In the recently published Hate, Matthew Collins' account of his life in the National Front (NF), he describes how he and his comrades would spend hours trawling through the local and national press in the hope of catching a mention of their antics tucked away in the column inches. When they made the front page of the The Sun, he recounts how he bought a dozen copies "for posterity", delighted that his group was getting the attention he then believed it deserved.
Likewise, when Theresa May last week announced the recent ban on Muslims Against Crusades (MAC), the most recent offshoot of the Salafi-jihadi cult al-Muhajiroun, she made their day. Among the most exciting things that can happen to a fringe extremist cult is when they, however briefly, grab the attention of a senior government official which is then covered in the national press. Perhaps even more exhilarating for them has been the regular coverage of their antics over the last few years, which has now gone on for long enough.
I can just imagine Anjem Choudary and his minions huddled around thinking up outrageous statements that might grab tabloid headlines. Why else would they announce, as they did in 2009, their supposed desire to turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque? If that doesn't guarantee you some space in the front pages of the Daily Mail and Daily Express, nothing will. This also explains their poppy burning exploits, and the threat made in early 2010 to march on Wootten Bassett during soldier repatriation ceremonies. The latter in particular was a rare stroke of genius from Choudary; the event never went ahead (and nor do I think they ever intended it to), but it guaranteed him days of back-to-back coverage.
I have met Choudary on a couple of occasions, and have also spent some time among his followers at their events. At one of their press conferences I attended some years ago, which was held at a grey and depressing Holiday Inn off the A406 in North West London, I sat and talked with his followers as they set up the room for the impeding wave of tabloid journalists. During this and other events, I began to doubt Choudary's global Islamist convictions; his only concern is that people notice him, and he feeds on publicity, gorging himself on attention from the media. I now wish that I had taken a picture of his face as it lit up when the room began to fill with reporters. He also thrives on the blind adulation of his followers, whose convictions I am sad to say I could not doubt as they babbled to me about Jewish conspiracies and half-baked pseudo-theological arguments for the separation of Muslims and non-Muslims in Western society (referred to as al-wala wal baraa) and the supposed sovereignty of Allah (known as hakimiyya).
Admittedly, I have fallen into this trap myself, having given comments about the group to a number of media outlets. However, for months now I have spurned requests to make statements about them, and will continue to do so. A media blackout will not necessarily make them go away but, and I refer you again to Collins' account of the decline of the NF, this can contribute to groups like this losing their appeal among members and potential recruits. If it feels as if no one is listening, it can become very disheartening to continue wasting one's life on a lost cause.
This is not to say that they are of no consequence, and as a recent report by the Henry Jackson Society found, 53% of all terrorism convictions of individuals involved in proscribed organisations are linked to al-Muhajiroun or its affiliates. However, this does not mean that we need to react to their every comment or silly march. Unlikely as it is, I hope this will be the last any of us hear of them.