Notes From the Margins…

Murder in Farageland

  • June 19, 2016
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The brutal murder of Jo Cox has added a seemingly random note of tragedy and horror to this appalling, dispiriting and utterly venal Referendum campaign.  And the brave and dignified words of Cox’s husband and sister have only shown us how low we have allowed ourselves to sink during this wretched process.

Anti-intellectualism; complete disregard for evidence; hyperbolic denunciations of the EU coupled with an almost nihilistic indifference to the consequences of leaving; lies, prejudice; whining ‘ We want our country back narratives’ of national victimhood; the most rancid xenophobia, fear and racism – all these tendencies that were once considered un-British have become part of the poisonous and bitter debate that our feckless politicians have foisted upon us.

Now a promising young politician and the mother of two children had been murdered by a man who gave his name in court as ‘ death to traitors – freedom for Britain.’   No one can be surprised that the media and many politicians and political parties have focused on Thomas Mair’s abnormal personality rather than his politics.  We have heard, ad infinitum, that he was ‘mentally ill’ and ‘ a loner’ – as if ‘loners’ are somehow naturally inclined to kill MPs.

Of course this is what always happens when a white man carries out an act of political murder.  We don’t like to call them terrorists, because words like terrorist and terrorism are intended to construct and convey an image of politically-motivated violence as something utterly alien to us.

This otherness might stem from religion, from ‘extremism’ or ‘radicalization’.  We might imagine that it has something to do with race, culture or ideology or a combination of all these factors.  But what is always clear is that the terrorist has nothing in common with us and we cannot recognize anything of ourselves in their actions.  Even when the crimes of the terrorists are ‘rational’,  in the sense that they may have a political motivation or particular strategic or tactical aims, we like to imagine them as crimes aimed at ‘our way of life’, ‘our values’ or ‘our freedoms.’

The anathema heaped on the terrorist also helps create an imagined ‘us’.  It binds the state, government and population into a first person plural based on the assumption of our common decency, even as the Otherness of the terrorist enables us to torture, extradite and imprison ‘enemy combatants’, wage wars ‘to keep us safe’, or pore over  Muslim toddlers in search of signs of incipient radicalization..

This is what terrorism discourse does, and this is what it’s intended to achieve.   But faced with men like Thomas Mair, Anders Breivik or Timothy McVeigh, we instinctively seek explanations in psychopathology, because we can’t believe that men who appear to be ‘like us’ can kill with the same merciless cruelty as people we know aren’t ‘like us.’

We can’t comprehend that an all-American boy and a Gulf War ‘hero’ like McVeigh would regard children that he kills in a kindergarden as ‘collateral damage.’  Or why Anders Breivik would  gleefully  massacre teenagers for political reasons.   We can’t imagine why a ‘quiet’ and ‘timid’ man like Mair would shoot a female politician and the mother of two children – unless we assume that he’s mad.

Mair may well have had mental health issues,  but then so did  Michael Adebowale, the killer of Lee Rigby and the fact that Adebowale was a borderline schizophrenic did not receive nearly the same level of scrutiny as  Mair’s psychological condition.  Mental illness covers a very wide spectrum of conditions, and  however ill Mair was, he was also a fascist and a white supremacist, who was associated with an organization, Britain First, that has advocated the execution of ‘traitors’ guilty of ‘crimes against the country.’   He chose his target – an MP with a track record of defending the EU and refugees – for clearly political reasons.

So the killing of Jo Cox was an act of political murder, and responsibility for it – as far as we know – belongs entirely to Mair, but that doesn’t mean that his crime took place in a vacuum.   It  took place during the extraordinarily febrile atmosphere of the referendum, when the nation is positively seething with fear and hatred towards the EU, towards foreigners, and towards refugees.

At its most extreme manifestation, this hatred emanates from the fascist and Nazi troglodytes on Twitter, who celebrated the death of a woman they called a ‘traitorous whore’ and many other things.  Naturally Cox has to be a ‘whore’, because any politically-active woman will always be called such things by these Internet warriors.

It would be comforting to think that such hatred stops there, somewhere on the lunatic fringe where decent people would never tread.  But let’s not deceive ourselves.   In the wake of the murder there has been a lot of cuddly talk about how politicians should be kinder and more respectful to each other, but there has been a lot less said about the very unkind and disrespectful way in which politicians and the media treat the immigrants and foreigners who Jo Cox supported and publicly associated herself.

However ‘mad’ Mair may have been, that’s why he called her a traitor and that’s why he killed her, and the fear and hatred that made such an atrocious act possible extends far beyond the denizens of the fascist netherworld in their blood and honour t-shirts and their violent ‘self-defence’ knife classes in the Welsh hills.

You can find it emanating in more subtle and insidious ways from the political mainstream, whether from politicians or from the newspapers that millions read every day, that spew out  anii-immigrant and anti-refugee propaganda on an almost daily basis.  More than anyone else, it emanates from the Brexiters, and in the last two weeks these sentiments have reached a horrifying crescendo.

Recognizing that it was losing the economic arguments, the Leave campaign stepped up its anti-immigrant rhetoric within the last two weeks. To them,    ‘take back control’ meant taking control of our ‘broken’ borders.  We learned that  refugees were rapists who endangered the security of British women.  We heard that 76 million Turks will soon be joining the EU.   In the same week that Jo Cox was shot,  Nigel Farage stood in front of a Nazi-like poster depicting an invading army of refugees – refugees he insisted were not ‘genuine.’

Farage also warned of ‘violence on the streets‘ if immigration is not controlled. Please don’t ask me to be kind and respectful to a politician who talks like that.  But instead of damaging the Leave campaign, arguments like this boosted its standing in the polls and gave it new momentum.    In effect, a large swathe of the public made it clear that it accepted and shared Farage’s views – or at the very least was not bothered by them.

That’s bad enough, but it is even more disturbing to consider that many of our fellow-citizens also share Mair’s fear and loathing of the foreign ‘invasion’ – even if they are horrified that someone would take such prejudices so far as to actually murder a politician.

But even though no one could have predicted such a thing could happen, it doesn’t seem entirely surprising now that it has.  Because we have allowed the likes of Farage to turn us into a morally shrunken nation from which the kind of courage and decency that Jo Cox demonstrated  in her short career  is becoming increasingly absent from our public life.

We have allowed ourselves to become fearful and hateful.   And we might not like to admit it, but both Farage and the ‘timid gardener’ Thomas Mair are symptoms of that transformation.

It’s not too late – yet – to become something else.   But we really ought to start soon.



  1. Tsigantes

    20th Jun 2016 - 6:21 pm

    Greeks send an open letter to UK citizens about Brexit:

    Mr. Carr, you obviously think that what happened in Greece is just an isolated one-off and has no application to you. Perhaps you secretly agree with the Germans that it was the Greeks fault. You obviously support the idea of the CIA’s EUSA with the wonderful TTiP and TISA. You seem to believe that the EU’s “democracy deficit” is something that can be fixed. And you have obviously NOT bothered to read the 6 treaties, preferring the EU propaganda videos and “Ode to Joy”. You clearly believe that a UK “inside” the EU will trundle along as before and that Europeans who warn you against this are just small minded, know-nothing, bigoted “nationalists”. Meanwhile we must assume that not only do you support Operation Anaconda in the Baltics, but also the [minimally reported] unannounced and unprecedented naval build up here in the Aegean / East Meditteranean aimed at denying Russia passage to Tartus; and also aimed at Egypt, at east Libya where the Russians are helping the democratically elected government (instead of our jihadis in central & west Libya); and at Lebanon and Syria.

    You are obviously very, very okay with this, and are an unreconstructed neocon neolib Blairite.

  2. Matt R

    21st Jun 2016 - 12:01 pm

    I’m naturally inclined to pan-European cooperation and there are many aspects of continental Europe that I admire more than their British equivalents. During the Tories’ ideological destruction of the State, I am also drawn to the relative centrism of our Western European counterparts. And, of course, I see through UKIP’s crocodile tears for the working class. However, I have also always been concerned about the impacts of cross-border movement on British wages and the lack of democratic accountability in European institutions. And I fear the legitimising effects of EU membership on the neo-fascist Governments of Poland and Hungary, and the similar effects of the EU’s evident willingness to jump into bed with Erdogan. This has left me frustratingly torn between the two sides. I passionately support a European Union, but can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic about this particular one. Cameron’s recent pretend negotiations demonstrate our inability to change it.

    Of late I have been pushed further towards a Brexit vote by the utter contempt with which “In” politicians from left and right have treated “Out” supporters. This peddling of barely justified scare stories and the characterisation of Brexiteers as ignorant xenophobes has been pretty damned nasty. The use of Jo Cox’s murder to further the “Remain” ends (while that side sanctimoniously claimed it would not) has simply been disgusting. Shame on you for jumping on this sordid little bandwagon. But thank you for clarifying what you and similar commentators think of the very large numbers of people who are going to vote Leave this week. People who have thought long and hard about the issues, and come to the difficult decision to take this risk. Despite what I have said, I may yet vote Remain. If so it will most certainly not be because of you.

    P.S. I also need to point out that my reservations towards the EU include concerns about large scale immigration in general. I initially censored myself from admitting this for fear of being viewed as “morally shrunken” and lacking “courage and decency”. But that would be dishonest. It is how I feel. I expect that in your eyes this makes me, along with everyone who shares this concern, a xenophobe. I disagree, but this evidently isn’t the place for nuanced arguments.

    • Matt

      21st Jun 2016 - 12:44 pm

      Your response is almost polite and is at least honest about your own self-doubt, so I will answer it. Firstly, I have not jumped on any ‘bandwagon’, and I am not using or exploiting Jo Cox’s death to ‘further the ” Remain” ends’, as you put it. I am exploiting no one. I am aware that many people have legitimate criticisms of the EU, and I have criticized the EU myself on numerous occasions, both on this blog, in articles and in my book Fortress Europe. I have nothing against ‘nuanced arguments’, but such arguments have been conspicuously absent from this awful debate, in which prejudiced and often fact-free fears about immigration have been the decisive factor in the Leave campaign. You may not think of yourself as xenophobic or racist, and you may be perfectly correct in believing that, but without the fear and hatred of Johnny Foreigner/immigrants/refugees the Leave campaign would have sunk without trace weeks ago. It is perfectly legitimate to point out that Thomas Mair’s choice of target was an extremist manifestation of these emotions – emotions that were deliberately and cynically whipped up by Farage and others, and I stand by these associations. As for the ‘impacts of cross-border movement on British wages’ – research into this pheneomon eg. by LSE, suggests that these have been negligible. And what impact there is on certain sectors of the workforce is surely a question of better regulation of the labour market rather than ‘immigration’ per se. As regards the lack of democratic accountability in the EU, I entirely agree, but that is only a fake and hollow argument in the mouths of Johnson, Gove, Farage & Co. I certainly don’t regard all Brexiters as ‘ignorant xenophobes’. I’m aware that the Left, in particular has some very good arguments against EU membership, even though I think they are tactically inappropriate at the present time, in a rightwing campaign that essentially regards immigrants as parasites, rapists, cultural usurpers, terrorists and thieves of ‘British jobs’. I think a campaign like that deserves all the contempt anyone can throw upon it.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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