Victims in balaclavas, with guns

14e65800-5bc2-44d9-889b-e3acdc5c6ee6-620x372
(Photo from Belfast Telegraph)

 

A “new” and as yet unnamed Loyalist paramilitary group announced its presence on the scene this week by releasing a pair of photographs to the media (one of which is reproduced above) along with a statement in which they threatened to kill members of the PSNI and Parades Commission, which has had the temerity to place limits on the Loyalist community’s ability to celebrate their culture through displays of tribal dominance directed against their Catholic neighbors.

The statement that accompanied the photos played on what has become a familiar theme amongst many Loyalists in which they characterize an erosion of privilege as brutal oppression by the state they claim to love.

The group said that after police broke up a riot in a flashpoint area of North Belfast in a

brutal assault upon the PUL community and the random firing of baton rounds aimed to seriously injure our people we are left with no other option but to announce the PSNI and Parades Commission are legitimate targets.

We do not want to take this course of action but our people have suffered enough over the last few years and we as disengaged and disgruntled loyalists feel like the time has come for us to take action. No Surrender.

That Loyalists would threaten to take up arms against the British state is nothing new. The original Ulster Volunteer Force was organized in 1913 with the express intention of waging war against Britain to prevent it from granting home rule to Ireland.

But within Loyalism feelings and complaints of victimization have become much more open in recent years, fueled by a sense that their victory over the IRA, which has secured Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future, is in fact a hollow one.  As I wrote back in March, it is the belief that while they have won the war, the spoils of victory have passed them by.

I first heard this expressed back in 2010 when I interviewed several former UDA and UFV men active in the Loyalist ex-prisoner community. Today it is the sentiment behind the ongoing flag protests, the protest camp at Twaddlle Avenue, and the above mentioned riot this week which broke out when Loyalists attempted to storm police barricades blocking them from marching past a Catholic area.

It is reflected in the statement released by the Orange Order in advance of Twelfth of July celebrations which I wrote about last week, in which they decried the intolerance of Republicans and the “petty restrictions” imposed by the state on their right to march and parade where and when they wish, despite any objections from residents.

It is reflected in the tweets of self-described anti-agreement Loyalist provocateur Jamie Bryson claiming persecution and a war waged by police and Parades Commission against the PUL (Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist) people.

A recent unpublished study by a group of researchers from Queens University suggests that the flag and other protests stem from working class Loyalists’ feelings of economic and social dispossession, paranoid siege mentality, a belief that their avenues of expression are being systematically closed off, and that they are being manipulated and exploited by the system.

Others (such as doctoral student Sophie Long at TPQ) have written much more eloquently about the state of Loyalism than I can.  And it remains to be seen if this new armed group will amount to anything more than empty posturing.

But from where I sit, and based on what I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and conversations I’ve had, when I think about future threats to the peace in Northern Ireland, I am much more concerned about the alienation of Loyalists than I am the ambitions of dissident Republicans.

 

Woody had it right then, and sadly, has it right now

woody_2753631b

I never cease to be amazed at the prescience and timeliness of some artists. Take Woody Guthrie who in the 1940s recorded “Mean Talking Blues.”

With lines like, “I hate everybody don’t think like me, and I’d rather see you dead than I’d ever see you free,” or “Rather see you starved to death than see you at work,” the lyrics could have been written yesterday:

I’m the meanest man that ever had a brain,
All I scatter is aches and pains.
I’m carbolic acid, and a poison face,
And I stand flat-footed in favor of crime and disgrace.
If I ever done a good deed — I’m sorry of it.

I’m mean in the East, mean in the West,
Mean to the people that I like the best.
I go around a-causin’ lot of accidents,
And I push folks down, and I cause train wrecks.
I’m a big disaster — just goin’ somewhere’s to happen.
I’m an organized famine — studyin’ now I can be a little bit meaner.
I’m still a whole lot too good to suit myself — just mean…

I ride around on the subway trains,
Laughin’ at the tight shoes dealin’ you pain.
And I laugh when the car shakes from side to side,
I laugh my loudest when other people cry.
Can’t help it — I was born good, I guess,
Just like you or anybody else —
But then I… just turned off mean..

I hate ev’rybody don’t think like me,
And I’d rather see you dead than I’d ever see you free.
Rather see you starved to death
Than see you at work —
And I’m readin’ all the books I can
To learn how to hurt —
Daily Misery — spread diseases,
Keep you without no vote,
Keep you without no union.

Well, I hurt when I see you gettin’ ‘long so well,
I’d ten times rather see you in the fires of hell.
I can’t stand to fixed… see you there all fixed up in that house so nice,
I’d rather keep you in that rotten hole, with the bugs and the lice,
And the roaches, and the termites,
And the sand fleas, and the tater bugs,
And the grub worms, and the stingarees,
And the tarantulas, and the spiders, childs of the earth,
The ticks and the blow-flies —
These is all of my little angels
That go ’round helpin’ me do the best parts of my meanness.
And mosquiters…

Well, I used to be a pretty fair organized feller,
Till I turned a scab and then I turned off yeller,
Fought ev’ry union with teeth and toenail,
And I sprouted a six-inch stinger right in the middle of the tail,
And I growed horns…
And then I cut ’em off, I wanted to fool you.
I hated union ever’where,
‘Cause God likes unions
And I hate God!

Well, if I can get the fat to hatin’ the lean
That’d tickle me more than anything I’ve seen,
Then get the colors to fightin’ one another,
And friend against friend, and brother… and sister against brother,
That’ll be just it.
Everybody’s brains a-boilin’ in turpentine,
And their teeth fallin’ out all up and down the streets,
That’ll just suit me fine.
‘Cause I hate ever’thing that’s union,
And I hate ever’thing that’s organized,
And I hate ever’thing that’s planned,
And I love to hate and I hate to love!
I’m mean, I’m just mean…

 

Stand aside, victims coming through

2839079966
Orange Order courageously parades its victimhood in the face of intolerance and sectarian bigotry. (Belfast Newsletter photo)

 

A delicious bit of irony appeared in today’s Belfast Newsletter in the form of a news release from the Orange Order, which sponsors most of the Twelfth of July “festivities” that mark 325 years of Protestant dominance over Catholics in Northern Ireland. The order encouraged its members and supporters to “enjoy the Twelfth, despite republican intolerance.”

The self-pity is positively astounding:

Our proud traditions are dear to us, and it is therefore deeply regretful that increasingly petty restrictions are being imposed on our parades by a discredited and inept Parades Commission.

Such creeping cultural suppression is aided and abetted by the deliberate intolerance of republicans.

There is an element within republicanism which acts in a sectarian way by continually attacking the cultural symbols of Protestantism – our parades, our halls, our flags and sometimes even our people. That republican sectarianism should be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

Our struggle will be won by means that have been successful in defeating those who oppose us – perseverance, peaceful protest and prayer.

Meanwhile, over in Lisburn, a completely nonsectarian, perfectly tolerant Loyalist bonfire will blaze up in a few hours, crowned, as you can see below, with an grand array of Irish flags and effigies of Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly, and Martin McGuinness.

CJpojfOWcAAU8QP
(Photo from Mairia Cahill on Twitter)

 

Culture. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

Mordor on the Lagan

WgcE5Qu
The scene from atop Cave Hill last July 11 overlooking East Belfast. (Photo from Reddit)

 

Tomorrow night Belfast will burn, again, just as it does every July 11th when Loyalists light bonfires on the eve of the annual celebrations of the victory of the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

This is one more of the tribal rituals that mark Northern Irish society.  It is akin to  marching season itself, in which Protestant bands and fraternal organizations parade in often provocative, hostility-tinged displays of communal dominance over their Catholic neighbors.

In years past Loyalists have decorated their bonfires with statues of the Virgin Mary, Irish Tricolors, effigies and posters of Nationalist politicians, and other unmistakable symbols of casually brutal contempt tinged with not-so-subtle threats of violence. When a banner with the initials KAT, meaning “Kill All Taigs”, is hung across your bonfire, the message is pretty clear.

Loyalist communities defend these bonfires and marches as cherished parts of their culture and integral to their British identity. The bonfires are typically built in public spaces, often dangerously close to homes.  In recent years the towering bonfire structures have grown more and more massive as neighborhoods compete against each other to have the biggest conflagration in the city.

This year, more than 50 homes have been boarded up in one neighborhood and the residents encouraged to evacuate because the bonfire being built is so immense, and so close to residences, that there is real fear that the houses could burn along with the towering structure of pallets and tires.

It comes as no surprise that the committees which take charge of building the bonfires are cut checks from public coffers, with the money distributed as community development funds. It comes as no surprise that many of my Catholic friends will choose to stay at home on the night of the 11th, just in case.

When I was in Sandy Row in March, the young men who met me at the community center to take me on a tour of their neighborhood invited me back for July 11th to experience their bonfire. They described it as a positive, welcoming, family-friendly event, like a backyard barbecue and block party rolled in to one.

And they were astonished that anyone, anywhere, would consider it otherwise.