Last week, ahead of Britain's epochal referendum over whether it should leave or remain in the European Union, a leading politician was killed while on the campaign trail.
Jo Cox, a rising star in the Labour Party and a mother of two young children, had been seeking votes for the "remain" camp. The assailant who stabbed and shot her is believed to have a long history of affiliation with neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations. Appearing before a magistrate, he said his name was "death to traitors, freedom for Britain."
The "leave" camp won the referendum Thursday. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and a staunch advocate for Britain severing ties with Brussels, hailed the victory in the early hours Friday with a populist diatribe against business elites and the political establishment.
"We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we have fought against big politics, we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit," he said. "And today honesty, decency and belief in nation, I think now is going to win. And we will have done it without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired. We'd have done it by damned hard work on the ground."
That last comment — the specific reference to a triumph without a shot fired — raised eyebrows. While no one's suggesting Farage or his supporters would condone Cox's murder, many commentators believe the assassination was the inevitable outcome of a poisonous political atmosphere, inflamed by the passions of the campaign. Her husband, Brendan, had written that she was killed for her "political views."
On the day of Cox's slaying, Farage had posed before a giant poster of refugees walking in the Balkans with the banner words "Breaking Point" — the stunt was a bit of agit-prop that some observers likened to Nazi-era propaganda. Cox, incidentally, had been one of the most active champions in the British Parliament regarding the plight of Syrian refugees.
Later in the week, though, Farage cast himself as a "victim" of liberal hatred, a statement that led to an irate response from Labour politician Yvette Cooper: "Nigel Farage is still trying to whip up fear and hatred towards refugees who are fleeing from conflict. It was extremely ill-judged of him to describe himself as a victim," she said.
It was also perhaps ill-judged to discuss shots fired in anger less than a week after a tragic killing.
After it became clear that the Leave campaign that Cox had opposed was victorious, her husband tweeted a message of optimism and unity.
Today Jo wld have remained optimistic & focussed on what she cld do to bring our country back together around our best values #MoreInCommon
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) June 24, 2016
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