Who is Tommy Robinson, the far-right anti-Islam activist who was arrested at London’s anti-Semitism march?

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Nov 27, 2023 at 12:37 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

While always prominent, it’s undeniable that the British far-right movement has substantially grown in numbers and political popularity in recent years. Subsequently, white nationalism or white pride—a political ideology which combines overwhelming racist and anti-immigration rhetoric all under the pretence of protecting a ‘national identity—has become commonplace in the UK.

And while there is no one designated leader of the movement, a lot of people would argue that one of the modern architects of far-right nationalism in the UK is Tommy Robinson.

On Sunday 26 November 2023, Robinson was arrested by police during an anti-Semitism march that was taking place in London. The organisers had explicitly demanded that Robinson be barred from the event and not attend. Robinson and the merry group of thugs that perpetually follow him around were naturally not welcome at the march due to their tendency to incite fear and violence. Robinson might be the face of this movement, but he is far from alone in his crusade for white supremacy.

Who is Tommy Robinson?

Robinson, born Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, is the leader and co-founder of the English Defence League (EDL), a far-right Islamaphobic organisation. It is both a social and cultural movement as well as a political pressure group that often employs large-scale violent protests and demonstrations to try and push the nationalist agenda.

While there is not a specific known figure for active members in the EDL, estimates in 2011 placed support at around 35,000. It’s likely that this number has gone up since then. Moreover, the EDL’s media attention is unparalleled. Robinson, having set himself up as an almost messiah, has successfully created an unshakable brand and a movement.

Robinson has been banned and expelled from numerous social media platforms a number of times, primarily for violating rules on “hateful conduct” and outrightly posting “anti-muslim” rhetoric.

Robinson has been lauded and praised by the International Free Press Society, an organisation closely associated with the counter-jihad movement—a political movement that views Islam not as a religion, but as an extremist ideology that poses an existential threat to Western civilisation.

Tommy Robinson’s libel lawsuit

Robinson himself has been arrested multiple times over the years. His offences have included violence, stalking, financial and immigration fraud, drug possession, public order offences, and contempt of court. Each time Robinson is arrested, his followers feel a sense of vindication that they are truly the victims in this political environment. The anti-Islam activists’ ousting from mainstream platforms and spaces only further emboldens his supporters.

One particularly notable case involving Robinson was a libel lawsuit which occurred in 2019. As reported by the BBC, Robinson was accused of inciting hate and targeting abuse towards Syrian schoolboy Jamal Hijazi, who was filmed being attacked in a playground in Huddersfield in October 2018.

Shortly after the video of the assault went viral, Robinson claimed in two Facebook videos that the teenager was “not innocent and [that] he violently attacks young English girls in his school.” In clips viewed by nearly one million people, the 38-year-old also claimed that Hijazi “beat a girl black and blue” and threatened to stab another boy at his school, allegations that were denied by the teenager.

Robinson, who chose to represent himself during the suit, was ordered by the court to pay £100,000 in libel damages to Hijazi. Naturally, however, the boy and his family have not seen one penny of the money, because the anti-Islam activist declared himself bankrupt during the case.

In fact, Hope not Hate, an advocacy group based in the UK which campaigns against racism and fascism, has done extensive research into Robinson’s finances and is to this day collecting mounds of evidence to prove that the far-right nationalist is purposefully hiding assets so as to avoid facing financial responsibility.

Robinson likes to promote himself as a true defender of free speech, someone who is unfairly targeted and censored by the police and politicians. In reality, he’s nothing more than a mouthpiece for racism and hate. With far-right extremism spreading so viciously across Europe and the US, it’s unlikely that Robinson will fade into irrelevance anytime soon.

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