Dozens of British lawmakers are imploring the Trump administration not to allow a prominent far-right English Islamophobe into the U.S. to address like-minded audiences in Washington next week.
More than 50 members of parliament warned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that granting an entry waiver to Tommy Robinson, the founder of the extremist English Defence League, risked violence. Robinson’s real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon.
“The intention of the visit in question is for Yaxley-Lennon to speak to prominent audiences in Washington DC, and to secure media appearances to promote his violent and extremist agenda,” the parliamentarians wrote in a Nov. 8 letter obtained by The Daily Beast.
“Such demonstrations have resulted in outbreaks of violence in the past. We also suspect any event in the United States, featuring him, could be subject to similar demonstrations.”
Robinson, who served jail time in the U.K. for assault in 2005, is currently ineligible to enter the United States. In January 2013, he was sentenced to 10 months in jail after he used a friend’s passport to fly to New York and fled from secondary inspection at JFK airport.
It’s the sort of behavior the Trump administration and its allies typically attribute to Muslim and Hispanic immigrants in issuing wholesale travel bans from Muslim countries or ordering a massive military buildup at the border against an unarmed migrant caravan.
But since Robinson has become a minor celebrity in trans-Atlantic anti-Islam circles, the MPs are asking Pompeo for “your assurance that the United States has no plans to and will not grant a waiver of his inadmissibility.” Robinson was allegedly spotted at the U.S. embassy in London early Wednesday.
A State Department spokesperson wouldn’t comment on Robinson or give any indication as to whether Pompeo would heed the British lawmakers or grant Robinson entry.
“Visa confidentiality, protected by U.S. law, prohibits us from discussing individual visa cases. We cannot speculate on whether someone may or may not be eligible for a visa, nor on any possible limitations,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast, adding that a consular officer would be the one to “review the facts” of such cases.
The spokesperson continued: “Our first priority when adjudicating visa applications is to ensure that applicants do not pose a security risk to the United States.”
The U.K. anti-racist group Hope Not Hate believes Robinson could raise a million British pounds off his intended U.S. appearances, a sum that campaigns director Matthew McGregor said could have a “devastating impact” by boosting Islamophobia in Britain.
“Usually, the idea that Stephen Lennon would be allowed into the U.S. after breaking immigration law would be laughable and ridiculous,” McGregor told The Daily Beast. “But he’s got friends in high places in the Trump administration.”
Perhaps most prominently, U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback appealed to the British ambassador to Washington on Robinson’s behalf in June, Reuters reported. Brownback, a Trump appointee, reportedly lobbied the U.K. ambassador to give more favorable treatment to Robinson, who was serving a brief prison sentence on contempt of court charges. Brownback reportedly warned that the U.S. might criticize the U.K.’s handling of the case if they did not comply. The previous month, Donald Trump Jr. had taken to Twitter to criticize the U.K. for the charges.
The prison sentence, one of several for contempt in cases involving Muslims, has prompted his fans to cast him as a martyr. At a series of rallies, Robinson fans demanded his freedom, sometimes turning violent and throwing Nazi salutes. Among his supporters was the U.S.-based, anti-Islam Middle East Forum—which is one of the groups that has invited him to Washington.
In July, MEF organized a “Free Tommy Robinson” rally in London, with an international cast of Islamophobes. The group invited U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, who delivered a speech calling Muslim men a “scourge” in his speech. (Gosar, an Arizona Republican, won reelection this week, despite six of his siblings filming an ad that calls him racist.) Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Muslim politician, also headlined the event.
MEF, along with the David Horowitz Freedom Center, organized Robinson’s would-be visit to the U.S., the organization announced last month. Additionally, the group stated that “Rep. Paul Gosar [...] and six other members of Congress have invited Mr. Robinson to speak to the Conservative Opportunity Society in a closed-door event.”
The group does not name the six other legislators who allegedly lent Robinson their support. But at least one of Gosar’s colleagues has previously expressed support for the far-right convict.
Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican and white supremacist who retweets Nazis, has tweeted in support of Robinson. In June, King tweeted a link to an article about Wilders, captioning it “Free Tommy Robinson!”
Hope Not Hate’s McGregor said that Robinson is attempting to establish an “international footprint” for Islamophobic extremism. “This visit is part of developing that brand and raising money so he can do more of the disruption, demonstrations and division that has already wreaked havoc across the U.K.,” McGregor said.
Gesturing at the Trump administration’s hardline immigration stance, the parliamentarians told Pompeo it would send “a terrible signal if a convicted felon” previously barred from entry was permitted into the country.
“Clearly the gravity of [Robinson’s] serious criminal record, his brazen violation of U.S. immigration law and the threat he poses to the American public will ensure that he isn’t granted admission to the U.S.,” they wrote.