Tommy Robinson is the former leader of anti-immigration group, the English Defence League (EDL), which he founded in 2009.Matt Rowland Hill, “Who is the real Tommy Robinson,” The Telegraph, October 18, 2013, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10389954/Who-is-the-real-Tommy-Robinson.html. The EDL believes that British society is under attack by Muslim extremists.“Far-right extremism: Who are the EDL?” Channel 4 News, May 28, 2013, https://www.channel4.com/news/edl-far-right-extremism-woolwich-lee-rigby. Since 2009, the group has held what British media has routinely referred to as “aggressive rallies” across England. Robinson has repeatedly targeted Muslims in online posts on his social media accounts and during rallies and demonstrations.Matthew Taylor, “English Defence League: Inside the violent world of Britain's new far right,” Guardian, May 28, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/may/28/english-defence-league-guardian-investigation.
Robinson grew up in Luton, Bedfordshire, where he later took on an apprenticeship as an aircraft engineer at Luton Airport. However, in 2005, Robinson got into a drunken brawl with an off-duty cop, leading to a one-year prison sentence. After his release, Robinson became interested in politics, claiming the police did little to combat the threat of Islamism in Luton. At the time, the extremist al-Muhajiroun network had a base in Luton. In March 2009, al-Muhajiroun supporters disrupted a homecoming parade of Royal Anglian Regiment Soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Robinson and his friends organized a counter demonstration, leading to small clashes and the eventual founding of the EDL.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411. The far-right group steadily held demonstrations, eventually gathering enough support by 2011 to prompt police to close Luton town center for a day to accommodate an EDL “homecoming” protest.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411.
In July 2011, Robinson was arrested and handed a 12-month community rehabilitation order after he was convicted of leading a brawl involving over 100 football fans.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411; “EDL founder Stephen Lennon guilty over football brawl,” BBC News, July 25, 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-suffolk-14278957. In January 2013, Robinson was once again arrested in the U.K. for illegally using someone else’s passport to enter the United States and then using his own passport to return to the United Kingdom. Robinson was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment after he admitted to possession of a false identity document with improper intention.“EDL leader Stephen Lennon jailed for false passport offence,” BBC News, January 7, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-20935502. According to media sources, Robinson had previously been refused entry into the United States and used his friend’s passport to get into the country.Brian Whelan, “EDL leader ‘Stephen Lennon’ jailed for 10 months,” Channel 4 News, January 7, 2013, https://www.channel4.com/news/edl-leader-stephen-lennon-jailed-for-10-months. After Robinson’s release from prison, he began questioning if the EDL was able to properly combat Islamist extremists, leading to his departure from the organization in October 2013.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411. Although Robinson allegedly changed his viewpoint—even assisting a Muslim-led anti-extremism think tank at one point—Robinson was jailed again for 18 months on January 23, 2014 for mortgage fraud.“Tommy Robinson, former EDL leader, jailed for fraud,” BBC News, January 23, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-25862838.
Following his release, Robinson attempted to set up a British wing of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident), Germany’s far-right populist party. In January 2016, he spoke in Denmark claiming a “military invasion” of Europe—due to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe as they fled ISIS in their home country.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411.
Despite leaving the EDL, Robinson remained politically active in the far-right scene.Jon Sharman, “Tommy Robinson permanently banned from Twitter,” Independent, March 28, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tommy-robinson-twitter-ban-permanent-english-defence-league-founder-edl-hateful-conduct-a8278136.html. In 2017, Robinson was named the U.K. correspondent at Rebel Media, a Canadian website owned by conservative media personality, Ezra Levant.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411. Robinson eventually left Rebel Media, but took to creating films and self-publishing a book called Muhammad’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam. Robinson’s support base dramatically grew, with his Facebook page garnering over one million followers at one point.Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411.
In early June 2017, it was alleged that Robinson was in contact with the Finsbury Park attacker, Darren Osbourne. Robinson allegedly told Osbourne that it was, “now left to us, the ordinary people of the United Kingdom, to stand up to hate, to unite and in one voice say, no more.” On June 19, 2017, Osbourne drove his car into a group of people outside the Finsbury Park Mosque shortly after, killing an elderly man and injuring nine others.Lizzie Dearden, “Finsbury Park terror suspect Darren Osborne read messages from Tommy Robinson days before attack, court hears,” Independent, January 23, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tommy-robinson-darren-osborne-messages-finsbury-park-attack-mosque-van-latest-court-trial-muslims-terror-a8174086.html; “Finsbury Park attack: Theresa May condemns 'sickening' terror attack,” BBC News, June 19, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-40322960.
In May 2017, Robinson was handed an 18-month suspended sentence for committing contempt of court over a gang rape case heard at Canterbury Crown Court. The suspended sentence was on the condition that he did not commit further offenses. However, On May 25, 2018, Robinson was arrested outside of Leeds Combined Courts for breaching the peace outside a court during an ongoing sexual grooming trial.Lizzie Dearden, “Tommy Robinson case: Why EDL founder could be jailed again for contempt of court,” Independent, August 1, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tommy-robinson-prison-jailed-why-contempt-court-grooming-gangs-muslim-protest-a8472566.html; Dominic Casciani, “Tommy Robinson: The rancour, rhetoric and riches of brand Tommy,” BBC News, July 11, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48942411. On July 11, 2019, Robinson was found guilty of contempt of court and was given a nine-month prison sentence. However, he only served nine weeks of his sentence and was released on September 13, 2019.Mattha Busby, “Tommy Robinson released from jail after nine weeks,” Guardian, September 13, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/13/tommy-robinson-released-jail; Ben Quinn, “Tommy Robinson given nine-month jail sentence for contempt of court,” Guardian, July 11, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jul/11/tommy-robinson-given-nine-month-jail-term-for-contempt-of-court.
Despite Robinson’s ongoing court proceedings, he was appointed as an adviser to the right-wing U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in November 2018. The decision was criticized by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage who claimed, “[the decision] goes against all the things I did as leader to say we will talk about immigration, we will talk about the extreme forms of Islam. But, we will do it as a non-racist, non-sectarian party. This blows a hole in all of that.”Peter Stubley, “Nigel Farage says UKIP’s appointment of Tommy Robinson is dragging us in a shameful direction,” Independent, November 23, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nigel-farage-tommy-robinson-ukip-appointed-gerard-batten-grooming-gangs-islam-prison-reform-a8647921.html; James Masters, “Anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson appointed as UKIP adviser,” CNN, November 23, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/23/uk/tommy-robinson-ukip-gbr-intl/index.html.
Robinson was permanently banned from Twitter on March 28, 2018, due to his promotion of violence and incitement of harm towards others.Jon Sharman, “Tommy Robinson permanently banned from Twitter,” Independent, March 28, 2018, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/tommy-robinson-twitter-ban-permanent-english-defence-league-founder-edl-hateful-conduct-a8278136.html. Facebook and Instagram followed suit, and on February 26, 2019, Robinson was banned from their platforms for repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech.Alex Hern and Jim Waterson, “Tommy Robinson banned from Facebook and Instagram,” Guardian, February 26, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/26/tommy-robinson-banned-from-facebook-and-instagram.
Robinson was arrested in London’s Hyde Park on November 1, 2020, for violating COVID-19 regulations. Robinson had informed his followers he was going to hold an event—at a time when gatherings of more than six people were banned in England to contain the spread of COVID-19.Vincent Wood, “Tommy Robinson arrested under coronavirus regulations in London’s Hyde Park,” Independent, November 1, 2020, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/tommy-robinson-arrest-video-coronavirus-hyde-park-london-speakers-corner-b1511393.html. As of 2021, the EDL website was shut down and its various social media accounts suspended by digital platforms. On July 22, 2021, Robinson was sentenced to pay £100,000 in libel damages to a Syrian schoolboy for having claimed on social media that the boy had “violently attacked young English girls in his school.”“Tommy Robinson loses Jamal Hijazi libel case,” BBC News, July 22, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leeds-57930901.
- Extremist entity
- English Defence League (EDL)
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Violent, political
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Far-right, nationalist
- Leader (former)