggers Pamela Geller in January 2007, and Phyllis Chesler in January 2008, with both interviews featuring strong attacks on the Muslim community in Ray's native Luton, and the latter sparking controversy because of Ray's support for the BNP.

Events in Luton provided the catalyst for the emergence of the English Defence League after a small number of Muslim extremists mounted a protest at the homecoming of the Royal Anglian Regiment in March 2009. According to Searchlight, it was Ray who initiated the first attempts at far-right counter-protests in reponse. Ray's YouTube videos of one such protest in April 2009 were swiftly picked up byPamela Geller and the Gates of Vienna counterjihad blog.

Ray therefore played a significant role in linking the Luton far-right to the wider counterjihad movement in this formative period. That would change, however, as Ray fell out with the leadership of the emerging English Defence League, sparking a feud that has grown increasingly bitter in the wake of Utoeya.

The EDL leadership now says of Ray:

Paul Ray (real name: Paul Cinato) was a local activist at the time of the EDL’s formation. Working with other small protest organisations, he advertised marches against radical Islam on his ‘Lionheart’ blog. When the EDL began to start uniting smaller groups, Ray tried to take control of the emerging organisation, but failed to ever achieve any position of influence and was not made welcome at EDL demonstrations.

Ray has in turn made some significant allegations about the role of one Chris Knowles of the Civil Liberties Alliance in establishing the EDL:

The very first meeting in London when Steven Yaxley-Lennon aka “Tommy” assumed the leadership role of the English Defence League with Chris Knowles (CLA) and others present whose names I have, Jeff Marsh aka Joe Cardiff from Wales was due to attend the meeting but Chris Renton EDL alias John Sheridan prevented him from attending by arranging to meet him about buying hooligan books on the same day.

The Civil Liberties Alliance is a project of the Centre for Vigilant Freedom (CVF), a US-based organisation which has organised a series of counterjihad conferences involving far-right parties from across Europe. Virginia corporate records show that Christopher Knowles has been a director of the Centre since 2007. The list of directors also include two other significant figures:

  • Edward S. May, who as "Baron Bodissey" runs the Gates of Vienna blog, a clearing-house for Islamophobic material from across Europe, from his home in rural Virginia.
  • Christine Brim, a key player in stoking the Park 51 controversy and the Chief Operating Officer of the Center for Security Policy, one of the central think tanks in the US Islamophobia network.

Fear Inc notes of the Center for Security Policy:

In 2009, CSP’s annual revenue was nearly $4 million, and Frank Gaffney’s annual salary was nearly $300,000 as president of the organization. Over the past decade, the Scaife foundations gave CSP nearly $3 million, the Bradley Foundation more than $800,000, the Becker foundations about $375,000, and the Anchorage and William Rosenwald funds about $437,000, with the Fairbrook Foundation contributing smaller amounts. All told, CSP received about $20 million in revenue between 2002 and 2009.

Gaffney and CSP use this money to promote an increasingly paranoid misrepresentation of the threats posed by Islam in America. The baseless accusations peddled by Gaffney and his think tank echo the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, who claimed that communists had thoroughly infiltrated the federal government of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But Gaffney’s tactics take a page from the radical religious right as well, conflating all of the followers of a non-Christian religion as enemies of the state and society and then providing talking points that marry the two nonexistent threats. Anders Breivik, the confessed Norway terrorist, cited Gaffney and CSP seven times in his manifesto.

The Centre for Viligant Freedom is a transatlantic extension of the tight Islamophobic network identified in Fear Inc.  In a July 2007 newsletter, the CVF announced it had received a $70,000 donation and called for part-time contractors and volunteers to help build an "international alternative media network" in the US and Europe. The newsletter identified the CVF's UK coordinator as an individual named Chris, using the email address  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

In the same month, Aeneas left a comment on the Lionheart blog, inviting Paul Ray to become involved in the network.

German YouTube interview with Aeneas appears to show the same individual who Ray claims is Chris Knowles. This individual also appears in a video of a meeting between the EDL leadership and an Australian TV crew.

In June 2010, Aeneas reported on the Counterjihad Zurich conference:

The EDL presentation to the conference, entitled ‘The Anatomy of an EDL Demo’ used the recent demonstration at Newcastle as a case study of street level activism.  The presentation included organisational dynamics, deployment, logistics and transportation, the importance of having productive working relations with the police, the stewarding system, divisional structure, inclusivity of all those who have a stake in or interest in opposing sharia to create a diverse, varied and effective organisation, the networking and social possibilities that are created by demonstrations, opposition tactics, and the issue of merchandising and its relationship to the creation of group identity and organisational presence.

The account of the meeting by Gates of Vienna suggests that the EDL presentation was actually delivered by Aeneas himself.

A number of circumstantial details suggest Chris Knowles and the blogger Aeneas Lavinium are indeed the same person. Both are CVF organisers, both have represented the CVF in Europe and both have the first name Chris.

Even if the identification with Chris Knowles is not regarded as proven, Aeneas represents a clear link between the English Defence League and the Centre for Vigilant Freedom, a US-based organisation which has received, at a mimimum, tens of thousands of dollars in funding to establish a transnational anti-Muslim propaganda network, and which has openly courted the European far-right. Aeneas's early contacts with sometime BNP supporter Paul Ray in Luton suggest that flirtation was a key factor in laying the groundwork for the formation of the EDL itself.