Tommy Robinson, a controversial right-wing anti-Islam activist, was arrested outside a child grooming sexual exploitation trial in a process laden with secrecy that has led to protests in the United Kingdom.
“If I was bitter and angry I would accept my own victimhood. I’m not their victim, I’m their target,” he told The Sun.
Robinson’s real name is given as Stephen Lennon and Stephen Yaxley. His reported arrest – and the secrecy surrounding it – sparked protests on May 28, 2018 outside Whitehall. Some of Robinson’s supporters used the hashtag #freetommy on Twitter. Almost 150,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding his release.
Robinson is a controversial figure in Britain because of his strident anti-Islam rhetoric. Vice once called him the “Hateful Hero of the British Far-Right.” He founded the English Defence League, described by Vice as a “far-right street movement” that focuses on Islam, and he became “arguably the loudest anti-Islam voice in the UK.” The Telegraph dubbed him “Britain’s most hated man.”
Who is Tommy Robinson?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Judge Ordered the British Media Not to Report on Robinson’s Reported Arrest Outside the Grooming Trial
What happened to Tommy Robinson? A judge in the UK has banned the media there from reporting on it. However, some details have leaked out, and the American news media are reporting on Tommy Robinson’s apparent arrest. Robinson “was arrested and reportedly jailed Friday after he filmed members of an alleged child grooming gang entering a court for trial,” Fox News reported.
Fox News reported that Robinson was trying to film men “accused of being part of a gang that groomed children,” adding that “Britain has been rocked by a series of child sex scandals perpetuated by gangs of predominantly Muslim men.” Video did emerge of police surrounding Robinson as he held a cell phone, apparently streaming the encounter.
What is grooming? Sexual exploitation. According to The Independent, “more than 700 women and girls have been identified as potential victims of sexual exploitation” as a result of one grooming gang alone. That gang “targeted vulnerable women and girls, meeting them on social media, at so-called ‘sex parties’ or even preying on them in the street under the pretext of offering a warm car or safe place to say,” The Independent reported. Vulnerable women and girls were offered drugs and alcohol and then reported, the British news site reported.
Fox News reported that he’s been jailed for 13 months for contempt of court in a secret proceeding. As he was placed into a police van, he said, “Can you get me a solicitor? This is ridiculous, I haven’t said a word…I’ve done nothing,” Independent reported.
Metro UK reported that Robinson was arrested for allegedly “breaching the peace.” Police approached him after he was there an hour, the site reported.
2. Robinson Is an Outspoken Opponent of Islam & Was Previously Banned From Twitter
According to Fox news, Robinson is “the former head of the English Defense League and a longtime activist against Islam and Islamic migration.” Vice describes his platform as consistently being that “Islam is an inherently violent religion waging war on the way of life in the Christian West.” He left the EDL in 2013 because he believed it had become too violent and extreme.
In a 2017 interview, Piers Morgan confronted Tommy Robinson, telling him, “You’re stirring up hatred like a bigoted lunatic.” Robinson held aloft a copy of the Koran, to which Morgan responded, “Show some damn respect for people’s religious beliefs.” Robinson told Morgan, “This book is the reason we are in such a mess,” and Morgan retorted, “We’re in this mess because people take Islam, they are terrorists and they abuse the nature of Islam and… perpetrate evil.”
Robinson has been an anti-Islam activist since age 20. “I was looking for a way out, I was looking somebody to be addressing this Islamic extremist problem,” he said, according to The Huffington Post. In 2011, at a speech in London, he drew extreme criticism when he said, “Every single Muslim watching this… You had better understand that we have built a network from one end of this country to the other end, and we will not tolerate it, and the Islamic community will feel the full force of the English Defence League if we see any of our citizens killed, maimed or hurt on British soil ever again.”
He’s been involved in a group called British Freedom. Its website previously said, “British Freedom as a new force in British politics – the only party with the strength and determination to call for Britain’s withdrawal from the unelected and totalitarian European Union, to confront militant Islam, halt mass immigration and defend democracy’s most vital ingredient – Free Speech.”
According to the Independent, Robinson was already under “a suspended sentence for committing contempt of court over a gang rape case heard in Canterbury last year.” At the time, the judge told Robinson, according to the British newspaper, “It is about justice and ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly, it’s about being innocent until proven guilty.”
3. Critics Have Questioned the Government’s Secrecy, Deriding a Criminal Conviction That ‘Cannot Be Reported On’
Gerard Batten is a British MP and Independence Party Leader in the UK.
“I am hearing reports that Tommy Robinson has been arrested for ‘a breach of the peace’ while live-streaming a report on a grooming gang (sex slave) trial at Leeds Crown Court. Further reports say he has received a custodial sentence. What kind of Police state have we become?” he wrote on Twitter.
“I am trying to recall a legal case where someone was convicted of a ‘crime’ which cannot be reported on,” he said. “Where he can be cast into prison without it being possible to report his name, offence, or place of imprisonment for fear of contempt of court.”
Batten also wrote on Twitter, “Tommy Robinson latest: UKIP Peer Malcolm Lord Pearson has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid today saying : if Tommy is murdered or injured in prison he and others will mount a private prosecution against Mr Javid as an accessory, or for misconduct in public office.”
Robinson wrote a memoir called Enemy of the State. He also organized “a UK branch of the German anti-Islam group, Pegida.”
Rebel Media, where he has worked as a correspondent, has a post on his arrest that reads, in part, “It’s an emergency — we need your help. But there’s a court-ordered publication ban over the circumstances of his imprisonment. That gag order only applies to the UK, though — and I’m writing to you from North America, where there is still some freedom of the press left.”
The article continues, “On Friday, May 25, Tommy was reporting from outside the courthouse in Leeds, where an accused Muslim rape gang was on trial for repeatedly raping British girls as young as eleven years old. Tommy was broadcasting on Facebook, from his cell phone.”
4. Robinson Has a Criminal History, Claims to Be a Journalist & Has an Online Following
The Huffington Post reported that Robinson has a criminal history, quoting him as saying, “I am a working class man from Luton, I have made mistakes…My violent offence was 10 years ago as a young man. I have done things I am not proud of. But I have been to jail and I have seen militant Islamism in jail. It is a threat not being tackled.”
Although he was suspended on Twitter, Robinson still has a Facebook page. “Independent reporter bringing you the truth and stories others try to hide,” is how he describes himself. He has been a correspondent with the organization called Rebel Media.
According to Vice, “he was jailed for mortgage fraud, he left the EDL with the support of the anti-extremism think-tank Quilliam” and he then associated with an arts charity. The site reports that Robinson has gained an online following as he embraced tools such as vlogging.
He was once convicted of entering the U.S. illegally using a false name which he used because he had a drug conviction.
5. Robinson’s Beliefs May Have Influenced a Mosque Attacker & He’s Said Experiences in His Hometown Forged His Views
According to Vice, Robinson’s name became linked to Darren Osborne, “the Finsbury Park mosque attacker…journalists reported that Osborne had received messages from Robinson’s newsletter in the days ahead of the attack, and may have quoted Robinson indirectly in his note.” Osbourne crashed a van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers outside the mosque.
Police said that Osbourne’s radicalization happened quickly – over just a few weeks – and came after he read posts on the Internet by Robinson and “other extremists,” The Independent reported.
Robinson is married with three children.
He was born to “an Irish immigrant mother and an English father, but when his mother re-married, his surname became double barrelled – Yaxley-Lennon – although, often he is just Stephen Lennon,” reports Huffington Post of his real identity. He is described as a former “football hooligan.”
He told Huffington Post that experiences in childhood in the minority majority town of Luton shaped his views. Among them: the murder of a man named Mark Sharp “by a gang of Asian men as he walked to a takeaway to buy his 13-year-old son a kebab.”