Boris Johnson’s call for wild animals has been heard

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It was something rare in British public life: the leader of the Labor Party attacked in the street by a screaming anti-vaccine pack shouting a false accusation. Sir Keir Starmer was then pushed into his car by police bodyguards and taken to safety.

But in these times, is it so unusual to see crowds shouting about absurd things? In places like Ottawa and Coutts, Alta.? A protester wore a hangman’s noose.

The accusation was about paedophiles, that and nooses being two themes of American and British public life drawn from different sources. They make a terrible mix.

For some reason, American extremists, before Trump and then forever, came to believe that some Democrats were running a pedophilia ring and drinking the blood of these children. The noose recalls the lynching of black people throughout American history.

The street attack was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s fault. After Starmer made an impressive condemnation speech in the House of Commons on January 31, even some Conservatives shuddered. The place normally looks like an illegal cockfighting ring, but Starmer was listened to.

Johnson couldn’t pull himself together for an answer. Desperate, he launched a ridiculous and false suggestion that Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, deliberately refused to prosecute the late Jimmy Savile, the notorious pedophile TV star popular in Britain for decades. It was a lie.

As one commenter wrote in 2020, “it is a mistake to think that [Starmer’s] proximity to high-profile cases will be more than a recurring weak point compared to the tabloids. He was right.

“Were you protecting Jimmy Savile? protesters shouted at Starmer. They had drawn the accusation directly from Johnson, an extraordinary turn of events. Even the Speaker of the House condemned Johnson, who refused to apologize. Since then, some of Johnson’s closest advisers have resigned in protest, clearly doubting that Johnson will survive.

All of this might not be very interesting to a Canadian audience if it weren’t for the same ringtones in Canada and other countries: wild extremists on the streets targeting politicians, all of them.

Politicians, no matter how experienced, have weak points. They live in houses and can be doxxed, meaning their home address can be made public. They go to work, which means they can be assaulted when leaving an official car to enter a government building. They have spouses and children.

Politicians’ employees share this weakness with no bulletproof windows in their homes and no government cars. Journalists have faced the same attacks, as have those who have angered, even in the most remote way, far-right organizations.

It is disturbing how easy it is to extrapolate from Starmer’s ordeal. Other British MPs have been stabbed and shot in recent years, with two dying horribly from attacks at public meetings with individual voters. Violence is everywhere, threats, extremist postures, attacks that hinder the functioning of entire cities.

I turn to history for comfort, which is an odd place to find it. But people seem to have forgotten the 1970s, one of the most violent decades in post-war history. Terrorist bombings were commonplace in the US, UK and across Europe. The Canadian government imposed the War Measures Act in 1970 to deal with Quebec terrorists.

How far would he go, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was asked. “Well, look at me,” he replied.

We don’t see bombings now, or at least not as often. What we see is another form of violence, a distortion of facts, a flowering of troubled fantastic minds. Unlike the 1970s, it’s easy for damaged people to meet on social networks and cause a new kind of chaos.

Johnson’s words prompted the attack on Starmer. The call to London’s wild animals came from within the House. It’s worse than a bomb because absolutely everyone is injured.

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