Saturday, July 11, 2009
Canadian Hate Group Shocks Calgary
Wielding "White Pride Worldwide" flags and wearing black combat boots, about 40 members of the Aryan Guard and their supporters strode through the heart of Calgary, in western Canada, on March 21 to broadcast their message of hate at City Hall.
But they never got there. Instead, they encountered several hundred anti-racist protesters, some of whom threw rocks, water bottles and even cans of vegetables at the group as traffic came to a halt and police called for backup. Police eventually herded the neo-Nazis onto a bus that returned them to their vehicles on Calgary's outskirts. Though no serious injuries were reported, the melee snared headlines across Canada and prompted Aryan Guard spokesman Kyle McKee — who has "Kill Jews" tattooed on his shins — to declare victory. "We didn't make it to City Hall, but I think a lot of people will hear about it, and on that part it's a success," he told Canwest News Service.
The aborted march shows how the relatively tiny Aryan Guard has nonetheless made its presence felt in Calgary, which has sizeable immigrant and minority populations. "What they stand for is causing a lot of anxiety and concern in the community," said Edmonton Police Sgt. Stephen Camp, co-chair of the Alberta Hate Crime Committee. "They're pretty hard-core."
The group gained a toehold in Canada's third-largest city through the efforts of the country's two best-known white supremacists, showing how established movement leaders continue to exploit the anger of bigoted young people in an effort to advance their cause. Essentially a racist gang, the Aryan Guard is the most public hate group to appear in Calgary — which, like much of western Canada, has a history of such activity going back to the Klan of the 1920s — in the past two decades. These Nazi look-alikes have clashed with counter-protesters at rallies in the city's downtown, handed out white-power music CDs to teenagers in an attempt to bolster their membership, and perpetrated attacks on minorities despite espousing non-violence. In a country where racism tends to be suppressed, the community's response to the Aryan Guard's in-your-face tactics has resembled, in the words of Sgt. Camp, "a collective gasp."
"It shocks us," added Valerie Pruegger, social research planner for the city of Calgary. "That's not something that the larger public expects to see."
The Aryan Guard was founded in late 2006 with help from two disgraced ex-teachers who marched with the fringe group at the March 21 rally: Paul Fromm of the Canadian Association for Free Expression, who lost his teaching certificate because of his white supremacist activities, and National Socialist Party of Canada leader Terry Tremaine, a former part-time university lecturer who in 2007 was fined $4,000 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal because of his racist and anti-Semitic Internet postings.
"They were the main catalysts behind bringing these young fellows here," said Constable Lynn MacDonald, hate crimes coordinator for the Calgary Police Service.
MacDonald said the Aryan Guard has also received ongoing support from Christian Waters, a leader of the Canadian branch of the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Headquartered in Marion, Ohio, that group has emerged as the largest Klan organization in the United States.
The Aryan Guard is hardly the first Canadian hate group with links to U.S.-based white supremacist organizations. In the 1920s, American organizers seeded the Ku Klux Klan in Canada, where it thrived in western Canada generally and Calgary specifically. Many of the best-known contemporary U.S. groups, including Aryan Nations, have in recent times had Canadian chapters. The World Church of the Creator (WCOTC, since renamed the Creativity Movement), once formed an alliance with Heritage Front, a Canadian neo-Nazi group that fell apart around 2005. George Burdi, a former WCOTC member and racist rock band leader, and the founder of Resistance Records — a white-power music label that just a few years ago was the largest such distributor in the world — is a Canadian.
The Aryan Guard began as a loose-knit group of about 10 people and now has roughly 20 full-fledged members, MacDonald said. Another 20 to 30 are somewhat affiliated, including those belonging to the Valkyrian Legion, or woman's wing of the Aryan Guard, which consists mostly of the girlfriends of male members. The majority of Aryan Guard members are in their early 20s.
Despite forming 2 1/2 years ago, the Aryan Guard didn't garner much attention until late July 2007, when members inserted neo-Nazi pamphlets into the pages of Fast Forward, an alternative newsweekly, and distributed hate literature in a couple of Calgary neighborhoods. That September, they ventured some 130 miles away to the town of Lethbridge, where they handed out fliers under the direction of Tremaine, who told Canada Press that the group "doesn't have a problem with non-white people, as long as they stay in their own homelands."
Although the Aryan Guard disrupted anti-racism rallies in August 2007, its first organized public appearance occurred nearly two months later, when about 15 neo-Nazis rallied outside City Hall to denounce the Canadian law that permits Muslim women to wear burkas while voting. Since then, the group has conducted sporadic demonstrations in Calgary, including the first "White Pride Day" rally in March 2008, which drew about 30 Aryan Guard members and supporters. Both White Pride Day events were scheduled to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Racism. In January 2009, the Aryan Guard briefly set aside its Muslim-bashing to join a protest against Israel's incursions into Gaza, much to the consternation of the protest's Arab-Canadian organizers who did not share the group's anti-Semitism.
At all its rallies, the Aryan Guard has found itself vastly outnumbered by anti-racist protesters, including members of Anti-Racist Action Calgary. Police say both Aryan Guard members and counter-protesters have been arrested for assaults at these events, with this year's White Pride Day rally seeing the most serious altercations between the two groups. (Jason Devine, a spokesman for Anti-Racist Action Calgary, said no member of his group has been charged in connection with any incident at an Aryan Guard rally.) Police complain that the anti-racists — who they say were the main instigators at the March 21 rally — tend to be uncooperative. For their part, the anti-racists accuse police of ignoring acts of violence by the Aryan Guard, which police deny.
The true danger posed by the Aryan Guard comes not from its public activities, but from its more clandestine ones. A man reached at the Aryan Guard's contact number refused to answer most questions during a brief interview, but repeated the group's opposition to violence. Yet the group's history of criminal activity belies that assertion. According to the Calgary Police Service, the Aryan Guard has been linked to several assaults between late 2006 and mid-2008. The victims have included a homeless man, a gay community member, and a cab driver from North Africa, MacDonald said.
Writing about the latter incident on Stormfront on July 20, 2007, McKee — who'd been charged in connection with the attack, though he claimed a good friend was actually responsible — boasted about getting the case dismissed. "The reason being was that they couldn't make a positive ID because apparently everyone there was all dressed in combat boots with white laces [and] black flight jackets and all had shaved heads. So let this be a lesson to anyone who wonders why on earth all us skinheads dress so similarly. [T]his is another great reason. lol [laughing out loud]"
The incident that has received the most publicity involved an assault on a Japanese visitor in her mid-20s, Asako Okazaki, when she left a bar shortly after midnight in July 2008. A 17-year-old Aryan Guard member — who was convicted in March but has not been publicly identified because he was a juvenile — kicked the woman in the back of the head with steel-toed boots. According to court testimony, the attacker followed the woman out of the bar after making a disparaging remark about Asians. At the time of his arrest he was wearing boots with red laces — a skinhead symbol indicating he'd spilled blood for the movement.
In addition, members of Anti-Racist Action believe that the Aryan Guard is responsible for firebombing Jason Devine's home shortly before last year's White Pride march. Devine said he was home with his children one night when he saw a flash of light and heard a crash. The poorly constructed Molotov cocktail did little damage to his home, but Aryan Guard members taunted him and his wife about the incident at protests. "Is it hot in there?" they asked, according to Devine. "How are the kids? How's the house?" (Police investigated but never charged anyone in the incident. Constable MacDonald said an Aryan Guard member's home was also bombed and that police received information that a member of Anti-Racist Action was responsible. Devine says no such bombing ever occurred.)
The Aryan Guard has also been tied to less serious but still disruptive crimes, including vandalizing a shopping mall and using racial slurs last year on a First Nations reserve near Calgary, according to news accounts. Four Aryan Guard members were charged with mischief and disturbing the peace in connection with that incident.
"I think the larger population in Calgary can ignore them because they don't necessarily see the effect on the racialized [non-white] communities here, but the racialized communities can't escape it," Pruegger, the Calgary planner, said. "They're quite aware of what these people are saying and what they represent. It's a real black eye for our city."
The group's propensity for criminal activity is no surprise given that many members have histories of vandalism and assault. Two of the group's most prominent members, McKee and Dallas Price, faced assault and weapons charges in connection with a September 2006 confrontation in which one victim was hit with a wooden club and another was stabbed with a knife. Robert Reitmeier, also active in the group, was charged with attempted murder in connection with a November 2006 assault on a man who suffered skull and facial fractures. Member Bill Noble was convicted in 2008 of posting hate material on the Internet that primarily targeted non-whites, Jews and gays. A judge sentenced him to four months in jail and imposed limits on his computer use for three years, though Noble continues to post frequently on Stormfront.
The Aryan Guard is now trying to recruit four new members per month, MacDonald said. There's no evidence they've had much success. Last July, the group attempted to entice new members to move to Calgary by offering to pay their rental damage deposits — a boon in a city with a high cost of living. "We believe that through fortifying our current locations with more White Nationalists we can spread the world [sic] more efficiently and then in the future branch out further throughout Canada," McKee posted on Stormfront.
In their latest stab at increasing membership, the Aryan Guard is distributing white power CDs to teenagers, MacDonald said. The campaign resembles a U.S.-based recruitment drive dubbed "Project Schoolyard" that succeeded in getting thousands of racist music samplers into the hands of middle and high school students in 2004 and late 2008. A 2004 quote from white-power music broker Byron Calvert, who was behind the most recent incarnation of Project Schoolyard, appears on the Aryan Guard's website. However, Calvert told the Intelligence Report he's not involved in the group's effort to disseminate white power music. Pictured on the Aryan Guard's website, the CD is emblazoned with the group's URL, along with a list of songs including "Keep it White" and "Stop Immigration."
The Aryan Guard has been adept at using Internet sites — including Stormfront, Blood & Honour, Facebook and its own site's forum — to network with other white supremacists. "Because of their use of the media, including the Web, they definitely have a strong impact," said Cam Stewart, who authored a hate crimes report commissioned by the Alberta Hate and Bias Crime Incidents Committee. "If you look at the posts on Stormfront, they're getting a lot of support and attention across the city and across North America. That just encourages like-minded people to carry on their ideology."
Like many white supremacist organizations, however, the Aryan Guard has been plagued by infighting. The group even appeared to be on the verge of collapse last fall after some members defected, according to anti-racist activists. Thanks to a sex scandal, allegations of drug use, and other behavior deemed unfit for a superior race, the group has also acquired a dubious reputation among their fellow travelers. "Increasingly, they're being seen in the white power movement, at least in some sectors, as jokers," Devine said.
But for now anti-racist activists say they shouldn't be ignored. "These people are violent thugs," Devine said. "They're going to collapse eventually, but the real question is, 'Who are they going to hurt between now and then?'"