Tommy Robinson has been jailed. He is guilty. He pleaded guilty.
A court ruled that the former leader of the English Defence League, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, could have prejudiced a rape trial through his Facebook Live video from outside Leeds Crown Court.
Since then, the now self-appointed “independent journalist” has found himself in the kind of international spotlight he would have only dreamt of during his days of EDL leadership and football hooliganism – held aloft by a global group of supporters using the hashtag #FreeTommy to protest against what they see as gross injustice, the “PC establishment” silencing free speech, and a conspiracy to cover up what they perceive to be heinous, creeping Islamisation of the Western world. His Facebook Live video was viewed more than 250,000 times, a microcosm of the popularity and power far-righters, fascists and Nazis command in 2018. An online petition to free him has garnered 500,000 signatures.
The sheer amount of people who support him in the UK alone is frightening, to say the least. Of course, his supporters are wrong. Racist far-righters, ranging from US Infowars host Alex Jones to new-age European white defence group Generation Identity have sprung to Yaxley-Lennon’s defence, lamenting the apparent loss of free speech, but what he stands for is anything but.
To his supporters, he has become a martyr, and they’ve have been fooled by the man’s calculated writhing to his current position of idolisation.
As legal expert the Secret Barrister explains on their blog, Yaxley-Lennon “was arrested outside Leeds Crown Court having video recorded a number of men – including defendants involved in a live trial – entering the court building, and livestreaming the footage on Facebook in what he claimed was an attempt at legitimate court reporting.”
— Stephanie Finnegan (@StephanieFinneg) May 29, 2018
By reporting, now judged unfairly, on an active trial, Yaxley-Lennon threw into doubt the idea that the trial against defendants in a child rape case would be held fairly by the jury and the public.
“Contempt of court is a broad, catch-all term for various offences against the administration of justice. The law(s) of contempt are designed to safeguard the fairness of legal proceedings and to maintain the authority and dignity of the court,” explains the Secret Barrister.
The media reports on trials all the time, but professional outlets do so in a way that doesn’t influence public or the jury opinion of the defendants.
“There is a defence available to publishers (which includes newspapers, TV and social media users) who can show they were providing “a fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith”, thus giving some latitude to the press and ensuring that the media do not shy away from accurate, factual reporting of criminal proceedings,” says the Secret Barrister.
And here is where Yaxley-Lennon’s supporters are railing against the “system”. He calls himself a journalist, having metamorphosed himself over the last two years.
— DunxGreener ن 🔱🇬🇧 (@DunxGreener) May 29, 2018
“He’s being silenced!” they cry. He’s not. Yaxley-Lennon is not a free speech campaigner fighting for press freedom against a global conspiracy of injustice. He is a figure promoting hatred, co-leading the swelling British renaissance of hate against non-white people.
If you’re going to report on a trial, at least have some knowledge of basic media law. Yaxley-Lennon doesn’t need that though, his imprisonment could have been a goal all along. His supporters believe, or at least argue that they hold the belief, he’s been jailed for exposing the truth about Islam, and he’ll come out stronger and more powerful. When racists bang the drum of free speech, while simultaneously crying out for the banning of mosques and large-scale deportation of other human beings, you know it’s not about free speech at all. It’s about hatred and intolerance. Yaxley-Lennon is entitled to his views, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them, or that he can expose hundreds of thousands of people to them via the platform of social media under a terrible guise of free speech.
But here we are. After two years of constant and bubbling bombardment, the conspiracy and counter-conspiracy tactics of the US alt-right has found solid grounding in the UK, where Yaxley-Lennon’s imprisonment is a mere cog in a larger machine of social media disinformation, used powerfully by the savvy; consumed easily by the flock. Today, they’ve gathered in their hundreds to protest the sentencing of a man who himself pleaded guilty, America’s latest gift to its continental relative.