Today, Thomas Mair was found guilty of murdering Labour MP Jo Cox. He failed to enter a plea, was refused permission to address the court by the trial judge, and was given a whole life term, a very rare occurrence, meaning only a Secretary of State can sanction his release. What that means will make uncomfortable reading for many of those whose pushing of borderline incitement, hatred and rabble rousing contributed to her death.
As the judge put it, “Mair's inspiration was not love of country but admiration for Nazism”. He told Mair “You affect to be a patriot. The words you uttered repeatedly when you killed her, give lip service to that concept … Those sentiments can be legitimate and can have resonance but in your mouth, allied to your actions, they are tainted and made toxic”. Mair “had maintained his silence throughout the trial and during every police interview”.
That much will not be disputed. Some of what follows certainly will. But it has to be said, and some of those being referred to need to listen - and learn.
Thomas Mair was not a “loner”. He was a member of the far-right, an extremist, a radical, a zealot for his particular cause.
Thomas Mair did not have mental health issues. One of the first excuses deployed by the ranters and bigots in the right-leaning press was that Mair had some kind of mental health problem. This was bullshit. Had he been so afflicted, he would have been able to have a plea of manslaughter entered, probably on the grounds of diminished responsibility. No such plea was entered, as there was no problem. He knew what he was doing. The whole life term handed down underscores that.
Radicalisation is not just about Muslims. Right-wing indoctrination and radicalisation is out there, it is at least as poisonous as any other brand of extremism, and it needs to be tackled before someone else gets murdered. And the press needs to wake up to its role in deflecting attention elsewhere, taking ownership of its very considerable problem.
Had Mair been a follower of the Prophet, the press would have behaved very differently. There would have been no “look over there at the loner with the mental health problem”. There would have been no “it’s got nothing to do with the referendum”. Every contact he had made in the past year, and perhaps going back longer, would have been pored over and splashed all over the papers. Unlike what actually happened.
The press will now try and divert attention elsewhere. Mair’s actions will be justified with that nudge-and-wink “well, he was right to be worried about all those migrants”, “it’s not racist to be worried about someone else taking your job”, and of course it will all be someone else’s fault. That is not good enough. The right-wing press knows that its constant barrage of migrant and EU bashing contributed to this tragic event. They have a problem and it’s about time they agreed to man up and own it.
Right-wing extremism is being legitimised. It’s not just groups like the BNP, NF, Britain First and the rest of the neo-Nazi pond life. There is also, more worryingly, the rise of what is politely called the “Alt-Right”, which is in reality just far right unpleasantness masquerading under an ostensibly legitimate name. This includes the likes of Breitbart and others pretending that males, and especially young white males who can’t get laid, are being oppressed by some mythical tide of political correctness, rather than their own inadequacy. This, too, is radicalisation, and it too is potentially dangerous.
All of this combined to help poison Thomas Mair’s views, and no doubt many others. But I have news for all those hoping that there will be a more tolerant and civil approach to the EU, migration, other religions, other languages and nationalities, and opposing political views - the press and their legions of attack dogs will not take ownership of their problem. Indeed, they will protest that any toning down of their rhetoric is an attack on free speech.
So the Sun, Mail, Express and the rest will continue to insist that they be allowed leeway to shout “Fire” in the crowded theatre of life. The incitement will continue, the hate speech will go on, the hate crimes will continue to mount up, and ultimately someone else will get killed. But it will be someone else’s fault.
Thus the sad state of political discourse in Britain today. The words of Stanley Baldwin were never more apposite: the newspapers “are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices, personal likes and dislikes … What are their methods? Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentation, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker's meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context … What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.
Jo Cox need not have died. Think about that, editors and proprietors, next time you bleat about your freedom of speech. I’ll just leave that one there.