Tommy Robinson invited to address US Congress members in Washington by Republican supporters

EDL founder was previously jailed for using a friend's passport to enter US because his visa was refused over criminal convictions 

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 25 October 2018 22:18 BST
Tommy Robinson wins appeal: Far-right leader freed from prison on bail

Tommy Robinson has been invited to speak at the US Congress by a group of Republican politicians.

The far-right figurehead, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is waiting to see if American authorities will approve a visa for the event scheduled for 14 November.

He was previously refused entry to the US because of criminal convictions for violence, drug possession and public order offences.

Robinson was jailed for using a friend’s passport to travel to New York illegally in 2012, and has since racked up sentences for mortgage fraud and contempt of court, but supporters hope a Congressional invite will overcome strict immigration laws.

Robinson is currently on bail pending a potential rehearing over alleged contempt of court committed at Leeds Crown Court in May.

The 35-year-old was jailed for 13 months but freed on appeal in August, and a judge referred the case to the attorney general this week.

The Middle East Forum (MEF), an American think tank that has been funding pro-Robinson protests in Britain, said it has invited Robinson for a two-day trip to Washington alongside the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center.

If he is permitted to enter the US, Robinson will speak to the Conservative Opportunity Society at the invitation of Republican representative Paul Gosar and six other members of Congress.

Tommy Robinson with a supporter dressed as Donald Trump addressing a crowd outside the Old Bailey at a rally organised by the Middle East Forum on 23 October (AFP/Getty Images)

That closed-door engagement will be followed by a ticketed public event organised by the MEF.

Robinson has enjoyed mounting American backing, with Donald Trump Jr tweeting in his support and the president's ambassador for international religious freedom raising his imprisonment with the British government earlier this year.

Sam Brownback reportedly suggested the UK should be more “sympathetic” to Robinson in July, warning the British ambassador that the Trump administration might publicly criticise its handling of the case.

The MEF said it had been supporting Robinson personally since his imprisonment, providing legal funds and organising demonstrations including one attended by Mr Gosar.

Gregg Roman, director of the MEF, told The Independent he was “pretty sure” Robinson’s visa application would succeed.

He said the English Defence League founder was invited “to demonstrate the resolve an American organisation has to allow there to be a free and open and public discussion about Islamism in the UK”.

“We’re very well aware of his controversy,” Mr Roman added, claiming that the group would not support anyone who called for violence against Muslims or their removal from the UK.

Prosecutors said Robinson’s social media posts were a key inspiration for Darren Osborne to ram a van into Muslims leaving prayers in Finsbury Park – the UK’s fourth terror attack of 2017.

He denied involvement and has attempted to sue media outlets that reported evidence from the trial.

Last weekend, Robinson addressed a rally held by the German anti-Islam Pegida group in Dresden.

“Now is the time for things to turn, a revolution is on the cards,” he said, claiming that “Muslim invaders” wanted to take over German and “dominate and control” Christian countries.

“Peace with Islam is a false peace,” Robinson claimed, before shouting the slogan: “Wir sind das Volk”.

Mr Roman said the speech did not amount to a call for violence, adding: “He is talking about a religion that has to be spoken about.”

The MEF’s mission statement says it “promotes American interests and works to protect Western civilisation from the threat of Islamism”.

Mr Roman said its legal defence fund has been involved in more than 90 cases – including defending Dutch populist Geert Wilders – costing $5m (£3.9m) in the last 10 years on “trying to protect the right to discuss Islamism publicly”.

Crowdfunding pages run by Robinson and his former employers Rebel Media have enjoyed a surge in donations since his imprisonment and on Thursday he said there was still “a pot in excess of a few hundred thousand pounds” left after legal costs.

He vowed to launch a series of new legal claims against newspapers, police, the Home Office and prosecutors and said he was also planning to visit Australia following the US trip.

Matthew McGregor, campaigns director of Hope Not Hate, said: “There is a terrible dark irony about Muslims being banned by Trump, yet a criminal extremist being allowed into the United States.”

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