is better known as ‘Tommy Robinson’, the former leader of the English Defence League. He is regarded by some as a champion of freedom and a martyr for truth, but reviled by others as an Islamophobe, if not a racist.
Huw Spanner met him in the East End of London, within spitting distance of Cable Street, on 11 September 2020.
Photography: High Profiles
D’you know what, that was the first time in five years of activism that I had an opportunity to speak. I’d been invited onto many TV shows and everything was a gotcha moment about racism or the behaviour of an English Defence League supporter. I’d just come out of jail, after 22 weeks, and that was my first opportunity to say: ‘OK, this is who I am. This is where I’ve grown up. I know it’s different to where many other people have grown up, but…’
That being Luton, in Bedfordshire. A recent online discussion described it as ‘a shithole’. Someone wrote: ‘Never in my entire life have I been to a town so devoid of any type of history, culture or community.’2See reddit.com.
Is that fair?
One-million-per-cent fair. You know what, I loved that town and I fought for it, but now I despise it. I drive around it. I speak to people who get the train, they say they close their eyes when they go through Luton.
Luton was a fabulous town. It was rough, but what it’s become, the level of violence, the criminality, all of the problems – and there’s a lot that aren’t [down to] Islam…
‘Despise’ is a very strong word.
I despise what the Council have done to it. There’s hardly any Lutonians of my generation left. We had a school reunion recently and I asked: Who still lives in Luton? No one. There’s no one left. There’s no English.
I grew up hearing the stories and the glorification of violence, which gravitated me to become active in it. When I was younger I didn’t think there was anything quite like it
In a lot of the schools now, white kids are minority children. I speak to so many of their parents in the town and they don’t know what to do – a white kid will have a run-in with some of the Pakistanis, they beat him up and the school won’t protect him, because, well, how do we deal with it? If it was white kids beating up a Pakistani based on race, all hell would – everyone would be helping to protect the Pakistani kid. But the white kids are sort of just left on their own.
I see what’s happened to Luton and I know it’s going to happen to the rest of the UK. That’s the thing I’ve been trying to awaken people to.
Who do you count as English? Is that a racial or cultural category?
I’d define it as people who describe themselves as ‘English’. I’ve got many black friends – St Lucians, Jamaicans, Nigerians – you ask them where they’re from, they’re English, yeah? You go to Luton town centre and ask any of the Pakistani boys where they’re from, they’ll say: ‘I’m Pakistani.’ Pakistan win the cricket, they’re all celebrating. Pakistan do anything, they’re celebrating. They’re not bothered when Britain do anything, or England – and they’re second- or third-generation.
My mother was an Irishwoman when she come to England [but] I’m English.
You don’t think of yourself as half Irish?3In fact, both his biological parents are Irish.
I am half Irish. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve gone through my family history and my mother’s [great-uncle] was shot dead in the 1916 Easter Uprising, 15 years old. Her grandad won a medal of honour from the French government. I’m proud of my Irish history; but I’m English.
You say Luton used to be ‘rough’. I read that Molotov cocktails were thrown at a football match there – in 1985, when you were two.
Yeah, that was Luton versus Millwall, but I think that a number of football-hooligan firms from London had come. West Ham, Chelsea – they used to love coming to Luton for the violence.
Luton was seen as a big day out for further-to-the-right firms [because] our hooligan element has always been very staunchly white and black, from day dot. The lads I grew up aspiring to [be like] were black Rastas, who were the toughest men on the terraces. I really looked up to them.
Can you explain the appeal of football hooliganism?
It’s going to sound so moronic now I’m 37, but… My uncle started [Luton Town’s firm,] the Migs,4wikipedia.org/Luton_Town_MIGs in the early Eighties, so I grew up hearing the stories and the glorification of the violence, which gravitated me to become active in it.
It’s a hard thing to make you understand. If you’ve got a group of men who don’t mind a row and they’re fighting other men that don’t mind a row, based on the identity of their town or their club – when I was younger I didn’t think there was anything quite like it. You just fight it out with fists in the middle of the street.
[But] would I want my son to be doing that? Would I be glorifying it to my son? Not a chance!
I think I’ve got an amazing fuse, the amount of grief I get. I don’t punch every person who says something negative to me. I only punch when I – I’d only punch when I feel – I feel threatened
Tell me a bit more about your family.
So, my father has been with my mother since I was about two. Officially he’s my stepdad, but I always say: DNA doesn’t make you a dad. He’s my dad.
He’s Scottish. Mad, isn’t it? Irish mum, Scottish dad, started the English Defence League!
What became of your biological father?
He was an arsehole, basically. My mum was in a battered wives’ hostel when I was a baby. I used to see him for birthdays and Christmas until I was about 10. Haven’t seen him since.
Were your family political?
No, not at all.
What kind of values did they instil in you?
We were a very close family. My mum was one of eight children and we regularly saw our cousins. They were all staunch Catholics, but I refused to go to a Catholic school because I don’t believe in it.
My mum and dad have always been there for me. My mum used to work in a bakery and my dad – my stepdad – worked hard as a pipe-fitter with Vauxhall [in Luton], till Vauxhall closed. I worked there as a kid, I used to go in with him.
You got good GCSEs and in 1998 won a five-year apprenticeship in aircraft engineering at Luton Airport. What did people expect from you back then?
I think that was the wrong job for me – no one was from Luton. I’d ask them all where they lived, and they all said some very nice village. I should have been on a building site, that’s how I felt. I was intelligent and I breezed the academic side of school – I’d have got 11 A*s if I’d have studied – but I was one of the Jack the Lads.
I thought about college and university, but I couldn’t go to college. Luton Sixth Form is a predominantly Pakistani college, or the gangs there are, and I can’t walk with my head down.
What does that mean?
If you went to Luton, or some geeky little student, you might walk down the street and the young Pakistani lads ain’t giving you evil. If I walk down the street, as a working-class white lad, dressed a certain way, looking a certain way, I’m getting grief: ‘What are you fucking looking at?’ And I don’t look away.
Do you see yourself as a violent man?
No. No. [But] would I back down and walk away from someone? No. I’m not willing to back down. If I think of something, I say it – I can’t not, even when sometimes I should shut my mouth.
Have you got a short fuse?
No. Actually, I think I’ve got an amazing fuse, the amount of grief I get. I don’t punch every person who says something negative to me. I only punch when I – I’d only punch when I feel – I feel threatened, when I feel that I know where this is going and I’m not going to let myself get knocked out or stabbed.
That brings us to the conviction for assault that ended your career as an engineer in 2005…
So, as a youngster my friends were all involved in a lot of trouble – stolen cars, all sorts of stuff. I still hung around with them, because I’m from the same estate, but I always made sure that I never involved myself in anything criminal.
This was my first ever offence. I was out with my girlfriend – my now wife – [in the small hours] and we had an argument. This [off-duty] police officer said that he thought – he thought – I was going to attack my missus. He’s someone who’s used to telling people, ‘Shut the fuck up! Do this!’ and they do it, yeah? Now he’s telling me what to do and I ain’t doing it. So, he rugby-tackles me and throws me to the floor.
Now, the judge accepted that how I acted was in self-defence – until I kicked him in the head. For that one kick, I spent five months in jail.
You can kill someone by kicking them in the head.
Yeah, but I didn’t think about that at the time. Something you think is the norm, or the reasonable response to things – I realised this once I moved out of Luton – isn’t actually the norm.
I remember when I first went to Hitchin thinking: Beautiful! There’s no attitude here, there’s no risk of violence. Whereas it’s everyday in Luton. I saw three of my friends stabbed growing up. That’s just the environment I was brought up in, from day dot.
What did that first experience of prison teach you?
I had a good time in prison. I didn’t like being away [from home but] I didn’t have any kids and I was in a male environment and I had lots of friends in jail at the time. I remember thinking: What was I worried about?
So, it wasn’t much of a deterrent.
No, no at all! Which is the problem, yeah?
The year before, you joined the [British National Party]. Can you explain why?
I was researching a lot of the issues which I now am famous for talking about, and they were the only people who were talking about them. So, I thought I’d join and see what they’re about.
We set up a meeting in a pub in Luton and I guess they saw us as probably quite influential on the street. We brought many of the young football lads to this meeting – and three of them they said couldn’t come in because they were black. Now, it may sound naive but in 2004 I didn’t know Nick Griffin5Then the leader of the BNP, interviewed for High Profiles in May 2004 had been [prominent in] the National Front, I didn’t know why non-white people couldn’t join the BNP.
And that was the end of the BNP in Luton. We told them: You’re not using any pubs in this town, because we won’t let you.6Ironically, in 2009 the BNP would ‘proscribe’ the EDL, stating that ‘through its activities [it] brings nationalist and patriotic politics into disrepute. … The British National Party does not wish to be associated with the English Defence League in any way whatsoever.’ Mr Griffin supposedly believed that the EDL was a ‘Zionist’ false-flag operation.
Why do you use a pseudonym?
I organised my first protest [in September 2004, against the local activism of the Salafi network al-Muhajiroun] three weeks after the Beslan massacre;7See wikipedia.org/Beslan_school_siege. and as a result I was targeted for years by all the Muslim gangs in Luton.
When [members of al-Muhajiroun barracked] the homecoming parade [of the Royal Anglian Regiment in 2009],8See theguardian.com/uk. I knew I wanted to speak out but, like most people in this country, I was scared to. Not just scared – at that time I was doing pretty well for a young lad: I had a plumbing company and a [tanning salon] in the town centre, I owned seven properties, I had all these plans in mind. But I wanted to talk, so I wore a mask and used a fake name.
I worked hard. My passion then was making money and I didn’t stop. That changed when I got to 26. My passion then become Islam – and I ain’t stopped on that, either!
How come you were so successful in business? Was it all entirely legitimate?
It was entirely legitimate. Six of the properties were repossessions, so I [bought someone] a drink to get each one. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
I worked hard as well – I do work hard. My passion then was making money and I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop.
That changed when I got to 26. My passion then become Islam – and I ain’t stopped on that, either!
You identify people sometimes as ‘Pakistanis’, sometimes as ‘Muslims’. Why is that?
When we were kids, they were Pakistanis. They never mentioned that they were Muslim; we didn’t even know what Islam was. The girls weren’t even really wearing hijabs. Now, the five-year-olds wear hijabs, and Islam is a massive part of their identity.
The radicalising factor for them was probably the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Omar Bakri [Muhammad],9Interviewed for High Profiles in February 2003 Abu Hamza, all of them started in Luton then. Their head office was on Biscot Road. Al-Muhajiroun had a stall for 10 years outside Don Millers bakery. Now they’re proscribed, but they weren’t at the time.
So, we’d done a petition to the Council, saying that if you can Asbo kids for being troublesome, these men are recruiting vulnerable people to fight against us. The Stockholm bomber was an innocent Muslim from Iraq when he come to England and he was recruited by that group on the [then University of Luton] campus.10See theguardian.com/world.
The Council just blanked it. Totally blanked it. There’s only one part of that town that matters to them and that’s the Islamic community, because they give ’em 40,000 votes.
So, in 2009 we set up the United People of Luton. The first march wasn’t just the hooligans – my aunties were there [as well]. The police cordoned off the road and kettled everyone for three hours – they made women piss in the streets.
I talked to all the lads before the next demonstration and they were on the brink of a full-on riot. After years and years of anger, it was ‘Fuck it! We’ve had enough of this!’ All you ever hear of Luton is ‘terrorist town’. The only time Luton’s in the news is linked with terrorism.11See eg belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news and bbc.co.uk/news.
(There were celebrations in Luton [when ‘9/11’ happened]. I remember getting phone calls from my friends at the Sixth Form College saying, ‘Mate, they’re all cheering!’ When I went to my local shops, there were ‘Magnificent 19’ posters everywhere. It was like my wake-up to really start looking into what Islam was – that and the Beslan massacre.)
I remember some young lads parked up a Transit van with petrol bombs in it. I rang the police anonymously and said: ‘If you don’t let people get to that war memorial, you’re going to provoke a reaction you can’t handle. The town’s going to burn.’
They let the terrorists do what they wanted, they let them attack our soldiers – and now they weren’t letting us get to the war memorial to show our respects!
I believe that [but for] the Crusades, there wouldn’t be a Christianity today. Christianity back then was strong, not weak and liberal like it is now
You support Britain’s soldiers. Do you also support Britain’s wars?
I don’t agree with half the wars [Britain fights]. I am as opposed as anyone to many of them. I think [the invasion of] Iraq and the crimes that have been committed there, someone should pay for. In fact, I feel massive sympathy for Muslims whose countries have been destroyed for profit.
So, I said when they protested in Luton: Take that protest down to the bastards who make the decisions and I’ll support you. Don’t spit in the faces of kids that signed up at 16 thinking they’re going to fight for their Queen and country. Many of them would have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan believing they were doing the right thing.
You’ve got a tattoo of a Crusader on your arm. What’s the difference between a Crusader and a jihadi?
The Crusades were taking back land that had been stolen by Muslim armies.
I believe that if they hadn’t gone on the Crusades, there wouldn’t be a Christianity [today]. Christianity back then was strong, not weak and liberal like it is now.
‘Strong’ is one word for it. When the First Crusade took Jerusalem in 1099, ‘the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles’. ‘Neither women nor children were spared.’12wikipedia.org/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(1099)
Maybe you haven’t researched that?
No, I haven’t researched that.
Was it you and your cousin Kevin Carroll who founded the EDL?
We set it up.13This is disputed – see faith-matters.org/english-defense-league-report, pp5–15 (and lionheartuk.blogspot.com). I’d paid for a professional wedding photographer to come and film the UPL protest,14See youtube.com. and I shared the video on football forums across the country, saying: Have you seen what’s happening in Luton?
Our first demonstration was in Birmingham. We all wore the same jumper.
Why did you call it ‘the English Defence League’?
There was already a Welsh Defence League, so we copied it off them. And Kev said: It’s got to do what it says on the tin.
Which means what? Defending the English?
Defending England, essentially.
From the Islamisation of our country; from the erosion of our freedoms due to the cultural change in towns.
We’ve fought the far right more than anyone could imagine. We’ve burnt their flags, we’ve physically beat them and driven them out of towns – but all the media report is: ‘English Defence League fight each other’
The problem I had then was that so many people joined [who were] against immigration. I’ve never been against immigration per se. My mother was an immigrant.
We spent the first few years really battling to clear [the EDL of racists]. ‘Purity comes with time,’ that’s what I used to say.
What did you do to stop racists joining?
I made videos. I went on stage at a demonstration and I held a Sikh man’s hand and I said: ‘If you don’t like what you see, you’re in the wrong place. There’s people in this crowd now that go totally against what my views are.’ And I started reading their names out.
My idea was to knock one of them out on national TV. I come offstage and headbutted one of them clean out – and I got arrested!
We have fought the far right more than anyone could imagine. We’ve burnt their flags, we’ve physically beat them and driven them out of towns, we’ve made sure that they weren’t welcome on the streets with us – but all the media would report is: ‘English Defence League fight each other.’
We actually got to the stage where we’d cleared [the racists out] – and then I went to jail.
This was for headbutting…?
In 2003, maybe a million-and-a-half people had protested against the impending invasion of Iraq and the Government took no notice. What do you think is the point of organising demos?
You wouldn’t be sitting here interviewing Tommy Robinson if I didn’t.
Did the march against the Iraq war have an effect? The English Defence League had an effect, 100 per cent – in corridors of power, behind closed doors. I still don’t think they’d be talking about grooming gangs if it wasn’t for the English Defence League. [The Times journalist] Andrew Norfolk knew about these gangs for years, but the only reason he reported [the issue] was to take it back from the English Defence League. He was forced to – these are not my words, they’re his.16See peakd.com.
When I was leading the English Defence League, I was surrounded by yes men who told me my shit didn’t stink, whereas, in hindsight, who I’ve become at times wasn’t the best of people. At times, I got into drink and things I shouldn’t have been doing to try and deal with the stresses and pressures.
Solitary confinement in 2014 was a good time for me – it gave me time to think.
What did you do all day?
Nothing. I wrote a lot. I wrote my book, [Tommy Robinson: Enemy of the state].18Self-published in 2015
Did you find it tough psychologically?
No, not at the time. I thought I was fine. It was only when I come out of jail, I felt like I hit a brick wall, boom! Which sounds so weak and pathetic, but it’s a hard thing to explain. Just tell someone to go and sit in their bedroom for a few months and then come out and crack on with life.
When I come out of jail in 2018, it was very difficult to rebond with my kids.
Do they know about ‘Tommy Robinson’?
Oh, mate, they know, yeah. Bloody hell, they have nightmares over it. My son is really suffering from panic about it all.
What values do you try to teach your children?
It’s a difficult one, if they take the media perception of what I’m about. I have a friend whose mum is black Kenyan Muslim, so I use him as an example: ‘You know your dad loves Sully, you can see that I’m very close to him. I strongly disagree with the teachings of his religion, but I separate them from him.’
So, my kids understand what I think, and they also understand who my friends are.
My son’s favourite teacher is a Muslim.
You’ve said there is nothing far-right about you. Where would you place yourself politically?
I’m centrist. Totally. I’ve done one of those questionnaires – [I’m] smack bang in the centre. Look, there’s good on the left, there’s good on the right.
Give me an example of a left-wing or liberal policy you endorse.
I’m liberal in the sense of – in the sense of most stuff. I want small government – I don’t want ’em interfering in much. I’m totally pro women’s rights. I’m pro gay rights. If you go through my beliefs on many things, I’m a liberal. Totally.
Most of my opposition to Islam comes from my liberal beliefs. When I see liberals standing up for Islam, I think: You must not actually understand what this idea is and what it does.
You have a very fixed idea of what Islam is.
Oh, totally, yeah. Islam is Muhammad. And who is Muhammad? Well, he’s a murdering barbarian. Any man who beheaded 600 people in one day – which he did…19See wikipedia.org/#Killing_of_the_Banu_Qurayza. He was one of the most immoral men that ever walked this earth.
Islam probably would collapse tomorrow if they didn’t have rules against apostasy. That one law – you can’t leave or we’ll kill you – is such a fascist idea in a so-called free religion!
Do you consider yourself open-minded?
How has your perspective changed as you’ve got older?
Well, I’ve been thinking recently that Muslims handle my criticism of their religion quite well, and I didn’t think they did. You’ll see video clips online of me having conversations with Muslims –
Anyone who’s in a position of power, anyone who’s got a good job, anyone who’s got a family is not going to talk about these issues, because talking about them will result in people wanting to kill you
He has got a shit religion. He was jailed [for six years in 2017 for encouraging support] for Isis.
But what you don’t see are the great conversations I have with Muslims every day. Every Muslim recognises me and the majority of them don’t give me aggression or threats.
Some Muslims sent you the Qur’an to read while you were in prison in 2011. Did you find anything in it you liked?
What I did was, I [made a note of] every verse that tells Muslims not to be friends with non-Muslims – and before I knew it I had pages full. I thought: Jesus, man! If you’re telling people this many times that they can’t be friends with Christians and Jews, they’re not going to be friends with Christians and Jews. You understand that basic point very quickly.
And that’s when I realised that the problem is bigger than Islamic extremism. The problem is Islam.
If you formed your opinion of Judaism from the Hebrew Bible –
If Jews were raping and murdering people and quoting the verse like Muslims are, then…
A small minority of Muslims.
A small, dangerous minority.
If you have Muslim friends, why do you insist on identifying people such as Anjem Choudary and Sayful Islam as Muslims and not as Salafis?
My friend drinks alcohol, so [according to] his own scripture he’s going to burn in eternal hellfire.21The only categorical prohibition against drinking alcohol in the Qur’an, 5:90f, does not mention any punishment. There is a hadith to the effect that someone who is a habitual drunk will not enter Paradise (comparable to 1 Corinthians 6:10). Those men who I identify as Muslims are the ones that are following the scripture to the word. [The Manchester Arena bomber,] Salman Abedi could recite the Qur’an without looking at it.22See theguardian.com/uk-news. So, when I’ve got a Muslim contradicting me that doesn’t know anything about Islam or Muhammad, who would I say is the more devout and practising Muslim? Salman Abedi.
Lee Rigby’s killer gave a woman a piece of paper with  verses of the Qur’an that he said forced him to do that murder.23See independent.co.uk/news and bbc.co.uk/news. Was he following the teachings of Islam? Yeah, he was.
You think about the Muslim man you know who might serve you a kebab or work as a taxi driver and you think what a lovely man he is. Unfortunately, that’s totally irrelevant when you’re trying to combat such a fascist ideology.
Why do you feel that it’s incumbent on you to campaign against Islam, given your record of violent hooliganism and criminality and your Crusader tattoo? Are you not the wrong man for the task?
Who’s the right man?
Anyone who’s in a position of power, anyone who’s got a good job, anyone who’s got a career and anyone who’s got a family is not going to talk about these issues, because talking about them will result in people persecuting you and wanting to kill you.
Do I want all Muslims to leave the UK? No, I don’t, because that would include people I love, who have done nothing wrong. Do I want to encourage them to leave Islam? Yeah, totally
Do I blame people for not talking? No. D’you know how many people I’ve met when I’ve gone to do debates and talkshows – quite influential people – who totally agree with what I’m saying but are too scared to say? There’s lots. So, I don’t blame people for not talking.
Do I think I’m the right man? No. When I started the English Defence League, I thought that someone from Middle England’s going to know what to do with this [movement]. They didn’t come [forward]. I’ve done what I believe is right. I think I’ve done quite a successful job in highlighting a lot of these problems. I think I’ve made people think at many different levels. That’s all I can do.
I could have easily moved out of Luton to a leafy suburb when I was 26. I could’ve been one of the people who get wound up (like everyone does) but just moan in the pub on Saturday. I made the decision to try to bring about change.
Am I perfect? No. Have I made mistakes? Totally. Is my reason for doing it morally right and just? Yeah, it is, yeah. So, whatever gets in the way of that, whatever happens along the way, that’s something that I’ve been willing to take – whether that be prison, whether that be assault or whether that be death (which is something that I’ve seriously thought about).
I’ll still continue to open my mouth. I don’t really worry about who my speech might upset, so long as it’s not based on hate, which it’s not.
If you were in power, what would you actually do?
I’d outlaw all aspects of Shari’ah. I’d stop Muslim immigration into this country.
I’d open up the embassy in Saudi Arabia tomorrow and tell all the women to leave. And then you’d have every barbarian in Saudi Arabia scratching their head [and wondering] why there are no women left in their country.
I’d want to help many of these Muslims. I don’t think we’re going to help them by destroying our own country. I believe the best place to help them is in their own lands.
And those who live here?
If they commit a crime and they’ve got dual nationality, they can go.
Do I want all Muslims to leave the UK? No, I don’t, because that would include some of the people I love, who have done nothing wrong. Do I want to encourage them to leave Islam? Yeah, totally. There’s not one government-sponsored programme to [assist] Muslims to leave Islam. There are [many] apostates in hiding in this country – many of them I’ve met. I’d try to address that issue.
I’d say that everything I’d implement would be total common sense to every normal person.
You said that nowadays you despise Luton. Do you love this country?
Do you know what, it’s probably the wrong time to ask me that and all. I couldn’t be feeling lower about this country, about everything.
Black Lives Matter are just finding things they can use to whip up the black community. I thought the biggest threat this country faced was Islam. I now believe it’s probably neo-Marxism
I just think we’re so damaged. It is worrying where we’re at. Black Lives Matter has caused me massive problems personally in my own friendship groups. What Black Lives Matter has done is really divide us.
Because it’s built on a lie. It’s built on total lies.
I pride myself on calling out bullshit and some of my friends were offended when I went on a bit of a rant about Black Lives Matter – but then I feel offended, that people I’ve grown up with will march under the banner of a violent Marxist organisation that is causing destruction across America.
There’s not a statistic to back up any of the claims they make. My mate the other day was talking about ‘systemic racism’, he said juries convict more black people. They actually don’t. I pulled up the figures: 85 per cent of white people are convicted by a jury, 78 per cent of black people.24See ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk.
Yes, more black people percentagewise are dying in police custody,25statista.com/deaths-in-police-custody-in-the-uk-2019-by-ethnicity but then black people are far more likely to be in contact with the police; actually, you’re 25-per-cent more likely to die in police custody as a white man.26See reddit.com/comments, discussing a recent BBC report (but see also Report_of_Angiolini_Review.pdf, key findings 56 & 57). I’ve researched everything.
I don’t blame members of the black community for believing this stuff, because the media are telling them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they’re being hunted down and killed. And they’re not.
Which media are saying that?
All media. For about a month [after George Floyd’s killing], every time I turned on the TV it was black face, black face – every black person who had been killed in police custody, You could do the same for every white person.
Many of the murders that are claimed to be racist are used to stoke division. George Floyd’s [killing] was a horrific incident, it was terrible, but was it to do him being black? Of the four police officers there, two of them weren’t white. It was nothing to do with white supremacy.
Black Lives Matter are just finding things they can use to whip up the black community for a Marxist revolution. It’s something that has really got me down, because I never saw it coming. I thought the biggest threat this country faced was Islam. I now believe it’s probably neo-Marxism.
|⇑3||In fact, both his biological parents are Irish.|
|⇑5||Then the leader of the BNP, interviewed for High Profiles in May 2004|
|⇑6||Ironically, in 2009 the BNP would ‘proscribe’ the EDL, stating that ‘through its activities [it] brings nationalist and patriotic politics into disrepute. … The British National Party does not wish to be associated with the English Defence League in any way whatsoever.’ Mr Griffin supposedly believed that the EDL was a ‘Zionist’ false-flag operation.|
|⇑9||Interviewed for High Profiles in February 2003|
|⇑11||See eg belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news and bbc.co.uk/news.|
|⇑13||This is disputed – see faith-matters.org/english-defense-league-report, pp5–15 (and lionheartuk.blogspot.com).|
|⇑17||See eg nwemail.co.uk/news and nwemail.co.uk/news.|
|⇑18||Self-published in 2015|
|⇑21||The only categorical prohibition against drinking alcohol in the Qur’an, 5:90f, does not mention any punishment. There is a hadith to the effect that someone who is a habitual drunk will not enter Paradise (comparable to 1 Corinthians 6:10).|
|⇑23||See independent.co.uk/news and bbc.co.uk/news.|
|⇑26||See reddit.com/comments, discussing a recent BBC report (but see also Report_of_Angiolini_Review.pdf, key findings 56 & 57).|
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