Tommy Robinson (pictured) is back in jail. Perversely, for him this is a kind of triumph, writes Richard Pendlebury
Tommy Robinson is back in jail. Perversely, for him this is a kind of triumph.
Until his incarceration for contempt of court last week, this football hooligan turned anti-Muslim rabble-rouser and founder of the far Right English Defence League had been fading into an angry obscurity.
When Twitter banned him earlier this year for apparently breaching its 'hateful conduct' policy, he had ranted that the Establishment was out to silence him. Yet few took any notice. That has changed with his imprisonment.
Today, a dubious alliance of individuals and interest groups from across the globe, many of whom had not heard of Robinson before Tuesday, consider him to be a 'martyr', a 'hero' and a 'political prisoner'.
The Twitter hashtag FreeTommyRobinson has gone viral courtesy of the far Right's not insubstantial online community, and messages of support for the father of three from Luton have been posted on social media by such figures as President Donald Trump's eldest son, the disgraced American comedienne Roseanne Barr, Meghan Markle's sister Samantha and even an adviser to the Israeli prime minister.
More than 500,000 people have signed an online petition demanding his release from jail and hundreds of pro-Robinson protesters marched on Downing Street last weekend.
Yesterday, his supporters gathered again in Leeds where he committed the offence. Another 'colossal' march is planned for June 9.
Hundreds of pro-Robinson protesters marched on Downing Street last weekend. Others marched in Leeds today (pictured)
The abiding narrative from his supporters is a classic conspiracy theory: that his imprisonment is part of that Establishment plot.
They claim he was jailed after a politically motivated trial expedited at record speed. His conviction, they add, was kept 'secret' by the State until a reporting ban was overturned.
The intention is not just to silence him, they say — but to silence him for ever: he will likely be murdered behind bars by Islamist extremists while the prison authorities turn a blind eye; Britain has become a police state; etcetera, etcetera.
The truth is rather more mundane.
Robinson, 35, already has criminal convictions for assault, drug possession, passport offences and more recently, mortgage fraud.
On this occasion it was his transgression of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which landed him in jail.
As we shall see in more detail later, he was jailed for potentially prejudicing a case in Leeds Crown Court after filming both himself and people involved in the trial outside the court while it was taking place.
The footage was streamed live on his Facebook page.
The judge's decision to apply reporting restrictions on his conviction — restrictions which were challenged by media outlets and have now been lifted — led many of his new idolisers to claim that he is being treated as a 'special case'.
And this has been enough to turn him into the far Right's hottest cause celebre in years.
You have only to look at social media to see that. Much of the support comes from America, where the so-called alt-Right, members of the gun lobby and white supremacists, are trying to turn Robinson into their equivalent of Nelson Mandela in his prison cell on Robben Island.
Leading the way was Donald Trump Junior, who likened Robinson's jailing to the British government oppressions which led to the American revolution of 1776.
'Don't let America follow in those footsteps,' he urged his 2.84 million followers.
TV's Roseanne Barr felt the same. 'He was just arrested — which is a death sentence — please get involved!' she tweeted ludicrously last Saturday.
Ms Barr has, of course, had a rather eventful week herself after she wrote on social media two days later that a black former adviser to President Barack Obama looked as if 'muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby'.
The Twitter hashtag FreeTommyRobinson has gone viral courtesy of the far Right's not insubstantial online community (protester pictured in Leeds)
The ABC network promptly cancelled her top-rated TV sitcom. Barr blamed her comment on her sleeping pills (among other things).
Meanwhile, far Right Canadian activist Lauren Southern let rip with a 12-minute rant against Robinson's conviction on her YouTube channel, which has half a million followers.
'How do you immediately get sentenced to 13 months in prison over a minor arrest if it's not political?' she raged. 'I'm living in a world where my friends are being arrested at every turn because of their political opinions.
'What kind of dystopian f***ed up 'progressive' future is this?'
It should be noted in passing that Miss Southern was barred from entering the UK in March on the grounds of her distribution of racist material in Mr Robinson's Bedfordshire home town during a previous visit.
Her leaflets said 'Allah is a gay god'. She claimed the provocation was a 'social experiment'.
A more practical suggestion of help for Robinson came from a German anti-immigrant MP, Petr Bystron, who has offered him political asylum in Germany.
'I would be willing to fly to the UK and have you sign the asylum papers in Hull Prison if you so wish,' he added in his letter.
A less expected contribution came from Hananya Naftali, who is said to be the social media adviser to Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hundreds of protesters shut down Whitehall last weekend as they chanted for his release
He tweeted, and later deleted: 'Free Tommy Robinson! He has done nothing wrong and it is his right to express his freedom of speech.'
These were just the more notable comments among many thousands.
In the U.S., gun-owners are tweeting that his case is why they defend their right to carry assault rifles. Many of these tweets are simply howls of hate.
However, few of these people seem willing to see through the fog of their odious bigotry to understand the real reason why Robinson was jailed.
Instead, they see the case as the political persecution of a man who once likened Muslim babies to time-bombs and, in 2011, threatened the entire Muslim community with EDL retaliation in the event of an Islamist attack.
So who is Tommy Robinson?
His real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon and he was born to an English father and Irish-immigrant mother and grew up in Luton where Muslims make up 25 per cent of the population.
He says he was always aware of