The prosecutor in the case of Ryan McGee has “accepted that he is not a terrorist”. This is slightly strange, given that he was, at the time, on trial for a terror offence and has since been convicted. McGee, a serving soldier, had got himself a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook and produced a nailbomb, designed to inflict horrific injuries on anybody caught up in it. As well as this, he had a large stockpile of dangerous chemicals, a homemade pressure plate and live ammunition. Quite the arsenal. For all this, McGee has received a sentence of two years.
McGee did not just have the means to commit terror offences, he also had the motive. While his barrister insists that he is not a racist, it is pretty clear that at one time he was, and very possibly still is. This BBC article doesn’t even mentioned the word “racism” or “racist” once, preferring to use euphemisms like “obsessed with far-right politics”, even when there are photos of McGee wearing an EDL hoodie and, I kid you not, posing in a KKK costume in front of a confederate flag. His journal contained stories about “millions of immigrants” flooding the UK and he allegedly vowed “to drag every last immigrant into the fires of hell with me”. He also went on an EDL march and even watched videos of people being executed under a swastika, but I guess there’s no reason to jump the gun and call him a racist.
I’m not entirely clear what more he could have done to prove that he was a racist, apart from perhaps saying “I’m a racist”. Still, his barrister says he’s not a racist, and that since joining the army he’s renounced much of his far-right ideology. Furthermore, The barrister has added that, in the army, his “two best friends” were from a “different ethnic background” (no joke), so I guess he gets the benefit of the doubt on that one.
The justice system has pretty much made up its mind that McGee isn’t a terrorist, as the prosecutor “accepted that rifleman McGee was not a terrorist or intended to help a terrorist group”. What exactly one has to do to actually be a terrorist while white and right-wing is anyone’s guess. Bar actually setting off the device that he was caught red-handed with and admitted to making, it seems McGee is more or less immune from being a terrorist. The judge may have had good reason to suspect that McGee never really intended to set off the device, though this isn’t mentioned. Perhaps he meticulously plans all of his murderous plots in his weird racist diary, and this nail bomb wasn’t mentioned.
Let’s assume, however, that there was some good reason to believe that McGee never intended to use all that weaponry on people with different colour skin than him. The fact still remains that it’s very hard to imagine, in this climate of fear and stigmatisation, that a troubled young Muslim man would be shown the same level of compassion, were he in possession of similar weaponry and had an equivalent web history. An example of the compassion shown by the British establishment is that the army have been putting McGee up while he’s on trial, which is nice of them. He gets to stay in some barracks with a curfew, which is probably very different from the treatment one might face if accused of the same offence while Muslim; it is definitely hard to imagine the British army happily keeping an accused jihadist on-site.
I don’t think it’s ridiculous to suggest that, before ascertaining via a trial whether or not McGee intended to use his weaponry, it might have been a good idea to keep him detained. The weaponry and virulently racist and violent writings and web history certainly indicate that there was at least reason to suspect that McGee might be a serious danger to others. If detention without trial and other hardline measures are needed for suspected Muslim terrorists, why not suspected white terrorists? The implicit message is that some lives matter more than others.
Again, even if the court reached a sensible decision here, it’s almost impossible to envisage a similar conclusion being reached with a young Muslim man who had kept a bomb in his bedroom. The news article reporting that he was guilty of terror offences would probably not sidestep actually calling him a terrorist and the prosecutor would probably not accept that he was “not a terrorist”. Even if the man in question had renounced violence and moved towards peaceful prayer with his religion, I find it very hard to believe that a judge would accept this claim.
When senior politicians call for the presumption of guilt, not innocence, for those returning from Syria, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are applying, in what is sadly a perfectly legal manner, a far greater level of contextual analysis and compassionate understanding to white terror suspects than we are to Muslim terror suspects. McGee’s upbringing and naivety were taken into account, his claims not to intend to use his weapons apparently taken in good faith by the justice system. While this may be possible, I just cannot imagine the same level of care being applied to a case that aligns more closely with the security paradigm of a radical Islamist threat.
When the media, justice system and other public institutions treat these cases so differently based on who is involved, it is clear we have a problem. If the British state wants its “war on terror” to look less like the stigmatisation of a minority to score cheap political points, it should probably start treating terror offences from home grown white racists more seriously, and start treating those Muslims accused of terror offences like human beings. Otherwise, it’s quite hard not to view the government’s behaviour as pretty open discrimination. Similarly, the way the media handles these cases really has to improve, though I can understand that this case is extremely bad to reconcile with their “Muslims are bad, soldiers are heroes” narrative.
If we were to apply that same level of contextual analysis to the actions of suspected terrorists who are Muslim, we might realise that this differential treatment is only going to make things worse. Anyone who grew up in the UK and wants to attack it must have serious issues with some aspects of the UK, and just blaming radical preachers is way too simplistic. When courts treat far-right white terror suspects so much better than Muslim terror suspects of colour, it isn’t hard to see how someone could begin to hate this system.