Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons
On 16 June 2016, Thomas Mair fired a gun at Jo Cox MP, shouting “Britain first, this is for Britain. Britain will always come first. We are British independence. Make Britain independent.” He then attacked her with a knife, shot at her again and again shouted “Britain first”.
Sentencing him for murder, Mr Justice Wilkie, said to him: “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… You are no patriot. By your actions you have betrayed the quintessence of our country, its adherence to parliamentary democracy.”
At the time, this seemed to be a freakish event, like a rare migrant bird blown astray by unfamiliar weather conditions. Since then, however, it has become apparent that the far right is systematically organising for terror attacks. At Finsbury Park, a far right sympathiser drove a van into a crowd at a mosque. In the year to March 2018, four far right planned attacks had been broken up (for comparison, 10 Islamist terrorist attacks had been stopped in the same period). This is a major threat to the British way of life.
The impact is not just visible at the most extreme end of the spectrum. For many years UKIP was careful to present itself as the acceptable face of nativism. Nigel Farage might have blamed bad traffic on immigrants and thought it problematic to live next door to Romanian men, but UKIP portrayed itself as a party open to all.
UKIP is now imploding, spawning a host of parties as the various kipper titans seek to establish themselves as the dominant anti-immigration voice. Anne-Marie Waters, having failed to take over UKIP, has set up For Britain, with a policy of reducing Muslim immigration to Britain to zero: one of its local election candidates had to be expelled after having been linked to National Action, the group behind a plot to kill Rosie Cooper MP.
John Rees-Evans, most famous for claiming to have contended with a gay donkey seeking to rape his horse, has set up the Democrats & Veterans Party, which on its website accuses current lawmakers of tyranny and betrayal of the highest order. (Henry Bolton, erstwhile leader, has announced plans to set up OneNation in his own image: its credo is awaited impatiently.)
What of UKIP itself? Under the leadership of Gerard Batten, it has taken a lurch to the right. He has denounced Islam as a death cult. He has supported Tommy Robinson, the EDL founder who is currently serving a prison sentence for his second separate contempt of court for breaching reporting restrictions: Tommy Robinson’s utterances were apparently one of the inspirations for the Finsbury Park attacker.
And it has just welcomed four high profile basement-dwelling online activists, one of whom specialises in conspiracy theories and one of whom recently encouraged vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down (this was, he clarified after five journalists had been gunned down, apparently a joke). These are apparently suitable members of the latest incarnation of UKIP.
We are seeing a sick flowering on the right unleashed by Brexit, where nativism has spawned a new politics in which accusations of treachery are routine and violence is not beyond contemplation.
What has been the response of the mainstream right? To minimise and trivialise the threat. Antoinette Sandbach MP received an email accusing her of treachery. She reported it to the police. The Daily Mail then ran a story on how the church-going pensioner who sent it was living in fear and upset that she had been labelled abusive.
Later that week, another far right extremist pleaded guilty to a terrorist plot to murder Rosie Cooper MP. Against that background, one wonders how the Mail expects MPs to sift lurid accusations. It is disturbing to write the words, but in the current climate the idea of someone planning an attack on Ms Sandbach is not far-fetched. Why should she be expected to behave as though it was?
The Brexit right that considers itself mainstream has a responsibility to confront this sickness. It courted this section of society assiduously during the referendum campaign, frightening them with untrue claims that millions of Turks were poised to descend on Britain and portraying unending queues of asylum seekers as heading our way.
Since then, various prominent Leavers have accused the judiciary, the BBC, the civil service, the CBI, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the governor of the Bank of England and pretty well any other national institution that you can name of seeking to sabotage Brexit.
They have for two years fanned the flames of nativism and used the rhetoric of betrayal, treachery and quislings. And they then refuse to make any connection between their inflammatory rhetoric and the actions of extremists.
What is particularly peculiar is that the people who have been providing shelter to far right extremists under cover of their angry nativism are often the same people who vehemently insist that Muslims should disown in the clearest terms the extremists in their midst. The test should be the same of both groups. No ifs, buts or whataboutery: clear lines must be drawn.
Too many on the right are currently treating civic obligation as a pick-and-mix. Those who love to drape themselves in the Union Jack need to need to face up to their responsibilities, and help to change the climate and eliminate this dangerous threat to our society that they have helped to create. If they really love this country, that is what they must do now.