Free riders, weak links and toxic members: Explaining the failure of the English Defence League

Dr. Elizabeth Morrow, University of Birmingham, presents her research on the English Defence League

Can the benefits of participatory crowding - where individual enjoyment is increased by the number of participants - explain both the rapid rise and precipitous fall of a political organisation? This paper seeks to answer this question via a case study of a right-wing anti-Muslim protest group, the English Defence League (EDL). This article argues that the EDL’s pursuit of participatory crowding can explain the group’s rise and fall. Intuitively recognising that individual enjoyment of EDL membership was enhanced through the inputs of others, leaders sought to put more feet on the streets as their main goal. While this indiscriminate recruitment saw the movement to expand into the thousands, it also sowed the seeds for the organisation’s failure because it led to the recruitment of marginal members with low levels of attachment to the group, and spoiler members whose participation lowered the quality of the club goods produced.

Elizabeth Morrow is a research fellow at the University of Birmingham as part of the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). Elizabeth is part of CREST's 'Actors and Narratives' work programme and her research focuses on right-wing extremism and creativity and innovation in clandestine political organisations. She began her career as a lawyer with the Victorian state government in Melbourne before completing her PhD in Politics in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. She has previously studied at Monash University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her doctoral research drew on a qualitative study of the English Defence League and provides a detailed account of the experiences of front-line group members.

Published Jan. 2, 2017 9:40 AM - Last modified Sep. 26, 2017 9:23 AM