Britain First has denied involvement in the attack on Labour MP Jo Cox in Birstall, west Yorkshire – and the group's leader has said he would like to see the person who carried it out "strung up by the neck on the nearest lamp post."
The 41-year-old politician has died after she was shot and stabbed outside Birstall library, where she was holding an advice surgery for constituents.
Following reports that a man shouted "Britain First" as he attacked Ms Cox, the group issued a statement describing the claims as hearsay from unconfirmed sources, according to a statement on the political group's website.
"Britain First obviously is NOT involved and would never encourage behaviour of this sort," said the statement, released before the politician's death was announced. "As an MP and and a mother, we pray that Jo Cox makes a full recovery."
“There is LOTS of use of words such as “apparently” and “allegedly”, said the statement. “That hasn’t stopped the media publishing multiple articles condemning Britain First for somehow being involved.”
Paul Golding, the group’s leader, said in a video statement: “This is a terrible day for our democracy, for our parliamentary system.”
“We’re nothing to do with it,” he said. “We hope that this person who carried it out is strung up by the neck on the nearest lamp post. That’s the way we view justice.”
Mr Golding said the words 'Britain First' could have been taken out of context by the media.
“We’re in the middle of a referendum campaign. What this person said - was he referring to an organisation? Was this person referring to a slogan? Was he just shouting out in the middle of an EU debate: ‘It’s time we put Britain first?’
“I hear this every day - it’s the name of our party, yes, but I hear Ukip people, I hear Nigel Farage - that’s the kind of language that’s being utilised in the campaign.”
Two separate named witnesses have said the attacker said "Britain First", including 38-year-old Graeme Howard, who told the Guardian the attacker "was shouting 'Britain first' when he was doing it and being arrested."
Clarke Rothwell, who was reportedly within yards of the attack in Birstall, told the Examiner that the man shouted “Britain First, Britain First”.
The police would not confirm to The Independent whether they were investigating this but said they will be holding a press conference shortly.
A 52-year-old man has been arrested, according to police. He has been named locally as Tommy Mair, according to the BBC.
Britain First accused the media of deliberately trying to incriminate them and emphasised the uncertainties in reports.
But none the less the BNP off-shoot, founded just five years ago, has deliberately cultivated a paramilitary style image: with countryside training camps for members and pledges to take “direct action” against “global Islamic jihad”.
It has appealed to former soldiers to join up – with images of guns and skulls on its website and the slogan ‘Isis hunting club’ emblazoned on its merchandise.
Some fear that the group and its poisonous right wing ideology may have influenced Ms Cox’s killer. Over the last year she has been at the forefront of the campaign to help Syrian refugees and pressurise the Government into accept Britain’s ‘fair share’ of asylum seekers.
Founded just five years ago by two former BNP members, Britain First has been highly adept at appealing to the most extreme elements of Britain’s right wing.
The group even has a vigilante wing called the “Britain First Defence Force”, which has attracted widespread condemnation for staging marches the group calls “Christian Patrols” in which members in green uniforms carry white crosses, while shouting anti-Islamic slogans.
They have also been involved in Mosque “invasions” and have staged protests outside the homes of alleged Islamists.
At one stage its members – in military style uniforms – offered to provide personal protection to the Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
But the group has also had some success politically with a large online following. On Facebook the group’s page has 1.4 million likes, meaning the far-right group has more followers on the social network than any political party in the UK. The Conservatives currently have the second largest following with 550,000 followers, while Labour has 480,000.
The group boasted of reaching a million supporters on its website, claiming the milestone indicated “genuine popular support of its ideals, policies and views”. However, this has been largely attributed to the frequent populist and sentimental posts on the page, many of which have little to do with the group’s core message.
At the 2014 European elections, founder members Dowson and Golding stood as Britain First candidates in Wales and Scotland. The group urged voters in England to vote for Ukip.
During the campaign in Wales, the group used images of murdered soldier Lee Rigby in their campaign, using the phrase “remember Lee Rigby” on ballot papers. The electoral commission subsequently apologised to the dead soldier’s family.
Speaking about the group, Lee Rigby’s mother said: “Their views are not what Lee believed in and has no support from the family.”