How the Tommy Robinson machine is manufacturing a new generation of media-savvy activists
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s racist alter-ego Tommy Robinson has been parading around the Old Bailey recently, legions of followers in tow. Ever since he was caught live-streaming outside of Leeds Crown Court in May this year his freedom has hung in the balance. He’s been whisked in and out of prison and could face more punishment.
This, for anyone else, would be something to dread. Not for Yaxley-Lennon. His former assistant, Lucy Brown, spoke out against him in the Times last August. She divulged that the donation figures from his loyal fans take a somersault whenever he nears trouble. She told Times journalist Andrew Gilligan:
“I thought genuinely that I was joining the side that told the truth and I’ve come to realise that it’s not. It’s just about getting [YouTube] views and retweets. This is a business and your outrage, valid as it is, will be monetised as such.”
Brown was Yaxley-Lennon’s protégé. She produced videos, organised events, and even got attacked by left-wing activists in a McDonald’s car park gor the cause. Her relationship with Yaxley-Lennon came to an end after a Muslim blogger was refused the microphone at a free speech rally on her boss’s orders. She soon parted ways with the media team and has used the opportunity to work elsewhere in fringe politics. After giving away the secrets of her former employer she now uses media stunts to campaign for a hard Brexit.
This is something that happens frequently — young people are enveloped within the Tommy Robinson brand, leave when the time is right and spread their wings across the international far-right scene.
Unlike his comrades from the English Defence League, Yaxley-Lennon’s brand is gathering speed. Somehow he has found a formula to win big from being a professional bigot — blame the Muslims, get persecuted, then blame the Elites too. Add in a healthy serving of viral propaganda and watch the donations roll in. But for this operation to run smoothly he needs a loyal team of activists behind the scenes.
Being an entertainer-cum-racist in the United Kingdom is good business. In these tumultuous times — with the ongoing stress of a race-baiting Brexit and the xenophobic triumphs of the Trump administration — the time is just right to become a far right celebrity. And those outraged right-wingers, from all classes, have deep pockets. Keeping this in mind, it’s not hard to see why the Tommy Robinson brand is an great opportunity for many youths trying to prove their name. You’d be mad to pass up this doorway to almost instant notoriety and riches.
Take, for example, Caolan Robertson. He has been Yaxley-Lennon’s right-hand man in recent times and, alongside Lucy Brown, organised the surprisingly well-attended ‘Day For Freedom’, showcasing the cream of the alt-right crop just yards away from Downing Street. Although the relationship between duo started with Robertson behind the scenes and “Tommy Robinson” shouting through the lens, he came into his own outside the Houses of Parliament when the two racist renegades rushed to the scene after the Westminster terror attacks in March 2017. Robertson proselytised:
“Sky News has already reported that the man who did this was of Asian origin, which I don’t think is very surprising to anybody… this is a culture of violence, destruction, and terrorism.”
This isn’t the first time that Robertson has sought the limelight. In his late teens he looked for fame through Facebook, using The Only Way Is Essex-inspired scripted drama to entice young viewers. After giving up on his first hair-brained scheme after losing money he quickly planned a second. Robertson’s next venture was in novelty cocktails served in an upmarket Chelsea bar, something for which he actually drew praise. After concocting a drink infused with pig’s blood he had mild success. “Robertson certainly knows how to get the people and the papers talking,” said food writer Gareth May in 2015.
After paying penitence at the altar of Tommy Robinson, Caolan has used the influence of Yaxley-Lennon to gain credibility in the wider far-right movement. He’s currently making a living by working alongside Canadian provocateur Lauren Southern. He’s now making racially-charged documentaries about white farmers in South Africa and migrant camps in Europe. But Robertson and Brown are not the only ones to board this bullet-train to far-right fame. Another central figure to spring-board off of Yaxley-Lennon’s success is Jack Buckby.
Many might remember Buckby from his shouty appearance on Channel 4 News insinuating Syrian refugees are rapists. Although Vice once heralded Buckby “Britain’s next Nick Griffin” the road to success has been a bumpy one. He gained minor infamy with his raced-based “National Culturists” society at the University of Liverpool, and major infamy by contesting murdered MP Jo Cox’s seat with quasi-racist party Liberty GB after she had been killed by a neo-Nazi.
Buckby fancied himself as a political strategist in July 2017. A quick pivot away from candidacy saw him orchestrating the UKIP leadership bid of the virulently Islamphobic Anne-Marie Waters. Buckby was so radioactive because of his involvement in the British National Party in his youth he had been ordered to scheme from afar, only to be caught on video bragging about it to an undercover journalist.
Buckby rebranded once the Waters leadership bid nosedived into oblivion. Coming to terms that he might not be the British Steve Bannon, Buckby latched onto the Robinson cause. He had been sporadically featured in Yaxley-Lennon’s video comment pieces for Toronto-based hard right organisation Rebel Media. He was even present at the scene of the Westminster attacks with SYL and Robertson, briefly seen pacing around in the backdrop. Seeing the ease at which his mentor bumped up his subscriber count every time he said something outrageous, Buckby soon got himself his own slot on the Rebel Media network. ‘The Buck’ is now a regular show on the Rebel Media YouTube channel. It’s a lucrative gig. He’s recently been sent him on a work holiday to report on nationalists in Poland.
He was once a boy kicking up a fuss with an edgy stall in Freshers Week. Now, Buckby is a boy carving out a living by railing against Muslims (and vegans) on a much larger platform.
With these rising stars in the far right movement making careers from whipping up strife, we must ask ourselves what kind of society we live in, and how we aim to change it.
Although it’s amusing to see Katie Hopkins go bankrupt for spouting lies on social media, people like Lucy Brown, Caolan Robertson, Jack Buckby, and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon are far from the peak of their careers. Somehow, whether through smart manoeuvring or just dumb luck, Yaxley-Lennon has bumbled his way into cultivating a new generation of far-right activists.
Social media is often used to get their brands off the ground, but by teaming up with a hate-megabrand like Tommy Robinson, new personalities can learn the ropes as an apprentice to a master.
As we have clearly seen, the invention of Tommy Robinson has become more than a one-man sideshow. It’s a media company, devoting all hours of the day to pumping out insufferable rabble-rousing nonsense for cold, hard cash.
This has quite understandably proved attractive to up-and-comers on the scene. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s danger extends far beyond his hooligan-Hitler schtick. He has become a powerhouse, his operation producing future brand-name bigots every time an assistant goes overboard.
While left-wing activists struggle to deplatform these hard right blowhards, the most pressing question for all of us must be this: how have we let figures like Tommy Robinson get this far in the first place?
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