The legend of the Lone Wolf in recent history can probably be traced back to Lee Harvey Oswald, though he was more commonly referred to as the Lone Gunman, a label that became so embedded in popular culture that a team of conspiracy theory geeks in ‘The X-Files’ named themselves after it. A Lone Wolf or Gunman has always been a difficult concept for the general public to wrestle with, as though the thought of an attack at the heart of democracy surely requires a complex network of vested interests. After all, John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln, was part of a plot involving a team of individuals intending to revive the fading Confederate cause by killing the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State. Only Wilkes Booth succeeded in his aim and his is the sole name history records from the aborted operation.

Even further back than Lincoln’s assassination, Spencer Perceval – the solitary British PM to have been assassinated – was murdered by a Lone Gunman named John Bellingham in 1812. No doubt at the time newspapers cast doubts over Bellingham’s singular role in the assassination and speculated as to a wider plot being afoot in such unstable times. Just eight years later, the Cato Street Conspiracy was a genuine team effort to murder PM Lord Liverpool and his entire Cabinet, hatched by a group already regarded as a revolutionary organisation; it was foiled courtesy of a police informant, though reinforced the common belief that such audacious schemes couldn’t be attributed to one individual.

The speculative industry that has grown around events on 22 November 1963 largely refuses to countenance the idea that one man could execute a plot to take out the President, even if there has never been concrete evidence of CIA, FBI, KGB, Cuban or Mafia involvement in Oswald’s actions that day. It often feels reminiscent of the theory that an oik from the sticks was incapable of penning the greatest theatrical canon in the English language, as though the genius of Shakespeare or the nerve of Oswald somehow highlights both the mediocrity of the masses and their absence of nihilistic ambition. There had to have been more than one man because we couldn’t do what he did without a team behind us.

The gradual realisation that last week’s 24-hour Public Enemy Number One, Adrian Russell Elms (AKA Khalid Masood), appears to have acted alone and not as part of a group hell-bent on attacking the Mother of All Parliaments has again raised these same issues. But the amateurish and ill-thought-out nature of his attempt strikes me as the classic clueless desperation of a disturbed individual with nothing to live for but the prospect of trashy infamy. Professional terrorists would surely have managed more than this useless member of society, whose random victims were indistinguishable from those yer average knife-wielding maniac might have slaughtered down the road in Hackney, something that probably wouldn’t have been labelled a ‘terror incident’.

When the Irish National Liberation Army murdered MP Airey Neave via a car-bomb as he drove out of the underground car-park at the Palace of Westminster in 1979, it was clearly a meticulously-planned team operation that achieved its extremely precise and specific aim. Thanks to the bullets of an armed policeman, we will probably never know what the aim of Khalid Masood was, though it’s possible he himself didn’t really know either.

When no evidence of group involvement can be uncovered, the search for an answer then hones in on whatever it was that may have influenced the motivation behind something that claimed lives within yards of the very place the Gunpowder Plotters failed to obliterate. The current blame game lays responsibility on the doorstep of the internet, though literature largely escaped censure when Lone Gunman Mark Chapman famously murdered John Lennon after identifying with Holden Caulfield, antihero of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.

Nevertheless, the medium of the moment will always fall under suspicion when so many struggle with the fact that some individuals have the capacity to do – or to attempt to do – what most would shy away from. Just as it’s thankfully incomprehensible to the majority that one could become a serial killer bereft of all empathy or compassion where one’s fellow human beings are concerned, it’s equally hard to comprehend how somebody could callously mow down pedestrians in a car and then stab a policeman to death en route to some muddled destination; there has to be some great answer at the root of the individual’s actions, and it may as well be the internet.

What so many cannot accept is the alien idea that some individuals have gradually grown so far apart from the consensus of a society rooted in fair play, mutual respect and shared democratic aims that they can commit a crime so opposed to the foundations that society is built upon; that such a crime can easily only require the planning and participation of one person merely adds to the conundrum. When MP Jo Cox was murdered on the streets of her constituency last summer, her murderer Thomas Mair was subject to the usual speculation as to his membership of far-right groups from both press and police before it emerged he was acting alone. For some reason, it’s easier to envisage something so horrible emanating from an organisation, whether the IRA or ISIS, than the Lone Wolf, as if it takes a team of individuals egging each other on to even invent a scenario of that nature.

The fact is, however, that an organised conspiracy to destroy western civilisation is effectively in the hands (and mind) of the individual rather than a structured criminal underworld recognisable from a Bond movie; but the governments running western civilisation will continue to propagate the SPECTRE theory as long as it gives them more power to act as a cyber lollipop man intercepting your online traffic. Remember – it’s for your own good.

© The Editor


SAM_2407 - Copy1812 was one of those years. History has a habit of throwing them up every now and again, when numerous major events are condensed into a twelve month period. Understandably sneaking under the radar was the birth of Charles Dickens, whereas looming large was Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia, the final and fatal extension of French Imperial might in Europe; elsewhere on the Continent, Bonaparte’s armies were taking a beating from the Duke of Wellington’s troops in the Peninsula War. It was also a year in which the USA declared war on its ex-colonial governor, Great Britain – another costly gamble by a delusional leader, in this case President James Madison. In the old Mother Country, there was constant constitutional uncertainty as the recurring illnesses of George III necessitated another Regency Bill, delegating limited powers to the unpopular Prince of Wales, including choosing the nation’s Prime Minister; economic crises caused by the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite opposition to industrialisation provoked civil unrest on the streets, a perennial problem that was usually dealt with by armed forces. Times were tense, to say the least.

Politics in 1812 were considerably more heated than they are today. For all the talk of enmity and rivalry between David Cameron and Boris Johnson, they had nothing on George Canning and Lord Castlereagh, two Government Ministers who were so at odds with each other that they’d fought a duel in 1809. Neither figured in the administration that governed the country in 1812 – partly as a result of this incident – which was headed by ex-Attorney General and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Spencer Perceval.

MP for Northampton, Spencer Perceval was highly-regarded by his peers in Parliament, and the barrister son of an Irish Earl had a rapid rise through the Westminster ranks after a relatively late entry into politics at the age of 33. He was invited to become Prime Minister in 1809, though his premiership wasn’t expected to last long due to warring factions within the Cabinet. However, Perceval represented the kind of steady hand the country required and he largely succeeded in keeping the ship afloat despite the problems piling up in his in-tray.

On 11 May 1812, Perceval entered the history books in the most unenviable manner when a disgruntled Liverpool merchant whose numerous grievances he’d decided were due to the Prime Minister approached Perceval in the lobby at the House of Commons and drew a pistol, shooting the PM in the chest at close range. Perceval died within minutes of the gun being fired and thus became the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. His assassin, the unrepentant John Bellingham, was declared sane at his trial and was hanged just a week after Perceval’s death.

Reaction to the Prime Minister’s murder was one of shock and upset amongst the political classes, though those members of the public who were suffering economic hardship rejoiced at the assassination and treated John Bellingham as a folk hero; some even paid high prices for his clothes following his execution, the equivalent of bidding for them on eBay today. In great swathes of the country, politicians were despised as corrupt and crooked charlatans who were in it to line their own pockets, yet unlike some of his political rivals, Spencer Perceval was not a colossus personality; he was an understated character who still wore the regalia of the previous century, such as knee-breeches and a powdered wig. However, many on the outside associated him with the common perception that MPs were out-of-touch and remote figures who didn’t care about or relate to the experiences of the masses; at the time, this was emphasised by the process of how MPs were elected to Parliament, tainted as it was by the continuation of the Rotten Boroughs and the absence from that process of the common man (and woman).

If one argues that the cynicism and loathing meted out to politicians is a recent development, the public euphoria that greeted the assassination of Spencer Perceval suggests otherwise. It is true that the mistrust of the political class we are currently undergoing has intensified of late. In America, this mistrust can probably be traced back as far as Watergate and has perhaps reached its apex with the emergence of Donald Trump, whereas it’s possible that in this country one could cite the Profumo Affair as its beginnings – although that was as much about social class as the political one.

Whatever the initial source, both the expenses scandal and Hack-gate were watersheds in the tempestuous relationship between electorate and elected representatives, events that have served to push the public standing of politicians to an all-time low, albeit a low that has a habit of bracketing all Westminster residents, from greasy pole-climbing self-aggrandisers to unsung constituency MPs, in the same rotten barrel. The ones caught out deserve to be named and shamed, only having themselves to blame, and the right to name and shame them is essential within a democracy, as is the right to criticise; otherwise, we may as well be living in Turkey.

That the man who murdered Jo Cox decided to take the Andres Breivik route during his Magistrates Court appearance gives further ammunition to commentators who see his horrible act in a wider picture of out-and-out hatred of politicians that has certainly permeated the Referendum debate. I’m not entirely convinced of the connection, but as history so often teaches us, we have been here before.

© The Editor