Former EDL organiser calls Covid 'a radical extremist's dream'
- Credit: Nick Butcher
A former EDL frontman who turned to extremism after battling depression and domestic abuse has called upon men struggling during the pandemic to "seek help rather than hate".
Ivan Humble from Lowestoft, now 50, became a regional organiser for the far-right English Defence League after he saw a Facebook post showing a Muslim extremist group harass British troops returning from Iraq in Luton in 2009.
He managed to leave that life in 2014 and now works to stop radicalisation - but is worried that the pandemic is fermenting the "ideal conditions" for its spread.
Mr Humble, speaking candidly in 2021, revealed that a big part of the reason he joined the EDL was due to poor mental health and an abusive partner - experiences which "quashed" his masculinity.
Though in a good place, he is concerned other men facing unemployment, domestic abuse or difficult family circumstances might seek validation in conspiracy theories or far-right narratives.
"When I was growing up, I was taught men should never share their emotions", he said. "I bottled everything up, and when the EDL found me I was given a vent for my anger and frustration."
Before Mr Humble joined the EDL, he had been hospitalised at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth for 13 weeks and was diagnosed with borderline schizophrenia and paranoia.
Later, he would discover he has a chemical imbalance on the left side of his brain which affects serotonin production.
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When he came out of Northgate, he was unemployed and unable to work.
He said: "I didn't have to worry about bills or looking after a family when I was inside. But the real world gave me a shock when I came out.
"I didn't want to have to sign on to benefits or keep taking medication - because my friends weren't doing that and it seemed unmanly. I was in my 30s, but I still felt so different to the people around me."
Then, Mr Humble became the victim of an abusive relationship for around 18 months. As a drinker, his partner left him feeling on edge and emasculated.
"It just made me feel less than worthless", he said. "I was spending so much time on my own and in the house with the kids. But the EDL told me I was something."
Upon leaving the group, Mr Humble faced a setback after losing his support network overnight. However, he then took a job in Yarmouth working for a Portuguese man who helped break down his prejudices.
He now works with the Imam Muhammed Irfan Chishti at Me&You Education, which combats extremism by touring schools around the country.
He said: "I was lucky because I found a job and have had one since. I got the opportunity to mix with different people, and took myself out of the echo chamber I was in.
"But for the last year, people have spent so much time sitting on the internet at home, feeling worthless and lonely.
"Covid is a radicaliser's dream, because lockdown is the perfect opportunity for us to blame one another.
"Migrants are being blamed for bringing the virus into the country, for failing to follow social distancing and for taking our jobs while English people starve.
"The government's mixed messaging and constant rule changes are confusing people, and when confusion rules, extremism rises and hate speech spreads online."
One example of this was highlighted in a July 2020 report 'How hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic' by the Commission for Countering Extremism, where a fake picture showed Muslims breaking social distancing rules outside a Leeds mosque.
Though refuted as false by West Yorkshire Police, it was shared 2,700 times on Facebook before being removed.
The report also found there was a 21pc increase in hate crime directed at South and East Asian communities between March and July last year.
As the pandemic drags on into another year, Mr Humble has issued an unequivocal message.
"Recognising you need help and asking for it is not a sign of weakness."