Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Sunday called the founder and former leader of a violent far-right British group “the backbone of this country,” after a heated radio interview.
Bannon was talking about Tommy Robinson – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – the founder of the English Defense League, an anti-Islam group known for street violence.
Robinson was jailed in May after allegedly breaching the peace, and subsequently pleaded guilty to contempt of court, after filming outside a child sex abuse trial in violation of a court’s order — it wasn’t the first time he’d broken the law by filming outside a trial.
Since then, Robinson’s become something of a cause célèbre for the American far-right, including President Donald Trump’s son. Reuters reported Friday that former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, now serving as the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, complained about Robinson to Britain’s ambassador to the United Sates in a recent meeting.
Brownback, in Reuters’ words, “told [British Ambassador to the United States Sir Kim] 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 Theo Usherwood, the political editor of Leading Britain’s Conversation, Bannon told him after the end of an interview: “Fuck you. Don’t you fucking say you’re calling me out. You fucking liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country.”
Bannon to me off-air: "Fuck you. Don't you fucking say you're calling me out. You fucking liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country."
— Theo Usherwood (@theousherwood) July 15, 2018
Bannon defended Robinson, though in less forceful language, during the recorded portion of the interview.
“I don’t know if Tommy’s like that,” Bannon said, asked about a previous statement that he didn’t think Robinson was Islamophobic.
“He and I disagree about the religion of Islam, okay?” Bannon added. “But I don’t think Tommy’s a bad guy. I think he’s a solid guy, and I think he’s got to be released from prison.”
Usherwood pressed Bannon: Robinson broke the law, he said. Usherwood contrasted Bannon’s support of the extremist Brit with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of criminally charging everyone, including asylum-seeking parents traveling with children, apprehended on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“According to the interpretation of that judge,” Bannon said. “A lot of people say that that law is way too restrictive.”
“It’s just free speech,” he said, referring to Robinson’s filming outside the courthouse.
President Trump, during recent visit to the United Kingdom, told The Sun: “Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame.”
“I think you are losing your culture,” he added, echoing a common white nationalist talking point. “Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.”