Jo Cox, Brexit and the politics of hate

Daniel Trilling writes: The main threat of far-right attacks in recent years has come from men acting alone or in small groups. They may sympathize with fascist ideology, or they may have passed through the ranks of a far-right party at some point, but they are not acting on orders.

An attack like this, or a plot for one, is uncovered every few years — rare, but more common than many Britons would like to admit. In June 2015, a member of the neo-Nazi group National Action was convicted of the attempted murder of a South Asian man at a supermarket in Wales. In 2007, a former B.N.P. candidate was jailed for stockpiling explosives in anticipation of a coming “civil war” caused by immigration. In 1999, David Copeland, a neo-Nazi lone wolf, set off three nail bombs in London, targeting the black, gay and South Asian communities, killing three people and injuring more than 100.

These people may act independently, but their behavior and ideas are not shaped in a void. Far more people move through the periphery of far-right politics than formally join a party or organization. The details that have emerged about Mr. Mair’s life place him in this periphery: The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that he was a longtime customer of Vanguard Books, the publishing arm of the National Alliance, an American neo-Nazi group. The police have reportedly found Nazi regalia and far-right literature at his house.

Social media has extended the far right’s reach. Sources tell me that Britain First has only a few hundred members. But its Facebook page has more than 1.4 million likes and churns out nationalist, Islamophobic and anti-immigration memes. “Saying UK borders are secure, open to 500 million people,” declares one meme, which displays a photo of the European Union’s flag, “is like saying my home is more secure with the doors and windows left open.” Another shows Muslims praying in the street in London and asks: “Is this what our war heroes died for?” Many of these are widely shared — and they often echo the coverage of immigration and ethnic minorities found in much of the British press.

This points to an uncomfortable truth: Far-right politics cannot be as easily cordoned off from the mainstream as people would like to believe. Fascists attach themselves to popular causes and drag the debate in their direction. Populists and parties of the center take note and then try to appeal to voters susceptible to the far right’s messages by taking xenophobic positions of their own. [Continue reading…]

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