You may not have heard of Byron Williams. After all, he never killed anyone, but he certainly intended to. Williams was stopped on US Interstate 580 by Police who observed him driving erratically. After an exchange of gunfire and his subsequent arrest, it was discovered that he had several high-powered weapons, and had intended to visit the San Francisco offices of the Tides Foundation to kill “people of importance”.
Jo Cox MP, who was murdered yesterday
Williams had been watching a lot of cable news, specifically the weekday rants by Glenn Beck at Fox News Channel, who had regularly featured Tides on his chalkboard of conspiracy. He got angrier and angrier before something sent him over the edge and he loaded up his vehicle, heading to San Fran to do some damage.
And you may have forgotten the name of Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. Loughner might have killed many more if he had not fumbled the reloading of his Glock pistol. His actions followed an election campaign filled with violent rhetoric that included putting crosshairs over “targets” like that of Rep. Giffords.
We know from those incidents that actions can have consequences. And, although we do not have anything like Fox News Channel, the campaign for next week’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU has seen a tsunami of incendiary rhetoric, made yet more combustible by a seemingly unending deluge of exaggeration, misrepresentation and downright dishonesty. We knew where it could lead. But still it kept on coming.
Voters have been bombarded with propaganda telling them that tens of millions of brown people are going to be swamping their country. Only yesterday, they were being told by one of the country’s best-selling newspapers that free movement of people meant lorries filled with brown people from the Middle East. They were “other”. They were Muslims. They were coming here. Our “political elite” wanted to let them in.
Then those same voters were fed straplines like “I want my country back”. They were told of “sovereignty”, of “taking control”, of ending the waves of people from foreign lands taking their jobs, driving down wages, bringing their unfamiliar customs, turning their country into something full of “other” people. The “other” people did not speak English. They were probably talking about us. And we did not know what they were saying.
On and on went the stoking of paranoia, the injection of poisonous hatred, the fear that something was being done to their country without their consent, and that it was all down to this terrible thing called the EU. It was only a matter of time before these actions brought their terrible consequences, that someone snapped, that something awful happened.
That something happened yesterday in the West Yorkshire market town of Birstall, a quiet community in which used to be called the Woollen District, when the local MP, Jo Cox, a supporter of remaining in the EU, was approached as she left her weekly surgery, attacked, stabbed, and shot three times by someone who wanted to “put Britain first”.
Ms Cox, one of the brightest stars of the 2015 intake of new MPs, later died from her wounds. Actions have consequences. This was the consequence of the incessant stoking of rhetoric, the barrage of propaganda, the demonisation of anyone pro-EU.
It took the Tucson shooting for politicians across the USA to tone down the rhetoric. Perhaps those who have been contributing to the incendiary, screaming, voter-frightening welter of poisonous, paranoid hatred will now see the folly of their ways and tone down their rhetoric, too - before anyone else gets killed.
For too many hacks, pundits and their hangers-on, this is one great big game, all a bit of a laugh. I have to tell them that, for those of us who exist outside the Westminster and Fleet Street bubbles, it is anything but. Actions have consequences.
It might not happen to the hacks and pundits. But that is no excuse for continuing to stoke the bonfire. It is time to stop the madness, the never-ending diet of propaganda aimed at scaring voters into being bent to the will of those for whom this is just another day at the office, another biscuit thrown by a grateful billionaire, another laugh down the pub with like-minded participants in that great big game.
It is time for those people to do something they have done so little of in their recent working lives - it is time for them to stop and think before they act.