Tag Archives: UK

The First Stats on Subculture Hate Crimes Are In


Photo by Flickr user fluffy_steve.

Some of you may recall the stories of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDermott, two Manchester-area women who were beaten — one of them to death — for looking “goth.” Well, in 2013, Manchester police began coding these attacks as hate crimes, and at the end of the year they revealed their statistics on hate crimes in the region.

While the number of hate crimes against goths, emos, metalheads and others in the area is small compared to the vast number that target people based on race, sexual orientation or other factors, it’s a big step for police to recognize them at all. To call out attacks that are specifically driven by the way a person looks — and their sense of otherness — is to prevent the attacker from being able to hide behind other excuses, and it also reminds others that harming someone because they’re different isn’t acceptable. That’s especially true given that many places, including in Greater Manchester, the punishment for hate crimes is greater than for other types of assaults. This, in turn, can encourage victims to report them.

More police departments need to follow Manchester’s model and recognize hate crimes against subcultures. As the region’s crime commissioner, Tony Lloyd, told the BBC:

“The impact of hate crime extends far beyond the initial incident.

“By their very nature, hate crimes are very personal attacks that leave victims, who are often already vulnerable individuals, feeling defenceless physically and emotionally.

“Because of this, victims may be reluctant to report the crime or — worse still — may come to accept hate crime as an inevitable part of their lives.”

UK pony death: Satanists? No, hungry animals.

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Photo by Flickr user treehouse1977.

Shortly after a pony was killed in Dartmoor, England in July, journalists were quick to report that a Satanic cult was involved. The pony was found dead “with its tongue and eyes cut out, and its genitals and right ear sliced off at Yennadon Down, a remote, bushy area of the Devon National Park,” the Telegraph reported. “Experts,” including the area’s animal-protection officer, said Satanists were to blame.

However, after a police investigation, a more likely culprit has come to light: wild animals took bites from the pony, causing the wounds described in the Telegraph. Here’s what they said:

Devon and Cornwall police concluded earlier this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails.

“Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,” the police said in a statement. “The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.”

If this sounds in any way familiar to you, that may be because it’s similar to what forensic experts found in the West Memphis Three case — more than a decade after three teens went to jail for their supposedly “Satanic ritual” killing of three young boys. Originally, experts claimed that the marks on the boys’ bodies were caused by a ritual knife; that turned out not to be the case. The teens, now in their 30s, were later released under an Alford plea.

July’s pony killing is not the first time rural England has been gripped with speculation about an equine death linked to so-called “occult” practices. Last January, a shadowy (and likely made-up) group was blamed for a horse’s death, mainly because it was killed on a supposedly Satanic holiday that turned out to have been fabricated by conservative Christians. In another instance, Satanists were blamed for a horse’s beheading last May. I will grant that in the latter case, the activity of wild animals seems less likely. But Satanic activity is just as unlikely, considering most most Satanists don’t practice animal sacrifice.

The larger problem, of course, is that hardly anyone knows that. There’s so much misinformation about Satanic and other occult practices — misinformation that seems plausible enough that people actually believe it — that folks have little reason to dig deeper before they start pointing fingers. As the Livescience article says:

One problem is that most ranchers and livestock officials have no idea what occurs in a real animal ritual sacrifice, so they can hardly make a valid comparison. Though animal sacrifice has been a part of many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam), these days, the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería, which has very specific procedures and rituals for the sacrifice (and typically sacrifice chickens or goats, not horses). … Of course, with something as mysterious and clandestine as suspected satanists, anything could be assumed to be the result of their sinister actions.

Satanists make a convenient and exciting scapegoat for such incidents. But these kinds of allegations can result in very real consequences for practicing Satanists, who are suspected, as a whole, of brutally slaughtering animals. That isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair.

It’s official: heavy metal is a religion in the UK


At least 6,000 people in the UK feel this way. Photo by Flickr user Iain Purdie.

Some of you may recall that last year, amid the 2011 UK census, there was a campaign to get heavy metal listed as a religion. Well, the results are in, and heavy metal definitely made its mark.

According to the Guardian, 6,242 people listed heavy metal as their religion (65 of them were in Norwich, giving it the highest per-capita concentration in the country). That’s more than said they were Satanists (1,893), New Age (650), Baha’i (5,021), Druids (4,189), or Scientologists (2,418) — and only slightly fewer than the number who said they were Rastafarians (7,906). Jedis still have metalheads beat, with some 176,632 adherents (though that number fell significantly from 300,000 in 2001).

Honestly, I’m surprised the number for heavy metal isn’t higher — certainly there are many more fans than that in the UK — but these, presumably, are either those who take the music and culture seriously enough to consider it a faith, or who liked the amusement value of the idea and went with it.

However, if you’re wondering why your teen, or your friend, is so wrapped up in heavy metal — here’s your answer. It’s potent stuff, and it, like any intense music, can make you feel pretty special when you listen to it.

Justice in anti-goth hate crime?


Melody McDermott (left) and the man who attacked her, Kenneth Kelsall (right), outside the UK courthouse where Kelsall was convicted.

Goths worldwide celebrated World Goth Day this week. But another, more bittersweet, victory came today with the news that Kenneth Kelsall has pleaded guilty to the vicious assault on Melody McDermott last October. The 47-year-old UK man and his accomplice, Gareth Farrar, will be sentenced in July.

Much of the case revolved around security footage of the attack. According to attorneys, it began when Kelsall head-butted McDermott, knocking her to the ground of the tram they were riding. McDermott began kicking at the tram doors for help. Farrar pushed McDermott into a corner of the tram. He then turned to McDermott’s companion, Stephen Stafford, and punched him to the ground. Stafford was kicked in the face, sustaining an injury that required stitches. Somewhere in the attack, Kelsall kicked McDermott in the head numerous times, breaking her eye socket. Needless to say, the attack could have been fatal if it had continued.

Farrar’s attorney actually told the court, “He can be seen swinging two punches against the complainant. But he is a man of 43 and effectively good character.” (I’m not sure you can attack a girl half your age, just because you don’t like her looks, and still be of “good character.”)

Although the Daily Mail called the attack a “hate crime,” it was not and could not be prosecuted as such — subcultures such as goth culture are not protected under the UK’s hate-crime laws, despite efforts to gain such protections.

There’s no word yet on the sentences Kelsall and Farrar would face. The Mail said it would be “lengthy,” but quotes Judge Elliot Knopf as saying “they could both face jail sentences.”

Whatever happens, I want to cheer McDermott for bringing charges against her attackers, facing them in court, and doing her part to make sure they face the consequences. It remains to be seen what those consequences will be — and whether they will teach these men not to brutalize others.

Goth, metalhead beaten in separate UK attacks


Ben Moores, left, and Gena Willenberg, right, were recently beaten in separate incidents in the UK — because of how they look.

When emo and heavy metal fans are stoned to death in Iraq, it’s easier to dismiss it as something that happens “over there.”

But in recent weeks, two people have been brutally attacked in separate incidents in the UK, revealing that violent mob behavior is still happening right here.

Gena Willenberg, an American expat, was surrounded by a gang of teenagers in Edinburgh, Scotland, in late March. First came the verbal abuse: “They started shouting at me and my friend that we were f****** goths and they were going to kick our f****** heads in,” she said.

Then the physical assault began.

“We turned our back and just kept going and that was when they attacked me. One of them tried to smash a bottle over the back of my head, but fortunately it didn’t break. Then they started punching and kicking me.

“I fell to the ground and they just kept on kicking me. My friend tried to stop them from stamping on me and they attacked her, too.

“There was one girl in the group and she pulled my hair back so one of her friends could kick me in the face.”

Goths have not fared well in recent years in the UK, with attacks on Melody McDermott and Sophie Lancaster, the latter of whom died of her injuries.

Not far from where Lancaster was attacked in a Bacup, England, park, metalhead Ben Moores was recently beaten in a similar incident. The 16-year-old was was called “mosher” and “freak” as he was punched and kicked to the ground by up to 15 people behind a Co-op supermarket in Waterfoot, 2 miles from Bacup.

Moores recalls:

Clumps of his hair were pulled out and his head and wrists were stamped on. He suffered bruising to his head and body but escaped serious injury.

“When they got me on the floor I thought I was going to die. There was no stopping them – they wouldn’t let me up. I had blood all over my face by the end. When I was getting kicked and stamped in my head and on my wrists and my hair was being pulled out, there was nothing I could do. Thinking about it now makes me shiver in shock. They were only doing it because of the way I look and because I’ve got long hair and like heavy metal music.”

Seven of his attackers are currently in jail.

There are some ways to fight this. If you see a group going after an individual for the way they dress, it might not be best to get involved — but calling the police is a good idea. Walking a goth or metalhead friend home can help keep attackers at bay.

On a more meta level, you can support the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which has a number of campaigns working to end discrimination and violence against subcultures in the UK.

Fear leads to anger — and goth-bashing


Thirteen-year-old Casey-Lyanne Kearney was stabbed to death. Her accused killer has been called a “goth.” Not likely.

On Valentine’s Day, Casey-Lynne Kearney was crossing Elmfield Park in Doncaster, England when a woman allegedly stabbed her and left her to die.

Police, who called the assault random and isolated, arrested 26-year-old Hannah Bonser, a Doncaster resident, for Kearney’s murder and and for possession of two knives. Her trial is scheduled to begin July 2.

Even before Bonser appeared in court to defend herself, neighbors described her to the UK’s sensationalism-prone Sun as a goth:

… neighbours in Doncaster described her as having the look of “a Goth” — sporting dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She was said to be “addicted” to computer games.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said: “The police were round here and they took some boxes of stuff from her flat. She was like a rocker, gothic type. She was very quiet.”

Talking to the neighbors is one of the oldest tricks in the reporter’s book. There are a variety of good reasons for this practice, but what neighbors say must always be taken with a grain of salt — these days, many people don’t know their neighbors particularly well, or may even have conflicts with them that drive them to say things they shouldn’t.

Not only are those descriptions very vague and patched-together, they don’t really describe an actual goth. (And, you can see in the court link, Bonser doesn’t look particularly goth.) Most of the time, it takes more than dark hair and “dark-rimmed glasses” to identify a goth. (Also, nice how the slipped in the “video games” angle too, eh?”)

More than that, though, these flimsy descriptions reinforce the false idea that goths are a remotely violent group. This idea, popularized after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999 (committed by two young men who were also falsely identified as goths), has been tough to shake. People outside the goth culture see the black hair, theatrical makeup and clothing, piercings and studs, and assume their fear of such an off-putting appearance must mean goths are aggressive. In fact, the most aggressive thing about goths is probably their appearance. Religioustolerance.org notes, “Goths tend to be non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant.”

Often to a fault. In fact, goths are much more often the victims of violence, as in the cases of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDowell, both of whom were coincidentally assaulted in England.

In some ways, the comments made by Bonser’s neighbors constitute another kind of attack on goths — and reveal the layers of misunderstanding and discomfort that exist against them in modern society.

When someone on UK Yahoo Answers asked why goths are so stigmatized, another responded:

Unfortunately a lot of people (especially those who live in small towns & don’t have a lot of life experience, or even those of a low level of intelligence) will always feel threatened by something that is outside their own experience and/or they do not understand.

Or, to quote a certain wise green muppet, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

When will we stop being so afraid of one another?

How fundamentalists control the story


Dawn Jewell’s horse, Erik, was slaughtered in Cornwall last weekend. Probably not by Satanists.

Satanic fervor has overtaken both British newspapers and Internet forums following the death of a 2-year-old stallion last weekend. Details of the death have been scarce, stoking public imagination. Because he died either late Sunday night, Jan. 8, or early Jan. 9, on the full moon (Jan. 9) and close to the supposed Satanic holiday of “St Winebald Day” (Jan. 7), speculators believe the horse’s death must somehow be related to Satanists or the occult.

BBC’s first article played up the “St Winebald” idea. Other, more predictable British papers, took it even further. “Eric the horse mutilated on ‘Satan sacrifice day’,” screeched the Sun, which also shared a few gruesome details. Their piece also contains this potentially libelous gem:

Rumours are rife among locals that the butchery in Stithians, near Falmouth, Cornwall, was part of an evil occult ceremony.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has attempted to connect Erik’s fate to a second horse’s death nearly 300 miles away, in Wales.

However, in a followup story, the BBC has toned down the Satanism:

Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation.

“It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

Worrisomely, if you look up “St. Winebald’s Day” on Google, the first link you come to is one from The Forbidden Knowledge, which presents a “Satanic” calendar without sources or explanation. Click through to the front page of this site and you’ll see an above-the-fold warning that, “Your government is poised to inject you with a tracking chip manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions called, ‘Veri Chip.’ Don’t believe me? Click below, I’ll prove it to you.” Reporters who visit this site should be backing away, as quickly as they can, from any information it contains.

However, the second link with information about this “holiday” is a piece by pagan leader and former cop Kerr Cuhulain debunking the aforementioned calendar. He believes the source is the Calvary Chapel, a fundamentalist Christian organization, based in West Covina, California. In other words, not exactly experts on occult and Satanism — in fact, they have a vested interest in making such faiths look bad.

Cuhulain explains:

This calendar claims that Satanic groups perform between 4 and 8 human sacrifices (“blood” or “Da Muer” rituals) per year. It also claims that every year these groups must engage in 10 sexual orgies with males and females between the ages of 1 and 25 as well as with animals. Let’s look at this awful calendar in detail:

“DATE: Jan. 7, CELEBRATION: St. Winebald Day, TYPE: Blood, USAGE: Animal or Human Sacrifice, AGE: 15-33.”(5)

NOTE: January 7 is Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day. It is not a Satanic holiday. Winebald was the brother of Saint Walburga, also known as Walpurgis.

Reporters, or even Internet speculators, don’t seem to have gotten as far as link #2. Or even questioning link #1.

Regular readers of this blog already know that Most Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. That’s not to say that people playing at “devil worship” won’t hurt animals. It just means it likely has nothing to do with established faiths or the people who follow them.

In short, a calendar cooked up by evangelicals is being used by some police, locals, and even British newspapers to explain a horse’s death — one even going so far as to finger a butcher shop and accuse workers both of horse slaughter and occult activity. Meanwhile, Satanists and occultists who actually follow their faith and their laws are quietly implicated.

Next, people will be believing that the government wants to put a chip in their brain.