English far right media celebrity Stephen Yaxley Lennon – or Tommy Robinson as he prefers to be known – unexpectedly showed up in Glasgow last night, and was ambushed by anti-fascists. His arrival was unannounced and came as part of his ongoing efforts to eke out as much publicity as he can from his cause of the moment: selflessly defending the right of members of the armed forces to… show support for Tommy Robinson.
It was archetypal behaviour for Robinson – who spents his life reacting to events within his own media bubble, finding platforms wherever he can to baselessly infer things about Muslims and then, when there is a backlash, launch into hysterical claims of being silenced. As a former insider, who fell out with Tommy but remains within the alt right sphere, revealed in a Sunday Times expose in August:
It was like being like a firefighter — always waiting for the next Facebook message and we’d be off to Manchester or Poland straight away, sometimes before a real plan had been drawn up. We’d be sleeping in the car and eating in service stations…. I used to think, foolishly, that when he went home he was doing his research and putting case files together. He doesn’t, he just goes home and eats crisps and looks himself up on Twitter.
This week’s events are right from the Tommy playbook. Hanging around at a service station, as he often does, he bumped into a group of young army recruits on Monday, with whom he recorded a short clip that rapidly went viral. With the military forced into condemning it and an investigation launched, Robinson’s web operation went into overdrive: huge media coverage, the deliberate cultivation of a pro-Tommy fifth column within the army, and his employers, Canadian alt-right crooks Rebel Media, gathering upwards of 160,000 “signatures” on a petition in support of “soldier X”. The mailing list pleas for donations will, it’s safe to assume, follow shortly after.
Why Tommy chose Glasgow as a step on his tour is not entirely clear. Either way, anti-fascists became aware of his photo op, purportedly with ex-squaddies, well ahead of time. When Tommy and his mates gathered in the early evening at the Counting House, the Wetherspoons pub in George Square, a dozen anti-fascists assembled outside. His group were confronted in George Square and over the course of ten minutes – all of which Robinson spent shouting into his phone camera – they tried to goad the group of anti-fascists into attacking them. They then fled in two taxis.
The problem with Tommy Robinson, more a brand than a real person, is that he can turn any situation into a positive story with himself at the centre. So while it’s true that he went into a fight staring at himself through his phone camera, while his mates chuckled around him, the image projected is one of bravado and single handedly facing down some balaclava-ed up Antifa. His 22 second clip, released within 30 minutes of him fleeing the scene and mostly of his shiny face, shows him laughing at the group of anti-fascists, calling them a “shit mob” and “the shittest firm he’s ever met”. Tommy was barely audible and certainly not addressing these insults to anyone except his camera audience.
In contrast to his media output, Tommy is not very impressive in real life. His mates stand about around him, awkwardly looking on while Tommy stares into his phone. Tommy then shouts something (“you fat shit!”) and they all laugh along, like a scene straight from high school movie cliche, and try and come up with their own efforts to get a laugh out of Tommy (“yeah, go and get a burger”). It’s embarrassing stuff for a supposed leading propagandist of the international far right, but then we know Tommy is just making it all up as he goes along.
Nonetheless, in characteristic fashion, Tommy was able to turn the events around in his favour. His video has had over 650,000 views and has been shared 12,000 times, adding further fuel to his PR machine. It presents a dilemma for anti-fascists. Robinson thrives off the attention and due to his profile is able to shape the narrative after an event – regardless of what’s actually happened – in a way that was unimaginable for the far-right of a decade ago, who would instead spend the days arguing with each other on obscure Neo-Nazi blogs and forums. Far more people will hear about Tommy’s escapades in Glasgow through far right outlets than any other medium.
Robinson has already claimed that “other than the 10 Antifa morons who couldn’t back it up”, he received a “great reception in Glasgow by Rangers and Celtic fans alike” in the city last night. No evidence of this is presented, largely because it doesn’t exist. He may have taken a few selfies with folk who recognised him, but there were not exactly cheering crowds. The truth is that Robinson barely looks up from his phone enough to see what’s happening around him and when this blog saw him sitting in Spoons, the rest of the pub had no idea who he was. The bouncers – who seemed to be acting as a personal security operation for him – were aware, but no one else had even noticed. In real life, Robinson does not cut a very impressive figure at all.
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