This Saturday, in one of the most diverse and multi-ethnic cities in the world, thousands of far-right protestors will be gathering in London to demand the release of what they perceive to be as ‘martyr’ for their cause, Tommy Robinson.
Never mind that Tommy Robinson is in prison because he himself has pleaded guilty to contempt of court. Never mind that his actions of reporting live outside a criminal court risked creating a risk of prejudice to members of the jury who potentially came across his videos, which could cause an entire trial to collapse. The reporting restrictions that were in place were there to guarantee a free and fair trial. Yet all of this is irrelevant to his followers, who simply see a deep state cover up as far as Tommy Robinson is concerned, with his supporters from across the Atlantic becoming overnight experts on the British legal system, denying that any such laws existed.
Yet what is more interesting is that in spite of all of this, over the years Mr Robinson’s popularity and coverage seems to rise. He’s been able to brush off his former membership of the British National Party, a far-right racist political party. He continues to maintain that he does not hold animosity towards British Muslims, despite making previous comments that hold all Muslims as being responsible for terrorism. Nor should we forget his days as a football hooligan. And yet in spite of all of this, he has continuously been able to repackage himself as free speech martyr.
Those of us who grew up in the same town as Tommy Robinson, Luton, where he founded and led the notorious English Defence League, are all too familiar with his real motivations and unpolished image away from the cameras. We would be warned not to go out on to the streets the day the EDL were in town, where marches usually turned into violence with businesses and shops attacked. Our ‘community’ as a whole was being held responsible by Tommy and his thugs for the causes of extremism.
Yet one wonders how Mr Robinson has been able to continuously repackage himself as a free speech martyr? The truth is none of this would have been possible without sections of the UK press allowing him the opportunity to do so, helping him along the way. It seems as though some have sought to bend over backwards to give him the benefit of doubt, despite repeated convictions, despite ample amounts of evidence that Tommy Robinson is motivated by nothing more than xenophobic hatred for people from Muslim backgrounds, we find him invited back over and over again, asked the same questions on repeat as though some really aren’t convinced that Tommy Robinson is all that bad.
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks, we’ve seen him invited on air to offer his views about the causes of terrorism, of what solutions he proposes, where he’s often asked to expand on why he feels the way he does. In doing so, the media offers him a bit more of the legitimacy and air time that he so desperately craves. Make no mistake, the more he is offered the chance to discuss matters on his own terms, to frame the debates as he wishes, the more credence and normalisation his views receive.
I’m not advocating no platforming, but at the very least demanding the press stop treating him as some misunderstood free speech martyr in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, repeatedly asking him whether he makes a distinction between Islam and Muslims or whether he’s racist.
In an article for the Spectator James Delingpole once asked” ‘The EDL founder has been jailed for fraud and assault. So why do I like him?’. Clearly Mr Delingpole hasn’t been on the receiving end of one of Mr Robinson’s xenophobic marches, an interesting point he decided to omit. Douglas Murray, a regular political commentator with appearances on Question Time has also sought to normalise Tommy Robinson, claiming he is motivated by nothing more than double standards.
So when the far-right protest in London this Saturday, let’s have a bit more humility from the media who allowed Tommy Robinson countless opportunities to repackage himself, gave him the benefit of doubt, failed to hold him to account for the moments his mask fell off and his xenophobia and hatred was continuously exposed. It’s about time some looked back and thought: what role did I play in the rise of Tommy Robinson?