The prominent British far-right activist Tommy Robinson has been cut off from his million-plus Facebook followers after the platform banned him Monday night.
Facebook said its decision to ban Robinson (real name: Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) stemmed in part from his ongoing support of organized hate groups, specifically the far-right Proud Boys. Despite numerous warnings, Facebook said, Robinson continued to fraternize on-site with the Proud Boys, who’ve been linked to numerous incidents of violence in the United States, and their former leader Gavin McInnes.
In October, Facebook started kicking off pages associated with the Proud Boys, including ones belonging to McInnes and the Proud Boys UK.
The social media company said that 35-year-old Robinson, who made a name for himself through his anti-Muslim activism under the banner of “English Defense League” -- a protest organization he founded -- has persistently posted “material that uses dehumanizing language and calls for violence targeted at Muslims.” In 2015, he also founded the U.K. branch of Pegida, Germany’s far-right anti-Islam movement known for mass demonstrations against Muslims.
Mohammed Shafiq, CEO of the Ramadhan Foundation, a U.K.-based organization that advocates for young Muslims, said in a statement that he'd recently met with Facebook representatives in London to discuss concerns among the Muslim community that "Tommy Robinson’s continued presence on social media was leading to further radicalisation of his supporters."
But Robinson gained international notoriety when he was briefly jailed in 2018 for live-streaming outside a Leeds Crown Court during an ongoing trial for a child sex abuse ring grooming gang trial, in violation of the judge’s reporting restrictions. He was arrested and jailed the same day in May 2018. His jail sentencing was initially under a gag order. When it was lifted, right-wing media in the U.S. seized on Robinson’s case and turned him into a free-speech martyr under the hashtag #FreeTommy, drawing support from Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
His imprisonment spurred #FreeTommy rallies, organized by far-right activists. One rally in London last June turned violent, and five police officers were injured after clashing with protesters. Far-right groups in northern Ireland and even Australia raised Robinson’s case as evidence of growing censorship. He was ultimately released on bail last August. Robinson had planned to go on a “Deplorables Tour” with former Proud Boys leader Gavin Mcinnes in November, but the plans were scuttled after McInnes’ visa application was denied on the grounds of his “bad character.”
Since November, Robinson has served as special adviser to Gerard Batten, leader of the UKIP Party, which was formally headed by lead Brexiteer and Fox News political analyst Nigel Farage (Farage has said publicly he was “appalled” by the appointment of Robinson).
Facebook and Instagram’s decision to ban Robinson follows Twitter, which permanently banned him in March 2018. He still has a page on YouTube, with nearly 300,000 subscribers, but YouTube told VICE News that since January, Robinson's channel has been demonetized as its content violates the company's advertising policies.
Disclosure: The Proud Boys organization was founded by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of VICE Media. McInnes left VICE in 2008 and has not been involved in the company since.
Cover: Tommy Robinson had his official Facebook page and Instagram profile removed because he has posted 'in ways that violate our policies around organised hate', February 26, 2019. --Gareth Fuller/PA Wire URN:41448542 (Press Association via AP Images)