It’s jail for you, Mr Robinson

LEEDS Crown Court provided an unlikely backdrop for a storm involving alt-right American blogs, a far-right Dutch MP and Donald Trump’s son. On May 25th Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islam activist and founder of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), was sentenced to 13 months in jail for contempt of court. It came after Mr Robinson—whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon—commented on an ongoing case outside the court, streaming his opinions live to his Facebook page, which has 860,000 followers. Mr Robinson had already received a three-month suspended sentence and a stark warning from a judge for pulling a similar stunt last year. But reporting restrictions, designed to prevent the collapse of the trial on which Mr Robinson was commenting, meant that these circumstances were not made public until four days later.

By then, hysteria over the “censorship” of Mr Robinson had broken out. The conservative Drudge Report, one of the world’s largest news aggregators, had the arrest as one of its lead items. Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch MP, weighed in. “The lights of freedom are going out!” he declared in a video shared 10,000 times online. Elsewhere, half a million people signed an online petition to free Mr Robinson. Even Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr, decided to join in. “Reason #1776 for the original #brexit,” he tweeted.

Mr Robinson’s arrest fed into a wider narrative about Britain put forward by a nexus of far-right websites and politicians in America and Europe. Britain is portrayed as a police state that is overrun with Muslims and home to a sinister, “socialised” health service that delights in letting children die. Last year President Trump retweeted videos from Britain First, a far-right anti-Islam group whose leaders were jailed earlier this year for religiously aggravated harassment. (Like Mr Robinson, they too have been arrested for causing a fuss during a trial.)

Worryingly, some British politicians have started echoing these views. Gerard Batten, the leader of the populist UK Independence Party, offered a full-throated defence of Mr Robinson. Previously, UKIP had steered clear of Mr Robinson and his ilk. The party offered a tweedy, boozy image and tried to avoid the openly Islamophobic rhetoric common in other radical-right parties in Europe. Not all appear happy with how the party has changed. James Carver, a UKIP MEP, resigned earlier this week.

Before his sentence, Mr Robinson enjoyed a peculiar place in the British establishment. He appeared on Newsnight, a highbrow BBC programme, barely three months ago. In 2014 he spoke at the Oxford Union, which delights in sometimes hosting disagreeable sorts. Such invitations may now dry up. But an army of Facebook followers, and a growing profile abroad, mean that Mr Robinson will not disappear. A global—and disturbingly large—alternative establishment has already welcomed him.