The Frog Squad’s Tommy Robinson Obsession Explained
The Frog Squad has a new cause célèbre, British “far-right, Islamophobic extremist” Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, known by his pseudonym, Tommy Robinson.
“Already under a suspended sentence for contempt of court violations in Canterbury last year, Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) is now starting a 13-month prison term, following his arrest last week while filming outside a court in Leeds.
The 35-year-old multiply-convicted criminal and extremist had been streaming an hour-long rant outside Leeds Crown Court to Facebook.
He had named defendants in a case, the charges and details of the allegations they faced, as well as filming defendants and confronting them outside court.
Yet a strict order had been (and is still) in place, temporarily banning publication or broadcasting details of the long-running case or anyone involved.”
Lennon has a lengthy history in UK extremist movements. He founded the “anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL), building it into the premier street protest group within the far right.” Lennon was also a key player in founding the British chapter of Pegida, a Europe-wide, far-right anti-Muslim coalition that originated in Germany. Lennon was recently banned from Twitter after receiving a suspension for violating the platform’s policies around “hateful conduct.” You can still find his videos on Facebook and Youtube, however, and at the time of writing Youtube has allowed him to monetize some of his content with ads.
Given Lennon’s high profile in the UK it’s not surprising that supportive protests broke out after he was sentenced. But the right in the U.S. are equally up in arms, and the #FreeTommy hashtag is lit thanks to the Frog Squad. Donald Trump Jr., Mike Cernovich, Infowars, and The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich have all amplified Lennon’s sentence. Our friends at r/The_Donald have devoted a lot of energy to it as well. ACT for America, Brigitte Gabriel’s anti-Muslim organization that claims to have 1,000 local chapters in America, emailed their list about Lennon claiming that his case meant that “free speech is under attack”. Fox News has chimed in with Tucker Carlson giving Lennon’s case significant airtime on his show.
So why does the right in America care? Why the obsession? There are a couple of reasons for this. First, what many refer to as the “alt-right” in America is part of a broader international far-right coalition – HOPE not hate refers to this as the Alternative Right – and beyond this particular coalition, much of the far right is increasingly organizing and viewing itself as a global movement. Second, whilst Lennon is an Islamophobe and not a white supremacist, given that Islamophobic discourse is highly racialized his imprisonment taps into the American far right’s own two favorite obsessions: white supremacy and outrage. As The New Statesmen’s Nicky Woolf put it:
“The whole story, with its febrile blend of aggrieved ethno-nationalism and inscrutable legal complications was perfect fodder for the right-wing American blogosphere, and as James Ball wrote for the New Statesman on Tuesday, reporting restrictions imposed on the British press by the court made it all too easy for the machine to portray it all as an establishment cover-up while more responsible publications were unable to dispel their myth-making.”
“Tommy” is the perfect Frog Squad hero: an Islamophobic extremist who they can paint (mistakenly) as a free speech “martyr”. I expect the U.S. right-wing outrage machine will continue to promote and amplify Lennon. This despite the fact that Lennon was actually jailed in 2013 for entering the U.S. illegally, using someone else’s passport!
Hope not Hate USA’s Kendall Brown has a short explainer of all things Tommy Lennon and the right’s embrace of him, a handy resource for that inevitable moment when your right-wing uncle feels compelled to tell you all about him.
- A new study by researchers at Texas A&M University, entitled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy”, found a correlation between white Americans’ intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule.
- Inside the Pro-Trump Effort to Keep Black Voters From the Polls (Bloomberg)
- Spain’s Version of 4Chan Is A Car Forum That Keeps Trying To Leak A Rape Victim’s Personal Information (Buzzfeed)
- Trump’s Loudest Anti-Muslim Twitter Troll Is A Shady Vegan Married To An (Ousted) WWE Exec (Huffington Post)
- From the Pizzagate Basement to the House Floor: Meet the Conspiracy Caucus (The Daily Beast)
- The Social Shaming of Racists Is Working (The Nation)
- Roseanne has been channeling 4chan’s racism, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories on Twitter (Media Matters)
DC and NYC: Come Hang Out With Me!
DC: The first ever Ctrl Alt-Right Delete conference is coming up at the end of this month! June 28th in Washington DC. You can pre-register here!
Fake News Horror Show – NYC : This week, June 7-8, Fake News Horror Show, an event convening artists, researchers, digital media experts, technologists and those concerned with the political and social implications of computational propaganda, to imagine the worst. Picture a science fair of terrifying propaganda tools – some real and some imagined, but all based on plausible technologies. I’m moderating a panel organized by Media Matters.
I spoke to Amanda Marcotte about the harm that conspiracy theories cause to those who end up entangled in them. I’ve always understood this this intellectually but as I wrote last week, watching what my friend Brad has gone through and then watching in real time as the Parkland survivors and their families were swept up in a wave of conspiracy theories has really brought home for me easily an innocent person’s life can be irreparably damaged. Please take a minute to read this one.