ANTI-FAS­CISTS vs. THE ALT-RIGHT

TAK­ING THE BAT­TLE TO THE STREETS

Ottawa Citizen - - CLASSIFIEDS - CHRISTO­PHER CURTIS, SHANNON CARRANCO JON MIL­TON AND

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

VIN­CENZO D’ALTO / MON­TREAL GAZETTE

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.

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