Which side of me will win?

Thomas Mair is not a terrorist


Since the verdict on the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, I have see a lot of people, both on social media and in the press, asserting that the murderer, Thomas Mair, is a terrorist. Additionally, accusations and insinuations of racist double-standards have been levelled at the the media and at some indeterminate “other” section of the public. The general idea being that no one’s calling Thomas Mair a terrorist because he’s white and because he’s not a Muslim.

This is bullshit for two main reasons:

1) Almost everyone is calling Thomas Mair a terrorist.

2) Thomas Mair is not a terrorist.

I haven’t researched point 1 all that systematically or thoroughly, but I did quite a lot of Googling of the coverage of Mair’s case, as well as that of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, Nick Reilly, and Roshonara Choudhry (whose crimes were all similar to Mair’s). Explicit references to terrorism were by far most frequent and most prominent in the coverage of Mair’s case.

It was actually pretty difficult to find any coverage of any of the three previous cases that expressed much in the way of blatant bias against Muslims and/or non-whites. Difficult, but not impossible. This headline from The Telegraph is as blatant as I could find, but it honestly seemed to be more of an exception than the rule.


Point 2 I did research thoroughly. And it wasn’t that difficult to determine that Thomas Mair is not a terrorist, and exactly why not. It certainly shouldn’t have been beyond the capabilities of a professional news journalist.

Many journalists seem to think it’s enough to look up “terrorist” in a dictionary. It’s not. Whether or not someone is a terrorist is something that should, is and, in this case, has been determined in a court of law.

Thomas Mair was tried for four separate crimes, none of which was, in itself, a terrorist charge. However, under the terms of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, a “terrorist connection” must be treated as an aggravating factor for a variety of otherwise non-terrorist offences, including murder:

30 Sentences for offences with a terrorist connection: England and Wales

(1) This section applies where a court in England and Wales is considering for the purposes of sentence the seriousness of an offence specified in Schedule 2 (offences where terrorist connection to be considered).

(2) If having regard to the material before it for the purposes of sentencing it appears to the court that the offence has or may have a terrorist connection, the court must determine whether that is the case.

(3) For that purpose the court may hear evidence, and must take account of any representations made by the prosecution and the defence, as in the case of any other matter relevant for the purposes of sentence.

(4) If the court determines that the offence has a terrorist connection, the court—

(a) must treat that fact as an aggravating factor, and

(b) must state in open court that the offence was so aggravated.

In Thomas Mair’s case there was enough evidence to suggest that his actions may have had a terrorist connection, which is why he was tried under terrorism protocols. He was a terror suspect, but that doesn’t mean that being found guilty automatically makes him a terrorist. As you can see from section (4) above, the court still had to determine whether his offences had a terrorist connection. And if such a determination had been reached, it would have to have been explicitly stated.

This is exactly what happened in the trial of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, the men who murdered soldier Lee Rigby, as we can see from the judge’s sentencing remarks:

I am equally sure that, in each of your cases, and in accordance with the provisions of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008, this was a murder with a terrorist connection”

However, in the sentencing remarks of Thomas Mair’s case, no such statement was made. In fact, the word “terror” didn’t even come up.

So, Thomas Mair is not a terrorist.

So now the question is, why not?

The Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism as follows:

1 Terrorism: interpretation.

(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—

(a) the action falls within subsection (2),

(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [F1 or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and

(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F2, racial] or ideological cause.

(2) Action falls within this subsection if it—

(a) involves serious violence against a person,

(b) involves serious damage to property,

(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,

(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or

(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.

(4) In this section—

(a) “action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,

(b) a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,

(c) a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and

(d) “the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.

(5) In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.

Section (1)(b) highlights the difference between Jo Cox’s murder and Lee Rigby’s. In Mair’s case there was insufficient evidence to indicate that his crime was designed to influence the government or intimidate a section of the public. Whereas in Adebolajo and Adebowale’s, there was plenty, and the judge made specific reference to this evidence in his sentencing remarks:

It is no exaggeration to say that what the two of you did resulted in a blood bath. Aspects of all this were seen, as they were intended to be, by members of the public.”

You Adebolajo handed out a pre‐prepared written statement seeking to justify your joint cause and actions. In addition, carrying the bloodied cleaver in your equally bloody hands, and knowing that you were being filmed, you made a political statement. Images of that filmed statement were broadcast around the world. The effect of the two statements was to seek to justify your joint actions as being retaliation for deaths in Muslim lands, and to incite the removal of the Government in this country.”

Anyone who says that Thomas Mair is as much a terrorist as the men who killed Rigby is wrong. And if they choose to overlook the difference outlined above in favour of asserting differences in the race and/or religion of the killers, then it is they who are discriminating.

But let’s now look at section (3), which is where it gets confusing. The judge in Mair’s case, Mr Justice Wilkie, has chosen to disregard section (3), which basically states that any ideologically, politically, religiously or racially motivated crime involving a gun or explosive is terrorism. If he hadn’t disregarded this section, then he would have been obliged to rule that Mair was a terrorist, but only because Mair used a gun.

To add to the confusion, the detective who led the investigation of Mair’s crime, Detective Superintendent Nick Wallen, did refer to section (3) in a statement delivered outside the court immediately following Mair’s sentencing, and therefore did refer to Mair’s crime as an “act or terror”.

It seems totally legitimate for him to have treated it as an act of terror during his investigation, but I really don’t understand how it was okay for him to continue to do so after the court had apparantly ruled that it wasn’t one. I guess he’s entitled to his opinion, but is the court’s decision not entitled to a little more respect from the police than this?

At this point, two questions are raised. Why would a judge disregard section (3)? And conversely, why would a detective disregard a judge’s disregarding of section (3)?

I can only speculate as to why in each case. My best guess at the second question is that a detective always wants the law to grant him more powers to do his (very difficult) job properly, so it’s in his interests to assert as loose a definition of terrorism as possible.

A judge, on the other hand, is obliged to be very careful not to misuse the considerable powers at his disposal. Section (3) is a very controversial clause. The government-appointed Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson Q.C. has repeatedly recommended repealing it, referring to it as an absurdity that is unique to British law, and that sets out a definition of terrorism that is far too broad. In his latest report, presented on December 1st this year, Anderson maintained his position (see section 4).

The government has repeatedly declined to follow this recommendation, as well as many others Anderson has made, vaguely citing a need for terrorism laws to remain flexible. So, the government wants the authorities to be able to apply a broad definition of terrorism, should it be in the public’s best interest. It then follows that the authorities should be able not to apply a broad definition of terrorism, should that be in the public’s best interests. And it seems that this is exactly what Judge Wilkie has done in Thomas Mair’s case. In his annual reviews, David Anderson has made it very clear that his criticisms and suggestions are directed at the law itself, and not at the people who enforce it, who he believes generally do so very responsibly. I think Judge Wilkie’s refusal to sentence Thomas Mair as a terrorist is a prime example of what Anderson means.

But some might still be wondering why it’s a good thing that the law has not defined Thomas Mair as a terrorist. Well, David Anderson has argued, and still argues, that a too broad definition of terrorism threatens to undermine the public’s faith in anti-terrorism legislation. I think he’s right, but I’m less concerned with the public’s faith than with the public’s civil rights. If we accept (or even demand) a slow broadening of the definition of terrorism, then we also accept a slow erosion of our civil rights and freedoms. And that’s what terrorists – actual terrorists – generally want.

So, taking all of the above into account, why are so many people insisting that Thomas Mair be refered to as a terrorist?

Well, first of all, it has to be put down, at least partly, to genuine confusion. He was a terror suspect and he was found guilty. It’s therefore not unreasonable to conclude that he’s a terrorist, especially considering Detective Superindendent Wallen’s remarks immediately following the verdict.

But if it were just genuine confusion, why is the idea being asserted to forcefully? And why is it so frequently coupled with attacks on the political right and the tabloid press? The answer to both questions is that people want to call Thomas Mair a terrorist, so that they can associate the word “terrorist” with the political right as a whole, and insinuate that the right-wing press is responsible. I also think narcissism plays a large part. Sully the “other” group with the slur of terrorism, and you elevate yourself simply by virtue of belonging to your own group.

This is, of course, something the tabloid press does all the time (although, when it comes to Islam and terrorism, not as frequently as many seem to think), and should rightly be chastised for. But, tempting as it is to fight fire with fire, you can’t take down misinformation and hypocrisy using more misinformation and hypocrisy. All you’re doing is throwing more bullshit onto an already unstable, dangerously large pile of bullshit.

I’m far from an expert in law, but I have discussed this issue at length with an actual lawyer, who broadly agreed with me and helped me to straighten out and reinforce my argument. I’d be more than happy for anyone else to offer informed opinions, or to point out any important details I may have missed, or else misunderstood.


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