Far right

How Tommy Robinson Is Manipulating His Disciples

The former EDL leader is using his legal saga to further his cult of personality.
October 24, 2018, 11:33am
Tommy Robinson
Tommy Robinson speaking outside the Old Bailey (Photos by Alex McBridge Wilson

Stephen Yaxley Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, is a narcissistic evil genius. So much so that he has managed to spin the fact he nearly derailed the trial of a sex gang into a tale about how the establishment is out to get him, in order to protect rape gangs.

After his retrial for contempt of court was kicked into the long grass on Tuesday (the judge decided to refer the matter to the Attorney General) he asked journalists in the court room, "How long have I got to have this hanging over my head?"


Really, he must be chuffed. After all, being referred to the Attorney General was what his legal team had asked for. Deferring the retrial means he gets to walk free for the time being, while also keeping his "persecuted by an elite political witch hunt" thing going indefinitely. That schtick netted him an estimated £2 million in donations following his initial arrest and appeal (Lucy Brown, Yaxley Lennon's former camera operator, has told the Sunday Times that the far-right figure operates a "business" in which "your outrage, valid as it is, will be monetised as such").


So overall, it's a bit of a result for SYL, as the court documents refer to him. But when you're such an accomplished opportunist, almost everything is.

In the brief period since being released from prison, other than winning a "patriot of the year" award in Bavaria, he has managed to turn a chance encounter with some soldiers at a service station into a campaign to defend "soldier X", who was discharged for taking a selfie with him following a long record of disciplinary problems. He's then been able to turn that into a platform for him to talk about living conditions for British soldiers more generally.

Quite a turnaround.


Yaxley-Lennon emerged from the court to a round of applause, the clicks of cameras and hundreds of camera phones raised in the air. Addressing the crowd outside the court from his stage – which was funded by the Middle East Forum, a wing-nut US think-tank – he told his crowd of supporters that, after the uncertainty, "For the foreseeable future, I can make plans."

The crowd were wearing "Free Tommy" T-shirts, old EDL merchandise and T-shirts bearing the message "BBC – Building Britain's Caliphate". There were banners and flags from UKIP, ethno-nationalists Generation Identity and For Britain – the party of failed UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters – as well as a lot of Union Jacks and a few Stars and Stripes.


Yaxley-Lennon gave a speech containing a submission his legal team had made to the court, in which he argued that he is being trialled for "who I am, rather than what I did". There's a kernel of truth there, twisted to fit his "persecuted" persona. He insists that he's being treated more harshly than other journalists found in contempt of court, but that is to suppose you take him seriously as a journalist, rather than a far-right agitator.

After a speech by Ezra Levant, founder of The Rebel Media – a far-right news source – there was a rendition of "Hallelujah", which was supposed to be sung with some weird alternative lyrics about a "secret court", with "Hallelujah" replaced with "How they rule ya" – they being "the growing state" who "won't stop who their voters rape".


Most people didn't seem to have been handed the leaflet the lyrics were printed on, so we were largely left with Tommy fans singing "Hallelujah" to mark the freedom of their messiah.


When the speeches were over, one of Yaxley-Lennon's entourage grabbed the mic for a final word: "In five years' time, we want to see Tommy on top of Nelson's Column." It seemed a strangely appropriate aspiration for this far-right demigod.

Throughout the post-court circus there was adulation for Tommy and vitriol for the "fake news" media. "To the journalists… The British public do not trust you, they do not believe you. You are the enemy of the people," said Yaxley-Lennon, leading to chants of "shame". "I hope you choke on your pay-cheques," a man shouted at a camera crew near me. "Why can't you just tell the truth?"

The truth is fairly simple: Yaxley-Lennon and his crew are masterfully using this trial to perpetuate an anti-establishment image and push their anti-Islam message, and in doing so creating a street movement around "our Tommy" bigger than the EDL. Whether you want to accept that is up to you.