This interview, conducted in London on 11 September 2020, has been withdrawn as a result of harassment by his supporters.
Photography: High Profiles
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known as ‘Tommy Robinson’, was born in 1982 in Luton, where he was educated at Putteridge High School.
From 1998 to 2003, he served an apprenticeship to become an aircraft engineer with Britannia Airways at Luton Airport.
In 2004, he organised a protest against the local activism of al-Muhajiroun, under the banner ‘Ban the Luton Taliban’. He joined the British National Party but apparently did not renew his membership after a year.
In 2005, he was convicted for assaulting an off-duty policeman (‘occasioning actual bodily harm’), for which he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Working with his stepfather, Thomas Lennon, by his mid twenties he was reportedly making a good living from a plumbing business and from ‘Luton’s first luxury tanning salon’, which opened in 2007. He was also involved in buying and renovating repossessed properties before selling them on.
In 2009, he helped to organise, under the banner ‘United People of Luton’, two further protests against the local activism of al-Muhajiroun.
Later that year, he emerged as the de facto leader of the newly established English Defence League. He initially appeared in public masked, until he was identified the following year by the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. His cousin, Kevin Carroll, was then named as ‘joint leader’ of the EDL.
In 2011, he received a 12-month community rehabilitation order for his part in a brawl involving 100 or so Luton Town and Newport County supporters.
He was arrested again for breaching bail conditions by taking part in an EDL demo in London. During his brief incarceration, he claimed to be a ‘political prisoner of the state’ and went on hunger strike. Later that month, he was convicted of common assault after headbutting someone at a rally in Blackburn. He was given a suspended sentence of 12 weeks’ imprisonment.
He was also fined £3,000 and jailed for three days for a protest on the roof of Fifa’s headquarters in Zürich after it ruled that England could not wear a poppy symbol on their shirts.
In 2012, he and Carroll were named as joint vice-chairs of the British Freedom Party, which had agreed an electoral pact with the EDL after the failure of the BNP in the 2010 general election. He stood down after a few months.
In 2013, he was jailed for 10 months for travelling to the US three years earlier under a false identity. After a month, he was released on an electronic tag.
He then left the EDL (reportedly with financial support from the Quilliam Foundation), along with Carroll and 10 other leading figures. Part of his journey to this point was recorded in the BBC1 documentary Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy met Mo.
The following year, he was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to conspiring in 2009 to fraudulently obtain two mortgages amounting to £162,000. He served just under 10 months in four different prisons, including 22 weeks in isolation for his own protection.
After his release on licence, he spoke at the Oxford Union. The video of his 67-minute address has to date had 2.75m views.
In 2016, he tried unsuccessfully to establish a British chapter of the political movement Pegida (an acronym of the German for ‘patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’).
In 2017–18, he worked for the Canadian political website The Rebel Media as its ‘Shillman fellow’ (funded by the US billionaire Robert Shillman), both writing and presenting online videos.
He committed his first contempt of court in 2017 when he filmed defendants in a grooming case at Canterbury Crown Court. He was sentenced to three months in prison, suspended for 18 months.
He repeated the offence the next year, discussing a trial at Leeds Crown Court that was subject to reporting restrictions and confronting some of the defendants. His 90-minute video was livestreamed on Facebook and was viewed some 250,000 times.
Originally jailed for 13 months, he was released after 10 weeks when his trial was found by the Court of Appeal to have been ‘fundamentally flawed’. He later claimed that he had been kept in solitary confinement in HMP Onley and ‘mentally tortured’; the Prison Service denied this. An online petition to ‘free Tommy Robinson’ was translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Czech and Russian and was reportedly signed by more than 630,000 people worldwide.
He was retried and given nine months in prison. Before his sentencing in 2019, he appeared on InfoWars and appealed for political asylum in the US, declaring: ‘I feel like I’m two days away from being sentenced to death in the UK for journalism.’
He was finally released after 66 days in HMP Belmarsh, where he had been held in isolation for his own protection.
In 2018, he had been permanently banned from Twitter, on which he had amassed some 413,000 followers. He was also debarred from using PayPal.
Later that year, he was hired as a political adviser to the then leader of Ukip, Gerard Batten (who had earlier compared him to Nelson Mandela). His appointment was strongly condemned by Batten’s predecessors Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, who both resigned from the party. He was invited to speak in Washington by Republican members of Congress, but was not granted a visa.
In 2019, he was permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram, on which he had a combined following of over a million. He stood for election to the European Parliament as an independent candidate for the North-West, but lost his deposit after winning 2.2% of the vote.
Last year, he posted on YouTube an exposé titled Panodrama which included secretly filmed footage of the veteran BBC journalist John Sweeney. The documentary about the EDL that BBC1’s ‘Panorama’ team had been working on was subsequently abandoned.
Besides his self-published autobiography, Tommy Robinson: Enemy of the state (2015), he is co-author with Peter McLoughlin of Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims kill for Islam (2017).
In 2020, he received the Sappho Award from the International Free Press Society.
He married in 2011 and has a son and two daughters.
Up-to-date as at 1 October 2020