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Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon (born 27 November 1982[3]), known by the pseudonym Tommy Robinson, and previously as Andrew McMaster and Paul Harris,[4] is a far-right activist[5] who co-founded and served as spokesman and leader of the English Defence League (EDL),[6] from which he resigned in 2013. For a short time in 2012, he was joint party vice-chairman of the British Freedom Party.

Tommy Robinson
Tommy Robinson PEGIDA.png
Tommy Robinson in October 2015
Leader of the English Defence League
In office
August 2009 – 8 October 2013
Preceded by Office established
Succeeded by Tim Ablitt
Personal details
Born Stephen Christopher Yaxley
(1982-11-27) 27 November 1982 (age 35)
Luton, England
Citizenship British
Political party British National Party (2004–2005)[1]
British Freedom Party (2012)[2]
Residence Luton, Bedfordshire, England
Known for Former leader of the English Defence League and European Defence League
Website tommyrobinson.online

He led the EDL from 2009 until 8 October 2013, when he was persuaded to leave the organisation by the think tank Quilliam. 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.[7]

In May 2018, Robinson began serving a 10-month prison sentence 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 specific trials while proceedings are ongoing.[8] An earlier 3-month suspended sentences for the same offence was activated at the same time.

He was a writer for The Rebel Media and the author of an autobiography, Enemy of the State, and Mohammed's Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam, co-authored by Peter McLoughlin.

Contents

Biography

Robinson was born Stephen Christopher Yaxley[9] in Luton. In an interview with Victoria Derbyshire on BBC Radio Five live in 2010, he said that his parents "were Irish immigrants to this country".[10] His mother, who worked at a local bakery,[11] remarried when Robinson was still young; his stepfather, Thomas Lennon,[1] whose surname Robinson took, worked at the local Vauxhall car plant.[11]

Robinson married in 2011 and is the father of three children.[12] He owns a sunbed shop in Luton.[13] Robinson claims his friends include both black and Muslim people.[14][15]

According to Robinson, after he left school he applied to study aircraft engineering at Luton Airport: "I got an apprenticeship six hundred people applied for, and they took four people on". He qualified in 2003 after five years of study, but then he was convicted for drunken assault of an off-duty police officer.[11] He served a 12-month prison sentence,[16] and as a result lost his job at Luton Airport owing to security measures imposed since the September 11 attacks.[11]

Robinson joined the British National Party in 2004. When questioned about this by the BBC's 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".[1]

As leader of the EDL, Robinson regularly wore a bullet-proof vest when appearing in public, telling the BBC that his business and his home have been attacked, and that he had been personally threatened by armed Muslims.[13]

Despite being accused of racism and antisemitism, Robinson denies both,[14] going so far as to declare his support for the Jewish people and Israel, calling himself a Zionist.[17]

English Defence League

 
Robinson with EDL demonstrators in Amsterdam in 2010

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.[18] 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[19] being attacked by the Islamist groups Al-Muhajiroun and Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah.[20] 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.[11] In August 2009, he became leader of the newly established English Defence League with his cousin, Kevin Carroll, its deputy leader.[21] Robinson has appeared masked at protests.[16] 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.[18][22] Robinson founded the European Defence League, a co-ordination of groups similar to the EDL operating in different European countries.[citation needed]

Robinson 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.[23]

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.[24] However, on 11 October 2012, Robinson resigned from the BFP to concentrate on EDL activities.[25]

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 given a 12-month community rehabilitation order with 150 hours' unpaid work and a three-year ban from attending football matches.[26]

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",[27] and refused to eat what he believed was halal meat.[28] 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.[29] Robinson was released on bail on 12 September.[30]

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.[31] He was sentences to 12 weeks' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.[32] Robinson said that the assault had happened because of a confrontation with a neo-Nazi who had joined the EDL.[33][34]

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.[35]

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 of 2013 to 10 months' imprisonment.[36][37] Robinson had used a passport in the name of Andrew McMaster to board a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to New York.[38] He had been banned from entering the USA due to a drugs offence. He was detained by authorities in New York as an illegal immigrant but left the USA the next day using a passport in the name of Paul Harris to travel back to the UK.[39] He was released on electronic tag on 22 February 2013.[40] 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.[41]

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 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 to discuss Islam, Islamism and the Muslim community, accompanied by a BBC team which created the documentary When Tommy met Mo.[41] Robinson and Ansar visited the think tank Quilliam and Robinson witnessed a debate between Quilliam's director, Maajid Nawaz, and Ansar about human rights.[41] 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".[42][15] 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.[42][43]

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".[44][45] 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.[46][47]

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.[48] He pleaded guilty to two charges and in January 2014 was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.[49][37] Robinson was attacked by several fellow prisoners in HM Prison Woodhill.[50][51] 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.[51][52] 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".[53] 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.[53] 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.[54] He was ultimately released on 14 November 2014.[55]

Later activities

2014–2017

Robinson spoke to 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."[56] He claimed that Woodhill prison had become "an ISIS training camp", and that radicals were "running the wings".[57] After finishing the licence at the end of his conviction, Robinson returned to anti-Islam demonstrations with Pegida, a German 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.[58] He announced the creation of a British chapter of Pegida in December 2015. He affirmed 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.[7] On 14 February 2016, Robinson was attacked and hospitalised after leaving a nightclub in Essex.[59]

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 gave him a football banning order on his return; his lawyer 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.[60] In September, a judge at Luton Magistrates' Court dismissed the case, calling the prosecution's evidence "vague" and "cagey".[61]

On 27 August 2016, eighteen Luton Town football supporters, including Robinson and his family, were ejected from a Cambridge pub on the day of the Cambridge United versus Luton football match by police. Robinson claimed he had been victimised, and complaints were submitted to Cambridge Police.[62]

2017–present: Journalism and further convictions

Robinson became a correspondent for The Rebel Media, a Canadian political and social commentary website, in February 2017.[63][non-primary source needed] 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.[64][65]

Robinson responded on Twitter to the 2017 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.[66] 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.[67] Robinson was involved in a fight at Royal Ascot later in June 2017, for which Morgan criticised him on Twitter.[68]

In May 2017, Robinson was convicted of contempt of court for using a camera inside Canterbury Crown Court and received a suspended sentence.[69] 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".[70]

 
9 June 2018, Trafalgar Square: Protests for the Release of Robinson

On 25 May 2018, Robinson was arrested for a breach of the peace while live streaming outside Leeds Crown Court[70][71] during a trial on which reporting restrictions had been ordered by the judge.[72]

Following Robinson's arrest, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC[73] 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.[74][71][75] The jailing of Robinson drew condemnation from right wing circles.[76]

The UK Independence Party leader Gerard Batten MEP expressed concern about the proceedings and the ban on reporting.[77] Robinson attracted sympathy from several right-wing politicians in Europe including the Dutch Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders[71] and the German Bundestag member Petr Bystron.[78]

During the weekend following Robinson's arrest, hundreds of his supporters rallied outside Downing Street, calling for the government to "Free Tommy"[71][79] and an online petition for his release had more than 500,000 signatures.[80]

On 29 May, the reporting restriction was lifted with regard to Robinson, following a challenge by journalists, and 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.[8]

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.[81] 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".[81][82]

Written works

Robinson has written or co-written two books:

References

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Sources

External links