Four years after the ‘Loyalists Against Democracy’ internet phenomenon was founded, its creator has unmasked himself as 36-year-old John-Paul Whearty.
The online publication sprang from nowhere on social media, attracting tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, as a reaction against the loyalist flag protests in late 2012.
But long after the flag protests had faded, the controversial site – known by the acronym LAD – remained influential, playing a key role in some major news stories, most notably by publicising Pastor James McConnell’s sermon about Islam which led to him ending up in court before being cleared.
Mr Whearty, who was born in Dundalk and lived in Dublin before moving to Belfast in 2010, spoke publicly for the first time yesterday in an interview with the Irish News, and then made broadcast appearances on U105’s Frank Mitchell Show and BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.
On Talkback, loyalist Jamie Bryson – who the site has lampooned – phoned in to challenge the online satirist, to Mr Whearty’s obvious annoyance.
Mr Whearty made clear that he is speaking out now to publicise his new career as a stand-up comedian. In that role, he is performing at Belfast’s MAC theatre next month, with tickets to see the self-described “internet troll” costing £12.
There are others involved in the LAD site and Mr Whearty did not allude to their identities.
Explaining their modus operandi, he told the Irish News: “I meet with the team of people in LAD very rarely, if at all - we connect through the internet. They are all from Northern Ireland...not everybody agrees with the content that we produce. It’s vulgar. We swear. We get criticism for some of the language we use, but people swear in life.”
Recalling the start of the project, Mr Whearty, who goes by the name JP, told the paper: “I started to research the flag protests online and was perplexed by the information that was coming out about them that wasn’t necessarily true so I started to counteract that.
“I copied the style of language being used by the flag protesters, mimicking them, to highlight how ridiculous it was. It exploded from there.”
He added: “In the typical Northern Ireland sense when someone doesn’t agree with you there are often threats against your life but I have never taken them seriously because I just thought it was people being blowhards and taking nonsense.
“What were they going to do, give you a beating because you said something that was factually accurate that they didn’t agree with? I would be prepared to take that beating just for the craic.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme yesterday, Mr Whearty said: “I’m not in support of democracy. Democracy doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked.” When asked if he was an anarchist, he said: “I don’t know what I am; I haven’t found that. But life is evolving; you have the whole time to find that – I know what I am at the moment...look at the situation that we’re in at the moment with democracy.”