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Tommy Robinson and the making of a far-right ‘propaganda’ video

Exclusive: Footage showing EDL leader attacking migrant was cut and heavily edited

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 18 March 2021 12:04 GMT
Footage obtained by The Independent shows Robinson’s confrontation with a man in Rome

Tommy Robinson is staring down the camera, warning viewers about the “readiness in which migrants will attack”.

It is March 2018, and the far-right activist has just returned from a trip to Italy, where he claims a migrant attacked his producer and threatened to kill him.

“These kind of crimes taking place across Europe are beginning to resemble those that are more commonplace in places like the Middle East and South Africa,” Robinson says. “Politicians brought this upon their own country.”

The video, titled “Italy: What Really Happened when a Migrant Attacked”, showed him punching a man to the ground while supposedly defending himself and his employee. The footage sparked international news coverage and was widely shared on social media.

It was later restricted by YouTube because of “inappropriate or offensive” content, but has been viewed more than 2 million times on that platform alone.

Now, Robinson’s former producer has claimed the video was heavily edited “propaganda”, which distorted the incident to push a narrative about “violent” migrants arriving in Europe. Robinson says he wasn’t involved in the editing process, but stands by the video.

Read more: Tommy Robinson ‘misused’ donations from far-right supporters, claim former allies

Caolan Robertson, who Robinson claimed the “migrant” had attacked in the footage, has shared his footage with The Independent.

Original footage of Tommy Robinson’s altercation with a migrant in Italy (Caolan Robertson)

It shows Robinson goading the man and launching the first physical assault – shoving the man into the road and then pushing him into the path of an oncoming car.

After the man smashes into the vehicle’s bonnet and windscreen, Robinson continues a stream of threats, telling him: “Take your arse away, f*** off or I’ll f***ing put you asleep.”

A man speaking English attempts to intervene, but Robinson continues his tirade, demanding to know what country the man is from.

The man denies touching the camera, asking: “Are you crazy? You’re mad.”

He adds: “You keep your life ok … keep yourself – wherever you want to go, whatever you’re doing or making money, it’s your life.”

Robinson appears to misinterpret his remarks as a threat, shouting: “You think you’re going to take my f***ing life, take my f***ing life … who the f*** do you think you are, it’s not even your country.”

Original footage of Tommy Robinson’s altercation with a migrant in Italy (Caolan Robertson)

He threatens: “There’s one way this is going to go, you’re going to end up knocked down unconscious.”

The man moves towards a parked vehicle next to Robinson, appearing to say “I can break cars” before Robinson punches him in the face and he falls to the ground.

The footage ends with Robinson leaving the scene as police arrive, after being pursued by onlookers warning: “You see what you’ve done, you cannot do that.”

But Robinson’s supporters have not seen that footage. The version that they saw showed a different order of events and omitted significant sections.

The YouTube version showed Robinson initially shoving the man into the road, but removed the second attack that threw him into the car, then cut to the “migrant” telling him to “keep your life” without context.

It moved Robinson’s final retreat to the middle of the incident, so it appeared that he was walking away before the man confronted him.

Subtitles were inserted alleging the man had said “I can kill you” immediately before being punched, rather than “I can break cars”.

Mr Robertson says he refused to carry out the “crazy” edits, including a new background soundscape featuring blaring sirens.

The edited video as it appears on YouTube (YouTube)

“It’s totally manipulated and the way it was cut made it look like he was suddenly lunging at Tommy, which was not true,” he adds.

Even for those who disapproved of Robinson’s violence, viewers of his version would be left with the impression that the “migrant” had instigated the situation by being threatening towards the activist and his employee.

Robinson admits pushing the man, but says “it is clear that he approached me and did so in an aggressive way”.

Mr Robertson says Robinson had in fact sought out an area of Rome where he believed “violent” migrants were spending time.

“He completely manipulated the whole situation,” Mr Robertson says. “He went to a ‘no-go zone’ and nothing happened.”

Asked whether the man had made a move for his camera or threatened him, he replied: “No, of course not.”

Mr Robertson believes the man, whose first language was not English, was saying “keep your life” to mean “keep yourself to yourself”, rather than making a threat.

“Tommy in the video said he was saying ‘I’ll kill you, I’ll take your life’,” he adds.

“What he was saying in real life was ‘try not to bother anyone, you should keep your life. I’ll keep my life, keep to your life’.”

Robinson denies that he misinterpreted what the man said, claiming “his actions were aggressive and he was ready to use violence to my camera man and to me.”

Robinson was allegedly “terrified” when he returned to his hotel after the incident.

“He was saying ‘did anyone see me, did anyone film me, what if someone got a photo, what if there’s a police report, what the hell am I going to do?’,” Mr Robertson claims.

“He had to call someone for legal advice. He was so nervous, he was like ‘delete the footage, delete the footage’.”

Mr Robertson suggests Robinson then had a better idea – to edit the video to tell a different story, one that would fit his narrative.

Robinson described himself as a “journalist” in the video and said he had gone to the area to investigate a “spate of high-profile migrant attacks” in Italy.

At the end of the footage, he made an appeal for donations from supporters for his work.

In an email to The Independent, Robinson said an incident where a female journalist was assaulted in May 2017 was “evidence of a willingness of some of the illegal migrants in that area to attack journalists”.

“The same happened with us and the report is accurate I am not an editor of sound and video and have not worked on the edit – however, I trusted my team.”

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