The government is coming under growing pressure to ban a far-right march through one of the biggest Muslim communities after online links emerged between the English Defence League and the Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik.
The group, which has staged a number of demonstrations over the past two years – many of which have descended into violence – is planning to march through Tower Hamlets, east London, on 3 September.
But it came under scrutiny this week after the Norwegian gunman repeatedly praised it in his 1,500-page manifesto, saying he had 600 EDL supporters as Facebook friends and had spoken with “tens of EDL members and leaders”.
The anti-racist organisation Searchlight said Breivik was in touch with EDL supporters as recently as March. But members of the group deny any official contact with Breivik and insist their organisation is peaceful and opposed to extremism.
The links have heightened the opposition to the EDL’s Tower Hamlets march.
Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, who has written to the home secretary to voice his concerns, said: “The connection between Breivik and the EDL is just too shocking to contemplate, and I hope it helps people realise that the EDL are not innocent or the less toxic BNP they portray themselves as.
“Any EDL presence in Tower Hamlets will be seen as a provocation and that risks retaliation from those opposed to the EDL.”
Community leaders and anti-racists say they are preparing a national “show of strength” if the march goes ahead, invoking the 75th anniversary of Cable Street, when people in the East End turned back Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts.
They have re-invigorated a body called United East End, formed last year to confront the threat of an EDL march then, and are planning a large counter demonstration.
A spokesperson, Glyn Robins, speaking on a Guardian Focus podcast said: “We are determined to do what we did last year, which is to have a community demonstration of unity. We want to refute the kind of stereotypes made about the East End, certain sections of the East End and Islam. We demand the right for our community to be as it is. We will not apologise for multi-culturalism.”
Weyman Bennett, from Unite Against Fascism, said: “We have jointly called this demonstration to show the EDL it is despised by everyone in Tower Hamlets and nationally. Trying to walk in the footsteps of Mosley is particularly offensive in the East End.”
The police can ask home secretary Theresa May to ban the march but a spokesman for the Met said was unlikely. A Home Office spokesman said May would “carefully consider” any formal application.
The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, who has responsibility for community cohesion, described the EDL as horrible and vile, but said he had yet to see compelling evidence to ban the march or classify the EDL as “extremist”.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think these people are vile, but when you want to hold on to something that is precious like community cohesion and the English values of tolerance, you must not snuff them out by suppressing others … It is an immensely difficult balancing act.”
But Nick Lowles, of Searchlight, said: “It is inconceivable after the events of the weekend and the evidence of links between Breivik and the EDL that the planned march through Tower Hamlets can proceed … We call on the Home Office to ban this provocative demonstration.”
In Tower Hamlets, Shaynul Khan, the assistant executive director of the East London mosque – one of the biggest in the country – said its members and locals would not stand by and see their area invaded by the EDL. “They are very provocative on their website, saying ‘Tower Hamlets, we are coming’ and that has led to a lot of fear for a lot of people.
“The community here has gone through the 30s with Mosley’s Blackshirts and the 70s with the National Front and it has always been the case that the diverse communities have come together saying we won’t submit to racism. There is no place for it here.”
It is understood that anarchist and leftwing activists are also preparing for a possible confrontation. On their website, the Whitechapel Anarchists say: “We have only one message for the EDL, steer clear of Tower Hamlets. Coming here on Sept 3rd will be a risky enterprise for you.”
The EDL said in a statement that the demonstration would go ahead, and its members would march “where they want and when they want”.
Meanwhile, last night Searchlight reported that two Swedes described themselves on Facebook as “co-directors” in GeoFarm, the company Breivik established to buy fertiliser. Soon after the Oslo blast, the references were removed from the social networking site, Lowles said.