Thomas Mair, Suspect in Jo Cox Killing, Is Investigated for Possible Neo-Nazi Ties

Thomas Mair, Suspect in Jo Cox Killing, Is Investigated for Possible Neo-Nazi Ties

Stephen Castle, The New York Times

June 18, 2016

Image: Police officers searched near where Ms. Cox was shot a day earlier in Birtsall, England, on Friday.

The suspect in the killing of a member of Parliament in northern England is being investigated to determine whether he had ties to far-right extremist movements and a history of mental illness, the police in Britain said Friday.

The suspect, Thomas Mair, 52, was arrested quickly after the shooting. He is a part-time gardener and once taught English as a second language to immigrants, a neighbor said.

The shooting and stabbing death of the lawmaker, Jo Cox, 41, a member of the opposition Labour Party, left Britain stunned a week before the nation votes on whether to leave the European Union. The police believe that Ms. Cox, who supported keeping Britain in the union, had been targeted for political reasons, according to a person who had been briefed on the investigation.

“This appears to be an isolated but targeted attack upon Jo,” said Dee Collins, the temporary chief constable for the West Yorkshire police. She said there was “no indication at this stage that anyone else was involved in the attack.”

Ms. Cox was slain early Thursday afternoon after getting out of her car outside the public library in Birstall, a town in West Yorkshire county, where she had been scheduled to hold a meeting with constituents, the police said Friday in their most detailed description of the attack. Some media accounts, citing witnesses, said Thursday that Ms. Cox had been leaving the library after the meeting when she was attacked.

Hichem Ben Abdallah, who runs a cafe near the site of the killing, said Ms. Cox’s attacker had pulled a gun from a bag that “ looked like an old sawn-off shotgun, probably an old vintage one.”

The attacker, he said, “was shaking it very violently,” perhaps because it had jammed. “Next minute, he fired a shot.”

Mr. Ben Abdallah said he then ran into the cafe, and heard another shot a few seconds later. After the firing stopped, he raced outside.

“It never crosses your mind that you are going to see your M.P. on the floor,” he said. “She had her head back, bleeding, and her knees up, blood down her legs. Her hair was ruffed up from when he was pulling at her hair.”

Investigators were looking into witness accounts that Mr. Mair had used the phrase “Britain first” in speaking to Ms. Cox before the shots were fired. The accounts suggested that he used the words in the context of a longer statement and not to express support for the far-right group known as Britain First.

Issues of immigration and national identity have been central to the occasionally bitter clashes over the referendum on membership in the European Union, and have resulted in a tone that critics say verges on racism and xenophobia.

Ms. Cox’s death was the first killing of a sitting member of Parliament since 1990. Her death brought Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, together to the site of the killing to honor her.

On Thursday night, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is based in Alabama, released receipts showing that Mr. Mair had paid $620 for materials from National Vanguard Books, the publishing imprint of a neo-Nazi organization called the National Alliance. In 1999, he bought manuals for making a gun and improvised explosives. The gun used in the shooting was not homemade, according to the person briefed on the investigation, who said Mr. Mair also had a hunting knife.

In a statement on Friday, the West Yorkshire police said examining Mr. Mair’s possible ties to “right-wing extremism” was a “priority line of inquiry,” along with reports of mental illness.

Both sides in the European Union debate suspended campaigning on Thursday out of respect for Ms. Cox, though Vote Leave, which supports departure from the 28-nation bloc, said on Friday that it would resume campaigning over the weekend.

Speaking in Birstall, Mr. Cameron said he first met Ms. Cox in 2006 in the Darfur region of Sudan; at the time, she worked for the humanitarian organization Oxfam. “Parliament has lost one of its most passionate and brilliant campaigners,” he said.

Mr. Corbyn called Ms. Cox’s killing “an attack on democracy,” blaming “the well of hatred.”

A number of neighbors described Mr. Mair, who lived in Birstall, as quiet and reclusive. Diana Peters, a retired nurse, said she first met Mr. Mair more than 40 years ago. She said he liked to garden and took in stray cats, and had told her that he spent most evenings on his computer or watching television.

Ms. Peters said she was “absolutely devastated” to learn of his arrest. “If you had told me he had turned into Father Christmas I would have been more likely to believe it,” she said. She recalled that they “never, ever spoke about politics.”

Kathryn Pinnock, a Liberal Democrat councilor from Birstall who was appointed to the House of Lords in 2014, said she was scheduled to campaign with Ms. Cox on Thursday afternoon for Britain to remain in the European Union.

Ms. Pinnock said Ms. Cox had mentioned receiving some “very unpleasant” messages on social media. The West Yorkshire police said Ms. Cox had gotten two threats in the past, including “one of a sexual nature” at her offices in London. The Metropolitan Police, who protect the capital, said Ms. Cox had alerted them in March to “malicious communication” by a man, whom officers detained and released with a warning. That man was not the killer, the police said.

Ms. Cox, who would have turned 42 on Wednesday, was elected to Parliament for the district of Batley and Spen in May 2015. In just over a year, she had already established a strong reputation, speaking on behalf of refugees, children in poverty and children with autism. Hundreds of people packed St. Peter’s Church in Birstall on Thursday night for a memorial service. Ms. Cox’s husband, Brendan Cox, said on Friday that a charitable fund had been set up in her memory.


© 2016, The New York Times 


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