The stars and stripes, Union Jacks, Hungarian, UKIP and Generation Identity flags – as well as a blow-up sex doll, with a print-out of Sadiq Khan's face attached to it, riding a blow-up pig – flew over Whitehall on Saturday as people gathered for latest "Free Tommy Robinson" demonstration. There were about 6,000 attendees present, so this was smaller fry than the 10,000-strong June effort, which saw his supporters scaling the Downing Street gates and surrounding beleaguered police.
UKIP leader Gerard Batten was one of the first to speak, and compared Robinson's contempt of court offence – for which he was jailed in May – to the crimes of Robin Hood. I'm not sure endangering the trial of a rape gang is the same as stealing from the rich to give to the poor, but there you go. Either way, while the crowds were out to call for the freedom of a plucky British folk hero, all the evidence suggested that by getting himself banged up, Robinson has made himself a cause celebre for the international far-right.
The demo was funded by the Middle East Forum, a hard-right think-tank from America, and compered by Breitbart London's former Editor-in Chief, Raheem Kassam, who works for them. Daniel Pipes, President of MEF, pushed the myth of "no-go zones" for police because of Muslims in Europe.
Besides Batten and Pipes, the speakers list was an international right-wing shitterati: Kent Ekeroth from the Sweden Democrats, who wants to become an immigrant in Hungary to escape immigration in Sweden; Jérôme Rivière from the French Rassemblement National (formerly Fronte National); American singer Joy Villa; and US congressman Paul Gosar, who said the riots in Charlottesville were organised by an "Obama sympathiser". Between each speech, loudspeakers blared the sort of ditty that would soundtrack a Match of the Day hype montage, with the refrain: "This is how legends are made."
Via video link, Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, asked, "Who deserves to live in 10 Downing Street – Mrs May or Tommy Robinson? And who deserves to be the Prime Minister of the UK? Theresa May or Tommy Robinson?"
If Tommy's getting the news in prison, you have to wonder if he can still fit his head through the door of his cell. Tommy Robinson of Luton has gone global.
Over the weekend, it also emerged that an ambassador of Trump's lobbied Britain to treat Robinson more sympathetically, or else face criticism from the Trump administration. Then Steve Bannon, Trump's former Chief Strategist, popped up on LBC radio to say that Robinson should be released from prison, while issuing a "call to arms" for people to "fight to take your country back".
While Robinson becomes a far-right revolutionary hero across borders, it's clear that Trump's America has become a sort of fascist Zion for the far-right – their fever-dream vision given a real life exemplar, and their weird conspiracies given the legitimacy of a Presidential seal.
Flemish secessionist MP Filip Dewinter gave a speech citing Trump's interview in the Sun, in which he said immigration is "changing the culture" of Europe. "Donald Trump is right!" he said. "Donald Trump is saying what European political leaders don’t dare to say. Our enemy is Islam. We have to stop mass immigration." If the most important man in the world thinks it's true, how can you be called a racist crank for peddling this bullshit?
Speaker after speaker lined up to hail Trump. At times, you could forget it was a rally for Tommy at all, were it not for the frequent "Oooh Tommy, Tommy" chants.
In his address, Batten attempted to fuse the right's confused free speech narrative with Euroscepticism and Islamophobia into a more holistically stupid outlook. He wants UKIP to be the party of freedom, including "freedom to live under laws made by a parliament of patriotic MPs, not a parliament of traitors" – which sounds super democratic and not at all scary.
Near the end of the afternoon, compere Kassam played a video that got the biggest applause of the afternoon. It was of Donald Trump on the campaign trail reading a poem about a kind woman who takes in and looks after a sickly snake she finds on the road, only for it to turn around and bite her, which is supposed to be allegory for immigration. It was clear, then, that the Trumpian alt-right's embrace of the Tommy cause has given them the opportunity to broadcast their xenophobic ideas to a receptive street movement which numbers in the thousands.
Recent iterations of Britain's racist street movements have been mercifully vague and obsessed with respectability. The leaders of the EDL swore they weren't against Muslims, just terrorists, even as they stomped around intimidating Muslims and making racist speeches. This led to a political incoherence that helped the EDL to falter. With US diplomats fighting your corner, the leader of the free world as your daddy and weird think-tanks ploughing cash into shaping the politics of a movement, things from here on out won't necessarily go the same way.
At the end of the demo, Robinson supporters wandered off to hassle a bus driver who was wearing a hijab and glass RMT trade union official Steve Hedley, in what he described as an unprovoked attack. All in a day's work for this newly legitimised mob.