Last week I sat down with two of the brains behind Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD), Billy and Ron. I was interested to catch up with the guys since we last spoke in February about the group’s foundation and how they approach certain issues. This time, however, I was interested to speak to them about some of the issues that they group has been involved in since we spoke, namely; the departure of Winston Smith, Pastor McConnell and where does LAD go from here?
I began with the departure of Winston Smith and put to them the points raised in his blog about being obsessed with ratings and image. Billy led off tackling the notion that they were obsessed
Look LAD is an entertainment platform on social media. At the basis of everything it’s about humour, it’s a brand. We are obsessed by LAD, we have been since the 10th December 2012…we have been developing skills on social media as to how to get the brand out there…what’s wrong with being obsessed? It’s like obsession is a bad thing, wouldn’t it be worse if we were just half arsed about it.
For the rest of the LADmins, Winston left because his ideals were not those of the brand that has been built up over the last 19 months. At this point, Ron was keen to point out that as a group they have consistently pointed out that LAD is not a republican website; rather it is a group of people with differing points of view. They did however express regret that Winston did leave group and state that they have no animosity towards him.
The discussion about Winston’s departure led us into an interesting conversation about who the LADmins would support personally in an election and the general views they hold. Billy told me that
LAD is pro-Union and pro Loyalist…Just because we take the piss out of Loyalists doesn’t mean we have anything against them. I voted for a Loyalist political party in the PUP and in European election went to the Alliance party.
For both of them, LAD doesn’t believe in them and us labels, rather they just take politicians as they find them. They will support people who they believe are the best candidates in each of the constituencies that they live in. All of this links back to the LADmins central thesis that essentially LAD is a ‘sitcom’ and a character that they play on social media. As Billy highlights this character is what people expect
people tune in for a character, what did they say today? They want to be shocked, offended and entertained. In order to provide that service you have to be obsessed.
After going through the motions of internal group dynamics, I wanted to move onto how they broke one of the biggest stories of the year about Pastor McConnell and his musings about the gay community and Muslims.
Ron told me that they actually received a tip off on Facebook about the language that McConnell was using in his sermons. As McConnell’s work is streamed online, from his computer Ron sat and watched for a full 90 minutes a procession of language that made his jaw drop. Well aware that some members of the DUP were friendly with McConnell, the LADmins knew the political implications of what McConnell was saying and doing in his church.
Once they uploaded clips of his sermons to Youtube and actually began live tweeting just exactly what he was saying they knew that they had a big story on their hands. Yet, despite all the fallout from it, I really wanted to ask did it not bother them that some media outlets never bothered to name LAD as the source of the story? My answer was swift from both, that they really didn’t care about that as that would turn a serious conversation about race and LGBT rights into a story about them. The ultimate satisfaction from this was described by Ron as he told me about his immediate feelings;
that week I had an enormous sense of well-being, what the fall out was I felt amazing about with the anti-racism march alongside the shopping for Peter.
However, the LADmins don’t let the media totally off arguing that it should be newspapers and broadcasters investigating this type of stuff and not them or as Ron succinctly put it
It’s a bit of an indictment of the main stream media that it takes six guys in Belfast to find this stuff out. We are about rocking the boat and we will rock many boats.
After break these stories and highlighting the past statements of local election candidates, I wondered where LAD goes to next. Billy told me that the strategy of the group is to essentially fly by the seat of their pants and make it up as they go along. Both of the LADmins told me that part of the problem now is that they are sent information from a number of sources looking for them to break a story. Ron told me about a recent blog post they had from a serving police officer and the process of sense checking that they had to go through before publishing it, but since the site is pro PSNI and is sympathetic to the troubles officers go through, they were happy to publish it.
I was still curious will there ever be a time when LAD ceases to exist?
Both LADmins told me about how much work is put in to the site and how hard it is to stay in character and continue to be entertaining to their audience. Billy said that ultimately “I would like to think we will kill LAD off at some point but it’s not just up to me anymore.” The LADmins are interested in taking the brand to new platforms with a book, musical and ultimately a LAD TV show to replace the local comedy programmes on BBC One, “we want to show that we can do a better job,” Billy told me.
LAD are famous for taking the piss out of politicians they don’t like, are there any politicians they do like I asked?
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir as Lord Mayor is somebody they were a huge fan of, as he represented everyone in the city and was willing to put aside his political allegiances. LAD compared his record with the poor performances of Gavin Robinson and Niall Ó Donnghaile who they believed pandered to the worst instincts of both of their communities. In terms of other politicians who get a stamp of approval from LAD, John Kyle, Anna Lo and Naomi Long are rated very highly by the LADmins for the leadership they have shown and their integrity. These qualities made the guys make a bold prediction that Long will retain East Belfast next year.
Ultimately when it comes to deciding what politicians to go after they don’t really care what side of the fence they come from or as Billy succinctly put it
we take the piss out of whoever is being a fool and look at the flag they are flying afterwards.
For the LADmins they believe we need to get away from looking at politics in Unionist and Nationalist terms and realise that we all share the same city and we will ultimately sink or swim together. If you want to not be a target of LADs rath it is important to be disciplined on social media and not come out with mad stuff. Ron cited the example of ill-discipline within NI21 and how that led to the party’s demise arguing that “whoever is responsible for that should never work in politics again.”