Trump Ambassador Lobbied U.K. Officials Over Jailing of Far-Right Activist Tommy Robinson

EDL leader Tommy Robinson gestures as he addresses supporters of the far-right English Defence League (EDL) near Downing Street in central London on May 27, 2013 Getty Images

Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, complained to the British ambassador in Washington D.C. about the treatment of an English far-right activist jailed for disrupting a trial, three sources familiar with the discussion told Reuters.

Brownback raised the case of the activist known as Tommy Robinson, in a June meeting with Sir Kim Darroch, Britain's Ambassador to the United States, according to a British official and two sources close to the organizers of a pro-Robinson demonstration planned in London on Saturday.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, though he also uses other aliases, is a founder of the English Defense League, which has organized violent demonstrations against Islamic immigrants in the U.K. in the past decade. More recently, Robinson has branded himself a journalist and campaigner against Islamic extremism, a move that won him contacts with American anti-Muslim activists.

Supporters of Robinson are rallying in central London today, along with supoporters of Trump, with both demonstrations subjected to a series of restrictions by police following violence at a June pro-Robinson rally.

Robinson was arrested in late May outside a courthouse in Leeds, England, after using Facebook Live to report details about a trial related to child molestation and was jailed for 13 months for violating a legal order banning media reports on the trial.

The case has drawn the attention of alt-right activists in the U.S., who have attempted to portray the case as a violation of Robinson's right to freedom of speech. Robinson pled guilty to contempt of court after his May arrest, and was already serving a suspended sentence when he committed the crime.

Brownback raised the jailing of Robinson during a meeting with Darroch that covered a range of "religious freedom issues", the British official confirmed earlier this week.

Brownback told Darroch that if Britain did not treat Robinson more sympathetically, the Trump administration might be compelled to criticize Britain's handling of the case, according to the two sources in contact with organizers of the planned pro-Robinson demonstration.

The sources said Robinson's supporters, who have also been in touch with the Trump administration about the issue, were concerned that he could be attacked by other prisoners.

Reuters was unable to determine why the top U.S. official responsible for defending religious freedom would try to intervene with the British government on behalf of an activist who has expressed anti-Islamic views.

Brownback, who is a former governor of Kansas and former U.S. senator, was not available for comment. However, on Thursday a U.S. State Department spokesman said the "characterizations" of Brownback's meeting with Darroch by Reuters sources were "completely false" but the spokesman did not elaborate further.

The British Embassy had no comment on further details of the discussion.

Last week, the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia group, said it was sponsoring and organising a "Free Tommy Robinson" demonstration in London near the British Parliament on Saturday in collaboration with British and European groups.

The event was expected to merge with a demonstration in support of U.S. President Donald Trump, who appointed Brownback, according to the British newspaper The Independent.

Demonstration organizers said in a leaflet which circulated in London this week that Republican U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar and Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders were scheduled to speak at its rally. U.S. Congressman Gosar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Wilders tweeted on Thursday that he would not attend the rally because the U.K. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Williams, told Dutch authorities Britain would not provide security for him.

London's Metropolitan Police said it was imposing restrictions on the marches because a Robinson rally in London on June 9 caused "serious violence", with bottles and barriers hurled at officers, resulting in five being injured and nine protester arrests. London's Evening Standard reported that clashes broke out between protesters and police as they made their way through central London Saturday.

There was controversy last year, when Trump retweeted an anti-Islam message by the leader of Britain First, a far-right British political party which has campaigned alongside Robinson.

A spokesman for Hope Not Hate, a British anti-racism group, said, "In the week President Trump comes to the UK, his hand-picked diplomat allying himself with a far-right convicted fraudster perhaps shouldn't be too much of a shock."

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