4 Combating Hate In Ottawa
By Warren Kinsella
One pleasant June evening in 1994, a few weeks after the publication of my book Web of Hate: Inside Canada's Far Right Network - a book that was variously described as harmful, exaggerated and (my personal favourite) alarmist by a few detractors at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun and the like - I stood on my driveway, fishing in my pockets for my house key, when I heard a curious sound. It was the sound of male voices; they sounded youngish and not a little angry, and they seemed to be directed at me.
I squinted into the dark, in the direction of the voices. In the Ottawa neighbourhood in which my wife and I live - a neighbourhood for which the hackneyed phrase "quiet and residential" was probably invented - it is not every evening that one encounters angry young men bellowing at passersby near midnight.
I looked back at our darkened house, where I knew my wife was inside, asleep. The voices continued, barking a few curses and, unmistakably this time, my name. I started to walk to the end of our driveway.
Awaiting me on the opposite side of Imperial Avenue was a battered Pinto-style hatchback. In the back seat, there appeared to be a young man with close-cropped hair. Standing on the street, beside the open doors of the hatchback, were two other young men. They were muscular specimens, with shaved heads, and they both appeared to be holding something in their hands.
After a brief pause in which I was surveyed by my new friends, the shouting continued. While the one at the passenger door gave a Nazi-style salute, his colleague on the driver's side hollered something to the effect of: "Cameras won't save you, Kinsella."
This, undoubtedly, was a reference to the closed-circuit cameras that had been installed earlier that same day on the exterior of our home. The cameras had been recommended to us by the Ottawa Police Service, which had acquired reason to believe that certain Ottawa-area neo-Nazis - angry about Web of Hate - were planning to fire-bomb our home or blow up our car.
I reached into my jacket for the small cellular phone that I always carry, once again, at the recommendation of the police. I started to press a few buttons.
Seeing this, the skinheads climbed into their car and shut the doors. As they slowly made a U-turn to pull away, the skinhead in the passenger seat flashed his middle finger and bellowed: "White power!"
After the car had disappeared from sight, I went inside, where my wife was already calling the police. Both of us knew the number by heart. In the days and weeks following the publication of Web of Hate, we had been stalked by Anne Hartmann, crypto-Nazi leader of the Northern Foundation; I had been threatened (in a hallway at the Ottawa courthouse, no less, where I had been subpoenaed to testify in a hate trial) by Northern Hammerskin leader Dan Roussel; we learned the Nationalist Party of Canada and other white supremacist groups had decided to hold a whites-only "picnic" in the park directly behind our home, prompting the Ottawa Police to call in the riot squad; and, for good measure, the editors at Frank magazine -- who at one time, coincidentally enough, assisted Ms. Hartmann in the production of her far-right rag, Northern Voice, published our address for every neo-Nazi in the country to clip and save.
While my wife waited for a police officer to come on the line, I told her about my brief encounter with the trio of skinheads. As we sat there in the dark, waiting, I remembered that Bill Dunphy - the Toronto Sun's self-appointed expert on hate groups - had called Web of Hate "alarmist". I mentioned this to my wife.
"Alarmist?" she said. "Maybe Bill wouldn't think it was so alarmist if he had a bunch of Nazis sieg-heiling at the end of his driveway."
We both laughed. "Something tells me you're right."
Those who believe that Canada's far right is populated by a minuscule number of red-necked mouth-breathers with little organizational ability -- and even less smarts -- need only re-read the above passage. As one who has endured a harassment campaign that has gone on for months, I can easily testify to the ability of neo-Nazis and white supremacists to intimidate and terrorize. Just today, in fact, I returned home from work to find an envelope full of child pornography in my mailbox. The kiddie porn had been directed to our home, without much doubt, by some pro-Nazi coward. His or her objective has been simple: to provoke fear.
For those far-right types now reading these words, I have one message: it won't work. You won't scare us out of our home. You won't make us leave town. You won't stop me from speaking out against racism.
This, at the end of the day, is the best way to combat Canada's growing web of hate. To refuse to be intimidated. To refuse to be pushed around. To refuse to be afraid.
Fear, after all, is what Canada's organized hate movement is all about.
In the past two decades, Canada's racist right have acquired undeniable skills in their relentless campaign of fear. In the 1960s and 1970s, white supremacists were comparatively ineffective. They strutted about in ill-fitting home-made SS uniforms, mostly content with passing out pro-Nazi leaflets, mouthing the slogans of American Nazi boss George Lincoln Rockwell, and burning the odd cross in remote rural fields. After capturing a few headlines, they would inevitably shrink into well-deserved obscurity, drowning in the bile of their own hate.
By the 1980s, however, the haters had changed. They became better-organized. They became more articulate. They became more numerous.
David Duke changed the formula of hate. Appearing on talk shows in natty suits, with long hair and a deferential manner, Duke captivated Middle America. Over and over, artless interviewers would gush: "But he doesn't look like a racist! He doesn't sound like a Nazi!" Duke would merely smile. This klansman had succeeded: he had brought organized racism out of the shadows and, along the way, manipulated the media - and, through the media, hundreds of thousands of Americans into believing that he was not "anti-black" but merely "pro-white".
Like most media-generated phenomena having their origins in the United States, it was only a matter of time before the Duke dynamo attracted the attention of Canada's own haters. Among the first to come and pay observance were James Alexander McQuirter and Wolfgang Droege, an unlikely pair who had forged a friendship over coffee tables at meetings of Toronto-based groups such as the Western Guard and the Nationalist Party of Canada.
McQuirter and Droege, who would go on to form the wildly successful branch-plant operation known as the Canadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, were awestruck by Duke's charisma and leadership skills. At Duke's knee, the pair learned the power of the mass media and the effectiveness of modern organizational techniques pioneered by U.S. political parties. They learned the value of conducting media interviews in sober, modulated tones; they learned the value of showing up to debates and rallies in dress shirts and ties; they learned the value of presenting a reasonable and friendly image to those they wished to recruit.
Although both McQuirter and Droege would eventually spend some time in prison for their enthusiasm, the Duke-inspired Klan they brought to Canada became the model for all later such efforts. From the Nationalist Party to Aryan Nations to the Heritage Front to the National Alliance, all took note of the McQuirter/Droege experience, and built on the undeniable success of the Canadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the intervening years, dozens of neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations have plagued school yards, army barracks, street corners and (most of all) airwaves with their homily of hate. Like McQuirter and Droege did before them, Canada's newer racist leaders have embraced the "kinder, gentler" tone -- and learned how to spread their message using everything from the fax machine to the Internet.
Just as the haters have become better at what they do, so too must those who push back against the rising wave of intolerance. To quote a cliché, education is the key. But education must take place at two distinct levels - in our schools, and in the strategies and tactics of anti-racist activities.
School yards -- from primary and post-secondary -- are the first battle-ground. Since the debut of the Canadian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s, home-grown hate groups have paid particular attention to our youth. Knowing that burgeoning unemployment and lack of opportunity have marginalized many (if not most) of Canada's next generations, the likes of Wolfgang Droege have elevated recruitment of disenfranchised young people to an art form.
At its peak in early 1993, Droege's Heritage Front group could reliably claim to have captured new members at virtually every high school in the Metropolitan Toronto area. Offering youngsters much of what they are seeking -- an anti-parent culture, a uniform, a secret society, a sense of belonging, an identity and even "racist rock" groups -- Canada's hate group leaders have seduced thousands of adolescents into racist ideologies. Success in school yards and in classrooms is crucial to the future growth of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. It is no accident, for instance, that our schools have attracted so many men who subscribe to racist views: Jim Keegstra in Alberta, Malcolm Ross in New Brunswick, Paul Fromm in Ontario.
To beat racists on this level, we need to appeal to the hearts and minds of young Canadians. Intellectually, they must be shown that the various manifestation of hate promotion -- Holocaust denial, racial epithets and discriminatory practices -- are harmful and contrary to a modern society's best interests. Emotionally, majority students need to experience the pain and anxiety that are natural consequences of anti-semitism, homophobia and racism.
But education must take place at another level, too. Anti-racist activities must adopt new and sophisticated tactics and strategies for combating a hate movement that is better-organized and better-funded than ever before.
Among these strategies and tactics are:
• acquiring, updating and sharing accurate information on the activities and members of hate groups;
• continually monitoring the media - in news stories, editorials and letters-to-the-editor - for any uncritical/favourable coverage of racist groups, then quickly responding to same;
• encouraging metropolitan police forces to develop a built-in expertise to deal with white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations or, ideally, to form bias crime units; reporting, in a timely manner, any and all racist activity, from the distribution of "pro-white" pamphlets to the appearance of discriminatory graffiti;
• avoiding vigilantism, however frustrating such a strategy might be, and leaving policing activity to the RCMP, CSIS and local police services;
• learning the significance of particular dates (e.g. April 20 is Adolf Hitler's birthday); particular symbols (e.g. "88" refers to "h", the eighth letter of the alphabet, and is a short form for "Heil Hitler"); particular forms of dress (e.g. red laces on Doc Marten boots typically mean the wearer is a neo-Nazi); and particular subcultures (e.g. skinheads are not always racist, but it is safe to assume the vast majority have or have had involvement with racist groups);
• finally, never underestimating the cunning and ability of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist leaders of the 1990s.
Every once in a while -- not often, but often enough -- my wife and I muse about what our lives would be like had I not written a book about Canada's racist right. Undoubtedly, we would be able to dispense with the numerous personal security devices both of us always carry. We would not need to position video cameras and lights on the exterior of our home. We would not need to register in hotels under assumed names, or change our unlisted telephone number every four months.
We would not need to snap awake past midnight, having heard an unfamiliar sound outside our bedroom window.
But Web of Hate was written, and published. Many of Canada's white supremacists and neo-Nazis don't like it. And I am not ashamed I have raised my voice against them. All of us need to raise our voices. All of us need to remember that Canada's racist groups are watching, waiting and growing stronger. They have not gone away in the past, and there is not much chance that they will go away in the immediate future.