Politics of derangement
Obviously the killing of Jo Cox was an act of political terrorism? Eddie Ford looks at the politics
What they preach Thomas Mair practised
Following the appalling murder of Jo Cox, attention has focused naturally enough on her killer, the 52-year-old Thomas Mair. Everyone now knows that he was supposed to have shouted “Britain first!” or “Put Britain first!” as he killed her, though this has been contested - one witness said he never heard these words.1 Then a few days later in court, when Mair was asked to confirm his name, he responded: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain!”
Either way, it was quickly revealed that Mair did have longstanding links with far-right groups. They include Britain First - a fascist split from the British National Party, which still aspires to win the battle for the streets. It became notorious in 2014 for conducting what it called “Christian patrols” in parts of Tower Hamlets with a high Muslim population. Pictures emerged of Mair at a BF stall holding a banner proclaiming, “Northern brigade”.2 Needless to say, BF immediately condemned the Cox killing, as “obviously” it would “never encourage behaviour of this sort”. Indeed, BF’s leader, Paul Golding, issued a video statement saying: “We hope that this person who carried it out is strung up by the neck on the nearest lamppost - that’s the way we view justice.”3
We also learnt that in the mid-1980s Mair subscribed to SA Patriot, a pro-apartheid magazine in South Africa, which campaigned against “the fall of civilised rule”. The publication’s “editor in exile”, Alan Harvey, told the Financial Times last week that SA Patriot was “neo-imperialist” rather than “neo-Nazi” - it rejects “communism, fascism, liberal political correctness, multicultural societies, expansionist Islam, third-world tyrants”. But he insisted that SA Patriot is “not a political magazine” and Mair was “never an official supporter” - he only received eight or nine issues before letting his subscription lapse.4
If anything, by 1999 it seems Mair’s leanings had shifted even further to the right. That year his name appeared on invoices totalling $620 from the US neo-Nazi group, National Alliance. Founded by William Luther Pierce in 1974, at its height, the NA had an income stream of more than $1 million a year, with more than 1,500 members and 17 paid full-time officials. The Southern Poverty Law Center claims that Mair was a “long-time and dedicated” NA supporter. According to a paid FBI informant, Mair attended a gathering of American white supremacists in London that was convened by the NA - discussing how to expand American white power music into Europe. The informant described Mair as having racist and anti-Semitic views, including holocaust denial, and an “admiration” for the neo-Nazi punk band, Skrewdriver.
Among the literature Mair purchased were works on how to make improvised weapons (such as a pipe pistol, using parts easily available in DIY stores) and a copy of Ich kämpfe (‘I struggle’), an illustrated handbook issued to members of the Nazi party in 1942, with sections written by Josef Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg.
Widely described as a “loner” and “reserved”, Mair had a history of mental health problems. His step-brother told reporters that Mair suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. He lived for 40 years in a small, semi-detached house on a council estate in Birstall and by all accounts never had any full-time or permanent employment - neighbours could not recall him ever having a visitor or any friends. Everything indicates that he led an extremely isolated life from an early age.
Mair’s younger brother, Scott, was astonished to discover that he had political views, saying “we don’t even know who he votes for”. Neighbours said he was “very quiet” but “very helpful”, one saying that on the day of the murder he walked past her home and “said hello like he always does”.5 She “never heard him express any views about Europe or anything like that”. For her and fellow neighbours “he was just Tommy”, a “local bloke we all knew” who went down to the job centre to “help people on the computer from time to time” - maybe “something he had to do to get his dole money”. He even told another neighbour that he was “doing English as a second language to the Asian community in Dewsbury”.6
In 2010 Mair attended a day centre for adults with mental health problems and then volunteered to work as a groundsman at a nearby country park. In an interview for a local paper, the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, he candidly pointed out the problems faced by people with mental health issues:
Many people who suffer from mental illness are socially isolated and disconnected from society. Feelings of worthlessness are also common, mainly caused by long-term unemployment … For people for whom full-time, paid employment is not possible for a variety of reasons, voluntary work offers a socially positive and therapeutic alternative.
In fact, he stated, voluntary labour “has done me more good than all the psychotherapy and medication in the world”.
On the evening before the killing, Mair had visited an alternative therapy centre in Birstall seeking treatment for depression - he was told to return the next day for an appointment.
Of course, it is right to call Mair a “political assassin” and describe the Cox killing as an act of political terrorism. Mair is clearly politically motivated - he surely picked out Cox precisely because she was a member of the ‘remain’ campaign, because she was a woman and because of her record on immigration.
Mair is part of the far-right milieu - unlike the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, who obviously had no connection or ties with Islamist groupings (none of which prevented Donald Trump from immediately declaring the slaughter to be an act of Islamist terrorism). No person is an island, whatever their mental, psychological or emotional state. Just like everybody else, Mair was reading the newspapers, listening to the radio, following the referendum campaign news - taking ideas and inspiration from wherever he could: apartheid South Africa, BNP, BF, Hitler, Farage, the Daily Mail ….
However, whilst Mair is clearly politically driven, he was probably not acting under the direct instructions of a political group - it was an assassination carried out by a lone individual, who, like Anders Breivik, David Copeland, Peter Mangs and Maxime Brunerie, decided to put into practice what the likes of William Luther Pierce, the Stormfront, National Alliance and Britain First preach.