Britain First and Orlando: Not every violent act is international terror


Tommy Mair is charged with assassinating Jo Cox, a British member of parliament, just one week before the Brexit referendum that will decide whether Britain remains in the European Union.

An eyewitness, Clarke Rothwell, said that he heard Mair say “Britain First” as he mortally wounded Cox. British First is a neo-fascist anti-immigration group. Britain First disputes the alleged shout-out.

The far-right group Britain First has had a history of extremism. 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 undergo “combat” training. 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.

Jo 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.

The ISIS flag.

The ISIS flag.

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, by at least some accounts, Mair demonstrated allegiance towards Britain First’s cause. If so, is it 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 extremism, should Britain First be treated as a terrorist group responsible for Jo Cox’s assassination, just as we do with ISIS’s supposed “involvement” in Orlando?

Though Britain First’s rhetoric is extraordinarily counterproductive in the “War on Terror”, there is currently no evidence indicating that the organization provided any direct assistance to Mair—their only connection was a possible 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 itself, just as it is absurd, in my view, 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.

Anhvinh Doanvo is an MSPPM candidate at Carnegie Mellon University. He has written for numerous publications including The Hill, Georgetown Public Policy Review, and Baltimore Sun. He is one of forty 2016 finalists for the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, which funds twenty US citizens' graduate education annually and places them in the American Foreign Service of the Department of State. You can follow him on Twitter at or Facebook at

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