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Jo Cox’s Murder Makes Britain First a Terrorist Group?

As Tommy Mair assassinated Jo Cox, MP, just a week before the Brexit referendum, an eyewitness, Clarke Rothwell, said that he heard Mair say “Britain First” or “put Britain first.” Though Britain First disputes the claim, the shout claiming association with the group is reminiscent to Orlando and San Bernardino attackers’ pledges to the Islamic State (ISIS). If Mair was even remotely inspired by Britain First to murder Cox, shouldn’t today’s logic conflate Mair’s act of terrorism with Britain First?

The far-right group Britain First has had a long history of violence. In 2014, members of Britain First sent death threats to its defectors. Though it claims to be focused on “peaceful protests,” its members threw bricks during a protest in Rotherham and its founder has called for a “holy war” in the UK. The group has claimed to be carrying out a “Christian crusade” and has openly stated that “violence is so ingrained in Islam that it has never really stopped being at war, either with other religions or with itself.”

Its founder, Paul Golding, told Christian Today that “Jesus Christ did use physical violence according to the Gospels in the temple in Jerusalem. He preached love and forgiveness etc, but he also said he didn’t come to bring peace; he came to bring division and a sword, he came to bring fire upon the world to sort the world out.” One could thus easily say that in their fight against the “Islamisation of Britain,” Britain First inspires violence in a global struggle of religion just as ISIS does.

Cox was politically a prime target for Mair, given her stance on several policy issues conflicting with Britain First. In particular, she has opposed Britain’s exit from the European Union in opposition towards Britain First’s pro-Brexit stance. And while police have not confirmed Mair’s motives, Mair’s previous subscription to media “rejecting communism, multiculturalism, political correctness and expansionist Islam” indicates that there may be other issues tackled by Britain First at play here.

As I’ve previously noted, the media has consistently conflated attackers in Orlando, San Bernardino, and Garland with ISIS because of their pledges to the group. The public has reacted accordingly, demanding stronger military responses against ISIS. However, none of these attackers were provided material aid or supervision by ISIS—they did not even maintain any direct links to the organization.

Similarly, Mair demonstrated allegiance towards Britain First’s cause. It is possible that his violent politics were inspired by Britain First’s “crusade” rhetoric. Given Britain First’s history of violence and its capacity to inspire it, shouldn’t we be treating Britain First as a terrorist group directly responsible for Jo Cox’s assassination, just as we do with ISIS’s supposed “involvement” in Orlando?

Of course not. Though Britain First’s rhetoric is extraordinarily counterproductive in the “War on Terror,” there is currently no evidence indicating that the national organization provided any direct assistance to Mair—their only connection was a political inspiration. Analogously, though ISIS is a heinous organization, it has had no connection beyond political inspiration to any attackers on US soil—pledges have not corresponded with tangible collaboration between lone wolves and ISIS.

Jo Cox’s assassination demonstrates the illogic of our conflation between lone wolves and larger, potentially violent, national groups. Although ISIS is a heinous organization threatening Western interests in Syria and Iraq, it is dangerous to conflate the actions of lone wolves pledging to ISIS with ISIS just as it is absurd to perceive Mair’s actions as a threat coming from Britain First. The inspiration that both provided is alarming, but absent any concrete association between the wolves and their pack, drastic measures like the banning of Britain First as a terrorist organization or an expanded war against ISIS seem less than palatable.

Britain First perhaps poses a more direct threat to citizens on Western soil than ISIS, given its “mosque invasions” and previously violent mass protests. For the sake of argument, however, neither organization is directly involved in conventional terrorism against the US or the UK. It’s time we stopped confusing ISIS “affiliates” with the core organization. There’s enough fear to go around in this world, and neither Britain First nor ISIS warrants a nuclear response as though they pose an existential and immediate threat to our nations.