The recent murder of MP, Jo Cox has been downplayed in the media as a desperate act by a mentally sick individual, but that is clearly not the full story


The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as: ‘The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims’.

On Wednesday the 15th of June, Yorkshire MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a man repeatedly shouting the words ‘Britain First’. This man was 52-year-old Thomas Mair who, when asked to state his name during the trial replied, ‘My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. Since Jo’s death, information has come to light linking Mair to far-right extremist movements. Police found Nazi memorabilia in his home, and the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that Mair had long-established links with American white supremacist movements. Stating that Mair had ‘a long history with white nationalism‘, they claimed that he had spent £430 on books from the National Alliance, a white separatist movement which shut down in 2013.

Since Jo’s death, the media has gone to extraordinary lengths to humanise this man. Emphasis was placed on his his relationship with his grandmother, his volunteering work, and his fondness for gardening. One Daily Mail headline referred to him as ‘a timid gardener dogged by years of mental turmoil’.

The media has struggled to reconcile this ‘timid gardener’, described by friends and neighbours, with the far-right extremist who shot and repeatedly stabbed a woman going about her job. In their efforts to create a coherent narrative, Mair’s political motivations have largely been downplayed, and instead he has been portrayed as a mentally unstable loner — an exceptional case, neatly removed from his socio-political context.

Of course, tragedies like this are extremely delicate, and must be handled with the utmost sensitivity. Nevertheless, to refuse to acknowledge the political motivations behind Mair’s actions is an act of denial, insulting to Jo’s memory and undermining the values that she believed in.

Furthermore, the efforts to depoliticise Mair’s actions show an alarming amount of inertia surrounding the rise of the far-right in Britain, and the extent to which racist rhetoric has not only been normalized, but has come to dominate our political landscape. The picture that emerges is of a man, undoubtedly seriously mentally disturbed and yet, driven to his actions because of a society which increasingly tolerates xenophobic and nationalist discourse and fearmongering — a toxic climate in which soundbites and headlines constantly tell people that their existence and way of life is under threat.

For too long we have been complacent and dismissed certain ideologies as fringe, and fundamentally harmless. Last week we saw Owen Jones walk out of a Sky News broadcast in protest, after the panel refused to condemn the Orlando shooting as a homophobic attack. These examples seem to be symptomatic of a media (and perhaps a society at large) that appears unable, or unwilling, to look at itself critically and face uncomfortable truths.

The vigil held for Jo in Parliament Square was of course a moment of great sadness, mourning, and loss. And yet amongst us all there was also another feeling; an unspoken sense of fear — fear of an ugly, hate-fuelled rhetoric which for now seems to have been allowed to spin out of control. We must now work together to stem this tide of zealotry and extreme intolerance. But this begins with acknowledgement and recognition, and we must start by denouncing Mair’s actions for what they were — an act of terrorism, designed to undermine Jo’s ideals of hope and unity.

Kate Stevenson

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