The British far-right activist Tommy Robinson has not been granted a U.S. visa in time to appear before a group of Republican lawmakers later this week.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, was the founder of the far-right English Defense League, as well as the anti-Islamic movement Pegida. He has a string of criminal convictions, including for assault and mortgage fraud. British police also allege that Robinson’s online posts were key in helping radicalize Darren Osborne, who rammed his van into Muslim worshipers outside a London mosque in June 2017, killing one.
In May 2018, Robinson was arrested and convicted for contempt of court after livestreaming outside a Leeds courthouse hearing a trial on men who had groomed children for sex abuse. “Thirty percent of the [defendants] in the case are called Mohammed,” Robinson claimed during the livestream. A judge ruled that mentioning the defendants’ ethnicity could seriously prejudice the jurors’ decisions and potentially result in a costly mistrial, so he was jailed. Robinson had tried a similar stunt outside a courthouse in Kent in 2017, where he was arrested for committing contempt and a judge explicitly warned that if tried such a broadcast again he would go to prison.
Robinson was released on appeal in August, two months after his latest contempt charge, but not before a number of far-right leaders and groups had rallied behind them. Among them was the American think-tank the Middle East Forum (MEF) which, according to the Guardian, had helped bankroll Robinson’s legal defense.
MEF was the same group that invited Robinson for a two-day trip to Washington, where he would speak at the Conservative Opportunity Society. According to the Independent, the invitation to the Conservative Opportunity Society was at the behest of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and six other congressmen. The society has been chaired by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) for more than a decade, and its notable speakers have included former White House strategist Steve Bannon, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe.
According to Reuters, Robinson applied for the visa at the U.S. embassy in London but now realizes that it “will take a while” for him to be allowed in. Fifty-five British lawmakers from across the party spectrum had written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to express their concerns about Robinson, and to ask the United States to ban him from visiting. The MEF, however, remains optimistic about Robinson being granted a visa at a future date.
Lawmakers and activists are also concerned that Robinson will use any U.S. tour as a jumping-off point from which to start a fundraising tour. “The inevitable media coverage that will surround the visit will no doubt lead to an increase in his already significant monthly donations from America,” senior Hope Not Hate researcher Joe Mulhall told the Guardian.