On Thursday, Jo Cox, a 41-year-old member of the British Parliament, was fatally stabbed and shot in Birstall, a village close to Leeds.

Cox was the first British MP to be assassinated since 1990, and the nation is still struggling to make sense of the tragedy. We know a few things so far about the alleged killer, 52-year-old Thomas Mair. He has ties with an American neo-Nazi group, and police found Nazi materials in his home. Witnesses to the murder reported that he shouted "Britain First!" repeatedly while attacking Cox. The late MP was both in favor of allowing Syrian refugees into Britain and a vocal supporter of the camp backing the UK's continued membership of the European Union in an upcoming referendum on the question—two positions that could easily enrage a far-right fanatic.


With this in mind, you might be surprised that a number of media outlets have presented Mair in a relatively apolitical and restrained light. Or you might not be, because it is no longer surprising that white criminals are presented as unwell or misguided individuals, while black and Muslim ones are painted as representative of a broad culture of violence.

The group Writers of Colour pointed to the contrast between The Daily Mail's treatment of Mair and the outlet's description of a black man accused of killing soldier Lee Rigby in a 2013 machete attack as a prime example of the trend.

On its Friday front page, the Mail echoed the theme, pointedly referring to Mair as a "loner with a history of mental illness."

The Sun used nearly the same language, calling Mair a "crazed loner."

Compare that to 2013, when the paper called Rigby's killer a "Muslim fanatic."

The term "loner," generally serves to signify that the shooter has acted alone—and implies that a larger group shouldn't be implicated in the attack. It's worth noting, however, that President Obama recently acknowledged that the phrase is misleading, saying "we make it very easy for individuals who are troubled or disturbed or want to engage in violent acts to get very powerful weapons very quickly."


Writers of Colour is not the only group to have noticed The Daily Mail's coded description.

On Facebook, commenters called out the generous language used to describe Mair, and how it contrasts with the words used to identify non-white attackers.

The Daily Mail is not the only outlet guilty of the type of racial bias we've come to expect in the aftermath of violent crime. Black and Muslim suspects (and victims) are described as "thugs" or "terrorists," while white suspects are painted as troubled men—and it's almost always men—who've gone astray. Consider that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and injured 53 others in a mass shooting at the gay Orlando nightclub Pulse, was quickly branded a terrorist. Dylann Roof, the white man who killed 9 black churchgoers in Charleston last year, was not.

The narrative has become so predictable that some have recycled criticism from previous incidents:

That's a sad, predictable place for us to be.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.