If you wander through the comment sections of rightwing blogs, as I do, you probably will have noticed repeated references to free-speech in England or even the end of England itself. Lots of histrionics, lots of ranting about injustice. John C Wright has pronounced that “England has fallen”, and elsewhere our old pal Phantom is getting agitated by events too.
So what the flip is going on? The answer is that these various people are super, super upset that some people accussed of quite appalling crimes haven’t been set free due to a mistrial. Cue paroxysms of rage at that statement from that same quarter. True, that isn’t what they THINK they are getting upset about but yes, that is ACTUALLY what they are getting upset about. It is yet another case of people on the right 1. forming opinions based on limited and biased sources and 2. not thinking things through. Reality the conspires to make them look like fools.
So first to the specifics. Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon aka Paul Harris aka Stephen Lennon but better known as Tommy Robinson is a convicted fraudster with a long history of violence including football hooliganism, as well as other crimes such as entering the USA using a false passport. He has also had a long association with a British far-right group called the English Defence League or EDL. The EDL is interesting as an example of changing patterns in extremist politics – it is something of a transitional group between the far-right neo-nazi thugs of groups like the British National Party and the more recent (and more international) Alt-Right. The set of racist, authoritarian and violent views are similar in all cases but the emphasis shifts. The EDL was specifically more overtly anti-Islamic to the extent of being nominally pro-Israel, whereas the BNP had tended to attack Muslim communities in the UK based on ethnicity (often targeting Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities).
Robinson’s current attempt to find celebrity and relevance is to highlight ‘Muslim rape gangs’ – i.e. cases of sexual abuse committed by ethnic minorities (while ignoring cases by non-ethnic minorities). A relevant case is being tried in England currently. England has strong limitations on reporting cases as they are being heard. Why? Because the civil right to a fair trial is an important one AND public claims about defendants PRIOR to a verdict can lead to a mistrial. n addition to this, cases involving child witnesses have even tougher reporting restrictions to protect the victims of crimes. Apparently people like Wright or our old pal The Phantom regard this as objectionable*.
Robinson has previously attempted to broadcast from the courtroom of a different case and was held in contempt of court (but not at that point detained). His sentence was suspended for 18 months. That means he didn’t go to prison but intead there was an 18 month period in which he could be sent to prison if broke the law at all in that time. Suspended sentences may look like an easy escape but they are tougher than they look.
Now let’s be quite clear what his actions were at that point: he was sabotaging a court case and that sabotage could only make it more likely that the defendants would be found not guilty. Whatever his intentions were, and whatever sympathies his supporters might have, that is the actual, factual core of the issue here. The best spin anybody could put on this who has thought about it for more than a minute is that Robinson was only thinking of his own self-publicity rather than the consequences of his actions.
Having been charged by the court of contempt, Robinson apparently had not learned his lesson and returned to outside of a court holding a trial with reporting restrictions, caused a disturbance, was arrested by the police and BECAUSE he was still within that 18 month period of the suspended sentence ended up in gaol. Something he knew would happen,
There is a lengthy breakdown of the events here: https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/05/25/what-has-happened-to-poor-tommy-robinson/amp/?__twitter_impression=true
Rightwing extremists then used these events to portray Robinson as a martyr, eben though 1. he’s a convicted fraudster and 2. his actions could well have led to guilty people avoiding a conviction.
Now all of that is not is what is interesting.
What is interesting is the collision of worlds here. Robinson and the EDL (more history here https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Tommy_Robinson ) are a slightly updated version of how the far-right has been in the UK: a mix of semi-plausible spokes people at the tob (sometimes trying to get electoral respectability) above a movement of street thugs and football hooligans. Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, the National Front in the 1970s, the BNP in 1980s and 90s – the template is similar but the names change.
However, the EDL did three things. Firstly, they repackaged their targetting of immigrant communities in the UK as an attack on Islam, secondly they toned down their anti-Semitism (it’s still there but less public) and thirdly they started making links with US rightwing groups. That last step isn’t new in itself but whereas in the past British far-righ groups tried to court similar white supremacist groups in the US, the EDL targetted the Tea-Party and vocal anti-Islamic activsist in the US.
The long term impact of the courtship is a channel of propaganda from the ‘traditional’ far-right in the UK to the pseudo-libertarian right in the US. There’s no conspiracy there, it’s just where different groups tap into for memes, propaganda and news. And hence why somebody like John C Wright is busy pushing a garbled account of events in the UK around a football hooligan fraudster finding himself in gaol for attempting to sabotage a court case.
*[Again, they’ll say they don’t but this is the actual reality they are objecting to rather than their private fantasy.]