Violent turn

As has been seen in many other cases, such as with the Breivik attack in Norway, discussed previously, and by the aforementioned shooters in Christchurch and El Paso, this sort of rhetoric and conspiracy can lead to violence (van Prooijen et al., 2015). The misinformation was amongst the political messages that Thomas

Mair proved to be overtly susceptible to. A week before the vote, he pulled out a sawn-off rifle and knife and shot and stabbed a 41-year-old woman who, in the early afternoon, was heading for the library entrance on the Market Street in his West Yorkshire town. Jo Cox was a Labour MP on her way to a constituency surgery. She died as a result of multiple wounds and Mair was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Jo Cox was a staunch believer in European integration and a firm supporter of both immigrants and a multicultural British society. Her killer had come to believe that left-wing liberals in politics and the mainstream media were responsible for much of the world’s evil and, indeed, for his own misfortune (Bennett, 2016). Mair was a racist who believed in the Eurabia conspiracy theory. He was obsessed with notions of white people facing increasing aggression, and he had the utmost contempt for those he called white traitors of their own people. In his eyes, Cox was one of these leftist liberals responsible for ruining the Western world. He saw her as one of‘the collaborators’ of these external aggressors and a ‘traitor to white people’ (Cobain et al., 2016).

Thomas Mair was plugged into many far-right groups, including the notorious English Defence League, of which he attended many gatherings. His house was filled with Nazi memorabilia and white supremacy literature. Noticeably, he had kept press cuttings about the case of Anders Breivik. ‘My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ - this was the reply he gave when asked in the Westminster Magistrates Court to confirm his name (Booth et al., 2016). Mair also had a long history of mental health problems. During the case procedure, it became evident that he had been influenced by much of the rhetoric upheld by the nationalist right in the Brexit campaign. Witnesses before the court testified that during the attack, he had cried out ‘this is for Britain’, ‘keep Britain independent’ and ‘put Britain first’ (Cobain & Taylor, 2016).

The judge on the case said there was no doubt that Mair had murderedjo Cox ‘for the purpose of advancing a political, racial and ideological cause, namely that of violent white supremacism and exclusive nationalism most associated with Nazism and its modern forms’ (BBC, 2016).

As the debate leading up to the exit from the EU progressed, some would make even further claims. One was Alan Craig, former leader of the Christian People’s Party. Speaking at the UKIP annual conference in 2018, he said that a Muslim sex gang had for decades abused and raped white English girls, to the extent that it had become a ‘Holocaust of our children’ (Bloom, 2018).

Many other examples of violent acts by those who subscribed to the Eurabia and the wider Great Replacement theory exist. I opened the chapter by discussing the terrorist attack of Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. The attack revealed a hidden sub-culture in Norway, simmering underneath on the Internet; a network of racist and Islamophobic groups operating around the country. One of the main forums for these politics was the online platform, where Norwegian racists exchanged their views. Breivik’s main hero on the platform called himself Fjordman. This ‘dark prophet of Norway’, as he was referred to, warned that ethnic Norwegians would soon be in the minority if the political elite was allowed to continue destroying European culture and turn the continent into a Eurabia. Fjordman also contributed to the web portal, ‘Gates of Vienna’. The name refers to the siege of Vienna in 1683, where Europeans defeated an invading Ottoman army. The overall narrative was of unravelling a socio-liberal cabal conspiring with Islamic forces of turning the continent into Eurabia. Breivik responded with a call to all cultural conservatives to defy the demographic infiltration of Muslims and proposed taking actions to expel all Muslims from Norway (Seierstad, 2015).

Amongst others buying into this wider Great Replacement theory was the Australian terrorist in New Zealand who, on 15 March 2019, killed fifty-one people in a Mosque shooting in Christchurch (Onnerfors, 2020a). A seventy-four-page so-called manifesto published by the shooter was simply titled ‘The Great Replacement’. It followed all tropes of the White Genocide conspiracy theory and pointed to classical antagonism between the Christian and the Muslim world and alluded to a global war between the two.

The 28-year-old attacker referred heavily to the aforementioned French Identitarian movement, to which he had donated a significant amount of money (Davey & Ebner, 2019). He also hailed Donald Trump as ‘a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose’. The shooter furthermore revealed that before the attack he had been given the blessing of Anders Breivik. Writing in The Guardian, Jason Wilson (2019) notes that the Christchurch shooter was brought up in Australia in a period when racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim hostility had been normalised.

Tellingly for the times, the notorious act was livestreamed on social media and shared with millions of people. Australian senator for Queensland, Fraser Aiming, wrote in the aftermath of the attack that the violence was the fault of migration and Muslims. ‘The truth is’, he wrote, ‘that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism’ (Aljazeera, 2019).

Although conspiratorial politicians and activists campaigning against migration cannot, of course, be held directly responsible for this horrendous act of a madman, it is still equally impossible to completely escape from the fact that political messages are sometimes received in different ways than they are intended to be interpreted. As Alex Massie (2016) wrote in The Spectator after Jo Cox was murdered a week before the Brexit vote: ‘When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks’. Massie argued that when politics are presented as a matter of life and death like had been done in the Brexit campaign - as a question of national survival - ‘don’t be surprised if someone takes your word for it’.

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