In 2016, there was only one terrorist attack in the United Kingdom, and it didn't fit the narrative President Donald Trump was pushing Wednesday.
That attack was not carried out by an Islamic extremist, but by a far-right extremist — shouting the ultra-nationalist slogan “Britain first!” as he shot and stabbed Labour Party MP Jo Cox.
When Trump retweeted graphic videos from the deputy leader of the far-right “Britain First” group, Jo Cox's husband responded in a tweet. “Trump has legitimized the far right in his own country, now he's trying to do it in ours,” Brendan Cox wrote:
Trump has legitimised the far right in his own country, now he’s trying to do it in ours. Spreading hatred has consequences & the President should be ashamed of himself.
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) November 29, 2017
Cox offered a more in-depth response to the president in an opinion letter for The Guardian titled, “By retweeting Britain First, Trump offends a decency he cannot understand.” Cox explained how Trump's actions only serve to embolden those on the right with extremist views:
When the president of the United States promotes the deputy leader of a far-right organisation, it makes it easier for others to follow her example — and perhaps go further.
We know from the evidence that the environment matters for how and whether extremists act on their hatred. In more permissive environments they are more likely to take their hatred further, and where hatred is seen as socially unacceptable, they are less likely to act.
The murder of Jo Cox at the hands of an extremist came in the midst of an environment like the one Cox describes — just one week before the 2016 Brexit referendum vote. After her death, Cox explained that his wife would want people “to unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”
Thomas Mair was sentenced to life in prison for the attack, with the judge citing the “exceptional seriousness" of the case. During the trial, Mair was shown to have obsessions with Nazism and white supremacy — both of which factored into the decision in the case.
“That's why we rightly take on extreme Islamist propagandists advocating violence,” Cox wrote Wednesday. “But those hate preachers aren't only Islamists, they exist on the far right too.”
Cox continued by outlining the history of “Britain First” and charges against the very leader Trump retweeted:
Britain First is one such group of hate preachers, in this case dedicated to driving hatred chiefly against the Muslim community of our country. It was Jayda Fransen, its deputy leader, whose tweets of inflammatory videos were conveyed by the president to his 43.6m Twitter followers. Fransen, as we know, as a figure more responsible than Trump would have found out, is facing charges of religiously aggravated harassment. We know how divisive that group has been, preying on vulnerable communities. We also know where that kind of poison can lead.
“We should use the fact that Trump has become the poster-child for bigotry to our advantage,” Cox added. “He may try to mobilise for the haters. But in fact he's the best recruiting sergeant for those of us who wish to build a consensus around British values of tolerance and decency.”