One of the Brexit Party’s new AMs has called far-right activist Tommy Robinson a “courageous character”.
David Rowlands said the ex-English Defence League (EDL) leader “reflects the views of a great many people”.
The comments contrast with those of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who has called Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, a “thug”.
The Brexit Party said Mr Rowlands’ was giving a personal view that did not “in any way” reflect the party’s position.
Last year Mr Rowlands’ former party, UKIP, was embroiled in a row over the association the party should or should not have with Mr Robinson.
There were plans, scuppered by internal party opposition, for the party’s ban on former EDL members to be changed so Mr Robinson could join.
UKIP party leader Gerard Batten also recruited Mr Robinson to be an adviser.
The row led a series of high-profile UKIP figures to quit, including former leader Mr Farage who said the EDL leader had brought “scuffles” and “violence” to the party.
Mr Rowlands, a South Wales East AM, left UKIP on Wednesday – the same day as the launch of Brexit Party group, which is yet to be officially approved by the Welsh Assembly.
The launch came just over a week before European elections on 23 May.
During an interview with BBC Wales about why he quit, Mr Rowlands said he did not think it was “appropriate” for UKIP “to promote” Mr Robinson’s “situation in the way that it seemed” it had been.
But he said: “I’m not sure that it’s true to say they were going to the right in particular with regard to Tommy Robinson.
“I think that Tommy Robinson reflects the views of a great many people. He’s quite a courageous character.”
The assembly member said it had to be put in “context that Tommy Robinson certainly hasn’t been convicted of any real heinous crimes at all”.
Mr Rowlands said the activist knew that “by saying the things that he says” there were “the possibility of repercussions from people who obviously would not want him to be pointing out what he is pointing out”.
“I don’t sympathise with all the things that he says, of course I don’t,” he said.
“But having said that I think that we must acknowledge the fact that there were certain sections of society that were behaving very inappropriately.”
Asked what he meant, the AM added: “Well we had scandals in Rotherham, etc, and that sort of thing that was going on.
“I don’t believe for the sake of political correctness that we don’t point out what was going on in those places.”
He denied he was referring to Muslims.
“What I’m saying is simply that you identify the people who are involved in whatever crime it is,” Mr Rowlands said.
Mr Rowlands said he was not defending Mr Robinson. The AM said he had made it “absolutely clear throughout my political career that as a Christian I am not a racist in any shape or form”.
Tommy Robinson, who is an independent candidate for the EU elections in the North West of England, has campaigned against what he calls “Muslim rape gangs” – following prosecutions of sex abuse cases in towns including Rotherham.
Anti-fascist campaign group Hope Not Hate has called him a far-right, Islamophobic extremist.
He has previously been sentenced to 18 months in jail in January 2014 for mortgage fraud and for 10 months in January 2013 for a passport offence. He is facing fresh contempt of court proceedings, after an earlier conviction was quashed last August.
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds urged Mr Rowlands to apologise for his comments.
“We despise everything Tommy Robinson stands for,” she said. “His values are not our values and they are not Wales’ values.”
A spokeswoman for Brexit Party said it “has nothing to do with Tommy Robinson, and entirely dissociates itself from his views”.
She said: “David Rowlands was giving a personal view which does not in any way reflect the position of the Brexit Party.
“We are fully focused on the campaign to restore public trust in democracy and ensure that the voice of 17.4m people who voted to Leave the EU are no longer ignored.”
The European Parliament elections in Wales
There are eight parties fighting for four Welsh seats in the European elections on 23 May.
Welsh Labour, the Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party are joined by Change UK and the Brexit Party.