What happened when FHM spent 48 hours with former EDL Leader Tommy Robinson
"We're going to Rochdale, we're going to get drunk, and we're going to shout 'EDL'"
Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League
During the height of the EDL in 2012, FHM were invited to spend 48 hours with Tommy Robinson, a man dubbed the face of the far right and quickly on his way to becoming one of the most controversial figures in British politics. Here's what happened...
"This town is totally fucked. There’s no money. No jobs.” These words could come from many mouths and many parts of the country. But today they spill out of the controversial gob of Tommy Robinson, the leader of the English Defence League (EDL) and the man fast becoming the new face of the far right.
We meet him in his hometown of Luton, outside a once packed but now deserted Arndale Centre. Around the corner sits a high street full of boarded-up shop windows and a job centre overflowing with the unemployed masses. Luton, like so many other towns and cities across the country, has been shattered by relentless recession, the depression that will not die. In political terms, this desolate economic climate is the most fertile breeding ground for the far right, and it’s one that has spawned the EDL: the fastest-growing, most talked-about, and most controversial protest movement in the UK since the National Front.
Tomorrow FHM will travel north to Rochdale on board the EDL bus, to witness first-hand one of the movement’s notorious demonstrations, on this occasion against the convicted Rochdale grooming gangs. If you missed it in the news, in May 2012, nine Rochdale men, eight of Pakistani origin, were convicted of offences including rape and trafficking girls for sex. All the victims were under-age girls. Crucially (in the opinion of the EDL) they were also white, and tomorrow’s controversial demonstration is a march against what Robinson calls “Islam paedophile gangs”, who he believes are “victimising hundreds of thousands of girls across the country”.
It’s a highly complex case that has provoked some inflammatory words from all camps: Tory party co-chairman Baroness Warsi faced a torrent of abuse in the press and on Twitter for saying there are a “small minority” of Pakistani men who see white girls as “fair game”. But her words pale in comparison to Robinson’s.
In his very controversial view, “Girls are passed from one Islamic community to the next Islamic community like bits of Halal meat. The police and the government have known what’s going on for 30 years, and there’s been a conspiracy of silence to facilitate it, through a fear of being called racist.” It’s an opinion that has seen him receive numerous death threats, and one that has led to what Robinson predicts will be “one of the nastiest demos so far”.
WHO ARE THE EDL?
Co-founded and led by Robinson, the EDL is a grass-roots, street-level movement. No one is entirely sure how many followers they have – leaders claim there are over 100,000, while other research groups put the figure closer to 30,000. Broadly speaking, the fundamental goal of the EDL is to oppose the “the creeping Islamisation of our country” and “protect the inalienable rights of all people… against radical Islam”.
Since the movement’s birth in June 2009 there have been hundreds of arrests, including that of its leader and key members of the inner circle. Many of these have been for incidents of violence on protests – often extreme – while death threats have been issued to outspoken opponents, left-wing activists and members of the press.
Politicians have labelled the English Defence League everything from “a dangerous cocktail of football hooligans and pub racists” (John Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham) to “a sick part of our society” (Prime Minister David Cameron). They’ve even been linked with Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who was initially an EDL-sympathiser and allegedly attended a demonstration in 2010.
Despite this extraordinary backdrop, you couldn’t get a more ordinary-seeming leader than 29-year-old Tommy Robinson. He possesses neither a cartoon trait of villainy (see Nick Griffin’s wonky eye) or an out-of-touch old-Etonian air of superiority (see most of the Tory cabinet). He looks – and on the surface, acts – just like a normal lad, today wearing a pair of chinos and a blue anorak, his hair ever-so-slightly gelled.
While Robinson might appear normal, his life is anything but. To the EDL’s nationwide followers he’s a Messiah, a saviour of the far right and a hero of the highest order, the man who’s risked life and limb (quite literally – he’s threatened with beheadings on a regular basis) to stand up for what he believes in.
But to the movement’s opponents, he’s a stain on British society: a criminal, a drug-and-alcohol-abuser, a horrible racist, a violent hooligan, and one of the most dangerous men in British politics.
OUT AND ABOUT
In Luton, he’s also a local celebrity, simultaneously a hero and villain to the town’s racially and politically divided community. Within the space of our short walk to lunch, he’s stopped a number of times – first by a group of 20-something white men, who come over to call him a “legend”; then by a pair of similarly aged Asian men, who enter into a heated impromptu street debate with him about the merits of Sharia Law. “It’s something I’ve had to get used to,” he tells FHM over lunch in his local Turkish restaurant. “People come up to me and give me abuse every day. They swear at me, spit at me… it happens all the time.”
It’s no surprise that Robinson has his enemies, and many of them. As the leader of the movement poised to usurp the BNP as the dominant force of the far right, he’s never been shy about publically expressing his extremist views, labelling Islam a “brutal and barbaric” religion and describing parts of it as “anti-British, anti-democratic, homophobic, anti-semitic”. For his views he’s had death threats aplenty, as well as a handful of serious kickings. He’s even had to change his name (he was christened Stephen Yaxley-Lennon), and his family are under 24-hour surveillance. No one, not even his closest allies, knows where he lives.
As Robinson tucks into his kebab and talks us through the plans for tomorrow, it’s clear that, for him, the march in Rochdale is an opportunity to make a serious political statement about a highly contentious issue. Yet as some of his friends and followers join us throughout the afternoon, there’s a feeling that for many, a demo is nothing more than a big day out – a chance to have a few beers, sing a few songs, and – for some – throw a few fists.
“Tomorrow should be a good laugh – some beers, a day out of town. There might be a few scuffles if the Asians get involved,” says one 24-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous. “It’s a proper away day when we go protesting,” says another. “We’re gonna go big! Will we go to sleep tonight? I don’t know man…”
Also available from FHM
£25 FREE bet
Join FHM's Best Bets with williamhill.com today using promo code F25 and when you place your first bet they will give you a free bet of the same value, up to a maximum of £25!
Girlfriends! Flirting! Sex!
If what you want is to meet your next girlfriend - or just a nice-looking lady to have some undercovers fun with - then look no further than FHM Single Girls.
More collections in Entertainment
The five biggest console releases of 2009
Brace your thumbs. It’s another killer year for gaming
Ten gadgets we (and the world) forgot
A goodbye was what these gadgets deserved long ago
Ten remakes that beat the originals
Not just better – much better
Ten movies not to be missed in 2009
Reschedule weddings. Cancel bar mitzvahs. Fuck funerals
The Specials! Franz! Dre! Your soundtrack to ‘09
We’ve weeded out the tripe so you don’t have to
The 20 best adverts of 2008
Every genuinely funny ad from the past 12 months
The London Astoria’s ten best gigs
They’ve shut it down, but they can’t destroy the good times
Ten cinematic Nazis who brim with pure evil
Tom Cruise not included. Because he's rubbish
The FHM Top 10 celebrity meltdowns
Those high-fliers have so far to fall
Remember these? The 25 ad jingles you NEVER forgot
See the ad, buy the product and sing the jingle forever...
The 10 scariest games of all time
Be afraid. Be very afraid
The 10 coolest movie speeches ever uttered
If only all these actors were in one mega-movie...
FHM’s festival preview: better than all the others
There are fields everywhere to get bollocksed in
Ten films that only make real sense after the pub
When you’ve had a skinful, only certain films will do
FHM’s 100 Greatest Games of All Time
We salute the best games ever made...
10 films that should've been good. But weren't
The ones which let us down in a big way
The 10 best movie heists of all time
Stealing: officially big and clever
Twelve golden TV sex moments
They shaped our young lives. And the contours of our pants
Double acts: FHM's top 10 famous duos
Double acts: we take a look back at the 10 best famous duos in film, television, and pretty much everything in pop...
The 10 best British TV shows of 2009
Sod The Wire, British TV is the real deal
FHM’s guide to your soundtrack of 2010
One year, 12 artists, an infinite number of good times
Ten of the best… comedians
Spurious claim alert: comedians are the new rock stars. Justification of spurious claim: in the absence of anyone in...
FHM checks out Wall Street
When most people notice a film is coming out their reaction is something like “That looks good, I definitely want to...
Classic lip smackers
There’s great food and then there’s the kind of food that makes you sad inside. When you are full, but your...
FHM (and Ian Woosnam) take on America at golf
At 3.23pm on Monday the 4th of October 2010, FHM was sitting in this very office, nervously watching the small flat...
FHM’s Top Ten iTunes Festival gigs
Even if you’re not lucky enough to bag tickets, you can stream most of the gigs live on iTunes. Or just read our irreverent...
How FHM became a Hollywood star (kind of)
It’s 4am, it’s pitch black, and a half-asleep FHM is squeezing his car between a Sherman tank and a palm tree. This...
See behind the scenes at FHM in ITV2 show The Exclusives
We're appearing on ace new ITV2 show, The Exclusives, where you can have a gander at what goes on in FHM towers...
FHM and Jägermeister hit the road
FHM are teaming up with legendary drinks people Jägermeister for the road trip of a lifetime and we need your...
How to win at life with the best of FHMManFood
Our American steak-searing, bacon-loving, chicken-stuffing food pro DJ BBQ gives you the meaty intel that will take...
22 comics that should be given the Sin City movie treatment
As exclusive character pictures of the next Sin City instalment are released, FHM looks at 22 other mindblowing comics...
What happened when FHM spent 48 hours with former EDL Leader Tommy Robinson
Controversial EDL Leader Tommy Robinson has today announced he's leaving the political group. Here's what happened...
Guns, brothels and football: If Snoop Dogg was president...
Snoop Dogg/Lion has changed his name again, to Snoopzilla. Here's what happened when we met the man to talk "painting...
The 10 scariest movies of all time as voted by an audience hooked up to heart monitors
The top 10 scariest movies of all time, as voted by the users of Play.com....
Jay Z's Run This Town and 10 other songs that aren't quite as original as they sound
Everyone's favourite Beyonce lovin' rap star, Jay Z, has sparked the wrath of a record label who reckon he's sampled...
“Playing Mandela was without a doubt the hardest work I’ve ever done": FHM speaks to Idris Elba
FHM met Mandela star and Britain's most important actor, Idris Elba...
The sexiest pop starlets to be nominated at this year's Brits
The Brits are nearly here again, meaning a solid round-up of homegrown talent getting drunk and showing why we're awesome...