ANTI-FASCISTS vs. THE ALT-RIGHT
TAKING THE BATTLE TO THE STREETS
For nine months the anti-fascists chased the infamous neo-Nazi Zeiger, scouring the web for clues that might link him to someone in the real world.
Finally those clues led them to a quiet street corner in Montreal’s Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie borough. They watched the door of what they thought was his apartment for about 40 minutes before they decided to ring the bell and walk away.
“And for a good 20 seconds, I was thinking, ‘ahh f--- he’s not there,” said Venkman, one of the anti-fascists who uncovered Zeiger’s true identity. He uses a pseudonym to avoid retaliation. “Then, lo and behold, he came out on the porch.”
“I had been staring at that mother----- for months, so it’s no mistake — I know exactly what that guy looks like,” said Venkman. “I was elated.”
The information that linked Zeiger, one of North America’s most notorious neo-Nazis, to Montreal IT consultant Gabriel Sohier Chaput comes primarily from the detective work of people like Venkman. Their methods, beliefs and confrontational approach place them outside the mainstream political spectrum.
But after news of Zeiger’s activities in Montreal broke two weeks ago, it’s difficult to ignore the role they play in Quebec’s struggle against right-wing extremism.
Activists regularly infiltrate farright networks to get intelligence and feed that information to others in the movement. Sometimes that means setting up fake accounts on far-right forum websites to monitor them, or systematically listening to neo-Nazi podcasts. Other times, it means getting emails from anonymous sources.
“So by cross-referencing the information that Source A, Source B, and Source C have, we can start building a picture,” Venkman said.
There are also moles inside the far right, according to another group contacted by the Montreal Gazette.
The boldest among them act as double agents. But occasionally, members inside these extremist groups develop a guilty conscience and inform on their peers.
“The internet has itself become a space of contention,” said Marcos Ancelovici, Canada Research Chair in the Sociology of Social Conflicts at the Université du Québec à Montréal. “It is not simply a means for carrying out actions in the real world; it is a battlefield in its own right, with its troops, movements, trenches and minefields.”
The Montreal alt-right often spoke about anti-fascists, or “antifa,” in a private chatroom. Users described attending anti-fascist events, saying “I just went to hit antifa.” They share anti-fascist videos, encouraging others to watch them because “they clearly watch us.”
For the Montreal anti-fascists who say they found Zeiger, this is less a game of cat-and-mouse than a matter of self-preservation.
“As soon as they exist, they become a threat in Jewish people’s lives, people of colour’s lives, women’s lives, queer and gender non-conforming people’s lives,” said Venkman.
Montreal’s anti-fascist movement began tracking down Zeiger following his prominent appearance at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.
They watched livestreams of the neo-Nazi demonstration. They read his Daily Stormer posts, and listened to hours of podcasts. When he slipped up during a March 11 podcast and revealed he went to high school in Outremont, they dug through a trove of old yearbooks.
Then they caught a break — they obtained thousands of messages from a private chatroom where Zeiger organized. There, amid the swamp of racist memes and violent fantasies, Zeiger revealed his home address. He had invited his neo-Nazi crew to a barbecue at his house.
That allowed them to find Sohier Chaput, and compare him to their photos of Zeiger.
The Montreal Gazette has confirmed that both Zeiger and Sohier Chaput live at the Rosemont address. Gazette journalists have left messages for Sohier Chaput through his landlord, brother, father and Facebook account. They have sent him a letter by courier, but as of Tuesday evening, he hasn’t responded.
Venkman says rooting out racists and neo-Nazis is everyone’s job.
Last week, a Montreal anti-fascist group organized a rally outside Zeiger’s apartment. The march followed a postering campaign in which images of Zeiger and other suspected Montreal white supremacists were affixed to mailboxes, bus stops and lampposts. The idea, organizers said, was to “make racists afraid again.”
The anti-fascists doubt police had taken any meaningful action to track Zeiger until he was unmasked two weeks ago. Montreal’s hate crimes unit won’t confirm whether it is investigating Zeiger. The task force does not actively monitor hateful or extremist websites.
But Lt.-Det. Line Lemay, who works on the task force, says her unit will look into online propaganda if someone reports it.
“Investigating online hate presents some unique challenges,” Lemay said. “To start with, where is the person spreading this hate? Are they in Canada, and if so, what province are they in?”
If investigators can determine that a Montreal-based user is violating Section 319 of the Criminal Code, which makes it a crime to spread hateful propaganda against an identifiable group, then they can arrest him. If it isn’t clear that they’ve crossed the line from offensive behaviour to hate speech, police can issue a warning.
Meanwhile, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Quebec Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux have publicly denounced neoNazis. Venkman said he is not encouraged.
“The way we see things is that the political establishment is feeding the narrative,” he said.
Venkman pointed out that last fall the Liberal government stripped down its public inquiry into systemic racism. The hearings were created in the aftermath of the Quebec City mosque shooting. But as the start date approached, the Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec claimed it would unfairly paint Quebec as a hostile place to religious and ethnic minorities. After a heated public debate, the Liberals moved the commission’s public hearings behind closed doors.
Ancelovici said, “The current political discourse of mainstream political parties, such as the CAQ and the PQ , contribute to normalizing xenophobia and Islamophobia.
“In turn, (it) grants legitimacy to organizations like La Meute and Storm Alliance and even more radical, neo-fascist ones such as the Fédération des Québécois de Souche, Soldiers of Odin and Atalante.”
INVESTIGATING ONLINE HATE PRESENTS SOME UNIQUE CHALLENGES. — LT.-DET. LINE LEMAY, HATE CRIMES UNIT, MONTREAL POLICE
Anti-fascist protesters march towards the home of secretive neo-Nazi figure Zeiger in the Rosemont area of Montreal on Saturday. Anti-fascists are at the forefront of the fight against the growing white supremacist movement.