There are three principal things known about Freddie Scappaticci. The first is that he tortured and murdered alleged informers in the name of the Provisional IRA when he was the feared head of its so-called “nutting squad”. The second is that he was subsequently outed as the British security services’ longest-serving asset inside the IRA, known by the codename “Stakeknife” (though he’s always denied that allegation).
As of this week, the final thing known about Scappaticci is that he has been convicted in a court in England on two sample counts of accessing what reports describe as “extreme pornography” on his computer. The former west Belfast resident – now 72 – admitted the charges and was sentenced at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to three months custody, suspended for 12 months.
It says a lot about the movement which gave a prized place to such a disturbed individual for the best part of his life that the last two facts are considered shameful by his erstwhile colleagues, while the first, and most appalling, is shrugged off as a mere detail. What’s more remarkable is that anyone is remotely taken aback by this development.
Sergey Nechayev, the 19th-century Russian nihilist, wrote a Catechism of the Revolutionary, in which he describes his template for the ideal terrorist: “All the tender and effeminate emotions of kinship, friendship, love, gratitude and even honour must be stilled in him by a cold and single-blooded passion.”
Freddie Scappaticci was such a man. Nor, terrifyingly, was he unique among his comrades.
Not everyone who joined the IRA during the Troubles was a certifiable sociopath. Many, cocooned from the horrors they were committing by revolutionary ardour, genuinely thought of themselves as soldiers doing their duty.
How that stupidity survived multiple atrocities is a mystery, but that’s how they saw their actions. Only a sub-section of volunteers were actual monsters beyond redemption.
It would be naive beyond belief, however, to deny that terrorism has always provided the perfect cover for sociopaths – devoid of guilt and with no empathy for other people’s feelings – to perpetrate acts of base savagery.
The paranoid secrecy of their world subsequently allowed those perversions to grow and fester, like mushrooms in a dank cellar.
Men like Scappaticci ceased, on some profound level, to be human. Killing nameless, faceless representatives of the enemy is one thing, but he deceived and murdered his own friends and neighbours and has been directly linked to at least 18 murders. That’s more than the acknowledged crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper.
Like the Shankill Butchers, Scappaticci was a textbook serial killer, whose deviance was allowed to continue unabated, because it had the imprimatur of a political ideology.
These latest charges relate to at least 329 pornographic images, accessed on 13 separate occasions between late-2015 and January of this year. The pictures included images of bestiality, though he denied to police that he had a sexual interest in animals, saying, with pathetic and almost childish self-justification, that he preferred women with big breasts.
It’s this bizarre aspect of the case which seems to have provoked most comment, some of it ribald, since news of his conviction broke.
But if a man can do what the “nutting squad” allegedly did to victims’ bodies, then accessing extreme pornography is not only unsurprising. It might even be considered a predictable piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
The blurring of the line between violence and sex is too well-documented to ignore. American poet and feminist Robin Morgan once wrote a book called The Demon Lover, originally subtitled On The Sexuality Of Terrorism. She overstated her case a little by trying to show that terrorism is the logical outcome of a patriarchal society, but her underlying argument remains compelling.
In her eyes, terrorism is the “eroticisation of violence” and the terrorist “emanates sexual power, because he represents obliteration, he excites the thrill of fear”.
Maybe that’s just a fancy way of saying that terrorists share with sexual abusers a relish for doing unspeakable things to human flesh. Either way, recent revelations about the IRA’s systemic rape of women and sexual abuse of children and teenagers and Sinn Fein’s intimate role in covering it up have only confirmed that, where violent men get together and are given permission to indulge their worst instincts, sexual exploitation will inevitably follow.
Some of that rot went right to the apex of the movement, not least in the case of Liam, brother of Gerry Adams, whose name was synonymous with republicanism for decades.
Morally speaking, pornography is not such a black-and-white issue; no form of it is entirely free of damage, but there are gradations of victimisation involved. In some jurisdictions, Scappaticci’s internet searches would not even be illegal. Criminalising people just for looking at pictures can also be problematic.
But when it comes to men belonging to organisations which legitimise both violence and sexual deviance, their acts can best be seen as a seamless robe of toxic entitlement.
Freddie Scappaticci allegedly told police that his interest in extreme pornography was “not doing anyone any real harm” and that belief is widely held among men who use the power which they have in other parts of their lives to get easy access to women.
There were plenty of groupies on the fringes of the republican movement ready and willing to validate that view by offering their sexual services to brutes; some women will always be attracted to what Robin Morgan calls the “outlaw male”.
Scappaticci is simply doing in retirement, in his later years, what he was assured as a younger, more vigorous man, was his right as an alpha male. If he wanted something, he got it. People never said no to men like him. Not if they knew what was good for them.
Women on a laptop screen don’t have the right to say no, either. Animals certainly don’t. Thinking other bodies are there to serve one’s own needs – to abuse, or torture, or kill – is the psychological default setting of the terrorist.
His excuse to police was that he only looked up obscene images of bestiality because he was suicidal and depressed, though other sources say his interest in pornography was long-established; fellow inmates in the Maze have also spoken of his overbearing egotism. His behaviour seems consistent with the man, rather than a digression from the norm.
Whatever the reality, it’s intriguing that his former handlers in British Intelligence have exposed him to public shame in this undoubtedly dramatic way.
Is something else going on here that we don’t know about yet? Or will it be that, like most elements of our so-called “dirty war”, we’ll never be told the whole truth?