THE far-right Scottish Defence League has been dismissed as a “joke” after a spokesman for the racist group claimed so few people attend demonstrations because they’re scared they will be beaten up.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, the group’s spokesman also insisted the SDL are “not racists or Nazis or fascists” – even though Nazi salutes are seen at rallies – and made a clumsy attempt to distance the SDL from Scottish Dawn, a neo-Nazi organisation banned by the government last year under anti-terror laws.

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He said the decision by Home Secretary Amber Rudd was “a bit harsh” on Scottish Dawn supporters, who attended an anti-refugee demo organised by the SDL last year holding yellow flags featuring the black “life rune” symbol used by Nazis.

As a result, campaigners against the SDL have said you can “draw a line” from the SDL to “Nazi gangs” with a “murderous agenda”.

The SDL arranged several demos last year, including a march against a proposed mosque in Perth in September, a so-called anti-terrorism rally in Edinburgh in June which was in fact a thinly-veiled exercise in Islamophobia, and protests against the housing of Syrian refugees in Alloa in March and in Wishaw in April. SDL supporters were outnumbered by hundreds of people who joined counter protests at every single demo.

Their demos usually number no more than a maximum of 50 people – although they are often smaller – however, the group continually insists attendance is much higher.

The SDL spokesman claimed their numbers are small because supporters lack the confidence to take part in public events because they fear they will be beaten up by “left-wing extremists”. He said they are also concerned they will be “branded as racists and Nazis” and exposed by “left-wing newspapers”.

He said he did not want to be named for that reason. “I can't take the risk of putting my family in danger, I hope you understand,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is what we face simply for loving our country and wanting to defend our people and families from terrorism.”

He refused to meet the Sunday Herald despite repeated requests for an interview but agreed to open up an online dialogue via Facebook Messenger, which led to a protracted conversation beginning in September last year, after the SDL marched against a mosque in Perth.

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The spokesman claimed the group has supporters in “nearly every area in Scotland” who update the leadership on local issues but offered no evidence to support this assertion. When asked why these supporters don’t attend demos, such as the march in Perth, the spokesman said: “A lot of people don't have the confidence to take their opinions onto the streets as they know they face being attacked by left-wing extremists such as Antifa [anti-fascist groups] and they know they will be branded as racists and Nazis etc. which is untrue. Also, our opposition try to identify people at our demos and try to lose them their jobs, also people don't want to be exposed by left-wing papers, that's a few reasons why our numbers on the streets may seem small.”

John McFadden, Chairman United Against Fascism Scotland, which holds counter demonstrations against the SDL, said: “They have to bus people in from the north east of England to swell their numbers. You can draw a line from the British National Party, the National Front and the English Defence League to the SDL. You will also see members of Scottish Dawn at SDL demos where they try to gain traction for their murderous agenda which divides communities.”

When challenged, the SDL spokesman admitted numbers are bolstered by English groups. “Sometimes a few people come up from England to support us but not many,” he said.

When asked whether he agrees that members of the SDL are racist, the spokesman claimed the group is simply “misunderstood”. He said they are “working class tax-paying patriots” not “racists or Nazis or fascists”.

In a comment, which betrays the group’s agenda against foreigners who live in Scotland, he said: “It's certainly not racist to want our own people who have paid tax and even served their country to have preference over people from other countries in housing and the NHS etc.”

In an increasingly self-pitying series of interviews: “Regarding people calling us Nazi and fascist that's just a left-wing silencing technique to silence people who disagree with them. We are not bound by political correctness and we are not scared of being called racist, that's we take to the streets when needed to highlight issues. Our reputation is totally unjustified and is mainly drummed up by our far-left wing opposition. They try to demonise us to try and turn people against us and stop us getting more support.”

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And in an apparent defence of the Nazis, the SDL spokesman said: "Communists have killed more people than the Nazis and anarchists believe in the violent overthrow of the government and don't respect the police and law and order but want anarchy and lawlessness,” he said.

John McFadden of United Against Fascism Scotland, said: “At the demos I’ve attended the SDL has been segregated by police. Members of the SDL shout racist abuse and Sieg Heil [give the Nazi salute]. Their violent intent is obvious and I’m quite sure they would attack minorities if they were given the opportunity.”

When the SDL spokesman was asked whether members were also involved with Scottish Dawn, the neo-Nazi group proscribed by the UK Government last year, he insisted there is “no crossover”.

Being a member or active supporter of Scottish Dawn was made a criminal offence in September – with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of being involved.

Supporters of Scottish Dawn holding distinctive yellow flags were seen standing alongside a group with an SDL banner at an anti-refugee demo in Alloa in March last year.

The SDL spokesman admitted: “A few of them attended one of our demos but our demos are open to the public, so anyone can attend.”

When asked about Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s decision to ban Scottish Dawn under the UK’s anti-terror laws, the SDL spokesman said: “Seems a bit harsh on them when they haven't done anything wrong.”

Matthew Collins, head of research at anti-racist campaign group Hope Not Hate, said: “The SDL are a joke who hide behind Nazi gangs like the North East Infidels from England when they try and march.”

He added: “They should probably give up. The group is fractured and even their contemporaries laugh at them. The Bubonic plague had a warmer welcome in Scotland.”