The man accused of attacking a group of Muslim worshippers, killing one, was “brainwashed” by far-right propaganda, the prosecution argued in a UK court today. The Crown said the man had emails from the far-right Canadian outlet Rebel Media saved on his phone.
The prosecution alleges that 48-year-old Darren Osborne drove his van into a mass of Muslim worshippers outside of London’s Finsbury Park Mosque on June 18. The attack claimed the life of 51-year-old Makram Ali. Eleven other people were hit by the van but survived their injuries. Osborne has denied he was behind the attack in the trial that began yesterday.
In court, Osborne has been described by the Crown as a “loner” who was quickly radicalized by media in just a few weeks. The Guardian reports that the incident that incited Osborne’s radicalization was when he first watched a BBC drama about the Rochdale grooming scandal. From there he was, as his former partner of 20 years described it in court, “obsessed” with Islam.
This obsession brought Osborne to far-right outlets like Rebel Media and Infowars, according to the prosecution. Osborne searched for material posted by former English Defence League leader turned Rebel Media host Tommy Robinson several times in the days leading up to the attack. The court heard that Osborne received a direct message from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First—the account US President Donald Trump controversially retweeted—but prosecutors do not know what message the DM contained.
In the days leading up to the attack, the court heard, Osborne had screengrabbed two mass emails written by Robinson, according to information gathered by investigators from the defendant’s iphones and ipad. The emails were mass sent to Rebel subscribers in the UK and signed by Robinson. The first came on June 11 ahead of the Rebel Media-supported UK Against Hate rally, a reaction to the Manchester suicide bombing terrorist attack perpetrated by Salman Abedi in May of last year. The email invitation stated that “there is a nation within a nation forming just beneath the surface of the UK. It is a nation built on hatred, on violence and on Islam.”
“It has now been left to us, the ordinary people of the United Kingdom to stand up to hate, to unite and in one voice say 'no more,'”the Rebel Media email said.
The second mail out related to another Rebel Media campaign, regarding a rape allegation against Syrian refugees sent out on June 14.
Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant refused to offer comment to VICE Canada for this story.
The court also heard that Osborne had visited the Infowars website for a story written by the conspiracy site’s Paul Joseph Watson called “Proof: Muslims celebrated terror attack in London.” The story, at one point, states that polls have shown a significant amount of “Muslims living in both the Middle East and the west show alarmingly high levels of support for violent jihad”—a recent Pew research study has said that assertion is not accurate.
Several patrons who were at a pub with Osborne the day before the attack spoke to the court as well. The Independent reports that the patrons described Osborne as “mentally agitated and disturbed” and said he was writing a letter in the pub. A bartender said that Osborne was murmuring about Muslims, saying—in reference to an al-Quds Day pro-Palestinian march—that “Muslims were going to March in London tomorrow… all the Muslims are getting together and marching for ISIS.’”
According to the witnesses who testified, Osborne was telling people at the bar he was a soldier (he’s not) and was confronted by Callum Spencer, a Royal Engineers soldier who asked what regiment he was in. The Independent reports that Spencer told the court that Osborne said, "I'm going to kill Muslims, your family are going to be Muslims, they're all terrorists and I'm going to take it into my own hands.”
The letter, which CCTV also caught Osborne writing, was found in the van after the attack; CCTV footage also showed the man renting a van the day before the attack. The letter, which addresses Sadiq Khan, Lily Allen, and Jeremy Corbyn is a rambling, racist read and includes lines like “get back to the desert, you raping inbred bastards and climb back on your camels.”
Tommy Robinson has been frequently criticized for his coverage and the tone of his commentaries—one Guardian journalist called him a “hate preacher” in a tweet after the Finsbury attack. Robinson is the founder of the far-right English Defence League which has been criticized for having connections to white supremacy—Robinson left the EDL in 2013 after he deemed it too extreme. For several years Robinson has been one of the most vocal voices against Muslims in the UK—he condemned the Finsbury Mosque attack after it happened.
The Rebel Media has long-faced criticism for their content—frequently anti-Islam—on both sides of the Atlantic, such as the spreading of a truther movement around the Quebec City Mosque shootings, and coverage of “white genocide” (a conspiracy which is a favourite of the neo-Nazi and alt-right movement). This all came to a head for the news outlet last summer when Rebel Media correspondent Faith Goldy attended the Charlottesville protest that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer. Goldy was criticized for her sympathetic coverage for the alt-right participants of the rally. She was fired later in the week for going on a neo-Nazi podcast affiliated with the Daily Stormer. The fallout from their coverage saw Rebel Media get blasted from news outlets of all stripes, a mass exodus of its correspondents, a highly publicized loss of advertisers, and a denouncement by Canadian Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer.
Osborne’s trial carries on tomorrow.Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter