In February of 2020, a group named Hearts of Oak was launched by far-right figurehead Tommy Robinson, a number of former UKIP figures and “free speech activist” Carl Benjamin, AKA the YouTuber Sargon of Akkad.
At the launch, members stressed that Hearts of Oak isn’t a political party, but a “cultural movement” focused on a few key issues. Those issues, detailed on the group’s website, include all the usual far-right talking points, among them “strong borders, immigration and national identity”, “authorities privileging and protecting Islam alone” and “freedom of speech”.
On Saturday, a protest in London zoomed in on another key Hearts of Oak issue, the grooming gang scandal of 2008. Around 100 people gathered outside Parliament to demand the deportation of three members of the notorious Rochdale grooming gang, who were stripped of their British citizenship in 2018 but still live in the Greater Manchester area.
One speaker, Richard Inman – founder of Veterans Against Terrorism, a campaign group with far-right associations – called to reinstate the death penalty. Carl Benjamin appeared on a video screen in a pre-recorded speech, as did Robinson – real name, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – after revealing this week that he has fled the UK after an “arson attack” on his wife’s property.
Inman told right-wing news site Politicalite that “this rape epidemic” is “carried out by one section of the community”, having talked about the “racist rape of children by Muslim Pakistani men”.
A 2011 government report showed that almost 85 percent of men found guilty of sexual activity with a minor in England and Wales were white. In 2018, Leigh McMillan – a senior member of Tommy Robinson’s EDL – was sentenced to 17 years in prison for grooming and sexually abusing a young girl.
Ahead of Saturday’s protest, a leaflet was tweeted by a number of antifascist accounts, reading, “Hearts of Oak are ideologically based on Islamophobia, racism and nationalism. By focusing only on sexual attacks by Muslims, they dismiss all other sexual attacks by men who are not Muslims.
“Singling out one group of people as the sole perpetrators of sexual crimes is a lie and it is racist. Focusing exclusively on sexual crimes and violence against women committed by Muslims is sexist, as it deliberately forgets all the other victims of sexual crimes and violence against women.”
As the protest finished, the Stand Up to Racism account tweeted: “Several speakers didn't show & the ‘highlight’ of Tommy Robinson's video message went down poorly […] Hearts of Oak are going nowhere.”
In 2019, Tommy Robinson was found guilty of interfering with the trial of a grooming gang and sentenced to nine months in prison.
See more photos from Saturday’s demonstration below.