Fait Divers: A History of Violence

Once again a familiar bell is rung, with an ever-so-slightly-different reverberation.

“Nazi items in home of alleged gay bar attacker
3 injured from attack that involved hatchet, handgun; shooter on the loose
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:14 p.m. ET Feb. 2, 2006
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – The attacker hid his weapons in a hooded sweatshirt as he strode into a popular gay tavern known for its quiet atmosphere and trouble-free customers.
The young man flashed an apparently fake ID, the bartender said, and calmly ordered a drink, asking if he was at a gay bar. Told that he was, he attacked the patrons with a hatchet and handgun, sending three men to the hospital early Thursday, one with critical injuries.
Authorities in this historic seaport searched for Jacob D. Robida, 18, who was charged in an arrest warrant with assault, attempted murder and civil-rights violations.”

So far pro forma. An attack on a gay bar is scarcely news. That the Associated Press chose to notice, however is something of a novelty. That the perp collected “Nazi items” frames the crime in proper context, ie. “This isn’t about you.” Even though it is.

“According to court papers attached to the warrant, Robida’s mother told police he came home around 1 a.m., bleeding from the head, then left again. Officers who searched his bedroom found what they described as “Nazi regalia” and anti-Semitic writings on the wall, the police affidavit said. It said Robida was recognized by a woman in the bar.
“Obviously, we have a man who’s dangerous, who’s not rational, and he has weapons,” said Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh Jr.”

Well I’m not so sure about the “not rational” part. He asked if it was a gay bar, and learning that it was acted accordingly, insofar as what everything in the culture has taught him.

“The bartender at Puzzles Lounge told The Associated Press the assailant walked in around midnight and drank a rum on the rocks. He ordered another and walked to the back of the bar, where two men were playing pool.
The attacker shoved one of the men to the ground, then pulled a hatchet from his sweatshirt and began swinging it at the man’s head, said the bartender, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Phillip, because of concerns about his own safety while the gunman is at large.
The second pool player intervened, swinging at the assailant with his pool cue, but the attacker fended him off, the bartender said.
Several other patrons tried to stop him, and he was knocked off his feet, sending the hatchet flying, Phillip said.
The attacker then pulled out the handgun and shot one man, according to the bartender. He fired another bullet into the chest of a patron who was leaving the bathroom.
“He was shooting at everyone,” Phillip said.
The attacker shoved the bartender before leaving the building and running up the street, he said.
Police arrived moments later, finding the hatchet on the barroom floor and a knife lying on the ground outside, though it was apparently never used in the attack.”

Somewhat remindful of David Cronenberg, no?

“Court documents said a woman in the bar recognized Robida as a current or former student at New Bedford High School. School officials declined to confirm whether Robida was enrolled there.
He was also known to New Bedford police because he graduated in 2001 from the city’s Junior Police Academy, according to acting Police Chief David Provencher. The “boot camp” program is designed to teach discipline to 12- to 14-year-olds, many of whom are referred by juvenile courts or social services agencies.”

And again a return to a “normative”context. He was a “troubled youth” in a ” program is designed to teach discipline,” that evidently failed. Or maybe it succeeded. Maybe he was simply trying to teach those gay bar patrons “a little discipline.”

“Robida’s mother, Stephanie Oliver, declined to comment Thursday through a family friend who answered the door at their home.”

The most fascinating line in the story. Who is this “family friend”? What’s to be learned about Stephanie Oliver? To be continued, one hopes.

“The wounded men were identified by police as Robert Perry of Dartmouth, Alex Taylor of Fairhaven and Luis Rosado of New Bedford.
One has a gunshot wound to the chest, another a gunshot wound to the back and severe cuts to his face, and a third suffered multiple cuts, police said. They would not specify which man suffered which injuries.
All three victims remained hospitalized. Police said one was in critical condition but would not say which man.”

And why is that? Curiouser and curiouser.

“Puzzles is popular with New Bedford’s gay community and is listed on several Web sites offering resources to gays and lesbians. Police said they rarely respond to reports of trouble there.
“If all the bars in the city were that quiet, we’d be great,” police Capt. Richard Spirlet said.”

Well now several of its patrons are quiet. And the bartender has declined to let his last name be known for fear of retaliation. The bar does, however, plan to stay open — in clear defiance of the perp.

The Journalists covering this story would do well to read Rough News – Daring Views, gay pioneer Jim Kepner’s anthology of his reporting of new in gay community during the 1950’s. Often as not Kepner would find himself investigating small items that had appeared in the national press way “in the back of the book” dealing with “perverts” and “degenerates,” police raids on establishments that catered to them, and crimes in which they were victim. Thanks to the sodomy laws overturned only a few years ago, Kepner’s writing was itself subject to criminal scrutiny, in that he was an “admitted homsexual” writing in support of others.

Yes times have changed. But as Jacob D. Robida shows, some things remain very much the same.


The Democratic party is really sorta, kinda semi-upset. . .or something.

Meanwhile. . . .

“About 150 people, including New Bedford’s mayor and several of the city’s politicians, held a candlelight vigil late on Thursday on the street outside of the bar about 58 miles (93 km) south of Boston, the state’s capital.
“We think he could strike again. We don’t know what he will do, especially if he gets desperate,” Paul Walsh, Bristol Dist. Attorney, told Reuters. “He’s armed and extremely dangerous. We also cannot rule out that he could be suicidal.”
Police across the Northeast U.S. coast are on alert for Robida, who was last seen by his mother when he returned home early on Thursday bleeding from a head wound and then leaving his house in a green Pontiac car, Walsh said.”

Can we get a license plate number Mr. Walsh? Mr.Mayor? Anyone? Bueller?

“A search of Robida’s bedroom turned up neo-Nazi literature and posters slurring gays, Jews and African-Americans, Walsh said. He also appears on a Web site posing with Nazi flags.
“I’ve had friends jumped before, but it wasn’t with weapons and nothing on this scale,” said Jeffrey Robbins, 33, a gay resident of New Bedford. He said his friends were concerned for their safety and feared a copy-cat attack.
“We’re all just going to be more observant, walking each other to our cars with keys in our hands if we have to defend ourselves,” he said.
Rep. Barney Frank a Massachusetts Democrat, called on Washington to pass a bill that would extend the federal law on hate crimes to cover offenses targeting people because of sexual orientation.
Massachusetts has hate crime laws that cover sexual orientation but 29 states do not.
“This tragic incident underlines the problem of anti-gay violence in this country,” Frank, who is gay and whose district includes New Bedford, said in a statement. “I will continue to press for amendments to existing federal hate crimes laws to cover this sort of horrible crime.”
The crime stunned residents in the blue-collar city.
“It’s crazy that it happened in this day and age,” said Craig Paiva, a 29-year-old New Bedford resident who lives two blocks from Robida’s home. “You wonder how someone could hate a group of people so badly at the age of 18.”

Do you really? I don’t.


  1. Belga February 3, 2006 4:18 pm 

    As in ‘plus ca change’, eh? And the average journalist cannot be expected to become knowledgeable about the history of the gay rights movement, I’m afraid. This story is largely going to be reported as that of a ‘bad apple’. I rest my case ..

  2. D H February 3, 2006 6:08 pm 

    He was a “troubled youth” in a ” program is designed to teach discipline,” that evidently failed. Or maybe it succeeded. Maybe he was simply trying to teach those gay bar patrons “a little discipline.”

    There ya go. Remember when ‘boot camps’ were all the rage? Myself, I never thought that turning a bunch of behaviorally disturbed, confused kids into skinheads, marching them around in jackboots, and giving them paramilitary training in a setting that makes ‘Lord of the Flies’ look like a daycare center was a particularly bright idea to begin with.

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