By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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The real face of Tommy Robinson

This article is over 5 years, 11 months old
Issue 2607
Behind the mask of a free speech martyr lies a fascist
Behind the mask of a “free speech martyr” lies a fascist

Why he’s in prison

Nazi Tommy Robinson is back as a central figure of a growing racist street movement. Jailed for filming people involved in a trial in Leeds last week, he’s become a “free speech” martyr for the far right.

Robinson was trying to use a sexual abuse case to stir up Islamophobia. He likely knew that he would be arrested for trying to film the defendants, restricted by contempt of court laws in this instance as something that could prejudice the trial.

He also probably knew he would be jailed as he had a suspended sentence for a similar offence. He might not have expected a sentence of 13 months, but the plan had the desired effect. It focussed the gathering forces of the racist far right.

More than 600,000 people have signed a petition demanding his release. A demonstration in London this Saturday could see thousands of racists marching on his behalf.

Robinson isn’t for free speech. He wants to rip away free speech and democratic rights from Muslims, migrants, minorities and the left.

A committed Nazi

Robinson’s real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. He took the pseudonym when he founded the English Defence League (EDL) in 2009. Robinson wanted to hide the fact that he is a life-long Nazi.

He claimed that “there’s nothing far right about me” and that the EDL was “human rights organisation”. In an early EDL video, men in balaclavas burned a Swastika flag.

One of the EDL thugs seig heils as he is put on a bus by police

One of the EDL thugs seig heils as he is put on a bus by police (Pic: Jess Hurd/

The idea was to prove they weren’t Nazis. But they can’t have had much trouble getting hold of the flag—the EDL’s leadership was riddled with Nazis from the beginning.

Robinson himself was exposed as having been a member of the fascist British National Party (BNP) in the 2000s.

Disgruntled members of the group had released YouTube footage revealing his identity.

BNP members Chris Renton ran the EDL website and David Cooling was the admin on the Luton EDL Facebook group.

BNP members openly played a leading part when Robinson organised an Islamophobic race riot in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, in January 2010. Two of its councillors were part of directing the violence on the day.

Nazi terrorist group Combat 18 was also on the demonstration.

Alongside organising racist violence on the streets, Robinson briefly branched out into electoral politics in 2012.

The EDL signed a cooperation agreement with the British Freedom Party (BFP), a split from the BNP. Robinson and his cousin Kevin Carroll, who was also a founder-member of the EDL, were appointed deputy chairmen.

Robinson now hangs out with fascists and white supremacists from the US and European alt-right movement. They include Canadian Lauren Southern, who argues white farmers in South Africa are facing “genocide”.

A history of racist violence

Tommy Robinson declared that “We cannot rule out violence” ahead of an EDL mobilisation in Bolton on 20 March 2010.

On the day the demonstration didn’t go to plan thanks to opposition. Anti-fascists from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) were attacked by cops throughout the day.

The EDL in Birmingham in September 2009

The EDL in Birmingham in September 2009 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

But when young local Muslims joined UAF in Bolton’s town square, the cops pushed the EDL out of town.

Robinson had hoped for round two of one the EDL’s first outing in Stoke-on-Trent at the beginning of that year.

Socialist Worker reported at the time, “Football hooligans, known fascists and anti-Muslim fanatics gathered in the city centre. Hundreds of local people also joined the EDL brawl.

“There were reports that transport came from the barracks of the Mercian regiment.

“And at the end of the demonstration hundreds of EDL supporters swept through an Asian area attacking homes, shops and cars.”

Both Robinson and EDL supporters were never far from racist violence.

They sniffed another opportunity after the killing of British solider Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south east London, in 2013.

Within hours of the attack taking place, Robinson and a number of his henchmen descended on Woolwich. Again they hoped to organise racist riots against Muslims in the area.

The attack gave the flagging EDL a shot in the arm. Some 1,000 of them marched down Whitehall that week.

The EDL followed up with a plan to march from central London to Woolwich. The route would have taken them through the hearts of Tower Hamlets and Newham, boroughs with large Muslim and Asian populations.

Anti-fascists organised against them—and in the end only 25 turned out before their march in Hyde Park. Robinson and Carroll were arrested and charged with “obstructing the police” when they tried to walk through Tower Hamlets anyway.

Targeting Muslims

Tommy Robinson’s aim is—and always has been—to direct racism against Muslims.

The EDL was formed out of a racist backlash against Muslims in Luton in March 2009.

A small group of Muslims held a protest as the Royal Anglian Regiment paraded through the town to welcome troops home from Afghanistan.

Fascists and football hooligans saw an opportunity and began mobilising. Robinson was involved in racist protests organised by the United People of Luton, a forerunner of the EDL.

Some 300 racists rampaged through the town on 24 May. The United People of Luton group had claimed it was simply about “Islamic extremism” not Asians or Muslims.

At the EDL’s founding press conference Robinson made clear the street movement intended to target Muslims. “We are doing this to challenge Islamic extremists who have been unchallenged in our country for 10 to 15 years.”

“They are recruiting on our streets and colleges and the government is doing nothing.”

He also went on to accuse politicians of not representing the “non-Muslim community” and attacked Muslim women who wear the burka.

Within two years Robinson had escalated from talk of “Islamic extremism”—far right code for all Muslims. Speaking in East London in 2011 Robinson threatened “every single Muslim watching this” with violent reprisals.

“On 7/7 you got away with killing and maiming British citizens,” he said. “And you had better understand that we have built a network from one end of the country to the other end.

“And the Islamic community will feel the full force of the EDL if we see any of our British citizens killed, maimed, or hurt on British soil ever again.”

His rich, racist friends

The EDL was founded in the luxury flat of banker Alan Ayling in 2009.

He went by the pseudonym “Alan Lake”, until he was exposed in December 2011, and described himself as a “counterjihadist”.

Ayling was a Pacific Capital Investment Management director and worked at the International Development Bank.

He admitted, “I have given some money to help some EDL things happen.”

Nazi Anders Breivik praised Tommy Robinson and other EDL members as an inspiration.

Ayling made clear his aim at a far right conference organised by the Swedish Democrats in September 2009. “We’re trying to reach out to more physical groups like football fans,” he said.

“These are people who are happy to go out on the street.

“Everybody else is scared of being beaten up and attacked, but they are not scared of that.”

And he praised the Nazi Anders Breivik’s Oslo massacre as “chickens coming home to roost”.

Also at the EDL founding meeting was “Dominique Devaux” or “Gaia”, who was named as millionaire Ann Marchini by the Sunday Times newspaper. “Devaux” supported BNP London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook after his election in 2009.

She was a member of the BFP and the US-based far right organisation the Center for Vigilant Freedom. It backed the EDL and organised conferences of the European fascist and far right parties.

Robinson’s latest rallies are clearly well-funded. Behind these “grassroots” demonstrations, someone is plying him with money once again.

An inspiration to Nazi and racist murderers

Nazi Anders Breivik murdered 76 members of the Norwegian Labour Party youth organisation in 2011. He praised Tommy Robinson and other EDL members as an inspiration.

He released a Nazi manifesto to over 1,000 supporters before the massacre. It mentioned the EDL 29 times and the mailing list including 600 EDL members.

In his manifesto Breivik wrote his “assigned mentor” was “Richard the Lionhearted” in the Knights Templars far right group. At first EDL member Paul Ray—“Richard the Lionheart”—denied it was him, but soon said, “I definitely could have been his inspiration”.

Breivik wasn’t the only racist murderer who looked up to Robinson.

Throughout all his incarnations, Robinson has always been a fascist. Now he senses an opportunity to rebuild a fascist street movement.

Darren Osborne drove a van into a crowd of worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque in north London last summer.

He murdered Muslim man Makram Ali and injured a further 12 in the racist attack.

While Osborne acted alone, he was inspired by Tommy Robinson’s incitements against Muslims.

At the court Osborne was described as a “ticking time-bomb” and “brainwashed” by Robinson’s social media posts. “Darren has been watching a lot of Tommy Robinson stuff on the internet,” said his partner Sarah Andrews.

“I have pleaded with Darren to stop watching this sort of thing, but he just wouldn’t stop.”

Don’t be fooled again

Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll quit the EDL leadership in October 2013 as the group was in disarray. They announced their resignation at a press conference organised by Quilliam, an “anti-extremism group” that promotes loyalty to the British state.

Robinson claimed that he was concerned by the “dangers of far-right extremism” in the EDL. He made clear his aim was still to “counter Islamist ideology” but claimed he would do it “not with violence but with democratic ideas”.

Protesting against the EDL in Walthamstow in 2012

Protesting against the EDL in Walthamstow in 2012 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

He has dined out on his “conversion” ever since, but it should not fool anti-fascists and anti-racists.

His aim is still to stir up racism and violence against Muslims.

In 2016 Robinson branded Muslims fleeing the West’s wars in Middle East as “fake refugees”

“I’d personally send every adult male Muslim that has come into the EU over the past 12 months back tomorrow if I could,” he tweeted.

His latest book is called Mohammed’s Koran—Why Muslims Kill for Islam.

Robinson’s EDL resignation statement tellingly said mobilising on the streets was “no longer productive”.

His attempt to set up a British version of the Islamophobic German street movement Pegida failed in 2016.

But the rise of the alt-right and the Democratic Football Lads Alliance’s (DFLA) thousands-strong street mobilisations have changed this. He organised a 4,000-strong “free speech rally” in London last month that brought together Nazis, the DFLA and Ukip.

And, since his arrest, the DFLA have gone from distancing themselves from Robinson to focussing on him.

Robinson’s ability to adapt is what makes him so dangerous.

Throughout the years he has taken on many different guises and ingratiated himself with various organisations.

But throughout all his incarnations, he has always been a fascist. Now he senses an opportunity to rebuild a fascist street movement.

Anti-fascists will have to mobilise to push him back once again.

No to the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, Saturday 2 June,11am, St Peters Square, Manchester. Called by Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism. Details here Oppose far right march for Tommy Robinson, Saturday 9 June, 2pm, central London. Called by Unite Against Fascism and Stand Up To Racism. Details here.

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