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Tommy Robinson, Anti-Muslim Activist Charged With Contempt, Out On Bail

Aug 1, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 6:28 pm
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A British critic of Islam is now out on bail after being freed by a court in London. Conservative and far-right groups in the U.S. and Canada helped pay for his legal defense. They say Tommy Robinson is a victim of political correctness. In London today, Robinson's supporters took to the streets to celebrate while counter-demonstrators called him a violent racist. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Unintelligible) Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, Tommy Robinson.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: A few dozen Robinson backers at the courthouse today cheered the news that he would become a free man at least for now. Des Byrne took the day off from his job as a painter-decorator to support Robinson.

DES BYRNE: I'm elated, to be honest with you. The way I look at it, the way he was arrested, the way they put him in court was just wrong.

LANGFITT: Robinson pled guilty earlier this year to contempt of court for violating Britain's strict laws on reporting about judicial proceedings. He was sentenced to 13 months. Robinson has focused on the trials of rape gangs run by Muslim men. Today an appeals court ordered Robinson's release, noting that the time between his arrest and imprisonment had been just five hours. The appellate judge kicked the case back to a lower court for rehearing. Byrne says Robinson represents the concerns of many working-class white Britons.

BYRNE: He's arrested because he's one of the only people who's got the guts to stand up and say, this is wrong. They've got this ideology that if anybody - anybody - speaks up about Islam, they're automatically Islamophobic or racist.

LANGFITT: In recent months, some right-wing conservatives across the Atlantic have come to Robinson's defense and say he's a victim of political correctness. The Middle East Forum in Philadelphia has donated tens of thousands of dollars to help pay Robinson's legal fees and sponsor rallies on his behalf. Here's former presidential adviser Steve Bannon interviewed last month on the London talk radio station LBC.

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STEVE BANNON: He and I disagree about the religion of Islam, OK? But I don't think Tommy's a bad guy. I think he's a solid guy. And I think he's got to be released from prison.

LANGFITT: Conservative broadcaster Ezra Levant of therebel.media flew in from Toronto to cover today's judgment. He says Robinson's concerns resonate beyond the United Kingdom.

EZRA LEVANT: Americans and Canadians and Australians and even people on the continent were very interested in it because this is a phenomenon that is - wherever there's mass migration, Muslim migration, Muslim refugees, open borders, Islamification, Sharia creep - wherever those issues are live, Tommy's message is relevant.

LANGFITT: Tommy Robinson is a complicated and deeply controversial figure here and drew his share of protesters today as well.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: When I say Tommy, you say scum. Tommy...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Scum.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tommy...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Scum.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Tommy, Tommy, Tommy...

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #2: Scum, scum, scum.

LANGFITT: Tommy Robinson's real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. He cofounded and later left the English Defence League, which in the past staged violent demonstrations against immigrants and Islam. Robinson has also spent time in prison for mortgage fraud. His critics in the United Kingdom see him as a racist and provocateur. Michael Bradley with the British group Stand Up To Racism was outside the courthouse today.

MICHAEL BRADLEY: Basically we think rather than Tommy Robinson being a freedom fighter or someone standing up for freedom of speech, he's got a appalling track record of racism, violence and encouraging division inside British society.

LANGFITT: Bradley thinks some American conservatives see Robinson as a potential asset.

BRADLEY: And it's because they think he's a figure that can unite the far-right in Britain. And he's a dangerous man. That's the truth.

LANGFITT: Given Robinson's past, many are skeptical he could possibly fulfill that role. And he could return to prison in the future. He's only out on bail until his case is reheard. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.