Britain is in a state of mourning after a rising star in the British Parliament died Thursday when she was stabbed and shot in her district. Jo Cox was a 41-year-old mother of two who worked at Oxfam before being elected as a Labour MP last year. She was known for her passionate support for Syrian refugees and was a member of Labour Friends of Palestine. Her death comes just a week before the major Brexit vote—when British voters will decide whether the country should stay in the European Union. Cox was a vocal advocate for Britain to stay in the EU. During the attack, eyewitnesses said, her assassin, Thomas Mair, shouted “Britain First”—a possible reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant political party of the same name which is pushing for Britain to leave the EU. We speak with Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has revealed that Mair is a longtime supporter of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. He notes Mair’s attack comes on the first anniversary of when self-declared white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine people in the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Britain is in a state of mourning today for a rising star in the British Parliament who died Thursday after being stabbed and shot shortly following a meeting with her constituents. Jo Cox was a 41-year-old mother of two who worked at Oxfam before being elected as a Labour MP last year. She was known for her passionate support for Syrian refugees and was a member of Labour Friends of Palestine. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to her on Thursday.
JEREMY CORBYN: She leaves behind a husband, a wonderful man who likewise spends his life campaigning for human rights and justice. And she leaves behind two young children, two young children who will never grow up to see their mum again. They can be proud of what she was. They can be proud of what she did. And they can be very proud of everything that she stood for. We come together at a time like this. We come together to support the family and to mourn and to reflect, that violence is not an answer. Violence is not an answer to anything.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jo Cox is the first member of the British Parliament to be murdered in over 25 years. Her death came just a week before the major Brexit vote, when British voters will decide whether the country should stay in the European Union. Cox was a vocal advocate for Britain to stay in the EU. During the attack, eyewitnesses said, her assassin, Thomas Mair, shouted “Britain First”—a possible reference to the far-right, anti-immigrant political party of the same name which is pushing for Britain to leave the EU.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Southern Poverty Law Center here in the United States has revealed that the attacker, Thomas Mair, is a longtime supporter of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Documents released by the center show Mair has spent over $600 buying periodicals and other items from the group, including a manual that contained information on how to build a pistol. In addition, The Daily Telegraph is reporting Mair subscribed to S.A. Patriot, a South African magazine published by White Rhino Club, a pro-apartheid group.
We go now to Montgomery, Alabama, where we’re joined by Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Richard, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you explain what you know about who Thomas Mair is?
RICHARD COHEN: He was a longtime follower of the National Alliance. That’s the—that was the largest neo-Nazi party in the United States, with significant ties to Europe. Between 1999 and 2003, he bought things about weapons, he bought things about explosives, and, I think just as importantly, he subscribed to a variety of white supremacist literature.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Richard Cohen, for those folks who are not familiar with the National Alliance, its founder, the author of the notorious or infamous cult classic of the far right, The Turner Diaries?
RICHARD COHEN: Yes, the—William Pierce, the head of the National Alliance, as you said, was a prolific writer. He wrote a book called The Turner Diaries that was the blueprint for the Oklahoma City bombing. It was also the blueprint for a lot of other terrorist activities. Pierce was a devoted follower of Hitler, and that’s no exaggeration. He called Hitler the greatest man of the 20th century. And he talked in his manifesto about the need for white living space and how no—how his followers couldn’t be deterred by the momentary unpleasantness of their task—you know, a clear reference to genocide.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the link between—if there is one, between the National Alliance and the far-right group and anti-immigrant group in Britain that’s opposed to the—that’s opposed to—that wants Britain to leave the European Union?
RICHARD COHEN: Sure. I think the fundamental thing for people to understand is that the white nationalist movement in this country, the neo-Nazi movement in this country, is something that is really a worldwide phenomenon. Pierce, the leader of the National Alliance, traveled to England often, had ties with, for example, Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party in Greece. Members of the British National Party were also—a far-right nationalist party in England that’s opposed to the European Union—frequently travel to this country. Members of the British National Party were members of Pierce’s organization. So this kind of white ethnic nationalism that we see in our country is also very much alive in Europe. And groups like the National Alliance exploited that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: [inaudible] organization able to document the contributions and the subscriptions of someone like Mair, including to—for instance, there have been reports of his subscribing to right-wing South African publications, as well.
RICHARD COHEN: Well, it doesn’t surprise me that he subscribed to, you know, material from South Africa. You know, just to—I don’t want to jump too far ahead, but the Charleston shooter, you might remember, had patches from the apartheid regime in South Africa, a patch from the old Rhodesian white party. And so, again, this white nationalism is not just a phenomenon here, it’s really an international phenomenon.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Britain First voicing support for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee here Donald Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the U.S.? According to The Huffington Post, Britain First told supporters to vote for Trump on Facebook. The group also applauded Trump’s statements about London last year on MSNBC. Let’s go to those comments.
DONALD TRUMP: We have places in London and other places that are so radicalized that the police are afraid for their own lives. We have to be very smart and very vigilant.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Cohen, your response?
RICHARD COHEN: I mean, you know, Trump reflects the white nationalist trend in this country, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that white nationalists in England and in other Western European countries see him as their savior or champion. You know, one of the things that’s unusual about this campaign, Amy, is, you know, usually the white supremacists in this country sit it out. Their attitude is “a pox on both their homes.” They see both parties as corrupt. This time, very famous white supremacists—David Duke, for example—see Trump as their champion. They’ve called him, for example, the glorious leader. So that’s what we’re seeing.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, Friday, June 17th, marks the first anniversary since the self-declared white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof claimed the lives of nine black men and women who gathered for Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He gunned them down. He later confessed to the attack, now faces the death penalty. Can you talk about this anniversary?
RICHARD COHEN: Yeah. You know, I think the country has made some progress dealing with the symbols of hate. You know, Confederate flags have come down. Other monuments to the Confederacy have come down. Yet we’ve had a tougher time dealing with the substance of hate. There was a tremendous backlash, for example, to people taking down the Confederate flags. We’ve documented more than 300 pro-Confederate flag rallies last year. And those weren’t only in the South. They were as far as, you know, Washington state, Oregon, Pennsylvania. So, you know, again, those are eruptions of white pride, ethnic nationalism. We also saw last year an uptick in the number of hate groups in our country by about 14 percent. And, of course, so much of this is amplified by the rhetoric in the campaign this year, particularly the rhetoric coming out of Mr. Trump’s campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Cohen, we want to thank you for being with us, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaking to us from Montgomery, Alabama. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.