Short of cash? Become a far-right agitator

Simon Doherty

Simon Doherty looks at how far-right provocateur Tommy Robinson profiteered from a rape trial

30 October 2018 13:18

It’s not been a bad summer for the anti-Islam crusader and professional right-wing agitator Tommy Robinson (real name: Stephen Yaxley-Lennon). That is not a statement that you usually hear uttered about people who have just come out of prison, but in Tommy’s case, it was the best possible thing that could’ve happened to him.

Tommy, 35, has pulled off something utterly astonishing over the past few months: He’s succeeded in whipping up and monetising a convulsion of outrage amongst parts of the British public. Exposing himself as a truly talented spin doctor, he’s taken the fact that his actions could have derailed a rape trial and turned it into a situation where he is painted as a Robin Hood character; an innocent man, fighting for justice and truth, who is being relentlessly persecuted in a political witch hunt. There’s only one problem: nothing could be further from the truth.

So, why did Tommy decide to get involved in this trial and what has he ended up getting out of it? As part of his on-going propaganda campaign (selecting criminals who happen to be Muslim and publicising their crimes whilst flatly ignoring similar crimes committed by other societal subsets), he live streamed a video of Muslim defendants arriving at their rape trial on Facebook. Then he encouraged his loyal contingent of followers to share it. This was despite the fact that he had been clearly warned, by a judge, not to do this as it could have created prejudice in the trial. He knew exactly what he was doing, but decided that he was above the law. But he isn’t, nobody is.

It's unsurprising that someone like Tommy, a ruthless opportunist and a full-on conman, gratefully seized this moment; it was, after all, a win-win-win for him.

Research completed by the Press Association concluded that Tommy left prison ‘with more money and more backers after a swell of support from right-wing activists’. In fact, this whole escapade has netted him an estimated £2million, according to some reports. The following on his Facebook page increased by 10 percent whilst he was incarcerated and, according to The Times, he scooped a ‘massive payday’ when he was imprisoned. Tommy’s former camera operator, Lucy Brown, told the Sunday Times that Tommy runs ‘a business’ in which ‘your outrage, valid as it is, will be monetised as such’.

Once he was out of prison, Tommy went ahead and did what all self-respecting right-wing propagandist would do: He moved into a £950,000 house in an upmarket village in Bedfordshire. Not too shabby, eh? Not content with hijacking a rape trial in order to make a shedload of cash, Tommy has now set his sights on a speaking tour of the US. If these plans aren’t scuppered by him not getting a visa due to his extensive criminal record, anti-fascist campaigners have said it could net him around £1million. That would make him ‘one of the best funded far-right figures since the Second World War’.

‘The inevitable media coverage that will surround the visit will no doubt lead to an increase in his already significant monthly donations from America,’ a researcher for anti-fascist advocacy group Hope not Hate, Joe Mulhall, said in a statement.

‘We believe that, should he be allowed to enter the US for this event, he stands to make in the range of £1million in donations with the potential for much more. America offers the opportunity for further large-scale investment in Lennon. Both the organisations that have invited Lennon to the US have a history of donating large amounts to European anti-Muslim individuals and organisations.’

This was a vigorous masterclass in manipulation.

This whole rape trial thing has earned Tommy plenty of support in the US. His recent legal campaign was bankrolled by a US-based right-wing thinktank — The Middle East Forum — who reportedly spent a five-figure sum on his defence, along with sending foreign speakers to #FreeTommy events and providing funding for stages, PA systems and everything else you need when you’re hosting a bunch of exploited right-wingers who genuinely believe that Tommy has been imprisoned for criticising Islam.

These people have been so hopelessly duped that they truly believe that we are a hampster’s eyelash away from the collapse of free speech in this country; that Sharia Law is just around the corner and all they can do to stop it is to buy some EDL merch, get paralytically drunk on cheap lager, and roam around central London roaring, like a flock of deranged football hooligans: ‘Wheyyyy Tommy, Tommy. Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy Robinson!!!’ My God, Tommy must be having a laugh at them behind closed doors; this was a vigorous masterclass in manipulation. Here’s a fun fact for you: Tommy is not Nelson Mandela, he doesn’t speak truth to power. Tommy tried to undermine the right to a fair trial – a human right that ensures that we live in an equitable, just and civilised society – and he ultimately did it for one reason and one reason only: Because it benefited him, financially.

It’s unsurprising that someone like Tommy, a ruthless opportunist and a full-on conman, gratefully seized this moment; it was, after all, a win-win-win for him. Chances to espouse discriminatory opinions about Muslims, entrench social divisions and – above all – make a bunch of cold, hard cash all at once don’t come about every day.

But what sociological conditions allowed this to happen? The on-going Tory austerity measures have hit the criminal justice system hard since they kicked off in 2010. The police simply do not have the time or resources to investigate crimes at the rate that they once did. This has been compounded by an increased threat of terrorism which has diverted huge chunks of the police’s ever-dwindling budget. The simple fact is that fewer resources for the police means more crime. Tommy managed to capitalise on this by claiming that the reason that these rapists were not brought to justice sooner was due to a widespread conspiracy which involved the authorities allowing Muslims to commit crimes. As ludicrous as that sounds, Tommy fans lapped it up like an exhausted dog who’d just been given a bowl of water after a long walk in the sun.

Another factor in all this is the advent of the ‘internet journalist’; anyone and everyone can be a journalist now – all you need is a computer and a Twitter account and you’re off. This means that more people get their say by self-publishing materials online. But it comes with some negative side-effects: Self-appointed ‘journalists’ like Tommy, whose motives are very much financial, are not in any way bound by journalistic codes of ethics. They think they can run amok, in this case during very important criminal trials, without consequence. When they are held to account, like any other journalist in the UK would be, they cry conspiracy. Well, there’s no conspiracy against Tommy; most people can see the facts as they are: He wants to paint himself as a vulnerable victim of the Establishment, because that helps him turn people against everyday Muslims. And that, in turn, allows him to maintain his wealth.