A SELF-claimed member of a ‘white nationalist’ group claimed he ‘didn’t know what the problem was’ as counter-protesters shouted that he and those with him were ‘racist’.

Joe Marsh, who also goes by the names Jeff Marsh or Joe Butler, had this week encouraged members of ultra-far right group Patriotic Alliance to join Saturday’s anti-LTN protest in Oxford.

Mr Marsh himself could be seen near the foot of Carfax Tower, by a stall set up by another right-wing group the Heritage Party, as ‘anti-fascist’ counter-protesters traded words with those ostensibly in Oxford for the main march in Broad Street.

READ MORE: Five arrests as anti-LTN march passes off 'peacefully'

The far right figure, who in the 2000s set up English Defence League-linked football hooligan collective Casuals United to ‘fight jihadis’, told the Oxford Mail: “We’re a white nationalist group but we’re not protesting about anything to do with race or immigration today.”

He claimed to be in Oxford to protest against ’15 minute cities’, a town planning concept that essential services like shops and doctors’ surgeries should be within quarter-of-an-hour of people’s homes. Oxfordshire County Council claims the concept has been misrepresented to suggest they want a ‘climate lockdown’.

“We are protesting against 15 minute cities. This is not a racial protest. So, I don’t know what their problem is. If they think they can dictate to us where we can and can’t go,” said Mr Marsh, who could later be seen carrying a cardboard sign that read ‘NOT FAR RIGHT JUST RIGHT SO FAR’.

Oxford Mail: Joe Marsh/Jeff Marsh at the Oxford demonstration, holding a sign saying 'not far right just right so far'Joe Marsh/Jeff Marsh at the Oxford demonstration, holding a sign saying 'not far right just right so far' (Image: Oxford Mail)

Patriotic Alternative, the group with which Mr Marsh is now associated, was founded in 2019 by former British National Party staffer Mark Collett – who featured in 2002 documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, in which confessed his racist views and told the Channel 4 reporter: “Hitler will live on forever and maybe I will.”

The group has been accused of ‘hijacking’ local issues to promote its own agenda. An activist from the organisation reportedly handed out anti-migrant leaflets in Merseyside just days before a violent disorder outside a Knowsley hotel that housed asylum seekers. Patriotic Alternative denied being involved in the disorder.

David Lawrence, a senior researcher at anti-fascist organisation HOPE not hate, said Patriotic Alternative was ‘desperate for relevance’.

“As a result, it downplays its extremism when dealing with the public and tries to co-opt existing local concerns as their own,” he said.

“Because PA is highly active and relatively well organised there is a risk it may succeed in inflaming local tensions, growing its brand in the process.

“However, the large majority of the public would run a mile if PA was honest about what it stands for - crank conspiracy theories and a fetish for the Third Reich."

Ian McKendrick of Oxford Stand Up to Racism was part of a counter-demonstration in Bonn Square. Asked what message he had for Oxford people joining the main anti-LTN protest, he said: “You’ve got every right to protest, but we really urge you don’t associate with racist and fascist groups that are trying to hijack local concerns.

“They want to escalate this idea of a conspiracy theory that we’re all going to be locked in our homes. This is patently not true.

“There are issues with LTNs that need to be dealt with, but people are running the risk of discrediting the anti-LTN campaign by associating with racist and fascist groups.”

Oxford man John Green, 69, was one of those at the Bonn Square counter-demonstration. He told the Oxford Mail: “I would have gone on the anti-LTN demo. I’m opposed to them. I think they’re absolutely dreadful.

“They’ve added a congestion and keep cars on the road in the city for longer. It’s counter-productive; disastrous.

“I would have gone on that but apparently all these fascists have latched onto it, extreme right-wingers, connecting it to climate change denial and anti-lockdown and all that rubbish – conspiracy rubbish.”