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Right wing American think tank “The Middle East Forum” has spent an undisclosed five-figure sum in an attempt to free prominent British hate-figure Tommy Robinson. Robinson, the founder of notorious far-right anti-Islamic group the English Defence League, was arrested for contempt of court after live streaming a rape trial which was subject to a blanket reporting ban. The forum also paid for foreign speakers to attend “Free Tommy” rallies in the UK, which were marked by violent clashes with the police. The case has attracted attention from around the globe, receiving support from a coterie of right-wing figures including Breitbart founder Steve Bannon. Notably, an ambassador for Donald Trump recently lobbied the British Government on Robinson’s behalf, warning that the UK will face severe criticism from the US if Robinson is not treated more “sympathetically.” The unwelcomed intrusion of senior right-wing US figures serves to add validation to the hatred of far-right British fascists, and has the potential to spark a rise in racist and Islamophobic hate crimes at the hands of a politically empowered far right.
Robinson’s supporters are reportedly “in touch with the Trump administration,” and have voiced their concerns over his safety in prison. In response, Sam Brownback, US ambassador for international religious freedoms lobbied British Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch over these alleged concerns, threatening that “if Britain did not treat Robinson more sympathetically, the Trump administration might be compelled to criticise Britain’s handling of the case.” Brownback’s words have sparked both condemnation and ridicule from the British public, for whom it is unclear why an official responsible for religious freedoms would intervene on behalf of the founder of a hate group known to organize violent protests against Muslim immigrants. The ambassador’s actions have also sparked fierce criticism from anti-racist charities concerned about the influence of the powerful American alt-right in British society. Charity Hope Not Hate argues that Britain needs to “wake up to the threat of powerful and moneyed far-right figures, who – with newfound confidence under Donald Trump’s presidency, and under the leadership of Steve Bannon – are determined to stoke conflict and division across Europe.”
Given the constant stream of racist outbursts, anti-immigrant policies, and the rise of the political alt-right in the US, the actions of the think tank hardly come as a surprise. However, the imposition of an alt-right American political ideology on the British process of law should shame the White House, which itself takes any foreign imposition on American society as an insult. Robinson was sentenced for committing contempt of court by attempting to film defendants in a rape trial, and again for discussing a case which had a blanket ban on reporting to prevent the trial from collapsing. The far-right are arguing that Robinson’s detention was unduly severe owing to his standing, and also an imposition on freedom of speech. Yet, regardless of controversy over the sentence, the American Government ought to exhibit a sense of dignity in respecting the British system of law, rather than threatening ambassadors to impose more right-wing ideology.
The world is certainly no stranger to right-wing extremism of any kind. However, the movement saw a resurgence in 2009 with the founding of the English Defence League by Tommy Robinson. The group was formed in response to a Sunni minority group in Luton, but feeding on anti-Muslim sentiments soon grew into what some perceive as a racist organization victimizing all Muslim minorities. More worryingly, the far-right has seen a political validation with the presidency of Donald Trump, marked by racist outbursts, the Muslim ban, and anti-immigrant policies. The rising support for extremist ideologies, discrimination, and political validation is a worrying reminder of the sentiments on the 1930s, and an awareness of this is critical in order to prevent another religiously motivated world war resulting in the death of millions.
The actions of a far-right American think tank aiming to free a British hate figure and support extremist views is disappointing but perhaps unsurprising, considering the current climate of increasingly intolerant views. However, the support of senior figures including Steve Bannon and the American ambassador who ultimately represents the Trump administration is a far greater threat, validating the ideologies of a racist far-right group. Ultimately, it is the imposition of the alt-right ideology on a system of law that should be respected that the US ought to be ashamed of. It is up to the British Government to remain steadfast in their commitment to an independent democracy in order to resist the spread of politically validated racism, otherwise the world may again witness atrocities on a par with the Second World War.