And so it is with the defunct Facebook page, 'RIP Raoul Moat you Legend'. I'm sure everyone's familiar with the story by now. A page expressing sympathy for Moat appears. It attracts some 35,000 people who "like this". Some of them pay tribute. Cue media shit storm. This prompted an intervention by Dave who rang up Facebook to voice his displeasure. He then was quoted by the media saying he couldn't understand why anyone would sympathise with a "callous murderer". Well Dave, it's the same reason why many Tories got the hump over General Augusto Pinochet's arrest in 2000 while the rest of population looked on bemused. Because it's a *class thing*.
I'm not about to argue Raoul Moat is some sort of working class hero. He was a misogynistic social inadequate whose inability to deal with a lifetime's accumulation of disappointment and failure saw him lash out violently. True, there are suggestions of psychological problems and drug abuse but no one is saying he was mad or didn't realise what he was doing. While questions must be asked about the extent to which the authorities suspected Moat was dangerous, and whether the three shootings could have been avoided by early interventions, Moat was still conscious of his actions. He set out in the early hours of a week last Saturday with the intention to kill.
How the hunt for Moat was framed during his week on the run was crucial for him going viral as a glamorous outlaw. We were told Moat had sent a long letter to the police that said "The public need not fear me but the police should as I won't stop till I'm dead." This was a serous media management faux pas because it opened the door to allowing the portrayal of Moat to assume a folky aspect. Rather than being a manhunt for a dangerous killer, coverage of the operation degenerated into a Smokey and the Bandit-style farce. With a Facebook following, Twitter spoofs and a range of T-Shirts feeding off the frenzy it was only a matter of time before the half-sympathetic media profiles of Moat elicited support from some quarters. And no, this time it wasn't bleeding heart liberals: it came from a small layer of the white working class.
For the people who joined the Facebook tribute pages and left flowers outside Moat's house, the sentiments expressed in his letters and recordings condense a confused but widespread consciousness common among the more deprived sections of our class. It's a barely coherent sense of dislocation, frustration, and despair that impotently kicks against 'official' society. It is the social reservoir from which the BNP and EDL fish, that gave us Kerry Katona and Jade Goody. They are the dangerous class that keep politicians awake at night, repulse the arbiters of good taste, and earn the ire of ever-so-superior middle class columnists. It doesn't matter that Moat killed someone. He had been abandoned by society and left to rot like so many others, and for a brief moment he was the lightning rod for lumpen anger and defiance. He is their Taxi Driver, the man who couldn't take any more.
The sympathy for Moat does seem perverse, but it is rooted in that section of the working class the rest of society loves to bash. The publicity around Siobhan O'Dowd's Facebook group is an unwelcome reminder of the social refuse British capitalism produces generation after generation. But that this strata exists without prospects or hope is the real perversion, not some daft commentary on the internet.