Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, reporting for The Riot media on a Football Lads Alliance demonstration in London in 2017. Photo: Man Corbishley / Alamy Stock Photo
In the autumn of 2009, a chunk-recognized figure named Stephen Yaxley-Lennon made his first appearance on Newsnight, the utilization of the pseudonym Tommy Robinson.
Yaxley-Lennon regarded on the BBC’s flagship data programme because the founder and chief of the English Defence League (EDL). In a clip, he wore a balaclava and burned a Nazi flag in a disused warehouse in his house city of Luton, in the hope this might reassure viewers that the EDL turn out to be once no longer a a lot-merely community – an influence they would possibly well additionally procure had as a consequence of the aggressive anti-Muslim protests it organised.
Yaxley-Lennon, a veteran British Nationwide Party (BNP) member, would slide on to dominate the British some distance-merely for the next decade. He’s been wined and dined at the Dwelling of Lords, invited to take care of the US Congress, usually regarded on British TV, been invited to Russia to give a speech after being backed by the country’s foreign ministry and made a diminutive fortune thru soliciting donations and e book gross sales. First because the chief of the EDL, then as a vlogger, he turn out to be once true of pulling thousands of his supporters onto the streets for usually violent protests.
Nevertheless the times of Yaxley-Lennon dominating the British some distance-merely seem like over, and his political profession is on the wane. A most modern disclose backed by Yaxley-Lennon saw ultimate a few hundred folks whisper up for an occasion.
It has been a steep decline since his height in the summer season of 2018. After his Twitter fable – which had 431,000 followers – turn out to be once banned, Robinson’s crew organised a disclose called “Day for Freedom”. This turn out to be once supported by a series of eminent noteworthy-merely figures, corresponding to veteran Breitbart Files editor Milo Yiannopoulos, then-UKIP chief Gerard Batten, and then-Breitbart Files’ London Editor-in-Chief, Raheem Kassam. Donations were flooding in from supporters, bringing in numerous of thousands of kilos. When Yaxley-Lennon turn out to be once jailed for disrupting a trial at Leeds Crown Court docket later that summer season, these figures all backed him once extra.
Yaxley-Lennon’s success as a YouTuber turn out to be once largely the total manner down to the crew of technologically savvy center class graduates he had began working with in March of 2017 whereas employed by the harsh-merely Canadian YouTube channel Riot Media. This crew stuck with him as he left Riot Media and modified into an fair YouTuber, however the summer season of 2018 also saw the crew wreck up. Camerawoman Lucy Brown turn out to be once sacked after a falling out following the Day for Freedom occasion. Assistants Caolan Robertson and George Llewelyn-John left to work with noteworthy-merely Canadian YouTuber Lauren Southern.
Yaxley-Lennon built a brand unusual crew around him, with seemingly much less digitally competent people. The production values on Yaxley-Lennon’s movies fell and his output modified into much less polished. Prominent figures in the unusual crew included veteran Israeli soldier Avi Yemini, who turn out to be once convicted of assaulting his ex-wife whereas working for Yaxley-Lennon, and Daniel Thomas, who turn out to be once convicted of attempted kidnapping in 2016 and now appears to be like to procure drifted some distance flung from some distance-merely politics after encountering some true points.
In early 2019, Yaxley-Lennon turn out to be once banned from Fb and Instagram, shedding salvage admission to to a million followers. Various months later, his YouTube fable turn out to be once restricted and his movies are truly no longer as easy for informal customers to acquire.
Joe Mulhall, senior researcher for anti-racist charity Hope Now no longer Abominate, told VICE Files: “The deplatforming of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon has had a huge effect on his ability to unfold his hateful politics. A whole bunch of thousands of fewer folks now witness his dispute material every month, which is a big step ahead. It also played into the severely diminished numbers now we procure got considered at professional-Lennon events since.”
The deplatforming and changes in who surrounded him turn out to be once occurring at a time when Yaxley-Lennon’s behaviour turn out to be once becoming extra erratic, with folks near him at the time describing him to VICE Files as a self-sabotaging mess.
In Would possibly per chance presumably well of 2018 he turn out to be once as a consequence of seek the advice of with Iceland to give a speech, however pulled out at the remainder minute, leaving the Icelandic organisers $10,000 out of pocket. Rumours circulating among the some distance-merely at the time alleged that Yaxley-Lennon texted an accomplice asserting he “couldn’t be bothered to head”. This turn out to be once no longer the true time Yaxley-Lennon pulled out of a public engagement at the remainder minute; this form of behaviour persevered for the length of his in wretched health-fated MEP marketing campaign in 2019. There are truly a rising series of movies online made by veteran supporters expressing dissatisfaction at Yaxley-Lennon failing to whisper up for appearances they’d arranged.
When Yaxley-Lennon emerged from penitentiary on bail in August of 2018, he turn out to be once a world celeb. Protests calling for his beginning had mobilised thousands, and he turn out to be once invited to take care of the US Congress. By the summer season of 2019, Yaxley-Lennon’s behaviour had alienated a series of veteran supporters, along side several of the massive names who had been supporting him after his ban from Twitter and his first prison sentence for disrupting the trial at Leeds Crown Court docket.
When he returned to the Mature Bailey in 2019 to begin a retrial for that offence, the protests out of doors the court were tremendously smaller than the protests demanding his freedom the earlier year. For the duration of a disclose at this retrial, Yaxley-Lennon published his most modern film, Shalom, a few Jewish man in east London, in preference to a movie his supporters had been looking forward to, about “Muslim grooming gangs” – the extra or much less topic cloth they were used to, and which turn out to be once the basis for his repute.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon AKA Tommy Robinson talking by video to a much less-than-packed most modern rally in central London. Stéfan Weil
This high profile backing of a Jewish particular person by Yaxley-Lennon turn out to be once gasoline for an emerging nick up on the some distance-merely, between ethno-nationalists (“ethnats”), who are usually virulently anti-Semitic and have confidence you ultimate belong to nations if you happen to’re from obvious races – as an illustration, thinking you can ultimate be English if you happen to are white – and civic nationalists (“civnats”), who don’t judge there’s a connection between nationality and bustle. Yaxley-Lennon is on the civnat aspect of this divide, whereas different his some distance-merely critics now identify as ethnats.
As Yaxley-Lennon turn out to be once serving his 2d sentence for the Leeds Crown Court docket incident, this nick up reached a fever pitch, along with his veteran assistant Lucy Brown appearing on an ethnat YouTube channel and alleging that Yaxley-Lennon turn out to be once the utilization of cash he’d bought in donations from supporters to construct up cocaine.
Yaxley-Lennon’s crew hit abet in a video attacking surely one of the necessary main figures on the ethnat aspect of the nick up. This ethnat/civnat divide has at all times existed on the some distance-merely, however it’s turn out to be extra pronounced over the past year, and several other some distance-merely YouTubers who had previously been vocal supporters of Yaxley-Lennon procure drifted in direction of the ethnat aspect of the nick up, coalescing around veteran BNP childhood chief Trace Collet and his unusual some distance-merely party, Patriotic Different.
The deplatforming, some distance-merely infighting and Yaxley-Lennon’s self-negative behaviour procure all ended in “our Tommy” shedding toughen. He no longer too long in the past launched that he would possibly well be transferring to Spain for the safety of his family, however snappy backtracked, telling “snowflakes” that they’d no longer gotten rid of him.
The evidence reveals that he is no longer the figure he turn out to be once two years in the past. That said, Robinson has returned from the brink of obscurity earlier than. Joe Mulhall told VICE Files, “None of this model his threat has long past away. Whereas severely diminished, he has managed to amass tens of thousands of followers on smaller social media platforms corresponding to Telegram.”
Secure a personalised roundup of VICE’s ultimate tales on your inbox.
By signing up to the VICE e-newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that can in most cases encompass ads or subsidized dispute material.