Without winning a TV talent contest or scoring a winning goal in the World Cup, it would be hard to be as famous as Tommy Robinson in the UK. And yet he started out wearing a balaclava and leading a rag tag bag of football hooligan friends protesting against a group of Muslims shouting insults and obscenities at British soldiers. He became the figure head of the English Defence League: the EDL.
Tommy Robinson has now written a book telling his astonishing story. It is more entertaining, funny, bitterly depressing and exciting than most of the fiction I’ve read lately. It had me laughing out loud then thumping soft furnishing in frustration over the injustice of it all. It’s not about the EDL but his involvement with the EDL is clearly the main driver for most of what’s happened to him:
Don’t worry, you’re not going to need a box of Kleenex at your side as you read this. It really isn’t Tommy-does-tearjerking. It’s not a sob story. The trouble I’ve found myself in has been at times clearly self-inflicted. But only at times. You might just learn something about the workings of a British police state that I doubt you believe exists.
My over-arching crime, at least in the eyes of the British establishment, has been to be a patriot. I love my country. I think that St George’s Day, April 23rd, should be a public holiday. I resent the fact that people who hate the country they call ‘home’ are pampered and protected by a state that places their so-called rights above those of young men who risk and sacrifice their lives for British democracy.
It’s not a short book (the electronic version I had was 330 pages) but I devoured it. The style perfectly captures Tommy’s voice and background but it flows well. Some of the phraseology will upset English grammar teachers: it’s always “me and my football pals” but that’s authentic Tommy speak.
The narrative jumps backward and forward in time a little but not in a confusing way. American readers might need to google a few unfamiliar terms such as UAF – Unite Against Fascists and ASBO – Anti Social Behaviour Order along the way. Idiosyncratic British words such as “brief” which can be another term for a solicitor or lawyer, will probably be understandable from context.
It’s important to explain my (distant) knowledge of the EDL. I grew up in the UK but left to live in Israel in 2009: I didn’t want to bring up (Jewish) kids in the UK. Back in the UK I’d been loosely connected to what I’d call the counter Jihad movement. A mostly intellectual crowd who read about and wrote about the effect of increasing Islamisation of society. I knew people across the US, UK and continental Europe. But to be honest, I was sick of the whole subject by the time I left the UK. My old counter Jihad friends started talking about the EDL soon after their first stirrings in March 2009 and I kept a close eye on the EDL.
If there has always been one prevailing test I’ve applied to the people I’ve met who are talking about countering Jihad and Islamisation it’s the Israel test: where do they stand on Jews and Israel. Do people grasp Israel’s fight for survival is a battle against Jihad and Islam or are they harbouring the classic antisemitic views of the traditional far-right in Europe such as Jewish control of media and finance?
The leadership of the EDL, and most of the people helping out behind the scenes that I interacted with, passed this test. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of diversity of views in such a loose group, but the tone set by the leadership was always non-racist and never antisemitic. There were also constant attempts to hijack it by real neo-Nazis and the true far right. Tommy’s unceasing battle against this crowd is a drum beat through the book.
Tommy’s book sets the scene for the formation of the EDL by explaining something of the life he led in Luton (just to the north of London) growing up. He was hanging about with other kids in a solid working class neighbourhood. From the start it’s clear race was not something he, or most of the mixed race crowd he hung with, ever paid attention to. But as time passed the separation (on religious not race grounds) between Muslims and everyone else grew clearer, the fights grew more serious and the impact on society more palpable.
Tommy had a conviction and prison sentence for a serious violent assault against an off duty policeman before anything to do with the EDL happened. Of course when Tommy tells the story in more detail the facts are a little nuanced. He was assaulted first by a man who never identified himself as a policeman: the conviction came because he took it one step too far by kicking him on the ground. That kick and, according to Tommy, the police officer lying about identifying himself, led to the conviction and sentence.
He’d also had (in the years after his imprisonment for that assault) one minor drug offence. I can’t describe it better than he does:
One night I was walking through town when a female officer in a police van told her colleagues to stop and search me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she knew who I was. They found a trace of cocaine – just about enough to make your hamster pedal his wheel a bit faster, but that’s all. I got a £300 fine and for the future enemies of Tommy Robinson, my record was elevated onto something close to the level of a Colombian drug baron.
But contrast those convictions from 2004 and later with a story he tells when out filming a documentary in Luton. He comes across a well known Muslim leader, Sayful Islam, and all the following can be seen on YouTube (strong language warning):
There’s a Youtube video where I’m driving a journalist through Luton for the Channel 4 documentary Proud and Prejudiced, talking about the town, pointing out places of interest. At one point we drove past Sayful Islam in Bury Park. It was a warm, sunny day and I had the car window down. The cameraman was in the back.
Sayful noticed us, noticed me, and started shouting. Traffic is always slow through Bury Park and he walked into the road, demanding to know what was happening. Look it up, see for yourself. Google it on Youtube. You’ll see him smack me in the face, completely unprovoked.
I got assaulted by an off-duty copper, retaliated and was given 12 months in prison. This bloke who preaches hatred and murder of British people walked up and belted me in the chops, on camera, and the police were not remotely interested. Not for one second.
So tell me, will you – who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy here? Tell me what part of the law I don’t understand. I would have a very satisfying moment when I put the shits right up Sayful, one morning in Luton, some time later. The police were all over me yet again for that, as you’d imagine. But Sayful smacks me on film, in the face, unprovoked? Nothing. Zip.
Those earlier convictions were pivotal. They established Tommy as a violent football hooligan and gave the media a pigeon hole for him and the organisation. The strongest theme in the book (and the reason for the title) is the persecution of Tommy Robinson individually. When presented as a linear account it is a horrifying picture of the entire apparatus of State power being directed at shutting down political speech and basic rights like free assembly and peaceful protest.
Tommy recounts his sudden and unprepared rise into media stardom. Very early on Tommy was shocked by what happened when he talked to the media. One of his first interviews was with the Guardian newspaper which was organised in a restaurant, at least they’d all get a meal out of it!
For sure, we were a bunch of mostly blokes who resembled a crowd of football hooligans a bit too much for some people. I get that. And with good reason too – because we mostly were. But we were standing up as patriots, as working class and rough and ready as we were. There wasn’t much that was complicated about it.
We objected to the Islamification of our country and, given what we’re still seeing happen not just around the country but around the world, is that really such a bad thing? Is making that point some form of disease? Is it a criminal act in itself? It would seem so, even though we weren’t attacking anyone, blowing up anyone – and certainly not beheading anyone.
I went to the meeting at a time when no one yet really knew who I was. So I turned up with my three pals – and they were three black lads. Now you couldn’t miss these boys, especially Dorsett, who’s about 6ft 5ins. He’s younger than me, but growing up in Luton he was probably one of the handiest blokes around town.
I didn’t know who or what the Guardian was about, so I was talking about everything that was going on in Luton, just blabbing it all out, all the social problems, all the street radicalisation, everything – the reasons why we were doing what we were doing. And then the newspaper article came out and I was looking at it, thinking, ‘What the fuck, what’s this geezer on about?’
And he basically, again, called me, called us, racists. He completely did not mention the fact that I’d turned up with three black men who were clearly my close friends. These blokes weren’t my minders, they were my mates.
I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t understand it because they were blindly lying. And that was my first experience of the Guardian, my first experience of the national press.
He has some choice things to say about other parts of the media he met along the way, the TV documentaries that flat out lied to him and the manipulations that were made in almost all reporting of the EDL.
On a side note, at the time I was often reading the personal accounts of people who attended their demonstrations on their web forums alongside the national media reporting. I could tell for myself there were massive discrepancies between what numerous independent EDL members were saying on the web and what was being written by the press.
I was also reading, and remember this is back in 2010, about people whose daughters were going missing for days on end. People being assaulted, bullied and driven out of neighbourhoods by Muslim gangs. The EDL forums and the marches were a non-racist place in which people talked about these issues. It was years later that the massive scale of paeodophile Muslim gangs operating across the UK eventually came to light. But it was obvious there were huge problems to rank and file EDL members.
Can we be sure of the veracity of every story in the book? On some of the details that I have personal connection to, everything written is as I remember it. My memories of contemporary accounts of events match those described in the book. I’ve reached out, behind the scenes, to others I knew from those days and again can’t find anyone who thinks Tommy has just made this stuff up. And when you read the whole book, you can’t help but think nobody could make all of this up.
His telling of how he came to be on the BBC’s flagship news program “Newsnight” being interviewed by the legendary slayer of politicians, Jeremy Paxman is a highlight:
When we went into the green room my mates were all getting on the booze, and I was so nervous that I wanted to hit the bottle with them, but Paxman came in for a chat and told me not to be nervous – because this was my first big thing. He was really nice. At least he was until we went on air.
At one point I thought he was trying to belittle me, so I asked if he knew anyone addicted to heroin that had been peddled to them by Muslim gangs? Did he know anyone who’d been murdered by Muslim gangs? Any young girls, or family relatives, who had been sexually abused or raped by Muslim gangs? I told him, on every point – you don’t and I do. I told him that I didn’t expect him to ‘get it’, but I did expect him to listen.
And at that he sat back. And afterwards, as soon as we went off air, he said, ‘Do you know what, when you said that’ – and everyone in the studio was there – he said, ‘I can’t begin to think about it. Neither can any of us.’
He was very fair. And what I took most satisfaction from was that all the left wing lunatics were absolutely raging, because they’d thought I was going to fail miserably. I was learning, learning on the job.
If the treatment of the EDL by the media is one sub-theme, it fits completely within the overriding tale of persecution.
What is startling is the sheer scale of what the British state had to do leading up to his imprisonment more than twice on long sentences. Even more: none of his later convictions involved violence: one was for using someone else’s passport to travel to the US for a 9-11 commemoration (stupid and he admits it) and a retrospective conviction for a tiny part in a fraud (which cost nobody any money) that stemmed from lending his brother in law £20,000 ($30,000).
Along the way it is almost impossible to count the number of arrests, nights in cells and general harassment. And that’s just from the state; being attacked by Muslim gangs, or neo-Nazis was another occupational hazard. Up to his involvement in the EDL he’d managed to successfully run a number of small businesses. His entire financial history was subject to astonishing scrutiny, many thousands of hours of police time were spent trying to find irregularities. All those cases failed until, eventually, he plead guilty to the mortgage fraud case to stop them going after his wife.
Speaking about his Tanning Bed shop in Luton:
That shop was doing £2,000 a week, but only about £400 of it was in credit or debit cards. The authorities thought they had me bang to rights for all kinds of tax evasion or money laundering. And then I showed them my garage, with six bin liners packed with till receipts for virtually every single penny that came through the business.
Some poor bastard from the police had to spend two years going through those bin liners, squaring away every boring receipt. We had 60 clients a day, all their account details on their till receipts and there were thousands that this geezer had to synchronise in time and date order. They thought we were taking a grand and putting two through the till, but I knew it was all clean. It didn’t stop them finding a different way to ruin my life though.
Devote limited resources to chasing a growing numbers of Islamic extremists plotting to behead soldiers or perpetrate mass casualty attacks on UK citizens with guns and bomb or perform forensic accounting investigations on Tommy Robinson’s tanning salon in Luton. Such are the complex decisions UK Police Chief Inspectors are tasked with making.
The scrutiny applied to anyone Tommy ever associated with. All through the story of the EDL his 40 year old cousin Kevin Carroll (Kev) was with him. Weeks after one of the earlier demonstrations he was arrested (the first time he’d ever been arrested). The charge? Insulting Osama Bin Laden’s mother. When I said you couldn’t make this up, I meant it (“brief” here means lawyer)
I heard the tape of the police interview and you have to picture the scene of Kev and his brief sitting with these officers and a laptop on the table from which you can hear Kev singing, ‘She’s a whore, she’s a whore, bin Laden’s mother is a whore…’ The copper says, ‘Is this you?’
Kev replies, ‘Woah, woah, woah, hold on a minute…’
And then there’s a long pregnant pause. And finally Kev says, ‘She hasn’t made a complaint has she? Because if she has I haven’t got a problem with her, just her wanker of a son.’ Everyone cracked up, even the coppers and the brief.
Kev was prosecuted, convicted and fined in a magistrates court. The story of the appeal is hilarious but contrasts with the continued deafness and blindness of the authorities to what Muslims at the same time were doing and saying in public. Calling for the beheading of those who insult “the Prophet”, the death of soldiers and much more. None of that warranted a public order offence, but insulting Osama Bin Laden’s mother? Too much for the UK’s authorities to bear.
And all along the way Tommy Robinson was being threatened. These weren’t run of the mill death threats on twitter, he gets hundreds of those, these were serious enough for the police to issue official “Osman” warning letters to Tommy. These indicate the police believe a serious threat to his life. But sometimes these were used as an excuse to prevent a demonstration going ahead with the police claiming they wouldn’t be able to protect him.
In 2012 five terrorists were accidentally caught (because they were driving a car without insurance) on the way to an EDL demonstration:
It was a good job because Omar Mohammed Khan, Mohammed Hasseen, Anzal Hussain, Mohammed Saud, Zohaib Ahmed and Jewel Uddin subsequently admitted preparing an act of terrorism. Five of them drove to Dewsbury with a car loaded with two shotguns, swords, knives, a nail bomb containing 4,578 pieces of shrapnel and a partially-assembled pipe bomb. When they missed the party they went to pray at the massive Markazi Mosque in the Savile Town area – Dewsbury’s Bury Park – and they were spotted on CCTV. They would have gotten clean away with it but for their car not being insured. They were stopped heading home down the M1 and it was two days later before the police found the arsenal in their car boot.
I’m left wondering who counted the 4,578 pieces of shrapnel in their bomb. Hilariously, or not, Tommy was later dumped into the same prison wing in Woodhill where these guys were serving 19 years! Note: “screw” is British for prison guard.
According to the screw, they were the same blokes who had planned to blow up the demo in Dewsbury – the one they were late for because I didn’t show up. They were the useless bastards who were planning holy jihad, but had forgotten to set their alarm. It was like a scene out of that comedy film, Four Lions. I was laughing and calling them a set of wankers and poor Brian, my solicitor, went white as a ghost, because he really wasn’t used to this sort of stuff.
This again falls into my “you can’t make this stuff up category”.
Which brings us to a part of the book that could seem almost tediously repetitive. The basic plot goes like this. Tommy is arrested for something, we’re not sure what. He’s taken immediately to a maximum security prison “Category A” or “Cat A” which house murders, paedophiles and rapists. He politely tells the wardens and the Governor that he’ll be immediately set upon by Muslim gangs who’ll recognise him and then, if he’s lucky, he’ll survive to be put in solitary confinement.
I lost count of the number of times this repeats. With nearly fatal results for Tommy a few times. The story is entertainingly told but the implications are horribly dark. It’s easy to see how Tommy started to believe the authorities really did want him to die, out of sight, in a prison fight.
During one visit I whispered that I had a phone in my cell, just to check if they were listening in on conversations which were supposed to be private. I got back and they spun my cell, turned it upside down and searched me for a phone. There wasn’t one of course, because I didn’t have a bent screw bringing me drugs and phones and shit in, like the guys in general population, but I knew for sure that I was under constant scrutiny. I wonder if they had someone listening through the night in case I talked in my sleep. They probably checked whether I snored or not, too.
Such as I had entertainment, it was getting on the nerves of the Muslim prisoners down the block with me. If there was one positive to take away from that experience, it was a better understanding of the type of people I was dealing with. I read the Koran during those 22 weeks in solitary and suddenly all of what I suppose people might call Islamic prejudices didn’t seem so prejudiced at all.
Most of what I’d heard second and third hand was right there in black and white, absolute encouragement – no, a divine instruction – to act atrociously towards the rest of the world. Obey Allah or burn in hell forever. Page after page of it. Sex slaves, the lot. The thing is horrific.
The Koran was sent to me by a Dawa group – Muslim missionaries who try to turn people to Islam. They probably thought they were having a laugh at my expense, but they ended up doing me a huge favour.
I started writing down key facts, about their hateful attitude towards Jews and Christians, about sexual slavery. I couldn’t get my head round it. Here was the holy book the world’s Muslims want to rule the planet by – and if you ask my opinion, the thing should be banned for inciting racial and religious hatred on almost every page.
Unbelievable. I read more and more – the Koran professing Muslim superiority over all; that it’s permissable to beat wives; that Mohammed is the model for all Muslim men – so it was fine to marry children aged just nine. Hatred towards all non-Muslims was enshrined in their holy book, page after page of it.
Tommy ended up spending far more time in solitary confinement than anybody is supposed to, especially when convicted of non violent offences like mortgage fraud. But do you think any “human rights lawyers” would take up his cause? His family and supporters tried to find someone to help.
From about eight weeks in, with no end to the isolation in sight, they started getting in touch with human rights lawyers. They’d explain this prisoner’s circumstances, the lawyer would express outrage, and then they’d explain that it was the leader of the English Defence League – and the spineless arseholes would drop it like a red hot brick. Not one of them would touch my case.
One said that most of their clients were Muslims and representing me would be bad for business. My family even went to the lawyer who represented Jon Venables, the lad who murdered the Liverpool toddler, Jamie Bulger. He could argue the case of someone who battered a two-year- old to death, but he wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole. It seems that human rights only apply to a select group of people.
Tommy had already left the EDL by the time he went back inside for the mortgage fraud conviction he plead guilty to. He’d done that seemingly with the help of the counter extremist Quilliam foundation currently headed up by Maajid Nawaz. In the book he carefully lays out the full extent of what they did for each other: yes, he received financial support from them but was never “on the payroll” and in return he was their “poster boy”. It’s fair to say it sounds like Tommy won’t be continuing the relationship. He’s polite and complimentary toward them about their intentions, but highly doubtful about the impact they’ll ever have on the kinds of Muslims who need to change.
As he came toward the end of his time in prison he was set to be “released on license”. In essence he was released early but subject to a set of conditions that made it absolutely clear mortgage fraud was not why he’d been imprisoned. All of the restrictions were on association with EDL members and speaking about what he’d been through. Nothing financial. And even a minor breach of these conditions could be used to put him straight back in prison.
In the book he covers, in some depth, what appear to be determined attempts to recruit him as a spy and send him back into the EDL. Again a pattern emerges: trumped up accusations, a spell in prison and a visit from shadowy characters who promise they can make all his problems go away. He recounts how he vigorously turned all these approaches down.
After Tommy was invited to give a (now famous) speech at the Oxford Union debating club at Oxford University, his probation officer, Sue Beaumont, came to his house to try to stop him. They’d already forced the cancellation of his first appearance when he was arrested on trumped up, hilariously comical and subsequently dropped charges.
What happened next was that my little girl, the youngest, came into the room and in a flash, Beaumont pointed out some bruises on her leg, saying they were really bad and asking how she’d got them. It’s a wonder I kept my hands off the … well, you know. Helen Bean stopped her in her tracks, saying she has a five-year-old as well, and they were always getting bruises. Kids did.
So that was it – all else had failed, let’s see if we can get Social Services in on the action. And don’t say it can’t happen. We had a female EDL member who was threatened with having her newborn baby taken away from her because Social Service worried about the child being radicalised. That woman ran away to Ireland.
Tell me something – have you ever heard of Anjem Choudary being threatened with his kids being taken into care? Sayful Islam? The children of the hundreds and thousands of Muslim radicals around the country being taken into care? We all know the answer to that.
When he did finally give that speech, it lacked a lot of the detail that’s in his book. And there is an enormous amount of detail and there are a lot of agencies of the British state, the Home Office, the police, prison services, probation services and on and on who all seem to have made a concerted effort to stop this man speaking.
He does express his regrets throughout the book at some of the things he did, some of the directions the EDL took and he certainly takes no responsibility for what happened to them once he was removed from the top with arrests, prison and pressure on his family.
The book doesn’t labour any points about Islam. That’s not the purpose of this but all throughout are reminders of the effects Tommy has seen, throughout his life, of Islam on the working class people of the UK who are increasingly feeling friction when living alongside growing populations of radicalised Muslims.
The book ends with a frank discussion of the problems facing the UK and the world. He’s pretty bleak, his proposed solutions of stopping Muslim immigration for five years and banning all building of new mosques will upset lots of people. Tommy was always clear, all throughout the EDL days, that the EDL was not anti-immigration per se: many of its members were immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. Integration was always the issue. I’ll close with Tommy’s words again:
The Saudis are also financing the west’s new generation of mega-mosques. Is someone on the payroll, in our own country, in Europe? I can’t think of a better explanation.
So if you’re asking whether I think the Saudis, the Muslim middle eastern countries, can be trusted, you haven’t been paying attention. I used to trust British justice, let me remind you.
What I am saying is that we should, at the very least, be asking why Britain and Europe should open its doors to a mass of so-called refugees, when their own Muslim cousins won’t have anything to do with them, or, at very best, provide only token gestures of assistance. They don’t seem keen to find a permanent solution.
In Britain we appear to take for granted that care and compassion is a Christian quality, as if we shouldn’t even expect it of less developed Muslim countries. Jesus. And I mean that literally. Are you surprised that they all take the piss out of us? I’m only trying to say things, to ask questions, that our political leaders seem terrified of even raising. Could the mass migration we’re seeing right now from the middle east be an invasion by any other name?
I’m only asking. Not many other people seem to be.
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