Yesterday, Jo Cox became the first British MP to be killed on the job in 26 years. She was not murdered, but assassinated. Her killer, 52-year-old Tommy Mair, chose a young woman as his target — a married mother of two no less, with just 15 months experience as a politician. Some in the media are holding back and refusing to come to any conclusions before more facts are established, but Tommy Mair told us everything we needed to know before he even pulled the trigger. The question of motive was answered when Mair yelled “Britain first” — the rallying cry of the anti-immigrant, “anti-Islamification” British far-right — before proceeding to shoot Cox in the face then stab her repeatedly with a hunting knife.
This was a woman who, although not yet widely-known (though she was a rising star within Labour; deputy leader Tom Watson called her “the future” of the party), was famed in Parliament and in her own constituency as someone who frequently campaigned on behalf of refugees and immigrants. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Mair, who chose his words prior to the attack carefully and had over the years purchased literature from neo-Nazi groups, selected Cox as his victim.
Predictably, the press have been quick to tell us that Mair suffers from mental health problems. He was a loner, a crazy person, a one-off. Perhaps that is the case, though Mair was sane enough to purportedly manufacture his own firearm, make a kill plan, and patiently lay in wait for Cox at a location and at a time where he knew she’d be vulnerable. The press can have the benefit of the doubt on this one, though it’s much less than they deserve. Because the media, in all its increasingly narrow-minded rage, helped to create the assassin of a woman they now weep for.
Not directly, of course, and you can’t point the finger at any one person. No editor will go to jail and no writer will receive so much as a slap on the wrist, because the shift towards harder conservatism and outright bigotry by so much of the press has been industry-wide. The media has slithered rightward along with our politicians, ever more extreme in their rhetoric, together concocting a toxic atmosphere of fear and disgust. In the US, such an environment has given rise to Donald Trump. In the UK, it’s given us the UK Independence Party and the EU referendum’s bilious Leave campaign. I’m willing to go so far as to say it’s now given us Tommy Mair.
Whether this man was sane or not, he lived in an environment that encouraged him to fear the ‘other’ and hate the Left. He’s been living in a world where far-right groups such as UKIP have been legitimized, where anti-terror laws are reserved for Muslims and not for the likes of Britain First, the hard-right faction which just this week threatened to take “direct action” against Muslim mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
That’s the world Tommy Mair lives in. A world where even the Prime Minister — echoing the now predominantly right-wing press — describes refugees as a “swarm” or “bunch of migrants,” and where likely next PM Boris Johnson and his UKIP stooge Nigel Farage are given star billing on TV and in print to dehumanize foreigners as part of their argument for Brexit. Where aiding a few wretched outsiders becomes so wrong that 3,000 Syrian orphans can be left stranded on the continent because British politicians voted against their entry into the UK. Where someone like Jo Cox becomes the exception, using her brief time in government to try and help the very foreigners that opportunist politicians and a complicit media have done their best to demonize. When that kind of thinking becomes normal, it’s perhaps only a matter of time until you get Tommy Mair.
This hurts the way that Orlando undoubtedly hurt for every American last week. The difference for us Brits is that Tommy Mair feels like the product of our society, one that we’ve all just come to tolerate as normal. 49 people were killed in Florida last Sunday, by someone whose ideology completely clashes with the American way of thinking. It was horrific, but at the end of the day the American people stood up and vowed not to let hate win. Omar Mateen was not a product of the open, loving society that defiantly marched on.
Today, in the UK, it instead feels a little bit like our own system created Tommy Mair. His way of thinking is not deemed abnormal anymore: millions of voters have been made similarly angry by a media and by politicians forever stoking a fire of xenophobic hatred — on both sides of the Atlantic. Their actions have helped to make UKIP into one of the most powerful political forces in Britain, have helped propel Donald Trump to the Republican nomination; their actions will almost certainly drag the UK out of the EU next week. Such fear, such mindless anger whipped up that one of the good ones has now been butchered, and hope extinguished, just as some of our borderline-fascistic rags and politicians would prefer it. No one but Tommy Mair will answer for this crime. Really, it’s the entire rotten system that should be put on trial.