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Raoul Moat: The Ugly Truth About Folk Heroism
John Tatlock , July 16th, 2010 08:20

"Everyone should be free to do whatever they like that doesn't harm anyone else and so on. But we are a society, and we do have a social contract with one another. And an uncontroversial part of that contract, one would hope, is that we don't shoot each other," says John Tatlock about cretinous, coal bunker-shaped block of Spam with eyes and guns, Raoul Moat. Who has, somehow, become a folk hero – despite being a child beating, wife shooting murderer

The Quietus team have constructed a Spotify list which looks at the many different ways in which folk heroism warps reality. Some of these songs subtly pervert the genre tradition, some are played with a shockingly straight bat. Some aggrandize while taking the form of admonishment; others are nowhere near as partisan as they initially come across. Here's hoping that the cretin bully murderer Moat doesn't get added to this list, for any reason.

On Wednesday afternoon, I experienced the fleeting and surely never-to-be-repeated experience of finding myself in fierce agreement with our recently unelected Prime Minister David Cameron. Indie Dave took time out from performing vigorous Super Mario smash jumps all over the UK's public services to comment on the nauseating Facebook tribute page for convicted child-beater and confessed murderer Raoul Moat.

Numerous tributes had appeared on the web almost as soon as Moat had fatally shot himself a few days after a gun rampage that left his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart critically wounded, her new partner Chris Brown dead and police officer David Rathbone permanently blinded. But "R.I.P RAOUL MOAT YOU LEGEND!" was by far the most popular, boasting some 30,000 members* by the time it was taken down (by its creator, not Facebook) on Thursday.

The above is just the absolutely confirmed facts, note. I'm not even going to bother with the rape allegations and the reported links to organised crime. Because let's face it, if I feel like arguing that Moat was a 28 carat shite, I'm not short of material. Convicted child beater. Murderer. Blinded a man with a shotgun blast to the head. Shot his ex-girlfriend in the stomach to remind her "not to ever do this to anyone again" ("this" being break up with him).

Anyway, Cameron didn't provide us with one of the great oratorical moments of our age, but he did muster a pithy accuracy: "It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man."

Previously, our nation's columnists had dithered over which way to jump on the story, but Cameron's statement to the Commons was the signal for the likes of dull contrarian Tanya Gold and arch New Labour toady Michael White to kick into gear in The Guardian, dismissing Cameron's words as "sympathy [being] cut from the budget" (Gold) and "remarks – possibly crafted in advance – that will generate headlines" (White). White has little to say about Moat's crimes or victims in his barely-coherent article, instead preferring to take a pop at the Daily Mail and, sickeningly, describe Moat as "an intelligent man trying to make sense of his life".

This all strikes me as quite unbelievably crass. Surely there are some things that transcend the ideological differences between our mainstream political tribes. And surely one of them is the notion that chaps who go on carefully pre-meditated murderous rampages can be held responsible for their actions. I mean, I like to think of myself as an intelligent man trying to make sense of my life, and funnily enough, have never considered shooting an ex-girlfriend and a couple of other people as a method for doing so. No doubt White thinks I'm a bit of weirdo.

But no, I'm being over-generous there. Such commentators don't actually have a position other than a tribal one; don't have ethical lines, only party lines. There's nothing wrong with criticising the government – indeed, it's part of their job description, and is essential to a functioning democ racy – but your enemy's enemy is not always your friend, and it is unwise to automatically make their bete noire your cause celebre. It can make you look a complete arsehole.

Which all leads us rather neatly to the notorious Facebook page. "R.I.P RAOUL MOAT YOU LEGEND!" was set up by one "Shivoun" O'Dowd. It's beyond my descriptive powers to communicate what a truly dreadful individual O'Dowd is, so it's handy that she called TalkSport's Ian Collins and discussed her thinking (if we dare use such a term):

O'Dowd's response to this horrific series of events is, like Gold and White's, entirely unconnected to the events themselves. It contains no scrap of real concern or sympathy for its supposed object, and is defined entirely by a dull-witted tribalism. O'Dowd's position, and that of many of the contributors to her page is, essentially: "We hate the police, Moat declared war on the police, therefore Moat is our hero, and his other actions range from irrelevant to entirely justified."

I can't really see the difference between that and: "We don't like Cameron, Moat has rattled Cameron's cage, so we're going to start puffing up Moat as the victim." But what I can see is the glaring similarity – everything that doesn't fit the agenda is skirted neatly around. The murderer, well, he had problems didn't he? It's all really the fault of The System.

The whirling fug of utter stupidly and gleeful cruelty ("I BLAME THAT SLUT, SHE DESERVED EVERY BULLET" as one poster to O'Dowd's page put it) that characterises the discourse around the Moat story was adroitly identified by Alice Miles in the New Statesman as "childish drama".

For indeed, this is a story in which denial of responsibility is the recurring theme. "She pulled the trigger just as much as me", claimed Moat in his first letter to the police while still on the run. "Why weren't they warned?" asked the red-tops, before Chris Brown's body was even cold. "This page doesn't violate our terms of service" said Facebook **, in response to Cameron's complaint.

One is reminded of the deranged popular view of the Baby P case, which had it that the real blame for a child's broken ribs, broken back, sliced off fingertips, pulled out fingernails and eventual death were fundamentally the fault of social workers.

Of course, in both this case and that – indeed in any tragic circumstances – it is correct and fitting to examine what could be done better, what mistakes have been made, and certainly to censure any dereliction of duty. But it is also correct to remain clear that murder is committed by murderers and child abuse by child abusers.

The extent to which posters to O'Dowd's page conjured with the known facts of the case was truly breathtaking. There was much support for a conspiracy theory view, which in its most whacked-out form had Moat as the victim of some 70s spy drama brainwashing plot; but even among the less tin-foil-hatted, completely deranged ideas were readily accepted as fact. There was near-universal agreement that the police had "murdered" Moat, despite his death resulting from the shotgun he had held to his own head throughout six hours of negotiations. Only marginally less agreed on was the view that the state were to blame for Moat's own shootings, of which this muddled outburst from one Martyn James Poulson is typical: "HE WAS LET DOWN,BY MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, AND EVERYONE ELSE,THE MEDIA LET YOU READ WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO READ,STERIODS WRECK LIVES,STEPHEN MARSHALL, CONVICTED KILLER, I KNEW HIM WELL,RIODS, RIODS WRECK LIVES."

Most depressing of all was the number of people – many of them women – pointing the finger of blame squarely at Samantha Stobbart. One post, veering from the page's house style of all-caps to an even-less-readable no-caps, declared: "look peeps all that happened is the man losgt his rag wit the govment and the bill and jst to top it off his ex said she was datin a copper whilst he was in jail what wud u do? Ppl in america have the right to... shot and kill there parterners and lovers if they have an afaire".

This profoundly extreme and pure form of misogyny – it doesn't get any harsher than "Men have the right to kill women who make them unhappy, and any man would do the same" – was not unusual for the page. Cody Aidan Lachey had this to say: "POLICE ARE A DISGRACE R.I.P RAOUL A LION OF A MAN SHAME YOUR EX DID'NT DIE MATE HEAD FUCKER". And if that's not enough to make you sick to your stomach, there was the insane claim "He must hav really loved her to shoot her like that".

It's at times like this I remember that I'm not really a liberal in the strictest sense. Of course, everyone should be free to do whatever they like that doesn't harm anyone else and so on. But we are a society, and we do have a social contract with one another. And an uncontroversial part of that contract, one would hope, is that we don't shoot each other. On this, I'm entirely with Cameron. I don't much care to hear about Moat's troubled childhood, and the fact that he felt nobody loved him. He doesn't sound all that lovable, frankly, and the world is full of troubled people who are managing, with considerable ease, not to go on shooting sprees.

It's obvious to the point of tautology to say that Moat had mental health issues; it's not like there's some other kind gun rampage that mentally well people do. However, what is clear is that he was not in a state of delusion or diminished responsibility, and knew precisely what he was doing; indeed, he went to great pains to make this point himself in his letters and calls to the police. His week in hiding was highly organised, with a network of helpers and access to weapons, camping equipment and mobile phones.

Of course, the lionisation of utterly despicable people is nothing new. The Krays and Ronnie Biggs were popularly forgiven the most appalling acts for the same reasons Moat's moronic worshippers came running like stray dogs to fresh vomit – the cheap thrill of outlaw status. There's something very wrong with people who value the putrid glamour of such status so highly they will excuse murder. There's no mystery: these people are stupid and deplorable. Full stop, end of story.

*It must be noted that a close reading of O'Dowd's page suggested that the majority of members were posting in opposition to the page; nevertheless, Moat's supporters numbered in their thousands. It should also be noted that there are several pages set up in direct opposition to O'Dowd's, though none of them are anywhere near as popular, with memberships of around 2,000 or less.

** Facebook's claim that there were no violations of their policies is utter bullshit. Myself and literally hundreds of others were flagging up dozens of posts over the last few days via Facebook's own reporting system containing blatantly against-the-rules stuff as Ray Cooper of Portsmouth's charming "SAMANTHA DID MOAT SHOOT U IN THE FACE U FUCKING UGLY CUNT BITCH SLAG. FUCK YOUR UGLY I WILL HAVE NIGHTMERES NOW" and a whole bunch of even less repeatable stuff. There was much regret expressed that Moat hadn't killed any "niggers" or "pakis", for example. Unfortunately, with the page now gone and only a few snippets cut and pasted for posterity, I can't give you the identities of these people, which I regard as a great shame. But the main point is that Facebook policies around direct attacks on other users, racism and incitement to violence were being violated, and they are in possession of the data that shows this.

[Editor's note: We compiled the Spotify list before asking titanium-plated attack wolf John Tatlock to pen some words for us and acknowledge that there is a vaguely uncomfortable disconnect between the seriousness of this piece and the slightly more casual idea of a mix tape but hope that people will recognise that at the root of it all is a joint interest in the resonance of folk heroism.]