On June 16, in the midst of the Brexit referendum, Jo Cox, a 41-year-old British Member of Parliament (MP) and mother of two, was shot three times and stabbed fifteen times by a British xenophobic extremist. She died in an ambulance shortly thereafter. Today, her killer was convicted and sentenced in life in prison.
During the course of their investigation, police quickly realized that the man – Thomas Mair - was obsessed with Nazis, white supremacy, and apartheid-era South Africa. The head of HOPE Not Hate, a British campaign group, says that targeting liberal politicians has been a pillar of British neo-Nazism since the 1990s:
"Thomas Mair acted alone but he was inspired by over 30 years of reading Nazi propaganda. "In targeting a British MP, Mair was following a growing list of British Nazi terrorists who believe that they are at war with the system. This ideology, which sees the state – and in particular liberal politicians – as more of a target than minorities, became dominant among UK nazis in the 1990s and remains a strong pillar of their thinking today. "While Thomas Mair pulled trigger, neo-Nazi propagandists must share some responsibility for fuelling and directing the hatred and violence inside him.
While handing down the sentence, the judge in the case delivered a message to Mair, focused on the anti-European, pro-independence statements he made while stabbing Cox to death:
"In the true meaning of the word she was a patriot. "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."
After the hearing, Cox's husband shared the following inspirational commitment:
"As a family, we will not respond to hatred with hatred. We will love like Jo did and know that, although she is dead, the ideas and values that she held so dear will live on.…[W]e hope that those in politics, the media and our own communities who seek to divide us will face an unassailable wall of British tolerance and the articulation of Jo's belief that we hold more in common than that which divides us."
In this time of seemingly unprecedented divisiveness in our own country, and especially in light of the appalling levels of harassment and violence in the weeks since the election, I hope that we too can recognize and denounce xenophobia, racism, and intolerance masquerading as patriotism; and build our own "unassailable wall" of respect, tolerance, and unity – in all circumstances, we are stronger together.