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

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On Douglas Murray on Tommy Robinson

At the National Review, Douglas Murray laments how Tommy Robinson has brought his latest imprisonment on himself:

Robinson would not now be in jail if he had not once again accosted defendants in an ongoing trial outside the courthouse. He had been told by a judge last May not to do this and yet he did this again. It isn’t the worst thing in the world (it isn’t child rape, for instance), but it is an offense to which Robinson understandably pleaded guilty. More important, the trial that was coming to a close last Friday is just one part of a trial involving multiple other defendants. It is certainly possible that Robinson’s breaking of reporting restrictions at the Leeds trial could have prejudiced those trials. To have caused the collapse of such a trial would have been more than a blunder; it would have been an additional blow to victims who deserve justice.

I wrote about the livestream that got Robinson into trouble here. Murray’s explanation on this point is a welcome corrective to the sensationalist narrative popular among US conservatives (who have been lapping up commentary from Katie Hopkins), which is that Robinson has been silenced by a police and judiciary that wants to suppress public knowledge about certain trials for the benefit of defendants, despite having chosen to investigate and prosecute these same defendants in the first place. We can add that although Robinson’s antics may not be “the worst thing in the world”, contempt of court punishments are often harsh, as a matter of deterrence.

However, while conceding that Robinson has at times acted unwisely, Murray’s main theme is that Robinson has been “persecuted” for having drawn attention to “grooming gangs”, a term Murray dislikes as euphemistic but that seems to me to be reasonable shorthand for the specific circumstances by which predatory men acting together engineer situations by which underage girls are made vulnerable to forcible rape or persuaded to acquiesce in their own violation. He writes:

Some years ago, after crawling over all of his personal affairs and the affairs of all his immediate family, the police found an irregularity on a mortgage application, prosecuted Robinson, convicted him, and sent him to prison on that charge. In prison he was assaulted and almost killed by Muslim inmates.

…If even one mullah or sheikh had been treated with the presumption of guilt that Robinson has received, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the rest of them would be all over the U.K. authorities. But different standards apply to Robinson.

Robinson’s account of the mortgage application is that he lent some money to a relative, who thus inflated his income declaration in order to secure a mortgage. Normally, this is the sort of thing that would only ever come to light if the lendee were to fall behind with making their repayments – but in this instance, the mortgage was apparently repaid following a subsequent sale with no harm done. It is difficult not to suspect that here the police were indeed seeking out something they could get Robinson for, rather than having stumbled onto a matter on which they had no choice but to act.

There is no reason to suppose from this that the motive was to have Robinson attacked in prison, or to suppress information about “grooming gangs”; as Murray writes, EDL protests “often descended into hooliganism and low-level violence”. This is sufficient to explain – but not justify – political policing, and it is a troubling detail that ought to be a matter of concern to anyone involved with political activism, of whatever stripe.

However, the incident does cast a shadow over Robinson’s honesty, and this is something that Murray underplays as he acknowledges Robinson’s tendency to violence when provoked. Robinson’s decision to travel to New York on someone else’s passport was another example of gratuitous criminal conduct that led to imprisonment, and not enough has been made of the way that he presented his Canterbury court case last year as a “win” and a “victory” for free speech when he had actually pleaded guilty. His involvement with Rebel Media places him within a milieu that regularly deploys smears and conspiracy theories to fearmonger and to whip up hate (it has also provided him with the means to harass critics under a veneer of journalism).

As an aside, Murray is also critical of the Secret Barrister website, whose author published a celebrated post explaining why exactly Robinson’s appearance at Leeds led to prison:

On Sunday there was a protest in London in support of him. The legal blogger “The Secret Barrister” might have spoken for a whole nose-holding class when he dismissed this protest as “a Nazi-themed march.” Look at the video he links to and you will see a lot of people with their arms in the air chanting “Oh Tommy Robinson.” If our eminent legal correspondent thinks this is Nazi-themed, he can never have been to a football match or, come to that, a Jeremy Corbyn rally.

In this instance, it’s clear to me – even though I have never been to either a football match or a Corbyn rally – that Secret Barrister has indeed mistaken a pointing gesture made by football supporters as part of their terrace banter for the stiff-armed Nazi salute.

Excursus

Back in 2009 – before Robinson’s identity was known – Murray declined to talk to EDL activists who had shown up at a dinner he was having in London with Robert Spencer. He later made contact with Robinson after his departure from the EDL under the auspices of the Quilliam Foundation in 2013. One early post-EDL appearance was as a “surprise guest” at the showing of film which was followed by a debate involving Murray, Anne Marie Waters, and the journalist Nick Cohen. Cohen described Robinson in his write-up as “shrunken” – an assessment that has proven unprophetic, but which was made at a time when the prospect of Robinson gaining international prominence was as remote as a dodgy businessman with a history of corporate bankruptcies, sexual license and crude conspiracy mongering becoming President of the USA.