Tommy Robinson is a British political activist and “citizen journalist” who came to prominence in Britain almost a decade ago when he founded the English Defence League. The EDL was a street-protest movement in Britain whose aims could probably best be summarized as “anti-Islamization.” It emerged in the town of Luton after a group of local Islamists barracked the homecoming parade of a local regiment returning from service in Afghanistan.
From their earliest protests the EDL’s members sought to highlight issues including sharia law, Islam’s attitudes toward minorities, and the phenomenon that would become euphemistically known as “grooming gangs.” In reality these protests often descended into hooliganism and low-level violence (naturally helped along by self-described “anti-fascists”). The authorities did everything they could to stop the EDL, and the media did everything possible to demonize them. In a foretaste of things to come, very few people made any effort to understand them. And nobody paid any price for (indeed many people benefited from) claiming that the EDL was simply a fascist organization and that anybody who even tried to understand them must be a fascist too. The usual prohibition against sweeping generalizations doesn’t seem to apply if the generalization tilts in that direction.
Which brings me to last Friday. That was when Robinson was filming outside Leeds Crown Court, where the latest grooming-gang case was going on. I have to be slightly careful here, because although National Review is based in the U.S., I am not, and there are reporting restrictions on the ongoing case. Anyhow, Robinson was outside the court and appeared (from the full livestream) to be filming the accused and accosting them with questions on their way in. He also appeared to exercise some caution, trying to ensure he was not on court property.
Although Robinson appeared to be careful at Leeds Crown Court last Friday, to dance along the line of exactly what he could or could not livestream outside an ongoing trial with a suspended sentence hanging over his head was extraordinarily unwise. What happened next went around the world: The police turned up in a van and swiftly arrested Robinson for “breach of the peace.” Within hours Robinson had been put before one Judge Geoffrey Marson, who in under five minutes tried, convicted, and sentenced Robinson to 13 months. He was immediately taken to prison.
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