By Clay Waters ~
After the murder of a British Parliament member while she was on the street meeting with her constituency, New York Times reporter Steven Erlanger used the front page to smear conservative supporters of Britain leaving the European Union (known as the “Brexit” movement) as anti-immigrant paranoids and “Islamophobic,” in “Growing Dread Over Ugly Tone of ‘Brexit’ Vote.”
The online headline to the Saturday edition story really pointed fingers: “Britain Asks if Tone of ‘Brexit’ Campaign Made Violence Inevitable.”
As the shock of the brutal murder of a young member of Parliament began to subside on Friday, there was a growing sense in Britain that something ominous had been unleashed in the country.
The increasingly ugly anti-immigrant tone to the campaign over next week’s referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, coupled with the violence of English fans at the European soccer championships and now the killing of a lawmaker on the streets of a small town, has left many here feeling that the boundaries of acceptable behavior are breaking down.
With next Thursday’s vote on the referendum only days away, campaigning was suspended as a gesture of mourning and respect for the victim, Jo Cox, 41, a rising star in the opposition Labour Party who, not coincidentally, was a strong backer of Britain’s remaining inside the bloc.
While it is still too early to say how the attack will change the dynamics of the campaign, it has unquestionably shifted the focus from the growing momentum of those in favor of leaving to the anti-immigrant tactics they have employed as the vote has drawn closer.
The suspect arrested in the killing, Thomas Mair, 52, has a history of mental illness. But he was also reported to have been in contact with far-right groups in the United States and Britain, and to have said, “Britain first!” several times as he attacked Ms. Cox. Britain First, a far-right nationalist group, denied any links with Mr. Mair, but a United States civil rights group said he had been associated with an American neo-Nazi organization called the National Alliance.
Erlanger leaned very heavily on a single opinion piece:
In a widely distributed piece written for the magazine The Spectator, which favors leaving the European Union, Alex Massie drew a connection between the “Leave” campaign, which has featured outlandish assertions, xenophobia and Islamophobia, to the death of Ms. Cox.
“Sometimes rhetoric has consequences,” Mr. Massie wrote. “If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realize any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.”
Mr. Massie cited a poster that had been issued earlier on Thursday by one of the campaigns for British exit led by Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which has been strongly anti-Europe and anti-immigration from its inception and won 13 percent of the vote in the national election in May 2015.
Erlanger was still cribbing from Massie’s piece several paragraphs later.
The message, Mr. Massie said, was not subtle: “Vote Leave, Britain, or be overrun by brown people. Take control. Take back our country. You know what I mean, don’t you: If you want a Turk — or a Syrian — for a neighbor, vote Remain.”
“When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks,” Mr. Massie wrote. “When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.”
After letting Massie do all that opinionizing for him, Erlanger still wasn’t done, quoting various liberals blaming the Leave side for violence before this mild, backhanded balance:
Of course, many who are campaigning to leave are honorable democrats, [lefty columnist Polly Toynbee] said. “But there are others whose recklessness has been open and shocking. I believe they bear responsibility, not for the attack itself, but for the current mood: for the inflammatory language, for the finger-jabbing, the dog whistling and the overt racism.”
Even before the shooting, Erlanger was making similiar, only slightly less-feverish accusations against Brexit supporters. From his June 14 dispatch, “Worries Over Turkey Inflame ‘Brexit’ Debate.”
With nine days left before Britain votes on whether to remain in the European Union, the possibility of Turkey’s becoming a member of the bloc has inflamed the debate, injecting divisive issues of race, religion and tolerance openly into the campaign.
The debate over the vote, which has split Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, has largely played out around fear so far. Those in favor of remaining in the bloc, including Mr. Cameron, have emphasized the economic risks of a vote to leave.
The emphasis on the supposedly imminent membership of Turkey, however, adds a new and darker aspect to the arguments for Britain’s leaving: Turkey would be the bloc’s second-largest country after Germany, and it is poor, is Muslim and borders Syria, where young British Muslims radicalized by the Islamic State travel to enter the netherworld of terrorism.
The debate is happening when attacks like the one in Orlando, Fla., have raised concerns about both Islamic radicalism and Islamophobia. An unofficial group advocating Britain’s departure from the European Union posted a controversial message on Twitter on Monday, warning of “Islamist extremism” and urging an exit from the bloc “before we see an Orlando-style atrocity here before too long.” After immediate criticism, the message was deleted.
Trevor Phillips, a former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Britain, said that “there really isn’t any doubt that what they are appealing to here is straightforward prejudice.”
The opposition Labour Party’s shadow justice secretary, Charles Falconer, said the claims are “dangerous and inflame racism.”
“None of this needs decoding,” Philip Stephens, a columnist for The Financial Times, wrote, arguing that the implicit calls to racism have become explicit. “The dog whistle has made way for the klaxon. E.U. membership talks with Turkey, we are to understand, will soon see Britain overrun by millions of (Muslim) Turks — most of them thugs or welfare-scroungers.”
The Times’ old friend “Islamophobia” also showed up twice.