The “subject of international ridicule” – Brock Anton. Or, the “poster boy for rioters” – Brock Anton. Whatever the description – and those two appeared in press accounts – it was Mr. Anton who, of all the people alleged to have participated in last year’s Stanley Cup riot, drew the harshest condemnations.
His Facebook update – in which he boasted about punching a police officer, burning cars and being shown on the news (“One word … History”) – made him a lightning rod for news organizations and social media alike. Facebook groups denouncing him sprung up almost instantly. A song, called The Ballad of Brock Anton, racked up tens of thousands of hits on YouTube.
On Tuesday, the Crown provided a riot investigation update and announced the number of people charged is now at 156. Mr. Anton was not among the names, and won’t be.
Some questioned whether Mr. Anton exists, or if he was one big hoax. While he’s very real, Vancouver police say what he bragged about on June 15, 2011, was not.
“You know how extensive the video is that we have, right? And how easy it is for us to locate an individual throughout the riot, in various parts of the city?” Vancouver police spokesman Constable Brian Montague asked during a recent interview.
“[We] have investigated him extensively and if we found him doing the things he said he did, there’s no doubt in my mind that we would be requesting charges on him. You kind of have to read between the lines there. He was obviously down there that night. But he’s not doing the things he says he is.”
The path to Mr. Anton, 23, leads to the Vancouver Island community of Duncan, home to just under 5,000 people. Duncan has fashioned itself the “City of Totems,” due to its more than 80 totem poles.
On this night, fans are streaming into the local arena to watch their junior hockey team, the Cowichan Capitals. Many are dressed in Capitals red, their passion for the sport on clear display. Outside the venue, the world’s largest hockey stick – 63 metres and a certified Guinness record – only reinforces that passion.
Mr. Anton’s family home is in a quiet, well-to-do neighbourhood, mere steps from a winery. Perhaps still stinging from his media portrayal, Mr. Anton did not respond to several interview requests by phone, through Facebook, or at the family home.
The local school district declined to provide any background information on Mr. Anton, citing privacy concerns. He does, however, have a file in the Duncan law courts. Records show Mr. Anton was twice arrested in 2009 for drug offences. He was convicted on two counts and fined $1,035. Neither of the lawyers who represented Mr. Anton returned calls seeking comment.
Photos purportedly of Mr. Anton the night of the riot have been posted online. But the photos – if they’re of Mr. Anton at all – do not indicate he did anywhere near what was suggested on Facebook.
Constable Montague said Mr. Anton was not the only person who took to social media to boast about his involvement.
“I don’t know why someone would do that, why someone would say, ‘I did all this stuff, look at me.’ Now, it doesn’t seem logical,” he said. “But at the time, whether it’s bravado, or a way to show off, or whatever the case is, I don’t think people realized [until] a couple days after the riot the impact that it would have.”
Christopher Schneider, who co-authored a paper on Facebook’s role in the riot that in November will appear in the journal BC Studies, said Mr. Anton became a focal point because he offered a “concise celebration of the chaos.”
“It was easy to take that Facebook post and paint all of those people with the same brush,” said the assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.
Prof. Schneider said the manner in which alleged rioters were named and shamed online could be seen as a form of “crowd-sourced policing.”
When asked why anyone would claim to play a larger role in a riot than they actually did, Prof. Schneider offered, “I think we’ve all heard the expression, ‘The dog would rather be beaten than ignored.’ … Look, it worked. He became a lightning rod.”