He rose to national fame as the shouty man in the yellow vest hurling abuse at Anna Soubry. Twitter sent him viral, the Daily Mail spread his gleaming face across their front page and his antics around Westminster saw him featured in a slew of major news bulletins. Overnight, the Leicester-born James Goddard turned from just another angry bloke to a leading figure in the British far-right.
But then he was arrested on suspicion of public order offences and handed a host of bail conditions, which he said included an order to leave the area within the M25 and a ban from entering Anna Soubry's constituency of Broxtowe. The strong arm of corporate justice came crashing down as Facebook removed his page and PayPal cancelled his account. Brexit pushed the news agenda forwards, and as suddenly as James Goddard had slithered onto the national scene, he was gone. But what happened next?
With his fundraising and networking ability crippled, and an expulsion from the capital to boot, Goddard left London and has become kind of de-facto leader for the far-right strand of the UK Yellow Vests. Despite initially beginning as a mesh of those from across the political spectrum, the British Yellow Vests were quickly swamped by the far-right after Goddard's fleeting moment in the spotlight.
With Goddard at the helm, the group have spent the past few weeks embarking upon a weird tour of Britain. So far, they’ve visited Newport, where their 30-odd gang was met with a similar-sized group of counter-demonstrators; Cardiff, where they paraded through the town centre belting "You can stick your flag with stars on up your arse"; and most recently, Manchester, where the group harassed a Stand Up to Racism stall.
Armed with a megaphone, Goddard broke away from a main cluster of yellow vest protesters and made his way towards the peaceful stall, which was pushed to the floor while a group of his associates chanted support for Tommy Robinson. He then took to Twitter to label the Stand Up to Racism group "morally repugnant".
It's not as if we needed confirmation that Goddard was a bonafide racist: last year he wrote on the far-right social network Gab that the mixed-race trans activist Munroe Bergdorf should "go back to the jungle", while in a speech to a Free Tommy Robinson rally in June of 2018 he lamented the apparent fact that "we're allowed to be angry about Grenfell, but not about [the terror attacks in] Manchester, not London Bridge, not Westminster".
Yet mixed in with the vicious bigotry, the wider Yellow Vest movement that Goddard claims to represent seems to be appealing to something larger than just race politics. At a Westminster protest in mid-January, the group handed out poorly-worded fliers listing child abuse, veteran suicide and sexual assault as things "WE STAND FOR!!!!"
Aside for making it look like they’re a paedo-protection gang, the fliers offered an intriguing glimpse into the political dogma behind what Goddard and co are trying to build. Also listed as issues that the group cares about were universal credit sanctions, homelessness, elderly poverty and "greedy bankers". What's more, in a video clip from their recent demonstration in Cardiff, the Yellow Vests can be seen talking at length about the evils of homelessness, encouraging a group of homeless people to join their march. In other words, there seems to be a running theme of piggy-backing on a variety of issues.
The group has also shown that, like many far-right groups, it is susceptible to conspiracy. In early 2018, three teenage boys were tragically killed after a drink-driver ploughed into them while they were on their way to a party in Hayes, south London. The driver Jaynesh Chudasama was jailed for 13 years for dangerous driving. In the months following their deaths, a campaign championed by Goddard began online, entitled #ourboysjustice. The campaign suggests the boys' deaths were actually an Islamic terror attack and that the families are the victims of an establishment cover-up.
The only shred of supposed evidence appears to be the fact that the driver was Asian – even though he's of Indian Hindu background, not Muslim. Despite this, Goddard has become very close to Tracy Blackwell, the grieving mother of one of the boys, who herself is a big name in the Yellow Vests. The #ourboysjustice campaign has gained considerable traction in far-right circles, with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, jumping in on the act and posting a YouTube video to announce his support for the conspiracy theory.
It is, of course, a classic Robinson tactic. Find a social injustice or tragedy that involves some element of race, manipulate the discourse to portray the indigenous white Briton as the innocent victim, evoke hazy fantasies of a bygone era in which this never would have happened, blame a nondescript establishment entity as the scheming orchestrator of a nationwide conspiracy and, hey presto, you're a Man of the People.
The reality for Goddard, though, is that he’s quite a way off that mantle. Despite his brief moment in front of the national press, his ongoing tour of Britain and his hijacking of other people's politics, he remains, in relative terms, a small fry. But with a plethora of inevitable Brexit-related flashpoints stretching out ahead of us like a minefield, the real test of whether Goddard and his Yellow Vest goons can garner serious support is yet to come.