Belfast Telegraph

A mass-murdering cheerleader... just what republican movement doesn't need at moment

By Ivan Little

They won't be singing any songs of praise tonight in the republican bars of the Bronx or Boston for Chris Harper-Mercer, the IRA supporter who turned his bloodlust fantasies into a real and horrific bloodbath in Oregon.

For the shaven-headed college gunman with the weasel eyes who posed with a rifle in an online photograph and boasted about his backing for the Provos is the last thing that republicans in America need right now.

Harper-Mercer has catapulted the IRA back into the US headlines at a time when republicans were trying to keep a low profile there and everywhere else after claims that the Provos had brought their guns out again in Belfast to murder one of their former members, Kevin McGuigan.

In clubs and drinking dens in parts of the States they still eulogise the exploits of the IRA with an overriding sense among Irish-Americans that the Provos won the war against their old enemy the British on this side of the Atlantic.

But with his senseless brutality at Umpgua Community College in Roseburg, not far from his mother's home, Harper-Mercer has made life uncomfortable again for republicans in the States, where what Barack Obama called "routine" mass murders across the country have earned the opprobrium of the entire nation.

Which was why republicans moved so quickly to distance themselves from Harper-Mercer, who died in a police shoot-out after killing nine people and wounding many more on the college campus.

The 26-year-old bespectacled loner, who used a Myspace page to post his rose-tinted images glorifying the IRA, doesn't exactly fit the profile of a republican poster boy.

One of his pictures was a front page from the republican newspaper An Phoblacht, which underlined the narrative that he and other IRA sympathisers obviously like to hear in the States.

A headline read 'British army could not defeat IRA', and on the same page there's a poster with the words 'IRA: undefeated army', though it pointedly didn't go so far as to claim it was a victorious one.

Among Harper-Mercer's other photographs were montages of IRA men purporting to be on patrol on the streets of Belfast.

Under his photos Harper-Mercer wrote of the terrorists: 'Looking cool defending their country', and below another lone gunman he said 'he's holding what looks to be an M16A2'.

In a video section of his Myspace page, Mercer posted footage of the IRA in the 1970s with the Wolfe Tones singing the anti-internment song The Men Behind The Wire.

They are, of course, videos which are readily available on YouTube, and one Sinn Fein source in Belfast said: "Anyone could find stuff like that all over the internet. It doesn't mean the guy was a genuine supporter of the republican movement."

But even so, to have a mass murderer extolling the virtues of the Provos with photos and videos which have grabbed worldwide attention, isn't helpful to the republican cause, especially with Sinn Fein leaders having been at pains recently to say the butterfly that was the IRA has flown away.

Here, few people would argue that despite the crises at Stormont and the McGuigan and 'Jock' Davison killings, there's more of a climate of peace than ever before.

But, clearly, that message didn't get across the Atlantic to Harper-Mercer whose stepsister Carmen Nesnick said he was born in the UK and moved to America as a young boy.

Bizarrely, she also said he was caring. "All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy," she claimed.

She added cryptically: "No matter if he was sad or mad, he would always try to cheer up everybody."

But that wasn't the way everyone saw her murderous sibling. One of his neighbours talked of how he was unfriendly and would sit by himself in the dark on his balcony.

And in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, no one was able to shine any light on why Harper-Mercer launched his killing spree, or why he was so fascinated by the IRA.

Nothing in his family background provided any early clues.

But Harper-Mercer also appeared to have been in awe of killers who have carried out shocking slaughters nearer home in America.

Harper-Mercer, who often wore camouflage trousers tucked into his boots and carried a gun in a case, talked on social media in August about his admiration for Vester Flanagan, the former reporter who killed a cameraman and presenter on live TV in Virginia.

Harper-Mercer wrote: "I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are."

Later he said: "Seems the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."

He described the video of the slaying of the news team, which he watched on YouTube, as "good".

Harper-Mercer also uploaded a BBC documentary about the Sandy Hook elementary school killings in Connecticut in December 2012 when 20 children and six staff were slaughtered.

His envy of all the multiple killers' notoriety permeated many of his online rants, but no one was able to spot his jealousy or stop him from joining their nefarious ranks.

On a dating website called Spiritual Passions, Harper-Mercer called himself Iron Cross 45, a name which was apparently inspired by right-wing militants in America who use the German Iron Cross as one of their symbols.

Harper-Mercer is also said to have ordered a Nazi SS officer's leather cap through a website.

On Spiritual Passions, his profile said that he was a conservative, a Republican who disliked organised religion.

Survivors of Thursday's rampage spoke of how he asked people at the college to state their religion before opening fire.

On a blog Harper-Mercer, who lived in an apartment near the Roseburg college, denounced the material world as a "lie", adding: "To always have the latest fashion, biggest tv, fanciest car, nicest house and blah, blah,blah. Well the truth is we've become so attached to these things, our spiritual development has been halted."

But it's not clear if Harper-Mercer had anything to do with a warning on another website that cautioned young people against going to school in the north west of America, warning them of mass shootings to come.

But despite President Obama's emotional plea for tighter gun controls in the States, he and the rest of his people know it's only a matter of time before another Chris Harper-Mercer comes out of the shadows to stake his or her claim to infamy.

Belfast Telegraph


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