In Greek and Roman mythology, Cereberus is the three headed dog that guards the gates of Hell, and prevents those who have crossed the River Styx ever returning to safety.
Cereberus, or to give it its proper name Cereberus Capital Management, is also the name of a multi-billion dollar private investment company that made a tidy little profit out of the slaughter at Newtown, Ct. When the crazed son of an equally insane “prepper” – an apocalyptic offshoot of American right-wing survivalism which preaches the need to prepare for societal breakdown – killed twenty children between 6 and 7 years old, and seven adults, six of them teachers and one his mother, he was using some of Cereberus’ best products.
But you wouldn’t know that Cereberus is the company that makes the Bushmaster M4 carbine that was the principal weapon used in the attack or that it also made the bullets that destroyed the schoolkids’ little bodies (so many bullets tore into the children that the pathologist showed their parents photos to identify them by rather than expose them to the real thing) . You won’t know that because so far the media has not mentioned the company at all even though it makes millions every year from selling the M4, and even though ultimate responsibility for the bloodshed in Connecticut arguably rests at its door. Some things are sacred after all.
Cereberus is a private investment company that, in the words of its chairman, former Vice-President Dan Quayle (yes, the idiot who couldn’t spell potato), “is truly sector agnostic”. That means it doesn’t care what product the company that it wants to buy makes as long as he and his buddies can make a buck out of its. Like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, Cereberus is in the same eithics-free business of buying ailing companies cheap, making them over – usually by cutting workforces – and selling them off at a tidy profit. So morality doesn’t come into the equation at all, just dollar bills.
Cereberus has had investments in all these industries: Pharmaceuticals, Paper, Government Services, Real Estate, Retail, Transportation, Manufacture of Cars, Personnel management, Financial Services and Entertainment.
But it is probably best known in the arcane world of private investment by buying heavily into the unfashionable firearms business, rapidly becoming what the New York Times called “the most powerful and mysterious force in the American commercial gun industry.” It bought Remington Arms in 2007, a company that began in 1816 by producing flintlock rifles and was the oldest independent arms manufacturer in America until Cereberus appeared on the scene, and then it acquired DPMS Panther Arms. But its defining investment was the Maine firearms company Bushmaster which specialised in the production of so-called long guns, especially semi-automatics like the M4 Carbine, now forever to be linked to the carnage at an elementary school in western Connecticut.
Cereberus grouped these acquisitions together under the umbrella of a new conglomerate called Freedom Group – names like this are red lights in America, usually signaling the opposite of what is suggested – and it has grown to the point that in 2010 it sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition. It is estimated that the Freedom Group controls some 20 to 30 per cent of the firearms market in the U.S.
When Cereberus began its buying spree of firearms manufacturers the conspiracy obsessed world of gun freaks invented all sorts of theories to explain who the mysterious and largely anonymous Cereberus was and what the company’s motives were. The most extreme of these was that the liberal financier George Soros was behind the group and aimed to buy up America’s firearms industry so as to close it down. The rumours got so intense that Freedom Group was obliged to issue a public statement proclaiming that the company’s “owners and investors involved are strong supporters of the Second Amendment“.
Headquartered in ritzy Park Avenue in Manhattan, Cereberus’ founder is New Yorker, Steve Feinberg, a publicity-shy veteran of Wall Street finance. He began his business life with Drexel Burnham, the investment company founded by the notorious and subsequently convicted inside dealer, Michael Milliken, one of the shadiest characters ever to emerge from the canyons of New York’s financial district, and then joined with a friend to found Cereberus.
A big-game hunter (does he use the M4 to shoot elephants, one wonders?), Feinberg has brought former politicians like Quayle and ex-Treasury Secretary John Snow into the company to be its publicly acceptable face. He and his wife are heavy contributors to the Republican party. If the move to ban semi-automatic weapons gathers pace, expect Feinberg and Cereberus to call in some favors in Congress. But the big unanswered question in the meantime is this: how well does Steve Feinberg sleep at night?
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Meanwhile, as readers of Niall O’Dowd’s Irish Central website are all too aware, hardly a US story breaks than the boul’ Niall and his staff are immediately scouring for the Irish-American angle, and with the Newtown massacre it has been no different.
But here’s one Irish angle on the slaughter in Connecticut that I don’t think Mr O’Dowd will be highlighting. The Bushmaster M4 carbine has another name. It’s called the AR-15. Does that sound familiar to my Irish readers at all? The AR-15 is of course the Armalite rifle and until Col Gaddafi started shipping over hundreds of AK-47′s to the IRA in the late 1980′s, the Armalite was the Provos favorite and deadliest weapon. And believe me it didn’t matter that it wasn’t fully automatic; firing rapid single shots was just ideal for urban guerrilla warfare.
The former IRA leader in Belfast, Brendan Hughes told the story to researchers at Boston College how the Armalite was introduced to the conflict in Ireland. His commander at the time, Gerry Adams ordered him to travel to New York to buy quantities of the weapon and smuggle them back via the Queen Elizabeth II liner. When the weapons arrived in Belfast the IRA was for a while better armed than its adversaries in the British Army.
So celebrated was the Armalite in IRA culture that songs were sung about the weapon:
And here is a publicity film that the Armalite’s original owners produced back in the 1960′s. This is about the AR-10, a predecessor of the Ar-15: