On Sunday 9th, former EDL leader Tommy Robinson will head up a ‘Brexit Betrayal’ demonstration, attempting to exploit the disastrous Brexit negotiations as a springboard to boost his brand of nationalism, racism and violence.
He’s using the chaos of May’s botched deal to crown himself the champion of 52% of the population – another mega-wealthy man trying to pose as the authentic voice of a ‘sold out’ or ‘forgotten’ white working class. He decries elites on social media whilst costing up to them in person.
As Robinson has been banned from various platforms and has never really had the ability to push his case in the mainstream press, he has relied on his large following on his social media to talk directly to his supporters With almost a million likes on his Facebook page and hundreds of thousands of views on his videos, Robinson has honed an ability to build an affective bond with his fans. Because of his inability to speak to people outside those who actively seek out his content it’s often difficult to keep track of what he’s doing, and why he’s so successful.
Tommy Robinson likes to portray himself as a rebel, even, perhaps, a revolutionary. However, a close examination of his political project – as explicated over livestreams, videos, tweets and Facebook posts – reveals what amounts to an intensification of repressive state practices and structures that already exist in society today. A increased policing and repression of Muslim communities could be achieved by a ramping up of PREVENT and other counter terrorism initiatives. A halt to all non white immigration would inevitably mean an increasingly aggressive permeation of Immigration Enforcement into ever more arenas of civil society.
To back up his campaigning Robinson relies on a conspiracy theory common among white supremacists which casts Muslims as an invading force, seeking to destroy Western countries and the white race. In this theory, refugees fleeing war torn countries become barbaric foreign men intent on raping white women and committing acts of terrorism. Muslims who have always lived in this country become enemy combatants ready to fight. Even mainstream public figures like London mayor Sadiq Kahn can’t escape suspicion. Robinson has described Kahn in a livestream as part of an ‘invasion into ‘our country.’
Provocation is a deliberate tactic taken up by Robinson in his videos. This doesn’t just manifest in his racist conspiracy theories but also in stunts such as the invasion of newspaper offices and aggressive trolling of anti-racists, leftists and feminists. These stunts try to feed his ‘lad culture entertainment image’, but also have a radicalising effect on his fanbase – encouraging them into copy cat actions and culminating into acts of harassment and violence. An example of this in action can be seen in Robinson’s sinister attacks on a Syrian refugee who was the victim of violent bulling in a school in Huddersfield.
By allying himself with a now-mainstream political party like Ukip, Tommy Robinson seeks to recast himself as the figurehead of Brexit betrayal – centring himself in the most important political issue of the contemporary moment. In this move Robinson is looking to relieve himself of the baggage of the past, while still signalling to his base that he is still the same as he ever was. Whether he succeeds in this remains to be seen, he is just as likely to dirty Ukip with his association than clean himself, but he is certainly trying to push his career into new territory.
Robinson has pulled this trick before. In the dying days of the EDL as a functional street movement, with the help of liberal counter extremist think tank Quilliam, he made a sudden and public break with the organisation he led. At a press conference at Quilliam’s London offices he and his deputy Kevin Carroll renounced violence and far right elements within the EDL, pledging to inform on his former friends in the EDL. Crucially, whilst renouncing violence, he stated he would carry on his campaign against ‘Islamist ideology’.
With the benefit of hindsight it is obvious that Quilliam’s deradicalisation efforts were a scam. Within two years of renouncing the EDL Robinson launched a UK branch of Pegida, an Islamophobic campaign group whose flagship policy was a halt to all Muslim immigration. When Pegida UK failed Robinson further pivoted, recasting himself as a citizen journalist and provocateur hosted by the far right Canadian YouTube channel Rebel Media. Throughout his reinventions Robinson hasn’t got any less dangerous, both in his rhetoric and in his actions. A chilling detail that emerged in the trail of the Finsbury Park Mosque murderer earlier in the year was the defendant’s repeated searches of Robinson’s tweets and articles the night before the attack and emails he received from Robinson’s website which included language that could have incited him to carry out the killing.
We can’t let Tommy Robinson rebrand himself for a second time. On the ninth of December anti-fascists from across the country, Leave and Remain voters, will march to say that Tommy Robinson doesn’t get to be the face of Brexit, that he is a hateful racist and misogynist who’s rhetoric is inspiring violence against Muslims and refugees. We need to fight Tommy Robinson and his cronies on all fronts. They want to use marches to build public support, threaten minorities and those who dare disagree with them; to build momentum behind further bids for power. We can’t let them. Our futures, our freedoms and our lives are at stake.
Assemble on December 9th. Portland Place 11am. Look out for the Feminist Anti-Fascists banner and join the bloc.