Tommy Robinson (activist)
Robinson in October 2015
|Leader of the English Defence League|
August 2009 – 8 October 2013
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Tim Ablitt|
Stephen Christopher Yaxley|
27 November 1982
British National Party (2004–2005)|
British Freedom Party (2012)
|Residence||Luton, Bedfordshire, England|
|Known for||Former leader of the English Defence League and European Defence League|
Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (born 27 November 1982), known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, and previously as Andrew McMaster and Paul Harris, is an English far-right activist who co-founded and served as spokesman and leader of the English Defence League (EDL). He was a member of the British National Party (BNP) from 2004 to 2005. For a short time in 2012, he was joint vice-chairman of the British Freedom Party.
Robinson led the EDL from 2009 until 8 October 2013. He continued as an activist, and in 2015 became involved with the development of Pegida UK, a British chapter of the German-based Pegida organisation (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).
In May 2018, Robinson was sentenced to 13 months' imprisonment for contempt of court after publishing a Facebook Live video of defendants entering a law court, contrary to a court order to prevent reporting those trials while proceedings are ongoing. That sentence included activation of an earlier three-month suspended sentence for a similar earlier contempt of court at Canterbury. On 1 August 2018 Robinson appealed against the contempt convictions at Canterbury and at Leeds. The matter came before The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). His appeal against the Leeds conviction succeeded and the sentence was quashed. A new trial was ordered. His appeal against the Canterbury conviction failed in all respects bar one. The court had wrongly recorded that Robinson had been sentenced to three months imprisonment suspended for 18 months. In fact he had been committed to prison for three months suspended for 18 months. The Court of Appeal ordered the court records be amended to reflect the correct sentence. The distinction between sentenced to imprisonment and committed to prison for contempt affects the way the sentenced person is managed.
Robinson wrote for The Rebel Media and wrote an autobiography, Enemy of the State, and Mohammed's Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam, with Peter McLoughlin.
Robinson was born Stephen Christopher Yaxley in Luton, England. In an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio Five live in 2010, he said that his parents "were Irish immigrants to this country". His mother, who worked at a local bakery, remarried when Robinson was still young; his stepfather, Thomas Lennon, worked at the Vauxhall car plant in Luton.
According to Robinson, after leaving school, he applied to study aircraft engineering at Luton Airport: "I got an apprenticeship 600 people applied for, and they took four people on". He qualified in 2003 after five years of study, but then lost his job when he was convicted of assaulting an off-duty police officer in a drunken argument. He served a 12-month prison sentence.
Robinson joined the British National Party, then led by Nick Griffin, in 2004. When questioned about this by journalist Andrew Neil in June 2013, he said that he had left after one year, saying, "I didn't know Nick Griffin was in the National Front, I didn't know non-whites couldn't join the organisation. I joined, I saw what it was about, it was not for me".
As leader of the English Defence League (EDL), Robinson sometimes wore a bullet-proof vest when appearing in public, telling the BBC that his business and his home had been attacked, and that he personally had been threatened by armed Muslims.
Yaxley-Lennon uses the alias Tommy Robinson, taking the name of a prominent member of the "Men In Gear" (MIG) football hooligan crew, which follows Luton Town Football Club. Robinson was involved with the group United Peoples of Luton, formed in response to a March 2009 protest against Royal Anglian Regiment troops returning from the Afghan War being attacked by the Islamist groups Al-Muhajiroun and Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.
Robinson denies racism and antisemitism, and has declared his support for the Jewish people and Israel, calling himself a Zionist. Robinson has said that his group of friends includes both black and Muslim people.
English Defence League
Robinson founded the English Defence League (EDL) and in August 2009, became its leader with his cousin, Kevin Carroll, its deputy leader. Robinson stated that he had been prompted to found the EDL after he had read a newspaper article about local Islamists attempting to recruit men outside a bakery in Luton to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Robinson has appeared masked at protests. Although Robinson repeatedly insisted from the early days of the organisation that the EDL was "against the rise of radical Islam" and that its members "aren't against Islam", its rank and file were noted for including football hooligans and members who described themselves as anti-Muslim. Robinson founded the European Defence League, a co-ordination of groups similar to the EDL operating in different European countries.
Robinson said he was assaulted on 22 December 2011 after stopping his car due to another car flashing its lights at him. He said that a group of three men attacked and beat him, until they were stopped by the arrival of a "good Samaritan". Robinson said that the attackers were of Asian appearance.
Robinson was convicted in 2011 of using "threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour" during a fight between supporters of Luton Town and Newport County in Luton the previous year. Robinson reportedly led the group of Luton fans, and played an integral part in starting a 100-man brawl, during which he chanted "EDL till I die". He was sentenced to a 12-month community rehabilitation order with 150 hours unpaid work and a three-year ban from attending football matches.
Robinson was arrested again after an EDL demonstration in Tower Hamlets in September 2011 for breach of bail conditions, as he had been banned from attending that demonstration. Robinson later began a hunger strike while on remand in HM Prison Bedford, saying that he was a "political prisoner of the state", and refused to eat what he believed was halal meat. A handful of EDL supporters protested outside the prison in support of Robinson during his incarceration; the support peaked at a turnout of 100 protesters on 10 September. Robinson was released on bail on 12 September.
On 29 September 2011, Robinson was convicted of common assault after headbutting a fellow EDL member at a rally in Blackburn in April that year. He was sentenced to 12 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months. Robinson said that the assault had happened because of a confrontation with a neo-Nazi who had joined the EDL.
On 8 November 2011, Robinson held a protest on the rooftop of the FIFA headquarters in Zürich against FIFA's ruling that the England national football team could not wear a Remembrance poppy symbol on their shirts. For this he was fined £3,000 and jailed for three days.
In 2012 Robinson announced that he had joined the British Freedom Party (BFP). He was appointed its joint vice-chairman along with Carroll after the EDL and the BFP agreed an electoral pact in 2011. However, on 11 October 2012, Robinson resigned from the BFP to concentrate on EDL activities.
Leaving the EDL
In October 2012, Robinson was arrested and held on the charge of having entered the United States illegally. Robinson pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to using someone else's passport to travel to the United States in September 2012, and was sentenced in January 2013 to 10 months' imprisonment. Robinson had used a passport in the name of Andrew McMaster to board a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York. He had been banned from entering the US due to a drugs offence. He was detained by authorities in New York as an illegal immigrant but left the US the next day using a passport in the name of Paul Harris to travel back to the UK. He was released on electronic tag on 22 February 2013. On being released, Robinson told the BBC that he was dismayed to discover that the EDL's ranks had been swollen with racist and neo-Nazi supporters.
In April 2012, Robinson took part in a programme in the BBC's television series The Big Questions in which far-right extremism was debated. Mo Ansar, a British Muslim political and social commentator took part in the same programme, and invited Robinson to join him and his family for dinner. This resulted in several meetings over the next 18 months between Robinson and Ansar to discuss Islam, Islamism and the Muslim community, accompanied by a BBC team which created the documentary When Tommy Met Mo. Robinson and Ansar visited the think tank Quilliam and Robinson witnessed a debate between Quilliam's director, Maajid Nawaz, and Ansar about human rights. On 8 October 2013, Quilliam held a press conference with Robinson and Kevin Carroll to announce that Robinson and Carroll had left the EDL. Robinson said that he had been considering leaving for a long time because of concerns over the "dangers of far-right extremism". Robinson said that it was still his aim to "counter Islamist ideology [...] not with violence but with democratic ideas". Ten other senior figures left the EDL with Robinson and Carroll, and Tim Ablitt became the EDL's new leader.
When Robinson was questioned by The Guardian about having blamed "'every single Muslim' for 'getting away' with the 7 July bombings, and for calling Islam a fascist and violent religion, he held up his hands and said, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.'" Robinson also said that he would now give evidence to the police to help in their investigation of racists within the EDL. Robinson added that "his future work would involve taking on radicalism on all fronts". Robinson claimed in his autobiography that he was paid £2,000 per month for Quilliam to take credit for his leaving the EDL, which a Quilliam spokesperson denied.
In November 2012, Robinson was charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by misrepresentation in relation to a mortgage application, along with five other defendants. He pleaded guilty to two charges and in January 2014 was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. Robinson was attacked by several fellow prisoners in HM Prison Woodhill. Following news of the attack, Maajid Nawaz wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, asking for Robinson's situation to be urgently addressed. Shortly after this incident, Robinson was moved to HM Prison Winchester. Robinson told Jamie Bartlett, a director of the think tank Demos: "In Woodhill, I experienced Islam the gang. [...] In Winchester, I have experienced Islam the religion." Robinson made friends with several Muslim prisoners, referring to them as "great lads [...] I cannot speak highly enough of the Muslim inmates I'm now living with". In June 2014 Robinson was released on licence. The terms of his early release included having no contact with the EDL until the end of his original sentence in June 2015. He was due to talk to the Oxford Union in October 2014, but was recalled to prison before the event for breaching the terms of his licence. He was ultimately released on 14 November 2014.
Robinson spoke at the Oxford Union on 26 November 2014. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) protested against his appearance, criticising the Union for allowing him the platform when, according to UAF, he had not renounced the views of the EDL. Robinson told the audience he was not allowed to talk about certain issues because he was out on prison licence. He said, "I regain my freedom of speech on the 22 July 2015." He criticised "politicians, the media and police for failing to tackle certain criminal activities because of the fear of being labelled Islamophobic." He claimed that Woodhill prison had become "an ISIS training camp", and that radicals were "running the wings". After release from licence at the end of his sentence Robinson returned to anti-Islam demonstrations with Pegida, a British offshoot of a German anti-immigration organisation founded in Dresden amid the European migrant crisis. Addressing a Pegida anti-Islam rally in October 2015, Robinson spoke out against what he perceived to be the threat of Islamist terrorists posing as refugees. He announced the creation of a "British chapter" of Pegida in December 2015. He said that alcohol and fighting would not be permitted because "It's too serious now for that stuff", and told The Daily Telegraph that a mass demonstration would take place across Europe on 6 February 2016. On 14 February 2016, Robinson was attacked and treated at a hospital after leaving a nightclub in Essex.
Robinson travelled to watch UEFA Euro 2016 in France and demonstrated with a T-shirt and English flag ridiculing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Bedfordshire Police imposed a football banning order on him on his return; his solicitor Alison Gurden accused the police of a "campaign of harassment" and said that they had equated the proscribed terrorist group with all Muslims in their action. In September, a judge at Luton Magistrates' Court dismissed the case, calling the prosecution's evidence "vague" and "cagey".
On 27 August 2016, 18 Luton Town football supporters, including Robinson and his family, were ejected by police from a Cambridge pub on the day of the Cambridge United versus Luton football match. Robinson claimed he had been victimised, and complaints were submitted to Cambridge Police.
Robinson is a correspondent for The Rebel Media, a Canadian political and social commentary website. In May 2017, he was arrested for contempt of court after he attempted to take video of the defendants in a child rape case outside Canterbury Crown Court. He responded on Twitter to the Finsbury Park attack, writing "The mosque where the attack happened tonight has a long history of creating terrorists & radical jihadists & promoting hate & segregation", and, "I'm not justifying it, I've said many times if government or police don't sort these centres of hate they will create monsters as seen tonight." Robinson's statements were widely criticised in the media as inciting hatred. Appearing the next morning on Good Morning Britain, Robinson held up the Quran and described it as a "violent and cursed book". The host, Piers Morgan, accused him of "stirring up hatred like a bigoted lunatic", and Robinson's appearance drew a number of complaints to Ofcom. Robinson was involved in a fist fight at Royal Ascot later in June 2017, for which Morgan criticised him on Twitter
In May 2017, Robinson was convicted of contempt of court for using a camera inside Canterbury Crown Court and received a suspended sentence. According to Judge Heather Norton, "this is not about free speech, not about the freedom of the press, nor about legitimate journalism, and not about political correctness. It is about justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly, it's about being innocent until proven guilty. It is about preserving the integrity of the jury to continue without people being intimidated or being affected by irresponsible and inaccurate 'reporting', if that's what it was".
On 25 May 2018, Robinson was arrested for a breach of the peace while live streaming outside Leeds Crown Court during a trial on which reporting restrictions had been ordered by the judge.
Following Robinson's arrest, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC issued a further reporting restriction on Robinson's case, prohibiting any reporting of Robinson's case or the grooming trial until the latter case is complete. The jailing of Robinson drew condemnation from right-wing circles.
The UK Independence Party leader Gerard Batten MEP expressed concern about the proceedings and the ban on reporting. Robinson attracted sympathy from several right-wing politicians in Europe, including the Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders and the member of the German Bundestag for the far-right Alternative for Germany Petr Bystron.
On the weekend following Robinson's arrest, his supporters held rallies in his support. An online petition for his release had more than 500,000 signatures. Anti-fascist advocacy group Hope not Hate said its analysis showed that 68.1% of the signatures were from the UK, with 9.7% from Australia, and 9.3% from the US. Canada, Germany, France, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden and Ireland accounted for the remainder.
The reporting restriction with regard to Robinson was lifted on 29 May 2018, following a challenge by journalists. The media reported that Robinson had admitted contempt of court by publishing information that could prejudice an ongoing trial, and had been sentenced to 13 months' imprisonment.
Marson sentenced Robinson to ten months for contempt of court and his previous three months' suspended sentence was activated because of the breach. Robinson's lawyer said that Robinson felt "deep regret" after comprehending the potential consequences of his behaviour. Robinson was told that if a retrial had to be held as a result of his actions the cost could be "hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds".
In July 2018, it was reported that the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, lobbied the UK government on the treatment of Robinson.
Robinson lodged an appeal which claimed that he had not admitted the charges or been given a chance to apologise. He claimed that his initial contempt trial was flawed; the details of the charge were not clear. He argued that his sentence was unfair. The appellate court issued its ruling on 1 August 2018: a new hearing of the case was ordered and Robinson was released on bail pending the new hearing.
The appellate court agreed to hear Robinson's appeal even though the appeal was launched outside the 28-day time limit for challenging convictions. The court agreed to hear the appeal because Robinson had been held in "effective solitary confinement", which had made it difficult for Robinson to have meetings with his lawyers.
On 2 August 2018, Robinson was interviewed on Tucker Carlson Tonight. During the interview, Robinson mainly discussed his prior two months in prison. He said that he was initially put in HM Prison Hull, where he was treated well; he was then transferred to HM Prison Onley, where, he claimed, he was severely mistreated, including with solitary confinement. The prison service rejected his claims saying "Mr Yaxley-Lennon was treated with the same fairness we aim to show all prisoners – he had access to visits, television and showers – and it is totally false to say he was held in 'solitary confinement'", adding that he had been kept in a care and separation unit for 48 hours whilst an assessment was made of his safety.
In September 2018, Robinson expressed a desire to join the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and possibly to run for UKIP in elections. UKIP's rules prohibit membership to those who have been part of extreme right wing groups in the past, which may preclude Robinson joining as he founded the English Defence League (EDL) and had ties for a while with the British Freedom Party. UKIP's National Executive Committee is set to meet on 9 September 2018 to waive that clause regarding Robinson as a special case. If approved, his possible membership would be put to a vote at the party's conference. UKIP leader Gerard Batten supports the efforts for Robinson joining the party.
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Judge Heather Norton handed him a three months imprisonment in May last year but suspended it for 18 months on the condition he did not commit further offences. […] “It is about preserving the integrity of the jury to continue without people being intimidated or being affected by irresponsible and inaccurate ‘reporting’, if that’s what it was.”
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- Rodger, James (30 May 2018). "Petition to free Tommy Robinson signed 500,000 times after he's jailed for 13 months". Birmingham Mail.
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- Bird, Steve. "EDL founder Tommy Robinson jailed for contempt of court after broadcasting tirade on Facebook". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
- Hosenball, Mark (14 July 2018). "Trump's ambassador lobbied Britain on behalf of jailed right-wing activist Tommy Robinson". Reuters. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
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- "Tommy Robinson Free – MEF Heavily Involved". Middle East Forum. 1 August 2018. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
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- Lizzie Dearden (1 August 2018), "Tommy Robinson faces new contempt hearing after being released from prison", The Independent.
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- Beale, Charlotte (8 August 2018). "Tommy Robinson complains he was 'mentally tortured' because he had no TV in prison". The Independent. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
- Kentish, Benjamin (6 September 2018). "Ukip to debate inviting Tommy Robinson to join party". The Independent. Retrieved 9 September 2018.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Tommy Robinson (activist)|
- Tommy Robinson Online (personal website)
- Profile, therebel.media
- Video of Tommy Robinson speaking at Oxford Union Society
- YouTube Channel
- Tommy Robinson livestream and arrest outside Leeds Crown Court, 25 May 2018
- Fact check: Was a Far-Right Activist Jailed for Breaching a Court Order Designed to ‘Protect Muslim Pedophiles’?