Tommy Robinson’s Court Hearing

“Why don’t you just f**k off you c**t?” were the words that first greeted me when I arrived at the edges of Tommy Robinson demo. To be fair, being of middle eastern descent doesn’t exactly make me welcome among Robinson supporters but I kept my head down and people mostly just ignored me. The first thing I noticed upon arriving is that there were about 200 Robinson supporters and about 30 anti-fascist counter-protestors. Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Christopher Yaxley Lennon, was attending a court hearing at the Old Bailey for a retrial after being charged with contempt of court earlier this year.

The Stand Up to Racism counter-protest. – Milo Mirzai

Tommy Robinson supporters try to push back against police lines outside the Old Bailey – Milo Mirzai

The police were out in force attempting to contain the protestors and keep the entrance to the Old Bailey clear. I decided the front of the Old Bailey would have some good photo opportunities. Soon I was trapped between a police line on one side of me and protestors shouting ‘free Tommy’ slogans as Stephen was escorted by his entourage/bodyguards to the front of the Old Bailey. I couldn’t hear the short speech that he made to a camera but I was surprised that he was actually kind of short in person. It was quite a surreal experience standing a metre or two away from a man who represents an existential threat to my existence. The atmosphere was tense, to say the least.

Tommy Robinson stands outside Old Bailey. – Milo Mirzai

Protestors filming with Free Tommy and For Britain shirts – Milo Mirzai

For a crowd so opposed to diversity there was quite a variety of different demographics and factions, albeit most people were white British given the nature of far-right politics. The crowd was mostly men but not by much and while the age range was quite broad I would say most people were somewhere between 30-50 with a surprising amount of young people. There were some interesting organisations in attendance UKIP, Generation Identity and For Britain to name a few. Generation Identity is a “pan-European Identitarian Movement” seeking to preserve European culture and western civilisation with links to Alt-right. ex-UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters started For Britain, a party that is unsurprisingly pro-Brexit, anti-immigration and definitively far right. Additionally, there were a number of Stephens old football hooligan friends and members of the EDL.

Generation Identity flag flies in support of Tommy Robinson – Milo

Freedom of speech is of course always a hot topic at right wing demonstrations and this was no exception, but I felt Robinson’s supporters brought a new level of contradiction to the table. On the one hand, I overheard the phrase ‘the left are so intolerant to our beliefs’ or something of similar sentiment, followed by someone yelling an overtly racist slogan that I have absolutely no wish to repeat. The far-right has been quite effective at weaponising liberal values and rhetoric for arguably incredibly illiberal beliefs and policies and will be a recurring theme throughout this project.

Free speech rhetoric on protestor placard – Milo Mirzai

While the numbers weren’t staggering it’s certainly bigger than most far-right demos that used to happen 2-3 years ago before Brexit. While I don’t want to engage in fear-mongering, the far right is definitely on the rise illustrating that the right’s online presence is starting to translate into real-world action. The counter-protest being so small and ineffective is definitely concerning, the Left needs to take these fringe groups seriously before they move into the mainstream.

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