In England in October 2018, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee was attacked by his classmates. The boy — who was wearing a cast because, according to him, his wrist had been broken in a previous bullying incident — was dragged down to the ground by his neck while his attacker said, “I’ll drown you,” and then attempted to waterboard him with a water bottle.
Previously, this same Syrian refugee’s sister had attempted to commit suicide at school because of anti-Muslim taunting and assaults she received. The perpetrators in both cases were revealed to be avid fans of a man who has found himself in the news in the United States recently — a man named Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, whom you might know as Tommy Robinson.
Robinson quickly sprang to the defense of his 16-year-old fan who was accused of assaulting the boy. He interviewed the attacker, who claimed that the reason for the attack was that the Syrian refugee — who was Muslim — had bullied two non-Muslim schoolgirls and that the school authorities had refused to do anything about it.
Stop me when this begins to sound familiar.
Robinson even said he had proof: He provided a screenshot from a text conversation with another student’s mother who claimed that her daughter had been bullied by the Syrian refugee. He also posted a photo that he claimed was from the school that purportedly showed that gangs of Muslim youth were beating up white children in England.
There was only one problem: The proof was all fake. The mother who was supposed to have texted Robinson about her daughter learned about the allegation and protested that she never made such statements to Robinson. Furthermore, the photo that purportedly showed gang violence at the school was actually ripped from a completely unrelated news article about a teenage cancer patient in Britain. Eventually, Robinson confessed that the image was fake and that the text message was not genuine, and then issued a bizarre, flippant apology in which he blamed the entire incident on having been faked out by liberals.
Convicted of journalism?
Robinson was sentenced to jail Thursday for contempt of court. His crime dates back to May 25, 2018, when he recorded a video of himself outside Leeds Crown Court, confronting defendants in a trial who had been accused of grooming underage girls for rape and trafficking in sexual slavery.
No one was taking these crimes seriously, Robinson claimed. The British government and the courts were conspiring to provide leniency to Muslim offenders to avoid seeming discriminatory, he said. Yet, the jury was about to resume deliberations about the fate of these Muslim men — who were eventually convicted of their crimes.
On the surface, Robinson’s complaint might have seemed odd. After all, the event that attracted Robinson’s attention was … a criminal trial featuring these men, which means that police had arrested them, prosecutors had prosecuted them, and a jury was about to decide on lengthy prison sentences for them. Indeed, the trials Robinson protested would result in 16 men being sentenced to a combined total of 220 years. The story became a national news item in Britain because of the reporting of outlets like the BBC and Examiner Live, which publicized the story well before Robinson latched onto it as a cause celebre.
Additionally, Robinson’s behavior was puzzling for another reason — he had been here before. He was found in contempt for doing this exact same thing in May 2017 (when he was again “exposing” a story that had been reported in the media) and he surely knew that what he was about to do will get him sent to prison.
The crimes being tried during the 2018 trial were first reported in March of 2017, with reports appearing in both the BBC and Examiner Live. According to Examiner Live, the West Yorkshire Police initially arrested 27 men on rape, trafficking, and child sex charges for offenses that occurred between 2004 and 2011 against victims as young as 11. Two women were charged with child neglect.
So, by the time Robinson was berating the defendants outside the Leeds Crown Court, the crimes of the so-called Huddersfield Grooming Gang had been public knowledge for more than a year — including extensive reporting by the BBC, which is literally funded by the British government.
Robinson’s first contempt conviction was a result of a similar action on May 8, 2017, during which Robinson recorded video outside the Canterbury Crown Court during a trial for four rape suspects. The four men were convicted of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl who had come by their restaurant intoxicated.
Robinson was there to expose pedophiles, he claimed, and police were trying to stop him by … enforcing clearly posted rules that attempting to record or photograph at the court may result in an arrest for contempt. During his sentencing, the judge reminded him that security had warned him of the potential violation.
The identities of the suspects had been published in various mainstream media outlets, such as the Daily Mail, in the days before Robinson’s appearance at the courthouse, with the exception of a teenage suspect who, at the time, was believed to be a minor.
In both cases, according to families of the victims, local media reported on these crimes before Robinson ever got involved. They didn’t need exposing. They were already in the news and on trial.
The U.K.’s strict contempt of court laws are not for the purpose of covering up crimes; they exist to preserve fair trials and prevent the outside influences from reaching juries. They are there, in other words, to make sure that criminals get punished rather than being let off after their lawyers argue that one of the jurors saw Robinson’s inflammatory videos during deliberations.
Since Robinson has been banned from the major social media platforms, it’s unclear when he began talking about these cases initially. However, it is clear that whatever Robinson was doing at Canterbury Crown Court and Leeds Crown Court on the days he committed contempt of court, he was not exposing any hidden crimes.
So what is he doing? And, why is he doing it?
To understand that, you have to understand where Tommy Robinson comes from.
Who is Tommy Robinson?
Before he was Tommy Robinson, he was Stephen Yaxley-Lennon of Luton, Bedfordshire. His biological father left the family when he was 2 years old, and his hyphenated last name stands as a symbol that he was raised by his mother and her second husband.
From a young age, Robinson had issues with Muslims. He has openly talked about getting into fights with Muslim gangs while in school and recalled wider conflicts between white students and Muslim students. The Muslim men at the school “always seemed to be waiting for trouble,” Robinson told the Telegraph.
Luton, an industrial town, had attracted a significant Muslim population from places such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Even after his school days, Robinson found himself clashing with Muslims at Luton Town Football Club matches, because the stadium was located in a Muslim part of town. It was during those fights, Robinson has said, that he learned “you either back down or get your head kicked in.”
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. turned a bright spotlight on radical Islamic terror, Robinson founded a group called “Ban the Luton Taliban” after allegedly seeing Muslims recruit men to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In 2004, Robinson spent a year or so as a member of the overtly racist, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim British National Party. The party’s constitution dictated that only whites could join, until 2010 when it was forced by legal pressure to amend its constitution to, at least in word, allow non-white members.
Some of the stated goals in the party’s 2005 election manifesto included “abolishing multiculturalism” and a claim that “multi-racialism” is a “recipe for disaster.” The party was especially preoccupied with reversing the “Islamification” of Britain.
Robinson has said he left the party due to its opposition to him having black friends. Still, even having left that party, Robinson didn’t stray far from the driving belief that the No. 1 enemy of his country is Islam.
In 2009, when a Muslim group called Al Muhajiroun protested a homecoming parade for British soldiers who were returning from Afghanistan in Luton, Robinson led protests against them that resulted in the formation of the English Defense League, a rowdy, often violent anti-Muslim group that gained national attention.
It was at this point that the man who would become famous as Tommy Robinson — even though that was not his name and he had used numerous other aliases in the past — gained national attention. After years of conflict with Muslims and growing anti-Muslim perceptions, when Yaxley-Lennon took the mantle as de facto leader of the EDL, he adopted the pseudonym Tommy Robinson after the name of a local soccer hooligan firm. His battle against Islam made him a nationally — and eventually internationally — known figure.
Robinson quit the EDL in 2013, saying he was put off by the fact that neo-Nazis were growing in influence within the group, and because Robinson was internally questioning the effectiveness of combating radical Islam without the help of moderate Muslims.
During an interview with the Telegraph in 2013, while discussing his exit from the EDL, Robinson took an EDL wristband off his arm, tossed it to the reporter, and said, “I don’t want anyone else to represent me. I want to be representing myself.”
Robinson’s long and repeated criminal history
Throughout his Luton upbringing and into adulthood, Robinson has had some serious run-ins with the law. In 2005, a drunken argument with his girlfriend (and fellow BNP member) escalated to the point that Robinson used physical force against her. An off-duty police officer attempted to intervene, and Robinson kicked the officer in the head.
The activist was ultimately convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm against his girlfriend, for which he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, and assault with intent to resist arrest against the police officer, for which he received a concurrent term of three months. That conviction derailed what looked to be a promising potential career as an aircraft engineer.
If one is inclined to forgive Robinson for beating up his girlfriend and assaulting a police officer — crimes for which conservatives typically have little or no tolerance — the remainder of Robinson’s rap sheet should be enough to convince even the casual observer that this incident was not merely a drunken mistake, but rather part of a pattern with a man who is repeatedly and flagrantly criminal — and in particular, a fraudster.
Some of Robinson’s criminal activity can at least plausibly be excused by his allies as part of his, shall we say, vigorous activism. For instance, in 2010, Robinson was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during clashes at a poppy burning protest. In 2011, he was again arrested and charged with assault for head-butting a man who verbally confronted him during the protest. Later in 2011, he was convicted of leading a riotous mob of soccer fans into a fight with fans of the rival team.
But quite apart from a criminal history that clearly suggests a man who is not in very good control of his temper, Robinson also has the criminal history of a man who is well-practiced — if perhaps not particularly skillful — at concocting elaborate frauds for his own enrichment.
For example, in 2013, Robinson was arrested and charged with using fraudulent documents to travel to the United States. In a bizarre incident, Robinson was literally jailed for having been an illegal immigrant to the United States after using a passport with the name “Andrew McMaster” to board a plane to the United States. Because of his lengthy criminal history, Robinson had been denied a visa, so he “borrowed” McMaster’s to travel here.
Once he arrived at JFK airport in New York City, customs officials took his fingerprints and realized that they did not belong to Mr. McMaster. As they attempted to find him and conduct an interview about this discrepancy, Robinson somehow eluded ICE officials, left the airport, and entered the U.S. illegally. The following day, he returned to England using a passport with the name “Paul Harris,” one of several aliases Robinson has used.
If you are struggling to keep up with what you are supposed to call Tommy Robinson, you are not alone. As the judge at his trial remarked:
I am going to sentence you under the name of Stephen Lennon, although I suspect that is not actually your true name, in the sense that it is not the name that appears on your passport.
You knew perfectly well that you were not welcome in the United States. … You knew that because you tried before and you had not got in, and you knew the reason for that — because, rightly or wrongly, the US authorities do not welcome people in their country who have convictions of the kind that you have.
The judge went on: “What you did went absolutely to the heart of the immigration controls that the United States are entitled to have. It’s not in any sense trivial.”
Robinson was ultimately sentenced to 10 months in prison.
If at this point you are still inclined to be sympathetic to Tommy Robinson, consider the level of sympathy that you would have for a person who had been charged and convicted with multiple assaults in Mexico and deliberately circumvented U.S. immigration law by using a fraudulent passport to enter the United States. Then ask yourself why anyone should feel differently about an illegal immigrant from the United Kingdom.
Almost immediately after his release, Robinson was back in court again, to once again plead guilty to criminal fraud. This time, there was no possible political motive for his fraud; rather, he merely attempted to hoodwink a bank into giving him a mortgage under fraudulent pretenses. In this case, Robinson admitted to conspiring with fraudulent mortgage broker Deborah Rothschild, who used fake pay slips and income statements in order to fraudulently obtain a £160,000 loan from a British bank.
All of which is to say, maybe the word of a person who is known to have used at least four different aliases and has multiple fraud convictions on his record perhaps should not have his word taken at face value.
Is he really a journalism martyr, or just self-profiting criminal?
All of which brings us to the reason that Robinson has become a cause celebre in the United States over the last week or so: his alleged work bringing to light certain instances of admittedly heinous sexual assaults in Britain.
These assaults, in some cases, actually happened. And if Robinson really is responsible for helping bring his perpetrators to justice, then he perhaps deserves credit for that in spite of his unsavory past. Robinson has been leaning on this angle for all he is worth, particularly with an audience in the U.S. that is blissfully ignorant of most of his colorful history and knows only that he is described by the media as “far right.” In fact, during protests about his contempt conviction and sentencing, Robinson wore a T-shirt that was emblazoned “Convicted of Journalism” to drive the point home — and some figures on the American right have picked up his claim and repeated it.
But as with all things pertaining to Robinson, we must ask: Is he telling the truth? Is he actually responsible for shedding light on this situation? Have his efforts helped in this regard — or have they hurt?
It is again important to note here that Robinson was not breaking news about these horrible crimes. He was not the driving force behind these criminals being brought to justice. The crimes and charges had been reported, were being prosecuted, and Robinson’s content served more to grow his personal anti-Muslim brand than they did to aid in justice.
By confronting the then-suspects outside of the courthouse to berate them on camera so that he could post the video on his own or his employer’s website and social media pages, Robinson was simultaneously profiting himself while potentially jeopardizing the legal proceedings themselves.
Robinson’s efforts during the course of the filming incident that landed him in contempt were not calculated to ensure that the heinous criminals in the Huddersfield Grooming Gang received justice. Tommy Robinson is a well known person in Great Britain. A live video stream hosted by Robinson was sure to be seen by tens of thousands of people, as the one that landed him in jail actually was.
At least one of those tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people might be one of the jurors deciding on the fate of the men at trial.
And if one of those happened to see Robinson filming, spewing invective at the defendants as they entered and left the courtroom, the judge would have had no choice but to grant a mistrial. And all the hard work put in by the police, detectives, and prosecutors — you know, the people who were actually trying to get justice for the victims of the Huddersfield Grooming Gang — would have been thrown out the window.
And that is the reason that Tommy Robinson faces jail time today. Not because he was heroically trying to obtain justice for heinous acts of rape, but because he idiotically and recklessly almost stopped the government from obtaining justice for the victims in the interests of his own self-promotion. The idea that the government was or is trying to sweep the Huddersfield Gang’s crimes under the carpet, when they actively prosecuted the offenders (and continued to do so in additional other trials after the one at issue concluded) simply beggars the imagination.
Why should he get asylum in the U.S.?
One final ludicrous claim of Robinson’s does bear examination. Robinson claims that he needs asylum in the United States because if he goes to prison, he will be killed by gangs inside the prison. Somewhat more sensationally (and ludicrously), he claims that the actual government of the United Kingdom is trying to kill him.
If you’ve read this far into what is an admittedly lengthy piece, you will no doubt not be surprised to learn that when he says this, Robinson is full of crap. The truth is that the British government has actually taken absolutely extraordinary measures to protect his safety throughout the course of his numerous incarcerations. During the time he served his sentences for his immigration fraud and mortgage fraud convictions, he spent the entire sentence in protective custody because of the perceived danger to his life as a controversial public figure in Britain. The judge who sentenced him in the mortgage fraud case even specifically mentioned the expense of providing for Robinson’s protection as a reason for not giving him a longer sentence.
It should be noted that Robinson and his camp have been caught flat out lying about the conditions of his imprisonment before. During the course of his prior incarceration for contempt, Robinson claimed through his representatives that he had been moved from a prison that was “2 per cent Muslim” to a prison that was “71 per cent Muslim.” These claims were repeated uncritically by Alex Jones, the same conspiracy theorist to whom Robinson ran with his plea for asylum in the United States.
However, they have been conclusively debunked. Not only was Robinson never transferred, but even if he had been transferred, the prison he was allegedly transferred to had a Muslim population of 14 percent, which is substantially different from 71 per cent. In fact, no prison in the UK has anything close to a 71 percent Muslim population.
The facts are clear
Robinson is not being jailed for the crime of journalism, as he claims.
He is being jailed because he almost allowed men who committed heinous crimes to go free.
Furthermore, he is no hero, as he claims. He is a repeat criminal and a repeat fraud whose main interest throughout the course of his career has been his own self-aggrandizement by feeding off the fear and ignorance of others.