A black MP has backed criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement after Millwall fans who booed players taking the knee insisted it was over its ‘extreme political views’ not any anti-racism agenda.
James Cleverly, who once said Britain was the best place in the world to be black, backed his fellow Tory MP George Eustice after he questioned BLM.
Mr Eustice’s remarks sparked controversy, with some backing the politician but others calling for him to be sacked.
And a statement from the Millwall Supporters’ Club said it was booing the BLM organisation, not players’ battles against racism.
It said: ‘We fervently believe that the motives of those behind the booing were not racist.
‘At a time of heightened awareness and with the country watching, the choice of those individuals was always going to damage their club and be perceived by the media as racist.
‘Anyone who believes it was a racist act should read the views of those who booed and see they were doing it in reaction to the war memorials and statues of Churchill defaced by the BLM organisation and the extreme political views they hold and for which “taking the knee” is associated with.’
‘These same fans have never booed the Kick It Out campaigns on our pitch or the huge work of the Millwall Community Trust and its many anti-racism campaigns.’
Mr Cleverly said he preferred the more well-established anti-racism groups after earlier pointing out the Black Lives Matter movement had called for the police to be defunded.
It came as Colchester United’s owner told fans who booed during their players’ kneel to keep quiet or not attend in future – adding he would refund their season tickets.
Rob Cowling called for those allowed in to applaud the players to drown out any noises of disapproval.
Mr Cleverly stressed fans who had booed players trying to battle racism was wrong, but said the act of kneeling down was not the only way people could stop discrimination.
He added: ‘I don’t think anyone should feel bullied or intimidated into doing something that they don’t feel reflects their views.
‘I don’t take the knee and I’ve been fighting racism both personally and in politics my whole life. It’s not my thing and I don’t think people should be criticised for not doing it.
‘Going down on one knee or putting a badge on your football shirt is easy but on its own won’t do it.
‘Taking the knee is not for everyone, it’s not for me, but it doesn’t mean that you are in any way an apologist for racism.’
MP James Cleverly said he had never taken the knee and said people should not feel bullied to
Derby County’s Colin Kazim-Richards raises his fist in support of BLM as Millwall fans boo
He added to LBC: ‘Those players were acting in a way that demonstrates solidarity with those who are fighting racism and who were the victims of racism, and booing that is totally wrong.
Earlier he had defended Mr Eustice’s comments on the BLM movement.
He told the BBC: ‘I think he echoed some of the concerns that I’ve raised that some elements of the Black Lives Matter movement are moving very much into a political sphere, talking about defunding the police and things like that, which are more about politics rather than fighting racism.
‘And I think there are some legitimate concerns about some of the things that some elements of BLM are calling for.’
And speaking to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, he insisted he was more of a fan of longer-established anti-racism causes.
He said: ‘The point that I’ve always made is that there is a long standing organisation which had been fighting racism in football, Kick Racism Out.
Environment minister George Eustice criticised the BLM group for being a political movement
The move to take the knee or put badges on the shirts, I understand, but for me I prefer there was more support for the well-established and very effective organisation that has been fighting to get racism out of football for many, many years.’
When Piers said he was staggered by his response, Mr Cleverly held his ground and insisted: ‘Are you telling me to react to something as a black man? Are you going there are you? Are you? Go on then, go on then. I didn’t say there’s anything wrong with it. The point I’m saying is that there is a long standing organisation that’s been working for a very long time that doesn’t get anything like the air time or support that BLM does. I understand their desire to act in solidarity with other people fighting racism. The point that I’ve said is that in my opinion, putting a badge on a shirt or taking the knee, whilst fine in itself, actually there are other ways that they could have done that.’
The row over BLM exploded after Millwall fans booed players for taking the knee as limited crowds returned to games for the first time since the pandemic.
Environment Secretary Mr Eustice was played audio of the scenes on Sky News, and took aim at the specific group.
He went on to stress protests by individuals should be treated with ‘respect’.
Black Live Matter march from Clapham Common to Brixton on August 1 earlier this year
Protesters in Notting Hill in west London for an anti-racism demonstration on August 30
Black Lives Matter: Group wants to abolish the police, smash capitalism and close all prisons
Black Lives Matter UK is the semi-official British offshoot of its American counterpart and has been the face of the UK’s protests over George Floyd’s death and racial equailty.
But while hundreds of thousands of people have donated millions to their cause, many will be unaware on many of the group’s more extreme aims.
The UK branch, just like the American arm of the movement, has a number of far-Left aims listed on its wesbite.
They include the Marxist ‘commitment to dismantle capitalism’.
Elsewhere the group says it wants to use money it has raised to develop and deliver strategies ‘for the abolition of the police’.
The official Twitter account of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) UK movement has also been caught up in an antisemitism row.
It tweeted in support of Palestine over plans by Israel to annex its West Bank settlements.
The verified account claimed mainstream British politics were being ‘gagged of the right to critique Zionism,’ before Tweeting that the movement ‘loudly and clearly stands beside our Palestinian comrades’ and adding in block capitals ‘FREE PALESTINE’.
It sparked anger among the Jewish community, with some describing the idea of politicians being ‘gagged’ over their criticism of Zionism as being an ‘antisemitic trope’.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said: ‘BLM should aspire to be a movement against racism that unifies people and achieves lasting change, not a movement that spreads hatred and achieves lasting division.
‘You cannot fight prejudice with prejudice.’
The group has been active online since mid-2016.
In December that year it endorsed the complete closure of all Britain’s prisons and detention centres, saying they were ‘inhumane, overcrowded and unsafe’.
The group has also expressed its opposition on Twitter to government initiatives including reform of the benefits system via the introduction of Universal Credit and the licensing of fracking.
It has attacked everyone from Oxfam (‘big charities are nothing more than colonisers for the 21st century’) to Sir David Attenborough.
The group accused an episode of his 2018 TV series Dynasties, on chimpanzees, of being racist because the BBC naturalist complained that habitat destruction due to overpopulation was threatening the species with extinction.
‘Human activities can obviously compete with wildlife,’ the anomymous BLM Tweeter opined. ‘But ‘too many people’ always has a silent ‘black’.’
He said: ‘Obviously the issue of race and racial discrimination is something we all take very seriously.
‘My personal view is that Black Lives Matter, capital B, L, and M, is actually a political movement, which is different from what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality.
‘But look each individual can take their own choices about how they reflect this. I know a lot of people feel quite strongly and have taken that approach.’
He added: ‘There has been problems obviously with racism in football in the past. It is right that that is called out and challenged when we see it.
‘It doesn’t have any place in society today and if people choose to express their view in a particular way that should always be respected.’
The booing came at the first game attended by fans since lockdown began in March – during which period many footballers have started taking the knee before kick off.
The gesture has been carried out by players and staff across the country originally in support of Black Lives Matter, before the Premier League distanced itself from the movement.
In a statement released, Millwall Football Club said: ‘(We were) dismayed and saddened by events which marred Saturday’s game against Derby County at The Den.
In response, the FA said in a statement: ‘The FA supports all players and staff that wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemns the behaviours of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities.’
The scenes sparked shockwaves through the game, and have divided social media users.
Some players, pundits and fans have condemned the fans’ actions while others say the gesture is no longer appropriate.
On Twitter, Gary Lineker, said: ‘Let’s be fair, it only appears to be a small minority of Millwall fans that didn’t boo the players taking the knee.’
Trevor Sinclair, who was sacked by the BBC for racially abusing a police officer while being arrested for drink driving in 2018, slammed the Millwall fans.
He wrote: ‘Reality is Millwall fans booing players taking a knee doesn’t surprise many!!!’
Former England striker Dion Dublin said: ‘To me, they are racist. They don’t agree with taking the knee, which means they’re racist.’
There was also public division on whether Mr Eustice had been wrong to make his comments.
One Twitter user claimed: ‘Any sign of George Eustice being sacked yet for both-sidesing the Millwall racists this morning?
‘Just when you thought this government couldn’t get any more disgusting, they start flying the flag for second-hand Trumpism.’
But another social media member said him calling out the BLM political agenda had been correct.
He said: ‘Not often I praise MPs but George Eustice has just been on and spelled out who and what BLM are. And supported the right of those Millwall fans to react the way they did to the organisation.’
Speaking after the game, Millwall manager Gary Rowett said: ‘I’m disappointed that we are talking about that when we should be talking about the fact we are all back and we want to enjoy the football match again.
Robbie Cowling, Colchester United owner and chairman, has urged supporters to stop booing
‘The club do an enormous amount of work on anti-racism and the club do a lot of work in the community and there is some really positive stuff, so of course I am disappointed.’
On players taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Rowett added: ‘Is it a political message, is it an anti-discrimination message?
‘The players have come out and said they don’t support the political aspect, but they do support the anti-discrimination aspect of it and of course we all do.’
Derby interim boss Wayne Rooney, who secured his first win in charge of the Rams with a 1-0 success at The Den, said: ‘With everything that has been going on in recent months, it was very surprising.
‘I don’t want to say much about it, but all I can say is everyone at Derby County Football Club, we obviously took the knee, and no one condones that behaviour.’
Millwall footballer Mahlon Romeo said his team’s fans ‘have personally disrespected not just me but the football club’.
Colchester United’s game against Grimsby on Saturday was also hit by booing during the pre-kick-off kneel.
Owner Robbiw Cowling said this morning: ‘Those taking the knee, and supporting the taking of the knee, not only shows their willingness to support the drive to eradicate racial oppression but force it to be a talking point even when it’s uncomfortable.
‘Undeniably, taking the knee is a fundamental catalyst in pushing the conversation and thus the necessary changes forward.
‘I’m sure the vast majority of Colchester United fans are supportive and want to play their part in showing they back the actions of our players.
‘Maybe those that booed on Saturday might now understand what this gesture means to our club and will at the very least remain silent during future games whilst the players continue to take the knee before each kick-off.
‘Alternatively, they should just stay away from our club because anyone that still wants to boo now that I have explained the purpose and importance of the taking of the knee is not welcome at our club.
‘I will be happy to refund anyone for the remaining value of their season permit if that is the reason they feel they can no longer attend our games.
‘It would be very disappointing if anyone does decide to boo again. Therefore, going forward I would like to make the actions of those fans who do boo the taking of the knee completely irrelevant.
‘For every game where the players choose to take the knee, I would like all of our fans to join me in applauding this gesture to ensure our players know we fully support them.’