The Ashburton Army, a fan organization for Arsenal soccer team, is under investigation after a number of antisemitic communications on WhatsApp came to light.
The group, comprised of approximately 200 members, is responsible for designing flags and banners, writing songs and participating in charity events in honor of Arsenal. The group is not officially affiliated with Arsenal, however, the Mirror reported that tickets are regularly reserved for members of the group. Arsenal has also contributed funds for two banners and storage for said banners.
Arsenal has allegedly been aware of the group’s antisemitic activities since 2019 but has only just decided to take action. Arsenal issued a warning to the group, insisting that the group needs to maintain better conduct and reminding it of the team's desire to have their stadium be a safe environment without discrimination.
“We are aware of the historic messages on a private WhatsApp group and we strongly condemn the abusive and discriminatory language being used. We are liaising with the police on the matter," they said in a statement to The Guardian.
“Our ongoing action shows that abusive and discriminatory behavior will not be tolerated at Arsenal. Our inclusion programs designed for our local community aim to support education on the topics of abuse and discrimination, while our global platforms will continue to give a voice and bring focus to matters of equality, diversity and inclusion.
"We will also continue to campaign alongside our supporters’ groups, including our new Jewish Gooners group and the Jewish community, to celebrate and champion our diverse family with the aim of ensuring everyone feels welcome at Arsenal.”
Arsenal added that they had banned 31 members and season-ticket holders for abusive and discriminatory behavior in the 2021-22 season.
“The bans are the result of behavior online (18) and in the stadium (13). Five of the 31 sanctions are for antisemitism,” the Daily Mail reported.
Antisemitic WhatsApp group
The antisemitic messages under investigation were allegedly exchanged in the group’s WhatsApp group and ranged in topics from the Holocaust to Israeli-Palestinian conspiracy theories as well as a number of comments relating to circumcision. The group also made comments on Tottenham Hotspurs, an opposing club with a reputation for having a Jewish fanbase.
The antisemitic messages were sent in the form of songs, words, memes and cartoons, according to the Mirror. The Guardian reported that the group’s admins did not delete any offending material or take action against anyone that sent such material.
The antisemitic material was allegedly targeted toward a former member of the group, who did not wish to make a formal complaint.
The group issued a statement reading that they “strongly condemn any form of racism and antisemitic talk as we are a group with many religions and races and have Jewish members. We will continue to educate members and work with the club throughout the investigation.”
Police are investigating the incident but have yet to make any arrests.
On May 3, the group issued a statement complaining about being treated like criminals at football games saying that they are a group “committed to making the atmosphere better” and that they had received an “unwarranted level of harassment from the authorities.” This was before the antisemitic messages came to light.