For the past five years, ever since he was thrown off social media platforms for breaching hate speech rules, we have heard little from Tommy Robinson.
Unfortunately, his enforced purdah is now over.
‘I’m back, who’s missed me?’ is how he announced his return to the spotlight on X, formerly Twitter, after his account was reactivated only a few days ago.
Surely there could not have been a worse moment than on the eve of Remembrance weekend for the far-Right’s rabble-rouser in chief to have been given a voice again.
Robinson has issued a rallying cry to ‘young English men’ to travel to London today — Armistice Day — for a counter protest against a march by thousands of pro-Palestine supporters.
Thug: Tommy Robinson outside the Royal Courts Of Justice in London, after appearing for a contempt of court hearing last year
Surely there could not have been a worse moment than on the eve of Remembrance weekend for the far-Right’s rabble-rouser in chief to have been given a voice again
Robinson has issued a rallying cry to ‘young English men’ to travel to London today — Armistice Day — for a counter protest against a march by thousands of pro-Palestine supporters. Pictured: The Democratic Football lads Alliance in 2018
‘Saturday 11/11/11 London, your country needs you,’ he declared, distastefully aping the words of the famous World War I recruitment posters.
With the pro-Palestinian demonstrations too often descending into celebrations of anti-Semitism and hate, it’s a potentially incendiary mix.
Groups containing extremists from each side of the political and racial divide will be in the capital at the same time at a highly sensitive moment. Officially, they will be gathering two miles apart, in different parts of London, but Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has acknowledged there is a growing risk of violence.
And an already challenging policing operation has now been made infinitely more problematic with the intervention of Tommy Robinson.
In a video accompanying his rallying cry on X he appears in a brown jacket and black T-shirt, and asks: ‘The 11th of the 11th is as important to us as your mosque, your Koran, your Prophet . . . what do you want us to do? Sit by while our country is obliterated.’
He is careful to warn his followers not ‘to turn up drunk or aggressive’ but to ‘show our government and police and Hamas and everyone around the world who says that Britain has fallen that there is resistance . . . a silent majority who have had enough’.
The Met fear more than a thousand possible trouble-makers, drawn from the football terraces and far-Right groups — invariably such individuals inhabit both demographics — will answer his call, which has been viewed 600,000 times.
Robinson, now 40, straddles both worlds, after all. He is a convicted football hooligan, let’s not forget, as well as being the former leader of the neo-fascist English Defence League (EDL), which combatted what it perceived as the Islamification of Britain by staging violent demonstrations in towns and cities around the country.
Robinson has issued a rallying cry to ‘young English men’ to travel to London today — Armistice Day — for a counter protest against a march by thousands of pro-Palestine supporters
With the pro-Palestinian demonstrations (pictured on October 21) too often descending into celebrations of anti-Semitism and hate, it’s a potentially incendiary mix
In his post-EDL ‘career’ he has reinvented himself, down the years, as an activist, journalist, political campaigner (once standing as an MEP in the European elections to ‘represent the working class of Britain’), ‘free-speech martyr’, and patriot — always a patriot — frequently making headlines in the aftermath of polarising events such as the Westminster Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks, both in 2017, and repeated grooming gang scandals.
But he has been looking for a new cause to exploit.
The October 7 atrocity in Israel, when more Jews were murdered in a single day than at any time since the Holocaust, combined with arguably soft-touch policing, which has allowed anti-Semitic thuggery to go unchallenged, has provided him with one.
This weekend, with Sir Mark Rowley unable, or unwilling, depending on your point of view, to stop the march in the capital by up to a million people against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza — despite the intervention of the Prime Minister who said it should be banned because it is ‘disrespectful and provocative’ — the controversy reaches its denouement.
Yesterday, Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor conceded officers will likely have to use force. Speaking at a media briefing, he said: ‘You will see police intervention . . . and at times that might look messy. That doesn’t equate to serious disorder or to us losing control, but it does mean that we are taking robust, rapid and agile action to deal with what we are dealing with.’
The situation is being ruthlessly exploited by Tommy Robinson, who has convictions for assault, public order offences, drug possession, contempt of court, and, of course, hooliganism.
Tommy Robinson, of course, is not his real name. He was born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon in Luton but decided he needed a pseudonym because of media attention over his involvement with the English Defence League.
He chose ‘Tommy Robinson’, the name of a renowned football hooligan from his hometown.
The DFLA, which grew out of the Football Lads Alliance is fully behind Tommy Robinson. Pictured: Police are confronted during a protest by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance against a Black Lives Matter protest
‘Saturday 11/11/11 London, your country needs you,’ Robinson declared, distastefully aping the words of the famous World War I recruitment posters
It would be a mistake to underestimate him, though.
I interviewed Robinson in a Luton hotel in 2013, around the time he parted company with the EDL.
Hooliganism might be in his DNA — he was banned from all football matches for four years in 2020 after a video emerged showing him punching another fan at an England match — but he is a highly intelligent, articulate and, it has to be said, affable hooligan, at least on the other side of a coffee table.
He said he had done things he now regrets and insisted he was not a racist, pointing out that the EDL had black members. He decided to leave the organisation because it had become ‘too extreme’. He was opposed to the ideology of Islam, he claimed, not Muslims themselves.
Robinson, in other words, is no shaven-headed, bull-necked stereotype, which explains why his appeal extends beyond the football terraces.
Many ordinary people quietly identify — rightly or wrongly — with at least some of what Tommy Robinson espouses.
But they are not the kind of people who are expected to arrive in London over the weekend.
One of the groups planning to ‘stand shoulder to shoulder with the veterans who fought for our freedom’ is the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA).
An already challenging policing operation has now been made infinitely more problematic with the intervention of Tommy Robinson. Pictured: A protest by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance against a Black Lives Matter protest
Groups containing extremists from each side of the political and racial divide will be in the capital at the same time at highly sensitive moment. Pictured: Rally for Palestine, November 4
The DFLA, which grew out of the Football Lads Alliance — founded by Tottenham Hotspur supporter and hooligan John Meighan — in the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack six years ago, in which eight innocent people lost their lives, is fully behind Tommy Robinson.
It took part in a ‘Free Tommy Demonstration’ after he was given a nine-month jail sentence in 2019 for live streaming a video that, the judge said, encouraged ‘vigilante action’ and ‘unlawful physical’ aggression against defendants in a sexual exploitation trial.
The previous year, hundreds of mainly middle-aged DFLA members, protesting against ‘returning jihadists, awol migrants, and rape gang groomers’, fought a running battle with baton-wielding police (‘I’ll kill you,’ one was heard screaming) in central London.
One of the posts on the DFLA’s Facebook page, which has 22,000 members, reads: ‘It’s about f****** time we stop pandering to people.’
Offers of support for this weekend’s protest have flooded in, with members vowing to attend ‘meets on Saturday and Sunday’ from as far afield as Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Cheshire and Aberdeen. They will be joined, if you take online chatter at face value, by Stoke City firm N40 — or Naughty 40 — which says it has organised coaches to transport members to London.
A post on a different forum, which now appears to have been taken down, stood out in an admittedly crowded, unsavoury field because it was particularly chilling. ‘DO NOT AND I REPEAT DO NOT COME TOOLED UP.
‘WE ARE MUCH BETTER THAN THAT.’
The very fact that the far-Right group in question — Airborne Assault Services, which pays homage to the Parachute Regiment (they have no connection) — had to issue such a warning in the first place perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the AAS, which purports to ‘help veterans and our communities’.
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance was founded by Tottenham Hotspur supporter and hooligan John Meighan — in the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack six years ago, in which eight innocent people lost their lives
Hundreds of mainly middle-aged DFLA members, protesting against ‘returning jihadists, awol migrants, and rape gang groomers’, fought a running battle with baton-wielding police (‘I’ll kill you,’ one was heard screaming) in central London. Pictured: Line of police after a gathering by supporters of Tommy Robinson turns violent in 2018
Their motto is: ‘Together we are strong, together we will achieve.’ Yet in between shots of real paratroopers are inflammatory posts about asylum-seekers. Their account on X (Twitter) points out suspected paedophiles — although all of them appear to be either asylum-seekers (again) or black, which suggests a racist element.
Campaign group Hope Not Hate, which uncovers and fights far-Right extremism, has compiled a list of controversial groups and individuals planning to descend on London for Remembrance weekend and drawn up a detailed list of their itineraries, which it has passed on to the police.
They include Turning Point UK, an offshoot of an American far-Right organisation which champions extremism in educational settings.
Also in the Hope Not Hate dossier is the infamous National Front, Britain’s oldest fascist party, now in terminal decline.
Members intend to march to the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday where they will hold their own service.
‘What remains to be seen is whether these groups have the power to mobilise in the way they could several years ago,’ said Nick Lowles, CEO of Hope Not Hate.
‘Tommy Robinson, his supporters, football hooligans and other far-Right groups have failed in recent years to drum up sizable numbers,’ he said, but warned: ‘Their appetite for confrontation could still pose a risk even if there is a small presence.’
Individual agitators who support Tommy Robinson will also be coming, according to Hope Not Hate.
Sir Mark Rowley had urged organisers of the Pro-Palestine marches, which have been taking place every Saturday since the murderous attack by Hamas last month, to call off this weekend’s demonstration, but the coalition behind it refused. Pictured: Activists march from the BBC to Oxford Circus on November 4
One of them is Alan Leggett, who operates under the guise of ‘Active Patriot’ and regularly features Right-wing content on his YouTube channel, which has 40,000 subscribers.
His daily livestream video often shows him visiting migrant accommodation. Robinson refers to Leggett as ‘our man on the ground’ and promotes his clips.
James Goddard, another vocal supporter of Robinson, is heading for London. He’s been convicted of racially aggravated offences in December 2018 and December 2019. ‘You ain’t even f****** British,’ he shouted in one incident.
It was not his first conviction, having already been fined for assaulting a news photographer in another incident in Manchester.
Sir Mark Rowley had urged organisers of the Pro-Palestine marches, which have been taking place every Saturday since the murderous attack by Hamas last month, to call off this weekend’s demonstration, but the coalition behind it refused.
It could have been banned under Section 13 of the Public Order Act 1986 in certain circumstances, namely a serious threat of public disorder that could not be controlled under existing measures, but the intelligence, Sir Mark said, simply did not meet that threshold. His officers, he assured the public, would act to prevent disruption ‘at all costs’.
He was warned by Rishi Sunak, following a 45-minute showdown earlier this week, that he would be ‘held accountable’ if Remembrance weekend is marred by violence.
And while Robinson has been careful to warn his followers not to be aggressive, he invariably made the same appeal for peaceful protest before English Defence League rallies. Funnily enough, the exact opposite usually happened.
Either way, the very last place Tommy Robinson and his supporters should be this weekend is in London.
Additional reporting: Tim Stewart and Mark Branagan