Thomas Mair: Alleged Terrorist Radicalised By Far Right Rhetoric?
At lunchtime on Thursday 16 June, Labour MP Jo Cox was standing outside a local library, as she did every week, meeting with residents in her constituency. It was just an ordinary day in the small town of Birstall near Leeds until she allegedly met Thomas Mair.
Jo Cox was suddenly attacked by a man armed with a gun and a knife. She was stabbed repeatedly and shot three times. Her assailant, who was allegedly shouting “Britain First!” left his victim bleeding on the ground. She was taken to Leeds General Infirmary where she later died. Jo was a mother of two children.
This brutal murder of a young woman Labour MP has sent a wave of shock and revulsion through British society. The shooting of an MP is a very uncommon thing in Britain.
The increasingly heated campaign over the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was brought to an abrupt halt.
A few days after the horrific attack, people start asking the question whether this murder was linked to the EU referendum itself.
Did this murder have a political motive? What role did the anti-immigrant, xenophobic propaganda of the Brexit campaign play in this? These questions will not go away and will have to be addressed.
The Brexit campaign has been quick to deny any link with them. They tried to portray the alleged murderer, Thomas Mair, as a loner with mental health issues. The hasty denials of a political link are contradicted by the known facts of the case.
Both the target of the alleged murderer and the timing of his actions are surely not coincidental. Jo Cox, like almost all Labour MPs, was a supporter of the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU. She was also well-known for her campaigning in favour of Syrian migrants and was a friend of Palestine.
Her assailant was allegedly heard to shout twice “Britain First!” or “Put Britain first” while shooting and stabbing his victim. When asked to give his name at his first appearance in front of the court, he answered that his name was “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.
This cannot be an accident.
Who is Thomas Mair?
Thomas Mair is an unemployed man aged 52. He lives in a council estate and is described by his neighbour as a quiet and friendly man who loves gardening. He has also has a history of mental illness.
In other words, he was seen as an “average man“ living a peaceful and quiet life.
Quickly the right-wing media portrayed the picture of a loner with mental health issues. This may help some within the Brexit campaign to believe that they have no moral responsibility in this alleged murder. But this does not explain the question of a possible motivation in this case.
The truth is that Thomas Mair had links with a far-right group based in London. He was named as “one of the earliest subscribers and supporters of ‘SA Patriot’” which is an online publication of the Springbok Group, an organisation which has defended the white supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa. This group has been campaigning for Britain to leave the EU and has been calling for Britain take its independence back from the European Union.
Questions have also been asked about Britain First, a group formed due to the splitting of the British Nationalist Party, which was founded five years ago. Britain First have deliberately cultivated a paramilitary style organisation, with training camps for their members and pledged to take “action” against the “the traitors” and what they called “global Jihadism”. Their website and Facebook page are full of anti-immigrant and negative stories about Muslims and the Labour Party’s members.
This group has denied any connection with the murder, which they would “absolutely not condone.” And the fact that Thomas Mair allegedly shouted “Britain First” as he stabbed and shot his victim may be a coincidence.
Of course, unbalanced minds can be easily pushed over the brink by extremist messages, and it may be the case that the reactionary chauvinist poison had an effect on an already disturbed mind and played a significant part in the alleged murder of Jo Cox.
Therefore, to what extent were his alleged actions influenced by the general mood of anti-immigration and xenophobia that has come to be the dominant feature of the EU referendum campaign?
As the EU referendum has dragged on, with opinion polls showing a narrow lead toward Brexit, the tone of the campaign has become far sharper. The personal attacks have become more virulent and the Brexit campaign with the help of the right wing media, have unleashed a deluge of anti-immigrant propaganda. UKIP and with them, the most “right-wing faction” of the Conservative Party have quickly stepped up their anti-immigration and anti-EU workers message. Therefore, the mood of the campaign has become dangerously poisonous.
Nigel Farage proudly unveiled a huge poster with a picture of a long queue of refugees, implying that Britain is about to be overrun by foreigners. And although the poster was criticised by the mainstream Brexit leaders, they have all moved rapidly in the direction of Farage’s anti-immigrant and xenophobic policies.
Conservative’s leaders of the Leave campaign, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have followed Farage’s lead with his anti-immigration rhetoric. Both are simply political opportunists who eagerly grasp at any message, racist or not, that helps their campaign. Rumours of a possible “Boris Johnson cabinet with Nigel Farage” even emerged last week.
The main argument for Britain to leave the EU was that EU workers were “responsible” for the housing crisis, the NHS crisis and the level of unemployment amongst non-qualified young white working class people. For the Brexit campaign and the right-wing media, if Britain got out of the EU all of our problems would be solved as there would be plenty of houses and jobs and the NHS would be saved — if only there were no EU immigrants.
It is this poisonous climate that may have contributed to the death of Jo Cox.
A message of hatred against foreigners or people with different religions has been getting louder and louder in the UK since the start of the EU referendum.
This right-wing demagogue of the leaders of Brexit and of the right wing media is stirring up forces that cannot easily be controlled. It is playing on people’s worst instincts: fear and hatred of foreigners — xenophobia.
This poses a serious danger to the Labour Party and to the Green Party but more importantly: to our democracy. The Brexit campaign represents the most right-wing and discriminatory tendencies within our society. The xenophobic messages of UKIP have met up with the most “pro-free market” messages of the Tory Party. There is nothing progressive with the Brexit campaign and it appears to have already opened a dangerous door to far right terrorism which is new to British politics.
The killing of Jo Cox is a warning to the Labour movement. It is also a warning to those on the Left who support the Brexit campaign in the mistaken belief that it has some kind of progressive content and trajectory. Even if those on the left are sincere in their beliefs that supporting Brexit will be a progressive step towards a better and fairer Britain, they should all remember that the way to hell is paved with good intentions.
How can anyone not see that the Brexit campaign is stirring up the most poisonous xenophobia? And how can they advocate a campaign against racism while continuing to participate in a campaign that is actively fomenting racism?
The alleged murder of Jo Cox was, in this author’s opinion, a terrorist attack against both the Labour party and our democracy.
Let’s hope that it will be the last.