Direct police resources at the perpetrators, not those they target
The murder of Sir David Amess has raised questions about the protection of public servants. A 25-year-old is being held under the Terrorism Act, with detectives having until Friday to question him, but early indications would suggest it was a crime motivated by Islamic extremism.
The stabbing of the Essex MP during a regular constituency surgery was shocking in the level of violence used.
It brings back memories of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, shot and stabbed to death by a man who had radical far-right views.
Thomas Mair was jailed for life for the killing of Cox, which occurred a week before the EU referendum vote. Mair shouted “Britain first” as he attacked the young mother.
Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, had been on her way to a regular constituency surgery. Both MPs appear to have been targeted by extremists, albeit people of very different ideologies.
They were attacked during regular diary appointments with constituents, something that is an important part of any public representative’s work.
We live in a part of the world where, in our not-so-distant past, politicians were considered targets.
They worked under the threat of death whether from loyalist or republican paramilitaries and often required security measures to keep them safe.
Former First Ministers Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster still have personal security officers despite no longer being in elected public office.
While that threat thankfully no longer exists in any significant manner, there is a new kind of danger facing public representatives, much of it whipped up by social media conspiracy theorists.
The Sunday Independent reported that the PSNI is investigating intimidation of Nichola Mallon, who has been targeted by anti-vaccination elements.
Members of a group delivered a “letter of liability” to the SDLP minister’s office in Belfast last week accusing her of harming children by endorsing the coronavirus jab.
“It’s very upsetting, it’s a very frightening experience, particularly for my staff. It makes me anxious,” Ms Mallon said.
Those with a similar ideology have been picketing the homes of politicians and public health experts in the Republic.
They have also issued threatening letters to doctors and teachers.
Last week I mentioned the rise of the far-right in Ireland and their role in promoting covid conspiracies.
I’ve never preached to others about vaccines or lockdown, I’m not a medical expert. I’ll leave that to others more qualified.
But first mention of the far-right in that column and my email inbox pinged with the most bizarre ‘legal’ letter I have ever received — and trust me when I tell you I get some strange letters.
Containing thousands of words, it is too lengthy to reproduce, but here is a jist of the tone.
“This is a notice of Liability for crimes against humanity and the prima facie evidence implicating you in genocide carried out against the adults and children of this country.
“The planned third wave will be caused by the interaction of the 5G microwave radiation emissions with the nano metal contaminants in the COVID-19 vaccines, which manifest as all of the known COVID-19 symptoms and subsequent deaths.
“Following orders is not a defence in law, as was confirmed at Nuremberg before the execution of those who had done so.”
It was signed by someone calling themselves Caoimhin, who appears to have a significant amount of free time on their hands.
As a security journalist, I’ve received numerous threats over the years.
Most of those are issued by sad sacks with too much time on their hands. I tend to think of them in their mother’s box room with matching curtains and duvet covers, creating an online persona that is far removed from the reality of their lives.
But others make me concerned for my family’s safety.
Many of these threats are issued in the names of paramilitary organisations.
However, the recent increase in ‘lone wolf’ attackers, or small groups of people who have become radicalised or overly obsessed with certain subjects or issues, scares me far more.
Paramilitary groups have leaderships and structures. A person armed with a knife and paranoid conspiracy is acting without constraint or fear of consequences. It is also much harder to protect people, be they politician or public figure, from random fanatics.
There is less chance of intelligence picking up on any such plan, given most are random acts carried out with the minimal amount of planning.
Offering politicians armed protection during constituency surgeries is offputting to genuine people with real needs and concerns who avail of such services.
Politicians should be part of the community, not locked away behind metal doors.
Rather than waste already scarce resources following politicians around, the PSNI would be better seeking out those who use social media to target public figures, to assess what threat these people pose to society and act accordingly.
And more importantly, social media companies need to take responsibility for the people they allow to spread hate and misinformation using their platforms as a vehicle.
Direct resources at the perpetrators, not the targets of violence.