Calgary's in-your-face neo-Nazis take to the streets

CALGARY — The Globe and Mail

Late Saturday morning, a crowd of dozens, perhaps hundreds, will converge along quiet, downtown streets. They'll wave flags, carry signs and chant slogans, all broadcasting an unmistakable, unsettling message.

White pride.

There's only one city in Canada where such demonstrations of this scale take place: Calgary, described by many as the centre of the country's neo-Nazi movement.

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It's not the sheer numbers that are the cause of concern, as the movement boasts no more than 100 dedicated supporters over a handful of groups. Pockets of neo-Nazism have bubbled up in Canada for decades, and still do. Nor is there a natural foothold for white supremacists in an increasingly diverse Calgary, where nearly one-quarter of the population, including the mayor, are visible minorities.

What sets Calgary's neo-Nazis apart is their brazen profile. The movement has an aggressive leader, a following that dominates discussion on popular neo-Nazi Internet message boards, a thirst for publicity and the ability to attract new blood.

This parade, however it materializes, will be their fourth. It follows a series of recent attacks, threats and arrests. And the movement isn't confined solely to Calgary. Four members of the same group leading the march here, Blood and Honour, were arrested in Edmonton earlier this month for hate-motivated attacks. Edmonton, like so many other Canadian cities, has a dedicated hate-crimes unit. Calgary doesn't.

"Alberta, right now, is the hot spot for the neo-Nazi movement in Canada," said Richard Warman, an Ottawa lawyer who is Canada's leading crusader against hate speech. "There is nowhere in Canada that has as active a group or individuals as Calgary and, to some extent, Edmonton do."

The micro-fuhrer

The architect of the march, and much of the movement itself, is a 25-year-old construction worker from Ontario, Kyle McKee. Police call him the "micro-fuhrer" of Calgary.

Mr. McKee effectively leads Blood and Honour out of his Calgary townhouse, which he also uses as a way station for new recruits once they arrive in the city.

During one of a series of interviews with The Globe and Mail, Mr. McKee said he hopes he can develop the marches into mainstream events, a celebration of the white working class who he says are treated like second-class citizens.

"It's one thing where everyone says you can't do it [have a march] but I'm showing you that you can. Everyone has always said for years - 'The gays have their march, the blacks have their march, why don't we have ours?' Simple. Because you haven't organized it."

But on Saturday, he won't be there. Instead he's in jail again, not for "inciting hatred" (the most serious, and rarely laid, charge racially motivated statements can draw) but for the routine violence that accompanies the movement.

Mr. McKee has assembled the requisite image of a skinhead leader. He has a pit bull named Thor and a three-year-old daughter named Aryanna. He shaves his head, wears all black and is covered in tattoos: "white power" on his chest, "skin" and a swastika on his left hand, "kill" on one leg and "Jews" on the other.

In the townhouse, a Louisville Slugger bat hangs by the front door, a tally of half-inch markings carved along its thick barrel end.

"You don't play baseball?" Mr. McKee asked, grinning.

A month later, his current legal problems were triggered by a run-in with Jason Devine, a communist and anti-racist activist who is a long-time adversary of his.

Mr. Devine, a married father of four, was the target of a home invasion last year when masked men in black combat gear broke in, beat him, and left without taking anything. Police said he was "100-per-cent targeted" but haven't laid any charges.

On Feb. 12, a masked Mr. McKee pulled up alongside Mr. Devine. He tapped a bat on the side of the truck and, according to the defence, asked: "Do you need another visit?"

He was arrested later that day, and has been in prison since. He pleaded guilty Thursday to uttering threats and possession of a weapon. He will be released in about two weeks, and a warrant remains out for his arrest in Saskatchewan.

"I'm fine with violence," Mr. McKee said in one interview. "If someone's in our way, we'll move them out of our way."

Splinters and new blood

It was in 2005 that Mr. McKee first announced that Calgary, with its skinhead scene and ample job opportunities, was ripe for the movement.

Ontario, on the other hand, had become anathema to neo-Nazi life - home to the crusading human-rights lawyer Mr. Warman, heavy media attention around the likes of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, and few labour jobs for the young men attracted to extremism as a form of enfranchisement.

Many young recruits have followed Mr. McKee, who moved west from Kitchener, Ont. He co-founded a group called Aryan Guard (it was later renamed Blood and Honour), which offered to help pay for other white nationalists to move to Calgary. He still offers space in his apartment to new recruits.

And he has spearheaded the march, which drew large crowds in 2009 but fizzled last year.

"Kyle McKee's leadership has been key," explained Paul Fromm, a stalwart and mentor of the extreme Canadian right.

Less visible are the group's violent encounters. Mr. McKee was charged with attempted murder after a bomb went off at the home of a rival group member (he later pleaded guilty to possession of explosives). He also pleaded guilty Thursday to the beating of a teenage girl in December, which cracked her teeth, and has to pay one-third of her dental bill.

New groups have also emerged. Rivals include WEB, whose members are identified by spider web tattoos, and an underground group called Volksfront.

"It definitely benefits us," Mr. McKee said of the new players. "Police have to do a lot more paperwork."

One of the movement's more eager recent recruits is Andrew Benson, 26, whose case illustrates Calgary's dilemma.

In Toronto, he worked at Pickle Barrel, a restaurant chain with roots as a Jewish deli. In search of a white-power movement to join, he searched online and found Mr. McKee and the "fertile ground" of Calgary.

"The city is, culturally, what I expected it to be," Mr. Benson said. His parents eventually caught on. "They said to me: 'Is the only reason you went to Calgary to meet up with other neo-Nazis?' Uh, um, yes."

The role of the legal system

The Charter protects much of what neo-Nazi groups say and do, and police are rarely able to successfully lay charges of inciting hatred. Neo-Nazi leaders are more likely to land in court over more minor charges such as assault, or face civil suits.

Mr. Warman has sparked 16 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal civil cases. He has poured thousands of his own hours and dollars into the cause.

"That, and the death threats, have definitely been the less desirable aspects of the work," he said in a written statement. "The goal was to knock out a generation of the neo-Nazi leadership and worst offenders, establish a solid body of case law, and show the Internet was not the Wild West."

In Calgary, police have just one hate-crimes officer, to deal with the highest hate-crimes rate in the country. Many say more needs to be done.

"If you have a dedicated hate crime unit up and running," one veteran Canadian hate crimes investigator said on condition of anonymity, "you can circumvent that kind of activity prior to it getting so visible."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, hasn't commented publicly on the subject. After repeated requests, his office released a brief statement. "Who your daddy is or where you were born are non-issues for the vast majority of Calgarians," it read.

To ward off neo-Nazi groups, Calgary needs community, police and political leadership, Mr. Warman said.

"The legal system for responding to neo-Nazi organization is as effective as the community that decides to respond to that kind of activity," he said. "And if one or all of those is missing, then it will fail."

And so, today's march will proceed, though without the micro-fuhrer. Upon release from jail, Mr. McKee has no plans to leave his newfound home.

"I'll probably stay here for at least another four years. Not really sure," he said in January, taking a drag of a cigarette outside his townhouse. "Got some stuff to finish up here."

A reference guide to terms and numbers used in the neo-Nazi movement

Nationalist - As in National Socialists. This is the preferred term of most of the people in Calgary's movement. Some shy away from "neo-Nazi."

Racialist - One who is aware of one's race, and proud of it, they say. White nationalists prefer this to "racist."

Oi - A white nationalist, stemming from punk music subculture embraced by many skinheads. An "Oi toy" is a derogatory phrase for a woman who dates a white nationalist but doesn't buy into the movement

Odin's Cross - Also known as the Celtic Cross, it's among the most popular tattoos for skinheads, behind the Swastika. Most who have the tattoos claim they're a reference to an original meaning, and deny the obvious hateful links to Nazism.

Skin - Another frequent tattoo. Short form for skinhead, a music subculture largely tied in with white nationalism. One white nationalist in Calgary has tattooed "skin" to his forehead.

Stormfront - The most prominent neo-Nazi website. It's based in the United States and its content is protected by that nation's First Amendment free speech laws.

Blood and Honour - Calgary's most prominent white nationalist group, including most of the people who made up Aryan Guard, which was prominent but has largely broken apart.

W.E.B.: - Another Calgary white nationalist group, which hasn't settled on what its acronym stands for - either Western European Bloodlines or Western European Brotherhood. Group is believed to be volatile and violent.

Volksfront: Another Calgary group, largely underground.

WNL - The White Nationalist Legion, a fledgling Edmonton neo-Nazi group.

WCFU - Western Canada For Us, a white nationalist group shut down by Edmonton police in 2004.

Aryan Nations - A neo-Nazi group that once infamously tried to set up in the small town of Caroline, Alta.

PLE - Pioneer Little Europes, a largely conceptual notion whereby neo-Nazis swamp a town or neighborhood to live among one another. Such efforts have failed in Canada.

14 - A hat-tip to American neo-Nazi leader David Lane's infamous line: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.

18 - Code for Hitler, corresponding to his initials' order in the alphabet ("1" for "A," and "8" for "H")

88 - Code for Heil Hitler, corresponding to the alphabet.

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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