Tommy Robinson's imprisonment being used by far right to reorganise and create new 'racist street movement', MPs warn

MPs and campaigners call on people to oppose 'Free Tommy' protest planned for 14 July

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 20 June 2018 15:38 BST
Supporters of the EDL demonstrate in Whitehall earlier this month
Supporters of the EDL demonstrate in Whitehall earlier this month

Far-right protesters are rallying around the imprisonment of Tommy Robinson to develop a new “racist street movement” with international support, MPs and campaigners have warned.

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, is among signatories on an open letter calling on people to join counter-protests against a planned “Free Tommy” demonstration by the criminal’s supporters in London next month.

It said a 15,000-strong rally that descended into violence on 9 June “has raised major questions for all those who value our diversity”.

“The racist right are using Robinson to reorganise,” continued the letter, published in The Guardian. “Nazi salutes and Islamophobia were at the centre of the mobilisation. This is the first serious attempt since the collapse of the English Defence League (EDL) to develop a racist street movement and give it a political form.

“It is supported internationally by notorious figures including from the US and the Dutch Islamophobic right.

“It is absolutely vital that all who oppose this come together in a united mass movement powerful enough to drive back these new developments on the far right.”

The letter was also signed by Lords, MEPs, union leaders, senior figures in Muslim and Jewish communities and campaigners from Show Racism the Red Card and other groups.

Tommy Robinson supporter gives Nazi salute in Whitehall

It called on supporters to join protests against Donald Trump’s visit to Britain on 13 July, accusing the US president of “galvanising the racist right”, and again the following day to oppose the “Free Tommy” protest.

More than 4,000 people have listed themselves as attending the demonstration on a Facebook event hosted by Robinson’s assistants.

“Stand up for free speech, stand up against this dictatorship they call a government and stand up against the persecution of Tommy Robinson,” the description reads. “Let’s make this one 100,000 people! [sic]”

A demonstration held in London earlier this month showed the criminal’s supporters perform Nazi salutes, attack police and overrun and vandalise a tourist bus, causing several arrests.

A letter purportedly written by Robinson in prison praised the day as “amazing scenes” and hailed “protests spreading across the globe”, saying he receives a letters and emails from supporters every day.

The handwritten letter called for a “moment to change the direction of our nation” and furthered the myth of an “Islamic takeover” in Britain, adding: “We can no longer be looking from the outside in. We must involve our voice and our movement into politics. I have so many plans on what I want to do when I get out.”

Citing support from Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders and the US president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, the letter continued: “I’d have done six months just for that recognition.”

It claimed that Robinson was lodging an appeal against both his conviction for contempt of court and 13-month sentence, but his lawyer would not confirm proceedings had been launched when contacted by The Independent.

Robinson’s supporters demonstrate in London earlier this month

Robinson was jailed after admitting committing contempt of court by live-streaming details of a trial that was subject to blanket reporting restrictions at Leeds Crown Court last month.

The 35-year-old, who was jailed under his real name of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, had already been handed a suspended sentence for the same crime and was told he could have caused the trial to collapse.

Robinson previously raised fears the Finsbury Park attack trial would be stopped when he live-streamed interviews with journalists after the jury heard his posts had radicalised far-right terrorist Darren Osborne.

A judge initially banned media reports of Robinson’s imprisonment over fears it could affect the ongoing case, but lifted the order after hearing submissions from The Independent and local media.

Supporters of the far-right figurehead have protested over his imprisonment and the reporting restrictions, using them to claim the “establishment” was attempting to silence his views.

An online petition entitled “Free Tommy Robinson” has garnered more than 600,000 signatures and US politicians have raised his case in Congress.

Some supporters have characterised Robinson as a journalist exposing crime, but his social media broadcasts rely on information from the local and national “mainstream” media and tend to cover cases that have already been prosecuted.

Robinson formerly broadcast his activities on Twitter, but was permanently banned from the platform earlier this year.

He co-founded the EDL in 2009 and has been arrested numerous times during demonstrations and at fights between football fans, as well as being jailed for mortgage fraud in 2014.

Despite claiming to have made friends with Muslim prisoners during his time inside, he attempted to found a British branch of the German anti-Islam group Pegida in 2015.

He later worked for Canadian right-wing website Rebel Media and has since started his own site, which appeals for public donations.

Robinson has been increasing his international audience by working with members of the American alt-right and ethno-nationalist Generation Identity movement, whose leaders have been prevented from entering the UK.

Earlier this year, the former head of national counter-terrorism policing hit out at Robinson’s “dangerous disinformation and propaganda”.

Mark Rowley said Robinson “attacks the whole religion of Islam by conflating acts of terrorism with the faith often citing spurious claims, which inevitably stir up tensions”.

“Such figures represented no more than the extreme margins of the communities they claim to speak for, yet they have been given prominence and a platform to espouse their dangerous disinformation and propaganda,” he added.

Statistics show the number of far-right terrorists imprisoned in Britain has more than tripled in a year, amid a record number of terror-related arrests.

British security services have been thwarting attacks at the rate of one every month since the Westminster attack in March 2017, including four extreme right-wing plots.

Campaigners have long been raising alarm over the rise of neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action, Britain First, anti-Islam party for Britain and the Football Lads Alliance protest movement.

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