Canada Alt-right in Montreal: Anti-fascists ramp up fight against neo-Nazis

16:15  16 may  2018
16:15  16 may  2018 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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They parked across the street from his apartment. No one got out of the car at first. Instead, the anti - fascists waited for more than half an hour, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone coming in or out of the building, hoping to ID their target: Zeiger.

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They parked across the street from his apartment.

No one got out of the car at first. Instead, the anti-fascists waited for more than half an hour, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone coming in or out of the building, hoping to ID their target: Zeiger.

For nine months they chased the infamous neo-Nazi — scouring the web for clues that might link him to someone in the real world.

Their search took them to weird places: from YouTube videos about magic Nazi frogs to a series of Quebec funeral notices and, finally, a photo of a 16-year-old boy in a high school yearbook.

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Now it had led them to a quiet street corner near a playground in the Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie borough. With any luck, Zeiger would peek his head out the door just long enough to be identified.

About 40 minutes had passed when they decided one of them should casually walk up to the apartment and see if anyone was inside. They rang the bell and walked away.

“And for a good 20 seconds, I was thinking, ‘ahh f–k he’s not there,” said Venkman, one of the anti-fascists who uncovered Zeiger’s true identity. He uses a pseudonym to avoid retaliation, and spoke to the Montreal Gazette on the condition that his identity be protected. “He’s not’ — and then, lo and behold, he came out on the porch, he looked down, looked around on each side, and then went back in.”

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The man he says is Zeiger looked like a normal guy. He was dressed in khaki pants and a white T-shirt and had a receding hairline, just like in the photos he posted of himself online.

“I had been staring at that motherf—er 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.

***

Efforts to unmask Zeiger were just one front in a larger battle between anti-fascists and the so-called alt-right, especially the neo-Nazi wing that Zeiger represented.

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Activists regularly infiltrate far-right 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, or systematically listening to neo-Nazi podcasts as they are released. 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.”

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The Montreal alt-right often spoke about anti-fascists, or “antifa,” in their closed chat room, mentioning the term 65 times between August 2016 and January 2018. Users described attending anti-fascist events, saying “I just went to hit antifa.” They met to plan the failed disruption of an anti-fascist workshop series at Concordia University in March 2017. 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. “Their mere existence is a threat to a lot of us.”

It was with this sense of urgency that 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 to identify as many clear photos of him as possible.

They read his Daily Stormer posts, and listened to hours worth of podcasts on which he appeared, hoping to gather scraps of useful information.

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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. They sifted through funeral notices before finding one that may have been for his grandmother.

“In this line of work, you can’t leave any stone unturned,” said Buenaventura — not his real name — another anti-fascist who worked on the Zeiger project. “A lot of the clues that were found were in places that you wouldn’t have thought to look.”

“Particularly since this guy … he has been fairly careful about what he reveals. And I think that a lot of his missteps have to do with his own ego, particularly around Charlottesville.”

Then they caught a break — they obtained thousands of messages from a private chat room where Zeiger organized. There, amid the swamp of racist meme 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 Gabriel Sohier Chaput, and compare him to their photos of Zeiger.

The network of anti-fascists worked hundreds of hours in their effort to unmask Zeiger. And it all culminated on that day, sitting in a car outside his apartment.

The Montreal Gazette has confirmed that both Zeiger and Sohier Chaput live at the address in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Journalists have left messages for Sohier Chaput with his landlord, his brother, his father and his Facebook account. They have sent him a letter by courier and knocked on his front door, but as of Tuesday evening, he hasn’t responded.

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***

“We often say that a racist can be a racist in their own living room, but as soon as they try to organize, then it becomes everybody’s problem,” Venkman said.

He says rooting out racists and neo-Nazis is a job that everyone should play a part in.

Last week, a local anti-fascist group organized a rally outside Zeiger’s Rosemont apartment, where they alternated between chants of “punch a Nazi in the face” and anti-racist slogans. There was a brief standoff with riot police who acted as a barrier between the marchers and a small contingent of counter-protesters from the far-right Soldiers of Odin.

The march followed a postering campaign in which images of Zeiger and other suspected Montreal white supremacists were affixed to mailboxes, bus stops and lamp posts. The idea, organizers said, was to “make racists afraid again.”

The chat logs obtained by the anti-fascists show that Zeiger had been recruiting in Montreal and organizing white supremacist meetings in the city since at least 2016. It’s unclear whether Montreal police caught wind of these meetings or the anti-Semitic propaganda being spread from Zeiger’s computer, despite his high profile in the movement.

But the anti-fascists doubt that police had taken any meaningful action to track Zeiger until he was unmasked two weeks ago.

“They could’ve found this guy probably in a fraction of the time that we did with practically no resources,” said Buenaventura. “It should have been fairly a no-brainer for them to find this guy if they actually considered him a threat. We considered him a threat, and so we spent a considerable amount of time trying to get him out.”

As a matter of protocol, Montreal’s anti-hate crimes unit won’t confirm whether it is investigating Zeiger or was aware of his activities previously. The task force does not actively monitor hateful or extremist websites.

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But Lieutenant-Detective 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? Are they here or in another city?”

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. But if it isn’t clear that he has 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 neo-Nazis. Venkman said he expected that, but isn’t encouraged.

“Yes, of course you’re against Nazis, but you’re also part of the problem!,” he said. The way we see things is that the political establishment is feeding the narrative.”

Venkman says Coiteux’s Liberal party “scrapped the very minimal thing they could have done that would have helped, which was the Commission on Systemic Racism last year.”

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, in which six people were murdered.

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 renamed the commission and moved its public hearings behind closed doors.

Ancelovici said that “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.”

***

When asked about the posters identifying Zeiger, Venkman said he believes helping residents identify local neo-Nazis is crucial to pushing them out of the community.

“This guy has been living in this neighbourhood for seemingly a very long time,” Venkman said. “Petite-Patrie is a historically working class and immigrant (area). This guy has been living there among this very tolerant, very left-leaning neighbourhood of Montreal, so it’s just important to expose him to his neighbours and his community.”

According to Ancelovici, Montreal “definitely has a vibrant anti-fascist scene. … But you cannot think about the anti-fascist movement in a vacuum. It builds on other social movements.

“In this respect, it is worth pointing out that Montreal is a hotbed of radical (left-wing) activism, the strongest in Canada and among the most dynamic in North America.”

Anti-fascism, Ancelovici said, has “a movement-countermovement dynamic” with the far-right. “Anti-fascists organize and mobilize when the radical right and neo-fascists seem to become more vocal and grow in the public sphere. Inversely, when the radical right and neo-fascists fade away or decline, anti-fascist organizing moves to the back burner and left-wing activists resume their previous militant work.”

For now, anti-fascists continue to focus on disrupting far-right networks in the city. They say beyond targeting individuals in leadership positions, anti-fascist action also sends a message to would-be recruits.

“Another goal is to send a very clear and loud message that if you engage in this type of bulls–t, then we will find you and we will put you through the same treatment,” Buenaventura said. “You will be outed to your community.”

Far-right group intimidates Vice journalists in their Montreal office .
Masked men stormed into the Montreal office of the Vice digital media company Wednesday, apparently in an effort to intimidate journalists and show their dissatisfaction with a recent article about the far-right group Atalante Québec. A half dozen members of Atalante — a group considered extreme even by other far-right organizations active in the province — ran around shouting and throwing papers at the employees, Vice reported. "When they entered our offices, they offered flowers to the employee who opened the door.

Source: http://ca.pressfrom.com/news/canada/-74884-alt-right-in-montreal-anti-fascists-ramp-up-fight-against-neo-nazis/

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