Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 181-203

'An effective mask for terror': Democracy, death squads and Northern Ireland

  • Bill RolstonAffiliated withSociology Department, University of Ulster Email author 

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Defining terrorism solely as anti-state activity is in the ascendant in the aftermath of 9/11. Yet the existence of death squads – paramilitary groups involved in state-sponsored or state-tolerated terror against political opponents – reveals that the state can also be terrorist. Most commonly, death squads exist in non-democratic states, and most of the literature on death squads focuses on such societies. This article seeks to examine the circumstances in which death squads and democracy can coexist, looking specifically at the case of loyalist paramilitary violence and state collusion in Northern Ireland.