Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
According to a report published by The Guardian Tommy Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, sought help from rich American backers to claim asylum in the US. The report claims that the controversial British far-right activist’s team approached Republican Senator, Ted Cruz’s office, about securing a US visa.
Some people may think this is somewhat hypocritical. Tommy Robinson is well known for campaigning against refugees who he says are "invading Europe". Presumably the US Government under Trump did not consider that his intended claim for asylum was credible.
According to court documents released in the US, the anti-immigration activist and founder of the English Defence League (EDL) discussed moving his family to Texas in 2019, where he would reportedly earn money by speaking at venues, including ‘evangelical churches’.
The Guardian report claims that such was the influence of Robinson’s supporters, they asked former Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, for legal advice on securing a US visa for ‘someone who need protection’.
Senator’s office approached
Prominent American businessman and friend of Ted Cruz, Terry Giles, told The Guardian that he’d asked the senator’s office for help, but did not disclose that the US visa was for Tommy Robinson.
Robinson remains one of Britain’s most high-profile right wing activists despite a ban from mainstream social media and facing a series of legal problems. The Luton-born campaigner has described people who fled the Syrian war as ‘fake refugees’ who should be ‘sent back’.
The documents released in relation to Robinson seeking help came from a US district court in Pennsylvania and show how the activist’s influence reaches high levels in the US, where conservative groups have previously funded his activities in the UK.
38-year-old Robinson has reportedly received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from rich international backers, plus ordinary supporters. However, the EDL founder recently claimed to be bankrupt at the high court in London, where he is also due to defend himself in a libel trial later this month.
Four Seasons hotel meeting
Records show that Robinson held a meeting with some of his most influential supporters at the Four Seasons hotel in London in early 2019. During the meeting it was said that Giles, 72, was ‘actively working with Senator Cruz to advance Tommy’s US visa’.
According to a memo, Houston-based businessman Giles, who previously ran the presidential campaign for Republican Ben Carson in 2015, was ‘mainly concerned with bringing Tommy and his family to Houston, by getting a US visa; getting them into a new house/school/life; and getting him on to the speaking circuit, including evangelical churches.”
Giles confirmed the account of the meeting, which Robinson and his solicitors also attended along with a UKIP adviser, right wing pundit from Canada, Ezra Levant, and Lisa Barbounis, executive for the Middle East Forum, a conservative US thinktank that donated tens of thousands of pounds to Robinson’s legal fees and rallies.
According to Giles, Robinson asked him to explore the possibility of moving his family to the United States amid ‘serious threats to his family’. The Houston-based businessman said: “This was the way [Robinson] described it: if things get worse and my family is in danger, what can I do to help them? Is there anything in the United States that could assist in that regard?”
“We were just looking into the possibilities so that I could advise them of all of the different things that they could be looking at, including applying for asylum,” Giles added.
Robinson had publicly appealed to former US President, Donald Trump, to grant him political asylum. However, the far right activist ‘lost interest’ in moving to the US when he discovered that he would be unable to return to the UK if he claimed asylum, according to court files.
In her memo, Barbounis said: “Robinson’s contempt of court case impedes the US visa process. We all agreed that to get the outstanding charges from hanging over Tommy’s head and to advance our collective plans for him in the US he should try to settle [the case]. Tommy seemed reluctant but said he would think it over.”
The court files reveal that the Middle East Forum (MEF) was central to Robinson’s efforts to obtain a US visa. In January 2019, Barbounis told her boss, Daniel Piper, that “Cruz’s guy called Tommy yesterday and said they were discussing it next week.”
However, Cruz’s office denied having any record of helping Robinson to secure a US visa.
Pipes replied that “we need a patron in the USG [US government]” and suggested that Republican congressman, Paul Gosar, be enlisted. However, Barbounis replied that Gosar was “willing but didn’t have enough recognition with the embassy.”
Barbounis instead contacted Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to Donald Trump, who had said that he would ‘pass it along, but nothing materialized’.
Gorka did not dispute that he had been approached about securing a US visa for Robinson, but said it was an ‘amusing story’ for a ‘gutter rag like the Commie Guardian’.
According to the court documents, Giles and Barbounis appeared to be the main advocates for moving Robinson to the US. Pipes, however, reportedly opposed the move and didn’t want to facilitate it, but said that he had previously wanted Robinson to visit the US to discuss free speech issues.
Pipes said: “In retrospect, MEF regrets funding the events supporting Mr Robinson. Accordingly, we have cut all relations with him.”
The court files were reportedly released as part of a dispute between the Middle East Forum and several former employees regarding sexual harassment allegations, which it denies.
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