Today programme gives far-right Raheem Kassam a platform to defend Tommy Robinson

Normalising fascism.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Far-right thug and convicted criminal Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as Tommy Robinson) has had one of two contempt of court convictions overturned on procedural grounds, and been released from jail.

Although he remains a convicted criminal and is due a rehearing at the Crown Court and could still face imprisonment, fascists in the UK and abroad have used the case to cry victory for “freedom of speech”.

Sadly, the BBC’s Today programme gave that extremism airtime this morning, by interviewing far-right extremist Raheem Kassam on the subject – barely challenging him as he sang Robinson’s praises and denied that he and former Trump strategist Steve Bannon (who headed the alt-right platform Breitbart News, where Kassam was editor-in-chief of the London site) are “far-right”.

Kassam was introduced as a former adviser to Nigel Farage (no mention of his Breitbart link), and someone who was raising money for Robinson in the US – as if American money being funnelled into defending an English extremist is in no way sinister.

Indeed, the thrust of the interview was Kassam giving his views on the legal ins and outs of Robinson’s contempt charges – despite having no legal qualification whatsoever.

Although Robinson’s record of racism was put to Kassam by the interviewer, no other guest on the show was brought on to counter Kassam’s argument, and he was allowed to present himself as someone looking to unite “patriotic, populist, national parties” across the continent, with “a legitimate, serious organisation that is doing things legally and above board”.

This is Bannon’s plan for a new “movement”, fanning the flames of far-right extremism across Europe – using Robinson as a frontman to stoke anti-immigrant prejudice and Islamophobia in the UK.

Figures in the US and elsewhere have already been helping pay his legal bills, and amplifying messages of support for Robinson on social media. It’s a shame the BBC was part of that amplification this morning.

I'm a mole, innit.