Students and community members disrupt Tommy Robinson's talk at Columbia University.

Students and community members disrupt Tommy Robinson’s talk at Columbia University.

Students and workers descended on Columbia University in New York City on Oct. 10 to demonstrate opposition to the crass islamophobia of Tommy Robinson, who was as addressing via Skype an event hosted by Columbia University College Republicans.

Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, was the leader of the English Defense League (EDL), a far right organization dedicated to ending immigration and what it alleges as the “Islamization” of England.

Some of the 300 people picketing outside Columbia University.

Some of the 300 people picketing outside Columbia University.

Students who came from the Columbia halls and classrooms were met by marchers who assembled at Grant Houses, city housing for the poor, a few blocks down. The march was well received in the surrounding community, with anti-fascists signs and revolutionary slogans on poster board clearly conveying the messaging.

Residents gave thumbs up and joined in with marchers chanting “Workers! Students! Drive the Fascists Out!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

Tommy Robinson and English Defense League

The EDL, formed in 2009, has a “clash of civilizations” ideology which posits that Islam is a direct threat to the “English Christian ” way of life. It is known for its confrontational tactics as well as stoking fear and xenophobia. Through YouTube and social media the group pushes false stories about Muslims attacking people in order to incite harassment, and in some cases, hate crimes against Muslims and immigrants, as was the case earlier in the year in the Finsbury Park neighborhood of London, where a 47-year-old man ran his truck into a crowd of Muslims leaving Friday prayers.

Tommy Robinson left the EDL in 2013 citing the ineffectiveness of the street protests as well as the danger of far right extremism, which he himself had a hand in stoking. He since formed PEGIDA UK, a more “respectable” far right political party and offshoot of the German far right party, PEGIDA. Although he now condemns the “alcohol fueled violence” of the EDL, he still pushes the same anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric that he did before, but now closer to the ear of the right wing of the UK government.

Anti-fascist resistance

The progressive forces in the community and on Columbia’s campus mobilized against Robinson’s attempt to incite harassment against Muslims, immigrants, and members of other oppressed nations in New York City. A crowd of about 300 people demonstrated outside, giving revolutionary speeches and educating those passing by about the creep of fascism and its role in capitalist society as a protective layer for the bourgeoisie against the gains of the revolutionary movement.

Another group of students gained access to the inside and disrupted the event. The number of students who were inside were too many to be contained by campus security, and chants of “Good night alt-right!” and “Whose campus, our campus!” made Robinson’s Skype address inaudible.

The anti-fascists on campus sent a message, and that message is no fascist will be able to have a platform here to infect young minds with reactionary ideology without resistance.

In a statement, Executive Vice President of University Life Suzanne Goldberg denounced the racism and xenophobia of the speaker, but affirmed that “It is foundational to Columbia’s learning and teaching missions that we allow for the contestation of ideas. This includes expression of ideas that are deeply unpopular, offensive to many in our community, contrary to research-based understandings, and antagonistic to University tenets.”

This statement ignores and downplays the violence that has been committed by devotees of the speaker’s views and objectively puts the University on the side of the fascists in the name of “free speech.” When ever and where ever fascism and white supremacy appear, the only appropriate response on the part of progressive and revolutionary people  is to put a stop to them.