Factsheet: Tommy Robinson
IMPACT: Tommy Robinson is a British anti-Muslim and anti-immigration activist. A co-founder of the racist English Defense League, Robinson believes Islam is a “disease” and Muslims are invading Europe. He has been connected to trans-national anti-Muslim activists and organizations, including PEGIDA. Robinson has had numerous criminal convictions and is currently serving time in jail.
Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, is a British activist and a co-founder of the English Defense League (EDL), identified by anti-racism advocacy group, Hope Not Hate, as a racist organization. He goes by the pseudonym, Tommy Robinson, and has been described by Heavy as a “right-wing anti-Islam activist,” and an “Islamophobic extremist,” by Hope not Hate.
Robinson co-founded the EDL in Luton, England in 2009. The group became known for its street demonstrations, which often “descended into violence and racist and Islamophobic chanting.” In 2010, supporters chanted “Allah is a paedo” and attacked police at an EDL rally in the town of Stoke-On-Trent. Elseware, EDL supporters have shouted racist slurs and been caught on camera chanting: “Burn the mosque!” Demonstrators at EDL rallies have been recorded giving Nazi salutes. In 2010, the Guardian revealed the group planned to “hit racially sensitive areas in attempt to provoke disorder over summer.” In August 2010, the group held a demonstration in Bradford involving hundreds of “far-right activists” who threw “bricks, bottles and smoke bombs,” and fought with the police.
In October 2013, Robinson announced his departure from the EDL at a press conference alongside the controversial “counter-extremism” think-tank, Quilliam. He told the BBC, “Whilst I want to lead the revolution against Islamist ideology, I don’t want to lead the revolution against Muslims.” Robinson later claimed that Quilliam paid him to leave the EDL in a “deal the anti-extremism think-tank coordinated so they could take ‘credit’ for his resignation.”
In a 2013 interview, Robinson revealed that he was a former member (2004) of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right, racist, and anti-immigrant party, stating “I was looking for a way out, I was looking for somebody to be addressing this Islamic extremist problem.”
In 2013, Robinson endorsed the UK Independence Party (UKIP) arguing: “They are saying exactly what we say, just in a different way.” Members of the party have stated, “Islam is a cancer that needs eradicating … clear them all off to the desert,” have labeled Muslims “evil,” and pledged to ban the full-face veil and outlaw Sharia law. The party’s former leader, Nigel Farage, called British Muslims a “fifth column.”
In 2015, Robinson became involved with the development of the UK chapter of PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, a German-based far-right and anti-Muslim movement. Robinson claimed to be working with nationalist groups across Europe to counter the “Islamification of our countries.” In 2015, he spoke at a PEGIDA launch in the Netherlands and told the crowd to “all stand together” to fight Islamification. In 2015, he spoke to 40,000 individuals at a PEGIDA rally in Germany, stating, “this current immigration is an invasion. Our borders are being overrun… A country that cannot control its borders will soon not be a country.”
Robinson has described Islam as a “disease” and a “threat to our way of life.” In 2016 he stated, “I’m not far-right… I’m just opposed to Islam. I believe it’s backward and it’s fascist.” He also claimed, “The current refugee crisis is nothing to do with refugees. It’s a Muslim invasion of Europe.” Robinson has described the Prophet Muhammad as a “paedophile,” and threatened to subject British Muslim communities to “the full force of the EDL.” While addressing an EDL audience in 2011, Robinson stated that “every single Muslim” in the UK had “got away with” the 7/7 bombings, holding all Muslims responsible for the violent actions carried out by a group of individuals. He referred to the English city of Birmingham as the “terrorist epicenter of Britain.”
Robinson has called for a ban on “Muslim immigration,” and claimed migrants entering Europe are “harassing women, they’re raping women, they’re culturally and ideologically, not going to assimilate.” The Guardian reported that in January 2016, Robinson tweeted: “I’d personally send every adult male Muslim that has come into the EU over the past 12 months back tomorrow if I could. Fake refugees.”
Robinson has written for the Canadian far-right media organization, Rebel Media. On the organization’s website, Robinson is listed as a Shillman Fellow. The fellowship is run through the anti-Muslim organization, David Horowitz Freedom Center, and is funded by tech billionaire Robert Shillman.
Matt Collins, head researcher at Hope Not Hate, stated that Robinson “was one of the main drivers of anti-Muslim sentiment in this country [UK]. He masqueraded as a journalist, an author and an expert on Islam and he is none of these things.”
The wife of Darren Osborne, the man who carried out the Finsbury Park mosque attack in 2017, stated that in the weeks leading up to the attack, Osborne was “brainwashed” and had “been watching a lot of Tommy Robinson stuff on the internet.”
Robinson has been associated with anti-Muslim activists Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, both of whom were banned from the UK in 2013. Geller voiced her support for Robinson’s departure from the EDL, stating, “his time is better spent working for the defense of England and human rights against Sharia and Islamization in different and more effective ways.” It was suspected that Robinson, along with Geller and Spencer, would form a new organization based on Geller’s “Stop Islamization of Nations.” After learning that Robinson “was allied with the Quilliam Foundation,” whom Geller and Spencer considered “false moderate Muslim deceivers,” they withdrew their support for Robinson and stated he was “no longer on the board of SION.”
Robinson has been arrested and jailed numerous times in England. In 2005, he was jailed for assaulting a police officer. In January 2013, he was jailed for 10 months after “admitting to using someone else’s passport to unlawfully travel to the United States.” In January 2014, he was sentenced to 18 months for mortgage fraud.
On May 25, 2018 Robinson was arrested “after broadcasting an hour-long video over Facebook from outside Leeds crown court. In the video he made comments that risked causing a trial to collapse.” As Robinson’s case went viral online, the New York Times reported that the US-based Middle East Forum (MEF) “posted articles that portrayed him as a martyr for free speech,” and right-wing media joined in, including “Fox News’s Tucker Carlson — who declared that freedom of speech was ‘dying’ in Britain.” On May 29, 2018, Robinson was jailed for 13 months for contempt of court.
In June 2018, far-right activists, neo-Nazis, and others organized to call for his release. Robinson’s supporters organized a demonstration at Trafalgar Square in London. The demonstration consisted of 15,000 protesters and turned violent on June 9, 2018. A Guardian article reported that “protesters hurled bottles, metal barriers and other objects at police lines.” In response, a letter sent to the Guardian from a group of British parliamentarians, union leaders, and Political activists stated that “the racist right are using Robinson to reorganize,” and noted that “Nazi salutes and Islamophobia” were present during the protest. Calls for his release came from Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, along with supporters from the United States and Australia.
Described by the Center for American Progress as a “far-right think-thank…known for its anti-Islam views,” MEF claimed to have “provided all the funding and helped organized” the violent June 9th “Free Tommy” rally. The group funded Robinson’s legal defense and organized another rally in his defense held on July 14, 2018.
Robinson was banned from Twitter in 2018 after having breached its “hateful conduct” policy. Prior to this, Robinson’s account had been temporarily suspended several times. At the time he was blocked, Robinson’s account had about 413,000 followers. In February 2019, the Guardian reported that Robinson had been “permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech.” In April 2019, Robinson was banned from Snapchat. Additionally, in April 2019, Youtube “placed his [Robinson’s] videos under restrictions aiming to limit their spread.”
In October 2018, a video was posted on social media showing schoolchildren harass and violently assault Jamal Hijazi, a 15 year old Syrian schoolboy in Huddersfield, England. As the video went viral, Robinson put out two videos of his own claiming that Hijazi was “not innocent” and accused him of attacking “young English girls in his school.” Hijazi’s lawyer stated that Robinson’s videos on social media “turned Jamal into the aggressor, and the bully into a righteous white knight,” and that Robinson “tried to use Jamal’s case as a platform for one of his anti-Muslim rants.” In 2021, Hijazi sued Robinson for libel, seeking up to £190,000 in damages. During the trial, Robinson declared himself bankrupt. In closing statements of the trial, Hijazi’s lawyer noted that “We do rely on the defendant’s [Tommy Robinson] agenda, which we say is an anti-Muslim one, which is why he waded into this … Jamal was the victim of that.” Robinson defended himself at the trial and maintained that his comments were substantially true.
In March 2021, the Independent called into question Robinson’s bankruptcy claims given he’d received “ hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations and funding.” The report found that in little over two months in 2018 he “received almost £425,000 in donations from his supporters.” A video producer who previously worked for Robinson told the Independent he “witnessed the transfer of large sums from a crowdfunding page into the activist’s [Robinson] business account.” He once asked Robinson about what the withdrawal of £33,000 in donations was being used for, to which Robinson reportedly responded “mates I’ve got to pay back” for “seshes”. The video producer told the Independent: “We realised that he was withdrawing huge amounts of [donations] in cash from a business bank account, and just giving it to his friends who were selling him coke and who he owed for nights out.”
In April 2021, a New York Times piece noted that “few fringe figures have enjoyed more cross-national appeal than Tommy Robinson.” Interviews and newly released documents from a court case showed that MEF provided Robinson with “financial backing for three years, using cash from an American tech billionaire [Robert Shillman] and Trump donor, while its president helped shape his message.” The 2021 NYT article found that money from American-based organization “is apparently drying up” and now Robinson is turning to Moscow. It found that he had gone on a media tour of Russia last year, which was also a trip to “seek accounts with Russian banks.”
In April 2021, the Guardian reported that MEF had also tried to unsuccessfully enlist the help of Senator Ted Cruz as well as other right-wing figures, to secure a U.S. visa for Robinson. Court documents revealed that Robinson “discussed moving his family to Texas in 2019, where he would earn money by speaking at venues ‘including evangelical churches.’”
An April 2021 piece in the New York Times interviewed Caolan Robertson who produced videos for a number of far-right youtubers, including Robinson. Robertson revealed that a 2018 video, which was viewed over 2.8 million times, posted by Robinson claiming he had been attacked by an African migrant in Rome, was manufactured and misrepresented what actually happened. The video producer said, “We would choose the most dramatic moment — or fake it and make it look more dramatic.” The NYT reviewed the raw footage and noted that the “YouTube video was edited to give the false impression that Mr. Robinson was threatened. The full footage shows he was the aggressor.”
Robinson has published an autobiography, Enemy of the State, and co-authored Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam.
Last Updated May 5, 2021