The brutal murder of Jo Cox MP is a tragic reminder of the very real physical threat fascism poses.
The British media have been hesitant to describe Thomas Mair as a terrorist. Early reports emphasised what a good neighbour he was, or that he was known locally as a loner.
There is overwhelming evidence that Thomas Mair was inspired by fascist politics:
- Eyewitness reports suggest that he shouted, Britain First” as he launched the attack
- The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a hatewatch group in the US, have uncovered receipts showing that he purchased $620 of books from the neo-Nazi Nationalist Alliance including fascist propaganda and guides to making improvised weapons.
- The far-right Springbok Club described him as “one of the earliest subscribers and supporters of ‘S.A. Patriot'”.
- He had at least two letters published in the South African Patriot in Exile (which succeeded the SA Patriot) in 1991 and 1999. In these he condemned “White liberals and traitors” who he blamed for the downfall of Apartheid. He stated that he had “faith that the White Race will prevail, both in Britain and in South Africa, but I fear that it’s going to be a very long and very bloody struggle.”
- According the the Southern Poverty Law Centre, in 2000 Mair attended a meeting with members of the BNP and William Pierce, then leader of the Nationalist Alliance. They also suggest that John Tyndall (former BNP leader) was aware of Mair.
- Police searching his house are reported to have discovered Nazi regalia and far-right literature.
- A photo on the website of Britain First appears to show Mair alongside other members of the group’s “Northern Division”.
- At his first court appearance he gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Mair is unusual amongst wannabe fascist terrorists in that he actually managed to kill somebody. However, there have been no shortage of attempts over the last few years. Here are just a few we know about:
- In September 2015, Mark Colborne was found guilty of preparing terrorist acts. He had purchased the ingredients for making cyanide. His politics appear to have been… unique, but notes expressed hatred for “non-Aryans” whom he referred to as “blacks and Caucasian idiots”.
- In January 2015, Zack Davies attacked Sarandev Bhambra, a Sikh, with a machete and hammer shouting “white supremacy”, “this is revenge” and “this is for Lee Rigby.”
- In 2014, Bret Atkins and Jamie Snow, has their sentences extended after they tried to send a letter bomb to a Halifax solicitors from prison. According to the police,they chose “victims purely on the grounds of their race or religion… expressed deeply racist and anti-Muslim views and sent a series of threatening letters designed to instil fear in their recipients” before moving beyond mere threats.
- In March 2014, Ian Forman was found guilty of a plot to blow up mosques in Merseyside. Forman frequently expressed his racist ideology and views against the disabled to friends and workmates.
- In 2013 the three members of the “United Rebel Army” were arrested in Loughborough. They had stockplied materials to make weapons to carry out a “new Colombine” (more on this below).
- In 2013, Pavlo Lapshyn placed bombs outside three mosques in the West Midlands. The only reason nobody died was because he’d got the timing wrong. It later emerged that he’d stabbed Mohammed Saleem, an 82 year-old Muslim grandfather in April of that year.
- In 2010, father and son Nicky and Ian Davison were both found guilty of terrorist offences. The pair were members of the neo-Nazi “Aryan Strike Force”.
We can thank a very British amateurishness for the failure of these groups and individuals to do more damage and kill more people. Mair demonstrates that we can’t rely on that.
It has also been widely reported that Mair was mentally ill. We are not in a position to comment on these reports. If true, it would not be the first time that vulnerable people had been drawn in by fascist ideas.
In 2014, Michael Piggin a teenager from Loughborough was tried at the Old Bailey accused of planning a “new Colombine”.
Piggin was a self-proclaimed member of the English Defence League. His bedroom was decorated with a swastika and newspaper cuttings about Norweigan fascist terrorist Anders Breivik. His plans were detailed in a Che Guevara notebook, the cover of which he had supplemented with a swastika, SS runes and the slogan “EDL no surrender British and proud”.
When he was arrested in February 2013, police discovered an arsenal of bombs and weapons including partially assembled petrol bombs and pipe bombs.
The fellow members of his “United Rebel Army,” later named as Jacob Crouch and Ryan Towell, both pled guilty to possessing explosives. However, following his arrest, Piggin was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (a form of autism). His defence argued that his plans were never serious and his condition “was the lens through which they must view his behaviour”.
After two trials failed to reach a verdict, the judge ordered that Piggin be detained under the Mental Health Act.
None of this is to suggest that there is some simple correlation between mental illness or non-neuro-typical individuals and violence. The real world is very different to a slasher movie or a Batman comic. One in four of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives. Only a tiny fraction of mentally ill people become violent.
Clearly, however, some vulnerable people are susceptible to racist ideology. Anti-immigrant racism is being pushed ever more loudly, reaching new lows in the EU Referendum campaign. At the same time the impact of austerity and government-imposed NHS restructuring is hitting mental health services hard. That could prove to be a toxic combination.
Defeating lone wolf fascists is tough. There are no easy answers and we’re not going to pretend there are.
Our fundamental task remains challenging fascists whenever they show their heads. This may reduce the risk from lone wolves. (As “radicalisation” requires somebody to do the radicalising, this can’t hurt.) Even if it doesn’t, organised fascism in and of itself remains a real physical threat both to those on the left and to ethnic minorities.