'What we’re really against is extremism...': The complex world of former EDL leader Tommy Robinson revealed

Recent encounters caused Eric Randolph to modify his view of the man and his party - as it emerges that 30-year-old was holding discussions with former jihadi who has himself renounced fundamentalism

Any attempt to take a nuanced approach to the English Defence League and its supporters’ beliefs is rapidly defeated if you attend an EDL rally. At a recent march near London’s Tower Bridge, the chants included “Mohammed was a paedo – la la la la” and “Shove your fuckin’ Islam [repeat thrice] up your arse”.

For most, such attitudes have long been embodied in the figure of the movement’s leader, Tommy Robinson, whose name is associated in the public mind with words like “racist”, “thug” and “fascist”. But the Luton-based agitator has more recently taken to expressing some unexpected views. In an interview with The Independent before announcing today that he is quitting the EDL, he said: “Here’s the thing – 10 per cent of our lads are dickheads. That’s just the way it is.”

Many would probably consider that estimate short by about 85 to 90 per cent, but political leaders rarely call any of their supporters “dickheads”. Robinson continued in the same self-deprecating vein: “Of course our tactics are questionable. I was chatting to a Muslim woman yesterday. I get how, when we go into a town centre, she feels uncomfortable. I don’t feel happy about that.”

It sounds disingenuous, a way of disarming criticism by pre-empting the disdain that follows him and the EDL’s every move. But Robinson, 30, who runs a tanning salon in his home town and whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has been on a journey in recent months which he insists has opened a schism between him and his unsavoury and unacceptable followers.

The Independent can reveal that while publicly spouting views that call for the closure of mosques and draw no distinction between Britain’s Muslim mainstream and the tiny minority of Islamist extremists, Robinson has been holding discussions with a former jihadi who has himself renounced fundamentalism. Usama Hasan, who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and is now part of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation, said he had no illusions about the EDL leader’s views but credited him with being ready to deepen his knowledge of Islam and modify his position.

Hasan said: “[Tommy] is guilty of stirring up anti-Muslim hatred. He’s misguided and he waivers – sometimes he’ll say he’s only opposed to Muslim extremists and other times he’ll say that Islam can’t be reformed and all Muslims are potential extremists. But I get the impression he does listen and he’s been doing his reading, and it’s slowly getting through.”

He said he and Robinson had found common ground in the belief that many of Britain’s problems with extreme Islamist belief, which have produced over 100 convicted terrorists, are rooted in Wahhabist teachings and money from Saudi Arabia. Hasan said: “Extremist ideas in this country have been promoted through Saudi money – the vast majority. Probably not realising what the Saudi work was doing in this country, plus it being a strong ally that we didn’t want to upset, the British government allowed that to continue.”

Tommy Robinson feels he can no longer keep extremists in the party at bay (Getty) Tommy Robinson feels he can no longer keep extremists in the party at bay (Getty)

 

He added that it is only since the 7/7 bombings that the Government has woken up to the full extent of the threat from radical preachers in Britain.

Robinson, who takes his adopted name from a former Luton football hooligan, remained unapologetic about the genesis of his movement and the tactics which have led to numerous confrontations on the streets of British cities since its inception in 2009.

He said: “What choice do we have? No one’s listened to us. When we started out, if we talked to councils and tried to explain to government, or even to Muslims – how many would even talk to us? Not one. They’re only talking to me now because of what we done.”

The question is whether a post-EDL Robinson can now create something that is more than just an ugly rabble of anti-Islamic thugs – a 21st-century updating of the bovver-booted skinheads smashing up Asian-owned newsagents in the 1970s.

News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
scienceHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
scienceBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL, AJAX, JQuery, MVC, HTML, XML

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL...

C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ASP.NET, SQL, MVC-4, TDD, BDD)

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ...

Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, JQuery, XML) London

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, J...

C# Software Developer (C#, front-end, Java, JavaScript, VB)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Software Developer (C#, front-...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried