The bunch of men who gathered the other day to counter the Black Lives Matter event were not protesters. Vicious insults, Nazi salutes and monkey gestures are not about protest. They’re about a racist mob, which is exactly what we saw in Valletta.

The prime minister was quick to distance himself. He duly “condemned hate speech” (yawn) and added that “we are better than that, as a people”. We may be, as a people. The prime minister, however, is not, and neither are the armed forces he so loves to heap praise on.

The clue is a certain Anton Rea Cutajar. He was there at the front of the mob and clearly commanded respect from and wielded some power over it.

That may have to do with his new-found vocation as patriot extraordinaire and klandestini basher. Among his contributions is a Facebook live stream in which he rants about people “ġejjin mill-ġungla” (“from the jungle”) and takes phone calls from angry sad men.

Now there are two good reasons not to write about Cutajar. The first is that life is too short, and that neither I nor my readers have time to waste.

The second has to do with the dubious wisdom of upsetting a man who is rich, keeps tigers as pets, and likes to be photographed aiming an assault rifle at an imaginary enemy. Life is short, as I said, and I’ve no intention of making it shorter.

But needs must, and Cutajar happens to be the key evidence in the case against the prime minister and the army. The basic biographical background is that he appears to be some kind of property developer, that he’s made money quickly enough to be a millionaire in his 30s, and that he loves to flaunt it.

He’s also Malta’s self-declared ‘Tiger King’. (The genuine article and one-time Netflix star is in an American prison serving long sentences for various crimes.)

Cutajar is one of a select few Maltese real men who run menageries in the manner of Renaissance princes. The Google sky is dark with images of him kissing tigers, fondling llamas and so on.

There are other images, too. Savage felines aside, Cutajar loves to be photographed in various chummy poses with Labour politicians.

There’s a photo of him with Chris Cardona, for example, in which Cardona holds a tiger and is clearly tickled pink. The tiger’s opinion is not known.

Thing is, you really, really have to get on with a man to hold his tiger.

Which brings me to my point, because Cutajar is manifestly a Labour insider at the uppermost crust.

Fairly or not, the army has in recent years had to live in the shadow of institutional racism

I lost count of the images of him and the consultant’s consultant in his Invictus days, and I’m not even on Facebook.

Now one or two photos would not necessarily a story tell: it’s the lot of any politician to be constantly accosted by people for selfies.

A stack of photos is something else altogether. It tells of familiarity and regular socialising. It appears that Joseph Muscat, among other Labour top brass, was especially fond of Cutajar’s company.

That alone would be a reason for a post-resignation resignation. Sadly, that’s not possible.

On the contrary, Muscat is still very much part of Robert Abela’s inner circle. If Abela wants to distance himself from people like Cutajar (because, as he put it, he is better than that) he first has to distance himself from Cutajar’s close friends – among them, spectacularly, Muscat. In politics especially, association matters.

Which brings me to the army. I’m not making this up: a couple of weeks ago, Cutajar made his way to the base in Haywharf with two big bunches of red roses.

The symbolism of flowers appears not to be his field, or maybe poppies were not in season. He also wore red shoes to match, and I’m hoping his menagerie does not include bulls.

He was greeted at the gates – and I do mean that – by a number of soldiers and officers, who he proceeded to lecture at length about how exalted their work was, and how deeply the Maltese appreciated it. He then offered them each a rose.

Fairly or not, the army has in recent years had to live in the shadow of institutional racism. Mamadou Kamara, who died mysteriously in custody in 2012, comes to mind. And Lassana Cisse, who was shot dead for sport allegedly by two off-duty soldiers.

The point is not that all Maltese soldiers are killers or racists, but that the army has had to deal with the issue in a very real way. Add to that the fact that Cutajar’s flower-power gesture came at a time when the world was protesting against institutional racism.

Any sensible officer would have told a man like Cutajar, with his talk of klandestini and jungles, exactly where to put his roses. At the very least, they would have stood by and ignored him.

That’s not what happened. Incredibly, the officer in charge responded in an elaborate speech of his own in which he thanked Cutajar.

The soldiers then queued up and took a rose each. The whole event was filmed and broadcast on a popular news portal.

The prime minister is not better than that. His armed forces (I know they’re also mine, but unlike him I have no power over them) are perfectly happy to help themselves to flowers offered by that.

For his part, he is perfectly happy to group himself with the people who socialise regularly with that.

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