According to at least two witnesses, the killer of lawmaker Jo Cox shouted ‘Britain First’ several times as he shot and stabbed her.
This may have been a coincidence but it has inevitably drawn attention to the marginal far-right group, ‘Britain First’. The group’s leader, Paul Golding, issued a rambling video statement, soon after the attack, denying any involvement and condemning the act.
“At the moment that claim hasn’t been confirmed – it’s all hearsay, he said. “Jo Cox is obviously an MP campaigning to keep Britain in the E.U. so if it was shouted by the attacker it could have been a slogan rather than a reference to our party – we just don’t know.
“Obviously an attack on an MP is an attack on British diplomacy – MPs are sacrosanct. We’re just as shocked as everyone else. Britain First obviously is NOT involved and would never encourage behaviour of this sort. As an MP and a mother, we pray that Jo Cox makes a full recovery.”
Golding made his statement before the death of Cox and the emergence of the name of the suspect, Thomas Mair. Mair had connections with right wing groups in the U.K. and the U.S but no link with Britain First has been revealed.
Britain First, which describes itself as a political party and a street defence organization is controversial. It was formed in 2011 by Jim Dowson, a former member of the British National Party, to oppose the rise of radical Islam. It is “committed to the maintenance of British national sovereignty, independence and freedom”.
The group is anti-immigration and seeks a return to traditional “British history… culture and customs.” It is also “committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture.” Members deny they are racist, arguing that the term racism is a construct by “communist mass murderer, Leon Trotsky” in order to quash opposition to multiculturalism.
In a section of the Britain First website, entitled racism, the group says it does not hate ethnic minorities, only “left wing politicians”. That sentence was deleted from the site on Friday.
Britain First gained notoriety when it used an image of the slain British soldier Lee Rigby, who was killed by two Islamists, in its promotional material— to the distress of Rigby’s mother. They also became known for their “mosque invasions” and “Christian patrols.” In 2014, the party caused a furore by posting videos online of the group entering and disrupting mosques in London and the northern city of Bradford. In one of their “Christian patrols,” paramilitary-clothed Britain First activists walked though a town carrying crucifixes. They also aggressively confronted local Muslims about attempting to ‘take over’ their country.
The party leader Paul Golding ran in this year’s London mayoral election and stood with his back to British Muslim Sadiq Khan as he made his victory speech. The group later said that it would take “militant direct action” against elected Muslim officials.
The group’s paramilitary wing, known as the Britain First Defence Force, carried out their first activist training camp in Snowdonia in north Wales earlier this year.