International support for Tommy Robinson has rocketed since he was jailed in May.
Fans of Robinson’s official Facebook page have increased by almost 10%, to just over 830,000 followers. The rise is nearly 20% on YouTube, to 230,000, where he encourages viewers to support his work with Bitcoin contributions.
Followers from as far afield as Istanbul and Washington have sent Robinson almost £20,000 worth of Bitcoin, including a payment of more than £5,500 which passed through his Bitcoin wallet on the day he was jailed.
The majority of those payments came in the week after he was imprisoned on May 25, as figures from around the world painted his cause as an issue of free speech rather than contempt of court.
Right-wing media outlets including Fox News, Breitbart and Robinson’s former employer, Rebel Media, also flocked to his cause over the last two months, alongside high-profile figures including Donald Trump Jr and actress Roseanne Barr, and internet personalities associated with the so-called alt-right.
Following his successful challenge against the contempt of court finding, far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders was among those showing their support to Robinson, tweeting that it was “fantastic news!”
At an event last month, funded in part by US think-tank Middle East Forum and organised by former Breitbart UK editor Raheem Kassam, leading far-right politicians from Europe voiced their support for Robinson and slammed the perceived evils of Islam.
Gregg Roman, director of Middle East Forum (MEF), which has also lobbied American politicians about Robinson’s case, said: “The Middle East Forum’s efforts to rally international support for Tommy Robinson’s release were vindicated today.”
Ukip leader Gerard Batten compared Robinson to Nelson Mandela in a speech at the event in which he also called the prophet Muhammad a paedophile and said “rape gang members are predominantly followers of the cult of Muhammad”.
Campaigners raised concerns about the impact of such rhetoric, a dominant theme among Mr Robinson’s supporters, on the British Muslim community.
Commenting on Wednesday’s High Court decision to release Robinson, Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, said: “Far from being a martyr for ‘free speech’, his are the actions of a dangerous, narcissistic extremist attempting to unite the far right around his virulent Islamophobic agenda.”
Heidi Beirich, deputy director of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which monitors hate groups across the US, said the level of support for Robinson is “extraordinary”.
She said: “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s not typical to have those kind of political officials advocating on behalf of people who take part in street fights and anti-Muslim rallies. It’s a shock.”
Franziska Schroeter, a researcher at Berlin’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, claimed that, for the majority of political groups supporting Robinson, the aim is “to get into power to build a society that is more like the things they want”.
“Steve Bannon right now is kind of successful in the US and is trying to take over Europe with the same idea,” she said.
Former special adviser to Donald Trump Mr Bannon met European politicians in London on the same weekend as many came to the UK for the event in support of Robinson.
He has since told reporters he discussed setting up an organisation in Brussels to fight for seats in the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Since founding the English Defence League in 2009, Robinson has devoted his life to preaching his opposition to Islam, immigration, human rights and “political correctness”, threatening journalists and involving himself in fist fights in the process.
After failing to establish a UK chapter of German far-right street movement Pegida in 2016, Robinson has spent the last two years touring the world and building connections with far-right figures in the US and Europe, connections which are now starting to bear fruit.
“This has provided him the opportunity to build bridges across the Atlantic,” said Julia Ebner, a research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and author of a book on “the vicious circle of islamist and far-right extremism”.
Data collected by ISD showed 32% of tweets posted to the #FreeTommy hashtag in July came from the US, compared with 40% from the UK, mirroring research from Hope Not Hate in the first weeks of the campaign in late May and early June.
“It’s a whole spectrum approach that they’re taking and co-operating across geographic areas with this new media ecosystem. They have so-called journalists covering areas and Twitter personalities and YouTubers and think-tanks who produce research and provide funding and the activists organising protests,” continued Ms Ebner.
One such think-tank is MEF, which has provided diplomatic, political, organisational and “five-figure” financial support to Robinson.
Mr Roman said his organisation’s ultimate aim is to “be able to have a free and fair discussion about Islamism in the West”, citing so-called immigrant-dominated no-go zones in European cities and sharia law courts as evidence.
Such statements, regularly dismissed by mainstream politicians as extremist exaggerations, are often echoed by Robinson and other anti-Muslim activists. But Mr Roman sought to distance his organisation from street movements.
“We are not supporting his cause. We are supporting his right to articulate his opinions which are a part of that cause,” Mr Roman said, adding that he condemned “fascists, neo-Nazis, the generation identity movement” and other “nasty figures who are trying to take Mr Robinson’s issues as their own”.
“We’ve long said that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam is the solution,” he added.
Mr Roman dismissed suggestions that Mr Bannon was orchestrating MEF’s support for Robinson but Ms Beirich said Mr Bannon is “connecting the dots” around a problem “that is uniting the Western world”.
She said: “I’m very concerned for minority populations of all kinds if Bannon gets his way. His vision of society is white nationalist and he would push out or punish people who come from immigrant groups.
“It seems like we’re hurtling back to the 1930s. These are very troubling times.”