“It is clear from your internet and other researches that your inspiration is… an admiration for Nazism, and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds where democracy and political persuasion are supplanted by violence towards and intimidation of opponents and those who, in whatever ways, are thought to be different, and for that reason, open to persecution. Our parents’ generation made huge sacrifices to defeat those ideas and values in the Second World War. What you did, and your admiration for those views which informed your crime betrays the sacrifices of that generation.”
Many praise Justice Wilkie’s verdict but are angry that Thomas Mair was not charged under counter-terror laws, that he has not been described as a terrorist. They point out the obvious double standards in respect of individual Muslims who have taken lives in acts inspired by their adherence to a fanatical ideology. No, he wasn’t charged under terror legislation but the Crown Prosecution Service statement said: “…his pre-meditated crimes were nothing less than acts of terrorism designed to advance his twisted ideology.”
Although a trial under counter-terrorism may have involved more exploration of the motives involved, the judge made a very clear statement of the conclusions he came to about the political and ideological motivation that was present in this case, and used that to bolster his case for the sentence he passed.
I’m probably going to say something heretical here, but while we must continue to call for completely equal treatment of perpetrators of crimes, and for completely equal respect for the victims by the police, courts and media, the battle over language may not be the most important one, and maybe we need to start to liberate ourselves from it.
The language of “terrrorist” or “extremist” is, after all, their language not ours. And one word that seemed to be ours – “radical” – often expressed “Prevent” style, by politicians and media, as “radicalised” or “radicalisation” has been twisted and given a very different meaning. In the age of “Prevent”, more and more actions including many legitimate political actions will get labelled as extreme or terrorist-inspired. We need to make it harder, not easier for our opponents to maintain that control over language and control over progressive radical movements.
Another controversial area. We will resist being told that he was a “loner” or a “lone wolf” and will want to show that he was closely connected with fascist organisations, who are responsible. That is half right and half wrong. “Lone Wolf” and “organised fascist” are not mutually exclusive categories in 2016. The Far Right was once organised into tightly controlled, centralist organisations, and para-military movements with cells that operate collectively. To some extent the cell model still operates, but the overall model has changed significantly, and we need to catch up.
What we face now is perhaps more dangerous – a very decentralised fascist segment of society split into myriad groupuscules, which draw on and spread similar poisonous ideas and materials, but without much coordination. They inspire rather than command. The new model encourages more “lone wolf” activity – ie activity that seems to be by one lone person. Our task is to make that transparent, not to counterpose lone wolf (mad and bad) and chain of command (organised conspiracy). What we face is a deliberately disorganised conspiracy and that, in many ways, is harder to guard against and to combat.
One further thought about this case. Many anti-racists and anti-fascists, still operate as if, ideologically, fascist groups can only focus on one enemy at a time. It encourages arguments and slogans that say they used to be against X but now they are against Y. We underestimate the versatility of racism at our peril. Fascists today accumulate rather than replace enemies. They can attack several enemies at once, and switch main enemies quickly. They also know their history. Mair shouted “Britain First” – the name of a recent splinter group from the BNP but also the logo published under the masthead of Oswald Mosley’s newspaper in the 1930s.
A look at Thomas Mair’s bookshelves, including his neatly-organised collections of National Vanguard journals, and his eagle memorabilia, suggests that classic Nazism/antisemitism were absolutely part of his mindset inspiring the action he took this year against an individual less know for statements opposing fascism than for supporting multiculturalism, migrants and refugees.