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British far-right toughs attack police at rally for jailed leader

Tommy Robinson's supporters took over Trafalgar Square and clashed with cops.

Right-wing protesters throw beer and clash with cops in London on Saturday, June 9, at a rally in support of islamophobic agitator Tommy Robinson. CREDIT: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Right-wing protesters throw beer and clash with cops in London on Saturday, June 9, at a rally in support of islamophobic agitator Tommy Robinson. CREDIT: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Thousands of right-wing white nationalists thronged the streets of central  London late Saturday, attacking police while chanting their demands that one of their leaders be released from prison.

Supporters of Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson online, had rallied outside Downing Street to call for the release of the islamophobic writer and former leader of the oft-violent English Defense League (EDL).

A large number of the thousands gathered broke away to Trafalgar Square where they surrounded, intimidated, and eventually assaulted police officers. Five cops were reported injured and five of Robinson’s supporters were arrested.

Police there have been stern with political hooliganism in the past. A lively cell of antifascist activists who sought out physical confrontations with white nationalist supporters around Britain was rounded up and heavily prosecuted in 2009, all but snuffing out the movement there.

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Robinson’s EDL is a sort of right-wing foil to that group, launched just as the cops rounded up the UK antifa groups. Born out of islamophobic sentiment and officially founded in 2009, Robinson’s group set a hard physical edge to the burgeoning nationalist forces that have rallied around the Brexit campaign in more recent years.

When Robinson attempted to interview defendants in a sexual assault case in 2017, he was given a suspended sentence of 10 months on the condition he not interfere with criminal cases in that fashion again.

But this May, Robinson again livestreamed interview attempts from a courthouse. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to 13 months in prison, 10 for the new offense and three for violating the terms of his prior suspended sentence.

Robinson has previously suggested that Muslims bring islamophobic attacks down on themselves, tweeting that a mosque rammed by a motorist last year was a hotbed of radicalization.

There is some pot-kettle to Robinson’s claim. His own writings helped rapidly radicalize the man who drove his car into that mosque in Finsbury Park in 2017, prosecutors and journalists have found.

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The group of Robinson supporters who assaulted police Saturday had sought out the clash, breaking off from a formal rally for Robinson nearby to march on Trafalgar Square. Videos show police surrounded and heavily outnumbered, battered by projectiles and bull-rushed by groups of screaming men.

The heated scenes are only the latest in a string of episodes across Europe suggesting a newly invigorated hard-right nationalist movement is eager to make shows of force in the streets.

Last year’s annual gathering of a fascist bloc in Poland drew 60,000 people chanting racist slogans and carrying signs openly touting fascist aims. Germany’s right-wing populists have gained unprecedented numbers in parliament there following last fall’s elections.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban openly displays unvarnished anti-immigrant populism, to the delight of a large share of voters there. Even before the achingly close Brexit vote, xenophobic populism of the exact same sort pimped to U.S. readers by Breitbart.com and the Trump campaign was ascendant in Greece, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere.

Breitbart had its stamp on Saturday’s chaos in London, too. The publication’s former London editor Raheem Kassam “played a significant role organising the speech and helping to invite European speakers such as [Dutch nationalist politician Geert] Wilders,” a report from the site said. Kassam at one point addressed the rally for Robinson that drew the same hooligans who went on to attack police in Trafalgar.