When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
This was the day when Nigel Farage – the xenophobe whose anti-immigrant posturing has blazed a trail that Brexit populists have been all too happy to follow – unveiled a poster depicting a river of dark-skinned people pouring into Europe, and when Jo Cox – the Labour Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen who campaigned in support of Syrian refugees and European Union membership – was murdered by a man shouting ‘Britain First.’
It’s also four days since nearly half a hundred people – the bulk of them gay men of Puerto Rican origin – were shot dead in a homophobic hate crime that took place in Orlando, Florida. The killer was an American Muslim, but there’s nothing specific to Islam about murderous expressions of homophobia. In fact, a Christian preacher in California celebrated the attack, calling for the death of all homosexuals: ‘I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put the firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.’
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences.