• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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EDL’s Stephen Lennon on BBC Prog After Aarhus Rally: “I didn’t say ‘Breivik’. I said ‘Ribbit'”

Back in February, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson), the leader of the English Defence League. The programme featured an encounter between a somewhat lubricated Lennon and a Muslim security guard. It included the following:

Guard: Not all Muslims are bad.

Lennon: I know they’re not, bruv. I know they’re not. Just most of them. Ha, I’m only joking.

Then to camera:

Lennon: Other than Breivik, cos he’ll shoot ’em all. I’m from Norway and I’ll shoot you. [Grins]

As a follow up, Lennon tried throwing stones from a distance at some police officers, as a prank; he then pulled his hood down over his face in comic fashion, and once again – apparently – said “Breivik”.

Lennon has now explained that there has been a misunderstanding, speaking on BBC1’s The Big Questions:

When I had me hood up and I had goggles on – this is what we’re up against as an organisation – I said “ribbit”, cos I looked like a frog, cos I had goggles on, and I was drunk. I didn’t say Breivik. They put a subtitle as “Breivik”, I didn’t say “Breivik”. I said “Ribbit”. And taken out of context, a lot of those things, if you know what the story behind what had happened, it’s not the way it looked.

It’s a fair point that reports claiming that Lennon had threatened the guard were wide of the mark; the guard actually initiated the exchange by shaking hands with Lennon and stating that he respected his views. As I wrote at the time, it was clear that Lennon’s “Breivik” comment was bad-taste humour rather than a threat of violence. Nevertheless, I added, the fact that the leader of the EDL finds Anders Breivik’s massacre to be a source of amusement ought to be seriously damaging. The fact that a second apparent reference to Breivik may have been a misunderstood frog impersonation doesn’t change that.

Lennon’s appearance on the The Big Questions came a day after a much-reported “European Counter-Jihad Meeting” in Aarhus, from which he was brought back in time for the programme at the BBC’s expense. The rally consolidated links between the various Defence Leagues and the “Stop Islamization” groups. This process has been ongoing over the past few months – Pamela Geller, who co-runs Stop the Islamization of America (and who has written a book with the same title, endorsed by John Bolton and Jerry Boykin), reaffirmed her support for the EDL last July after temporarily backing away, while the EDL’s alliance with Paul Weston and the British Freedom Party has helped to facilitate links with other groups (such as the Tennessee Freedom Coalition).

Lennon was careful to use his BBC appearance to distinguish between Islamists and Muslims; Matthew Goodwin, who was also on the programme, noted that the EDL is known for “slippage” on this point (here’s an example). However, Anders Gravers, who spoke at the Aarhus rally as the head of Stop the Islamisation of Europe, makes no such distinction. Geller has posted his vitrolic speech on her website:

…Islam is not a religion. It is the world’s biggest hate group.

Muslims choose to be members of this hate group.

…Every mosque being built must be protested against. Not only must protests be held outside mosques, but also the building companies making the mosques. Also the councils allowing mosques to be built.

Whenever a woman, or even worse, a child is raped, we must protest outside the mosque closest to where it happened. Even if it is only four or five people.