Far-right provocateurs and extremists are celebrating the murder of a British MP online, while COVID conspiracy theorists have convinced themselves they're the ones really in danger.
Last Friday, Sir David Amess, a longtime UK Conservative backbencher, was holding a routine constituency meeting in an Essex church. Around noon a man entered, pulled out a knife, and stabbed him 17 times. Despite authorities arriving quickly after the stabbing occurred, Amess was pronounced dead on the scene. Police arrested a man shortly after, seized a knife, and announced they weren't looking for any more suspects.
The conversation surrounding the killing of Amess has focused on civility in politics and online hate. Following Amess’ death, UK home secretary Priti Patel said the country may work to try and ban anonymous social media accounts to try and stamp out online radicalisation. On Monday, Dominic Raab, the UK justice secretary, gave an interview to Sky News about how the “elephant in the room of all this is the amount of online hate that we all get is out of control,” while friends of Amess called for proposed legislation on banning anonymous accounts on social media to be called “David’s Law.”
It emerged last week that the man in custody was of Somali descent and counter-terrorism police were investigating whether it was an Islamist terror attack. Before the end of the weekend, we learned the suspect's name is Ali Harbi Ali, he is a UK-born son of a top aide to a former prime minister of Somalia, he was recently referred to a deradicalisation program, and he may have been radicalised by watching YouTube videos of convicted UK hate preacher, Anjem Choudary.
It’s news which sent a shock of energy throughout the far-right. On platforms where far-right radicalisation and propaganda are prevalent, VICE World News observed widespread anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of Amess’ death.
Posts by figures who have spent their careers agitating against Muslims for views and clicks – like Paul Joseph Watson or Tommy Robinson – birthed a torrent of hate within their comment section and group chats.
"It’s time the British people started mobilizing, our useless government ain’t gonna do nothing," wrote a Tommy Robinson fan. Similar rhetoric was used by followers of the far-right group, Britain First.
The call to use it as a cudgel against minorities was common; one far-right Telegram channel wrote that if the "mainstream British right-wing had any balls" they would seize upon this opportunity.
Not everyone in this ecosystem believed the reported facts. Some members of the COVID-conspiracy community (many of which are followers of anti-Islam figures mentioned above) have taken to positing theories that Amess’ killing was orchestrated by the “pro-vaccine” movement. The reasoning is that Amess had expressed opposition to some COVID-19 regulations and therefore was killed by the deep state. The initial push within the community was that Amess was killed in a false flag attack to make the anti-vaccine and COVID-conspiracy movement look bad but that changed when influencers began to believe he was on their side.
A white nationalist post about David Amess. Photo via screenshot.
“The MP who was killed, well it’s starting to come out that he was on our side and supported some of the stuff we support,” said one member of a conspiracy group in a voice message. “So that’s why they took him out of the game, yeah.”
"Well I think it's clear to see what happened here. He was silenced for going against the government narrative," wrote a person in a separate chat. "God bless him for standing in his integrity, may he rest in peace. Those behind this will face justice."
Those who populate some of the most extreme right channels are celebrating Amess’ death, based around his support of refugees. Most of those of frequent these groups abhor the government and the vast majority of political figures so welcoming the death of a public servant is unsurprising. The operator of one Telegram channel with more than 54,000 followers used crude racist language to called his death “poetically ironic” and state that every politician who supports non-white immigration “deserves nothing less than the same fate.”
This sentiment also popped up outside of neo-Nazi circles. On the Telegram page for Paul Joseph Watson, several of his fans responded with Hitler and other anti-Semitic memes, On a pro-Trump forum, one of the top posts is “at least David Amess believed every refugee matters as he was stabbed to death by a Somalian Moslem refugee.”
The 69-year-old Amess is remembered as a considerate MP who loved animals – one who “served his community with his whole heart.” Tributes poured in for the longtime politician following the killing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him one of the “kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics” and former PM David Cameron called him a “thoroughly decent man." Amess leaves behind a wife and five children who in a statement requested “people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.”
Ali is currently being detained by police and has yet to be charged.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.