Murder Of Jo Cox, MP Looking Increasingly Like It Was Politically Motivated
The murder of Jo Cox, MP is looking more and more like a politically motivated assassination, and that's causing some in Great Britain to look inward.
While police and law enforcement are not commenting on any motive, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the attack that ended in the murder of Labour Party Member of Parliament Jo Cox was motivated at least in part by politics and by the ongoing debate over next week’s referendum that could decide whether Great Britain will remain in the Euoropean Union. As the reader will recall, Thomas Mair, the suspect now in custody was reported by what now appears to be multiple witnesses to have shouted “Britain First!” or some variation there on both during the attack and while he was being taken into custody. As I noted at the time, Britain First is the name of a far-right nationalist party in En and law enforcement refuse to comment, evidence is mounting that there was indeed a political motive behind the murder on Thursday of British Member of Parliament Jo Cox. As you’ll recall, at the time the news was first reported news outlets in the United Kingdom reported that he had shouted “Britain First!” gland that eschews internationalism, supports the”Leave” position in the upcoming European Union resolution, and espouses a virulent form of white nationalism that clearly is rooted in racism. While the group has denied that Thomas Mair, the suspect in Cox’s murder who was taken into custody immediately after the attack, was or had ever been a member of the group, it was one piece of evidence that Mair may have attacked Cox because of her position on the referendum.
Since the attack, other pieces of evidence regarding Mair’s political beliefs have emerged that suggest he was sympathetic to a far-right, nationalist, world view that has been gaining increasing strength in Britain and elsewhere in Europe in recent years. For example, it was reported that Mair had engaged in correspondence and ordered literature from groups here in the United States with a similar world view, including a manual on how to make a crude yet effective gun at home, something that would be relevant in a nation where legally obtaining a weapon is far more difficult than it is in the United States. It’s also been reported that Mair had a long history of Nazi ties and mental illness. Finally. at his first court appearance today, Mair seemingly confirmed his political leanings and the message he intended to send:
Thomas Mair has given his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” during his appearance in court charged with the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
Mair, 52, from Birstall, was formally charged at Westminster magistrates court on Saturday with the murder of Joanne Cox, grievous bodily harm, possession of a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence and possession of an offensive weapon.
Asked to confirm his name, Mair said: “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” The judge then asked the defendant’s lawyers to confirm that his name was Thomas Mair, which they did.
Mair was not required to enter a plea and his lawyer Keith Allen said there was no indication of what plea would be given. He also told the court that legal aid had been applied for.
The deputy chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot ordered that Mair be remanded in custody until his next appearance, at the Old Bailey on Monday. He will be held at Belmarsh prison, and Arbuthnot suggested that a psychiatric report be prepared, saying: “Bearing in mind the name he has just given, he ought to be seen by a psychiatrist.”
Cox was killed on Thursday lunchtime outside Birstall public library, where she had been planning to run a constituency surgery. The 41-year-old MP for Batley and Spen was declared dead at 1.48pm after being shot several times and stabbed.
Robert Mackey at The Intercept rounds up a host of other evidence that seems to point to a political motive for the attack, and The New York Times reports that the attack is leading many in the United Kingdom if the increasingly vitriolic nature of British politics in general, and the E.U. Referendum specifically, bears some responsibility for the Cox’s murder as well as what impact, if any, these events may have on the outcome of the referendum itself:
LONDON — As the shock of the brutal murder of a young member of Parliament began to subside on Friday, there was a growing sense in Britainthat something ominous had been unleashed in the country.
The increasingly ugly anti-immigrant tone to the campaign over next week’s referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, coupled with the violence of English fans at the European soccer championships and now the killing of a lawmaker on the streets of a small town, has left many here feeling that the boundaries of acceptable behavior are breaking down.
“What we are just seeing generally is a very disturbing shift in British politics,” said Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Center for European Reform, which favors British membership. “It is quite upsetting to me what is happening.”
With next Thursday’s vote on the referendum only days away, campaigning was suspended as a gesture of mourning and respect for the victim, Jo Cox, 41, a rising star in the opposition Labour Party who, not coincidentally, was a strong backer of Britain’s remaining inside the bloc.
While it is still too early to say how the attack will change the dynamics of the campaign, it has unquestionably shifted the focus from the growing momentum of those in favor of leaving to the anti-immigrant tactics they have employed as the vote has drawn closer.
The suspect arrested in the killing, Thomas Mair, 52, has a history of mental illness. But he was also reported to have been in contact with far-right groups in the United States and Britain, and to have said, “Britain first!” several times as he attacked Ms. Cox. Britain First, a far-right nationalist group, denied any links with Mr. Mair, but a United States civil rights group said he had been associated with an American neo-Nazi organization called the National Alliance.
In a widely distributed piece written for the magazine The Spectator, which favors leaving the European Union, Alex Massie drew a connection between the “Leave” campaign, which has featured outlandish assertions, xenophobia and Islamophobia, to the death of Ms. Cox.
“Sometimes rhetoric has consequences,” Mr. Massie wrote. “If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realize any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.”
Mr. Massie cited a poster that had been issued earlier on Thursday by one of the campaigns for British exit led by Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which has been strongly anti-Europe and anti-immigration from its inception and won 13 percent of the vote in the national election in May 2015.
In the last stages, opponents say, the Leave campaign has essentially become a UKIP campaign on the putative dangers of immigration — given that membership in the bloc means freedom of travel and work for all its citizens — softened around the edges by Conservatives who say that as a great nation, Britain will be truly sovereign only away from Brussels.
The poster showed a long line of Middle Eastern refugees waiting to cross a European border. The text said: “BREAKING POINT. The E.U. has failed us all. We must break free from the E.U. and take control of our borders.” Never mind that the border in question was that between Croatia and Slovenia, and that Britain as an island nation is largely insulated from the immigration crisis that roiled the Continent last year.
Polly Toynbee, a columnist for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, said that the murder of a public official could not be seen as an isolated episode. “It occurs against a backdrop of an ugly public mood in which we have been told to despise the political class, to distrust those who serve, to dehumanize those with whom we do not readily identify,” Ms. Toynbee wrote.
Of course, many who are campaigning to leave are honorable democrats, she said. “But there are others whose recklessness has been open and shocking. I believe they bear responsibility, not for the attack itself, but for the current mood: for the inflammatory language, for the finger-jabbing, the dog whistling and the overt racism.”
Ms. Cox herself wrote a column in The Yorkshire Post, published just a few days before her death, in which she sympathetically discussed people’s concerns about immigration. “This doesn’t mean to say they are racist or xenophobic,” she said, but concerned about pressures on health and social services and competition for jobs. She added, “Most people recognize that there are positive sides of migration too.”
But the benefits of European Union membership are “huge” and far outweigh the costs, Ms. Cox wrote, explaining that “I strongly believe that concerns about immigration — as legitimate as they are — are not a reason to vote for Brexit,” in large part because leaving itself would not solve the problem.
Given the context that it occurred in, and what we’re learning about Mair, it certainly does seem as though he was motivated by politics. That’s different, though, from saying that the overall political culture is somehow responsible for what happened. First of all, in the end individuals are always the ones ultimately responsible for their actions. Blaming their actions on the rhetoric of others ignores the fact that human beings are, ultimately, autonomous moral agents, not robots being manipulated by political operatives, radio talk show hosts, or pundits on the Internet. Second, heated political rhetoric has long been a part of the political tradition here in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The E.U. Referendum is perhaps more emotional than any recent political disputes in the U.K., but that’s because it involves some very fundamental questions about Britain’s place in the world and because it could lead to fundamental changes in the political balance of power in the British Isles, just as the Scottish Independence Referendum involved many of the same questions for the Scottish people. In the end, the Scots were able to make their choice and the losers respected the outcome. Whether the same thing will happen in the wake of the Brexit vote is unclear, especially since the main reason that the arguments in favor of remaining in the E.U. don’t seem to be working with voters is because of the rise of what essentially amounts to increased nationalism among the English population that sees the European Union as a threat to the rights of their nation.
I noted on Thursday that the death of Jo Cox had many similarities to the attempted murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, right down to the fact that both events happened when the two women were doing that most fundamental of tasks in a representative democracy, meeting with their constituents in the hope of addressing their concerns and problems. In the United States it’s called ‘constituent service,’ in the United Kingdom, it’s called “surgery.’ Whatever you call, it’s perhaps the most important part of any representatives job, and the fact that someone would seek to commit murder in the midst of it shows their own contempt for representative democracy itself. The fact that Cox’s murder is leading to this debate in Great Britain is another similarity between the two events, because there were similar discussions here in the U.S. about whether ‘heated political rhetoric’ was somehow responsible for what happened. What I wrote more than five years ago after the Giffords shooting would seem to apply to Britain today:
Politics stirs up strong passions, that’s a fact that has been true throughout American history. Those who see the last several years as proof that we’ve gone down hill have quite obviously forgotten history. America’s Revolutionary Era was full of violent rhetoric even before the first gun was fired. The rhetoric surrounding the Elections of 1800 and 1860, as well as the rhetoric in the years leading up to the Civil War, was incredibly violent (does nobody remember the fact that a Senator was caned, nearly do death, by a Congressman on the floor of the Senate in the 1850s?). Compared to those eras, what we see today, while it may be louder and more easily accessible thanks to 24 hour cable news and the internet, is positively peaceful.
There’s only one person responsible for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner, and his name is Jared Lee Loughner. Rather than spending the next week or two gazing into our collective navels and decrying “heated political rhetoric,” let’s focus on the victims and on making sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
More recently, in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests and the November attack on a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado, I put it this way:
The fact that political rhetoric sometimes has a negative impact on our political culture, though, isn’t a reason to blame it for violence when there clearly isn’t any rational basis for doing so. If there are truly cases where people are using political causes to encourage people to commit violence, then that, of course, is a different story, and there are methods for dealing with such people. That’s not what the people trying to tar the Black Lives Matter movement with the deaths of policemen, or the pro-life movement with the actions of Robert Dear seem to be saying. They are arguing that the mere existence of the rhetoric itself, and the fact that some deranged, independent actor may be inspired by it in some way is itself an argument against the political arguments themselves. Not only does this deny the independent moral agency of the people who actually commit violent acts, it contributes itself to the very virulent political culture we are living in today. Blaming your political opponents for criminal acts that they clearly aren’t responsible for isn’t a political argument, it’s sheer demagoguery, and while it may make you feel good it accomplishes nothing useful and certainly isn’t going to change hearts and minds.
It would do all Americans well to remember this, both in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Colorado Springs murders, but for whatever events may happen in the future.
Thomas Mair is the one who chose to act on Thursday, and he’s the one who is solely responsible for what happened. Blaming increased political passions for the act of an individual accomplishes nothing other than to give people like him an excuse for what they do.