As I wrote a few weeks ago, during the decades of the so-called Troubles while unionist terrorists may have pulled the triggers it was unionist politicians who pointed the guns. Yes, the close institutional link that latterly existed between the military and political wings of the (Provisional) Republican movement did not exist within the pro-union community. But when it came to loyalist violence, whether it was from gunmen-without-uniform or gunmen-out-of-uniform, the dogs on the streets knew who the militant pro-union gangs were taking inspiration or direction from, either in private or in public. The author and journalist Susan McKay, noting the coming together in the Six Counties of Brexit-supporting politicians and the representatives of ideologically similar armed groupings, makes much the same point in the Irish Times:

As the Proud Boys are to Trump, so the loyalist paramilitaries are to the Democratic Unionist Party.

“We will fight guerrilla warfare against this, until the big battle opportunity comes,” the DUP MP for East Antrim, Sammy Wilson, declared last weekend in respect of the Northern Ireland protocol. His comments followed a meeting between First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster and a group that included retired former paramilitary leaders. Deputy leader Nigel Dodd was there as well.

It came after threats were issued and incendiary devices left at the offices of the SDLP, Alliance and Sinn Féin politicians. One of those at the meeting, former UUP adviser David Campbell, recently said on one of BBC NI’s angry men shows that if loyalists had to “fight physically” again, “so be it”. After all, he reasoned, we didn’t put up with Hitler or Stalin.

Unionism is crashing backwards. The Ulster Unionist Party is by now completely incoherent.

…the DUP has decided chaos is the best plan.

Even the Associated Press’ long-time Ireland correspondent Shawn Pogatchnik, whose simplistic reporting on Irish politics has been a boon for British government propagandists for years, has been forced to explain to international readers where the danger now lies to peace on this island. From the current affairs site Politico:

Outlawed Protestant groups have written menacing letters to the prime ministers of Britain and Ireland, Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin, warning they will shun Northern Ireland’s peace agreement until the post-Brexit “sea border” is removed.

The proxy group sending the letters, the Loyalist Communities Council, is legal — but the three paramilitary gangs it represents are not.

These shadowy groups still seek to wield political influence and, if denied this, reserve a full-fledged resumption of bloodshed as their only compelling card to play.

Loyalist outlaws, however, proved incompetent at running their own political fronts and have virtually no directly elected representatives today. Instead, they provide a vein of grassroots support for the Democratic Unionists.

That relationship is what makes the letters’ words more than hot air — serving, rather, as the sharp end of Democratic Unionist demands for the protocol to be scuttled.

During previous crises, unionist political parties and loyalist militants coordinated tactics and strategy — sometimes openly at protests and rallies, more often secretly. Having a legal umbrella group like the Loyalist Communities Council, founded in 2015, makes this behind-closed-doors dialogue more politically palatable.

Democratic Unionist leaders met Loyalist Communities Council representatives a week before the loyalist letters were sent. Democratic Unionist MPs since have insisted the timing was a coincidence.

Yet those Democratic Unionist MPs — reflecting the instincts of a party that for decades whipped up loyalist violence for its own ends — now cite the potential for loyalist mayhem in its own militarized anti-protocol rhetoric.

Having failed in its objective of using Brexit as a Trojan Horse to bring back a hard border to the island, a partition 2.0 for the 21st century, the Democratic Unionist Party and its allies have only one card to play. The same one far too many unionist leaders have played for the last two hundred years. And it is a card stained blood orange.