Paramilitaries have always tried to put a veneer of respectability on their activities, claiming to be defenders of their areas or their culture. Of course these claims are merely lies, a smokescreen to deflect attention away from their real aims, which are the creation of criminal empires and ruthless domination of the areas they operate in.
This was clearly illustrated in the shameful scenes in Larne when up to 100 suspected members of the maverick south-east Antrim UDA wreaked havoc in the town and badly injured a number of residents and police officers.
These thugs and gangsters – cowards who had to use overwhelming force to attack three men and their families and property – were simply sending out a message that the paramilitary gang cannot be crossed with impunity.
They must be challenged. They have long since dropped any pretence of a political cause and instead visited horrifying violence on what is a staunchly loyalist community.
Such behaviour, reminiscent of the worst days of the Troubles when both loyalist and republican paramilitaries held unchallenged sway in their communities, cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.
The decent loyalist community must play its part by giving the PSNI information on who took part in the violence.
It is in its own interests to have these people taken off the streets, as the UDA thugs have only their own self-aggrandisement at heart.
They are probably now basking in the publicity generated by their actions and feel that they have taken on the forces of law and order and won.
While we must applaud the bravery of the first PSNI officers to come on the scene, it is worrying that there was no more prior intelligence about what unfolded, or a more robust response to it.
It is now imperative that the PSNI – as it did with the hundreds of flag protesters – begins to identify the culprits, arrest them and bring them before the courts.
They cannot be allowed to win control of any streets in Northern Ireland.
There is only one legitimate force of law and order, and the PSNI must exert its authority.