From the BBC:
Thomas Mair has been found guilty of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
The 53-year-old shot and stabbed to death the mother-of-two in Birstall, West Yorkshire, on 16 June, a week before the EU referendum vote…
There was never any real doubt that Thomas Mair was going to be convicted: the prosecution case was overwhelming, and the killer virtually admitted to the act at a preliminary hearing in which he gave his name as “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain”. The BBC has a background article on the killer here, noting his “library of extreme nationalist and racist material” and an “ornamental Nazi eagle”. It also draws attention to a loose end:
His chosen weapons were a knife and a small rifle usually used for pest control on farms.
Mair did not have the permission required to possess the rifle, and it is unclear where he got the gun and who modified it to make it more likely to kill a human.
I discussed some background to Mair as soon as he was named in the media in June, noting his subscription to South Africa Patriot magazine (actually published in the UK) and the controversy over whether he had been heard to shout “Britain first” as he committed the murder. Two witnesses (Graeme Howard and Clarke Rothwell), told media in June that he had shouted this, and this has now been confirmed by others, speaking under oath at the trial; as the BBC reported:
Giving evidence, senior caseworker Sandra Major said Mrs Cox told her and office manager Fazila Aswat to “let him hurt me, don’t let him hurt you”
…Asked whether the gunman had said anything, [Major] replied: “It was something along the lines of ‘Keep Britain independent,’ or ‘British independence.’
…At the end of the attack, the assailant stood up and said “Britain first, this is for Britain. Britain will always come first,” before walking off, [Aswat] told jurors.
Rashid Hussain told the jury at the Old Bailey he had dropped off a fare when he was alerted to loud noise like “fireworks going on”
… Mr Hussain added: “He said something and the last words were ‘Britain first.'”
A number of media reports during the trial decided to capitalise the first letter of “first”, giving the impression that Mair had referred specifically to the far-right group Britain First. However, although some people in the days after the killing thought they had spotted Mair in a photograph of a Britain First protest, the identification was doubtful and the trial did not reveal any links to the group. The overall context provided by the trial testimony suggests Mair was using the phrase in a general sense. (1)
It was also reported at the time of Mair’s arrest that he was suffering from a mental illness. From the Daily Mail:
The loner suspected of killing Jo Cox appeared deeply disturbed just 24 hours before the attack, a health counsellor said last night.
Thomas Mair said after stumbling into a ‘well-being centre’ on Wednesday night that he was depressed and had been on medication for a long time.
…The counsellor who spoke to him for about 15 minutes on Wednesday said she realised he was in ‘some sort of crisis’ and there appeared to be a ‘real problem’.
The above detail was eagerly seized on as positive evidence that the assassination in fact had nothing to do with politics at all, even though a politician had been assassinated just a week before the Brexit referendum and despite the killer’s background. Not unreasonably, there was a concern that mainstream campaigning on behalf of Brexit might be conflated opportunistically with far-right anti-foreigner sentiment (headlines in Germany were referring to “Der Brexit-killer“), and there was thus some impetus to obscure the political motive.
Leading the charge here was Louise Mensch, who railed against “the concocted story of the shout”, and mocked someone who noted Mair’s “Death to Trairtors” statement at his preliminary hearing with the reply “wibble wibble I’m a hatstand” (H/T @otto_english). Mensch also published a bombastic article on Heat Street, in which the descriptor “mentally ill” was applied to Mair no fewer than eight times in a thousand words or so:
Jo Cox’s Mentally Ill Killer Should Not Be Discussed in Parliament
…the mentally ill killer of heroic Jo Cox…
…Leading EU figures disgustingly appeared to connect mentally ill Thomas with the Brexit campaign…
Thomas Mair was severely mentally ill – and he may well, therefore, have had racist tendencies, which could be delusional…
Even if…Mair had supported the far right he was a mentally ill loner
…Thomas Mair’s mentally ill grudge was over a mental health closure whether or not there was old Nazi memorabilia at his house.
…We are seeing the full might of the EU bosses, of the Prime Minister, of the House of Commons, of the BNP, of the police – not as investigators but as leakers to the Guardian – deployed against a severely mentally ill man whom local people say was NOT motivated by politics at all.
…to pay tribute to Jo Cox you do not need to suggest what the motivations of her mentally ill killer were.
The article veered between telling readers what to think, and warning readers that it was too early to draw any conclusions, and that information about his far-right interests was “prejudicial” [see also update 2 below]. (2)
Now, it is true that many people hold hateful political views without becoming murderers; but it also the case that most people with mental health problems are harmless. No mitigation on mental-health grounds was offered at trial, and there is no reason to suppose that just because Mair was depressed and disturbed he therefore did not know what he was doing when he became a political assassin.
However, it is reasonable to infer that Mair’s consumption of far-right media may have exacerbated a mental instability, with fatal results. Mair is responsible for his action, but those who poisoned his troubled mind with hateful rhetoric and fantasies of racial superiority and political heroism through violence must take moral responsibility. By this I of course primarily mean the fringe far-right milieu that appears to have provided so much of his reading material; and it seems to me that this would have been a more sensible point for Mensch to have made.
Mensch, though, appears to be a paragon of reason when compared to some: in the USA, the conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich (“the meme mastermind of the alt-right”, according to the New Yorker) asserted that Mair is a “patsy” and that the killing “is a false flag by globalists”. The IB Times had a round-up of this kind of thing in June.
UPDATE: In the hunt for an exclusive angle, the Daily Mail has come up with a lurid headline:
Did Neo-Nazi murder Jo over fear he’d lose council house he grew up in? Terrorist thought property could end up being occupied by an immigrant family – and the MP wouldn’t help him
According to the details:
Thomas Mair may have murdered MP Jo Cox because he feared losing his home of 40 years to an immigrant family.
…He suspected, possibly wrongly, it would be given to foreigners moving into his West Yorkshire town and believed the Labour MP would not help him, it was claimed.
…Mrs Hallas, who is the killer’s step-father’s half-sister, said he was a loner who ‘flipped’ at the thought of leaving the only home he had ever known.
‘You’ve got to look at the background,’ she said. ‘They kept pestering him to get him out of the house.
…‘So that was his home, that was his abode and they were trying to get him out. And when it all came out, they were trying to get him out for a family that had come from abroad wanting a three or two bedroomed house.’
The unstated context here seems to be the so-called “bedroom tax”, which penalizes the under-occupation of social housing in the UK. It is is unlikely that the local housing authority had any specific family in mind in wanting to shift Mair, or that Mair would have any information about it. Further, the headline’s statement of fact, that Jo Cox “wouldn’t help him”, is seriously qualified in the main text into something that someone “claims” Mair “believed”.
The paper’s whole approach here seems to me to be misjudged and distasteful, particularly when it is recalled that on 16 June 2016 – the day of Jo Cox’s death – the Daily Mail‘s front-page splash was a story about immigration to the UK from Europe that it subsequently admitted was inaccurate. Perhaps it was from such misleading headlines that Mair “possibly wrongly” got ideas from.
Analysis from Jane Martinson in the Guardian notes that the the Mail‘s coverage of Mair’s conviction continued to stress the personal and mental health angle, to the exclusion of ideology:
Most newspapers (certainly not just the Guardian) cited the judge’s own verdict that Mair killed her to advance his violent white supremacist ideology rather than because he “suspected the MP might not have helped him” to fight the council’s bid to move him.
Mail Online again highlighted Mair’s mental health and thoughts of matricide rather than his extreme ideology…
On the day Cox was killed the Mail’s front page focused on the tragic waste of a woman “brutally murdered by a loner with a history of mental illness” as did many others. This was a week before the EU referendum, and Mair’s shouts of “Britain first” and “This is for Britain” were probably considered incendiary.
Yet Mair’s trial and most notably the judge’s verdict suggested that there was far more to his crime than the evil act of a mentally ill man.
UPDATE 2: Mensch has now returned to the subject, justifying her earlier article on the grounds that there was online misinformation in June (the touted photographs) and extrapolating from (very good) analysis of the trial by Matthew Scott to suggest (1) that the trial judge had erred in allowing the reading of an impact statement by Stephen Kinnock ahead of the jury deliberation, and (2) that the court-appointed defence lawyer had failed in not raising Mair’s mental health. However, Mensch’s new article does not re-visit her very firm assertion from June of a “concocted shout”, or the mockery with which she dismissed any political dimension to the killing.
Meanwhile, @anyabike has drawn a contrast between Mensch’s Tweet on the trial that “judges who predjuice the rights of mentally ill de[f]endents should be ashamed”, and her 2014 view that “the second pig in the #LeeRigy case should also have got a whole life term”, referring to the 45-year sentence handed to Michael Adebowale. Adebowale was spared a whole life tariff because of his age and mental health.
Mensch’s interpretation of the trial has been criticised by The Secret Barrister.
(1) There was also some interest in a photograph of a man in a Blood and Honour t-shirt doing a Nazi salute – however, this individual has tattoos on his arms which demonstrate that this person is not Mair.
(2) Mensch’s perspective on on this made her the target of a Twitter hoax in June by someone using the Twitter handle @topPlagiarist. Mensch wrote: “It is beyond disgusting that Remain trolls tried to link this man’s clearly longstanding psychopathy to the referendum. They are sick”. @topPlagiarist, under the name “Vote Leave” and using an unremarkable avatar, replied with “the left are desperate to point score from this and it’s so sad”. This earned an RT from Mensch, after which @topPlagiarist changed their name to “kill migrants” and their avatar to a Nazi swastika.
Many Twitter-users are unaware that the names and avatars of RT-ed Tweets can be amended by the original account holder (unlike the username or the text of a Tweet), and Mensch was thus falsely accused of having promoted a Nazi Tweet. There has now been renewed interest in the Tweet, and in the debunking screenshot (via Google cache) that I posted here.
Filed under: Uncategorized