A suspected neo-Nazi named Willis had been seen at Shaw Millennium skate park, trying to recruit kids into a racist gang. On the afternoon of July 15, a youth-based group called Anti-Racist Action (ARA) went to the park to hand out anti-Nazi pamphlets and warn skaters about Willis. Some of the kids they encountered defended the man and said he was their friend.
As the anti-racists left the park, a group of kids followed them and called out to Willis, who appeared on the balcony of a nearby apartment. He gave a Nazi salute before coming down to the street. According to members of ARA, he started punching and spitting on them. In the ensuing brawl, he broke the nose of one group member before someone knocked him unconscious.
The rumble was just the latest fight in a campaign that activists allege the Aryan Guard, a neo-Nazi gang, has been waging in Calgary. “They want to make Calgary their base and branch out from here,” says Jason Devine, a member of ARA and a longtime anti-racism activist. “You’ve got to take them seriously.”
Since first cropping up in late 2006, the Aryan Guard has built up a membership in Calgary, staged rallies and protests, and spread racist pamphlets and posters throughout the city. According to the Aryan Guard, the organization is a non-violent group that wants to protect white interests and promote white pride. Anti-racism activists, however, say it is a violent neo-Nazi organization and the community has to stop it.
NAZIS IN TOWN
The Aryan Guard first appeared in Calgary in the fall of 2006. The group was founded in part by Kyle McKee, who had previously tried to start a neo-Nazi group in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. The Calgary group held its first formal meeting in the spring of 2007, started putting up posters and distributing flyers, including one that blamed minorities for a spate of violent crime in the city.
In August 2007, the Aryan Guard crashed anti-racism protests in Kensington and Marlborough, hoisting white pride banners and Confederate flags. In October, the group held a rally of its own to protest the right of Muslim women to cover their faces while voting. On March 21, 2008, 40 members of the Aryan Guard marched down Stephen Avenue to the steps of city hall. Two hundred anti-racist protesters followed them, trying to disrupt the march and shouting at them. At the end of the march, the police separated the two groups and carted the neo-Nazis to safety on buses.
The group is particularly active in the Forest Lawn and Marlborough areas of the city, where it initially put up its propaganda posters. Anti-racism activists say its members also hang out in the Kensington area, and particularly Riley Park.
The Aryan Guard hasn’t been formally linked to any violent incidents, but anti-racist activists accuse them of several instances of harassment. Members of Food Not Bombs (an anti-poverty group that serves food in Olympic Plaza) accused two neo-Nazis of spitting on them and hurling racial slurs at the group during a serving in September 2006. In February 2008, someone attempted to firebomb Devine’s house while his four small children slept upstairs. The Molotov cocktail, however, failed to set the house on fire.
Other members of ARA have accused Aryan Guard members of taunting South-Asian cricketers in Kensington’s Riley Park. On July 27, a young black woman was threatened at Erlton Station by a five men, one with a knife, the others shouting racial slurs. The incident hasn't been conclusively linked to the Aryan Guard. “I don’t doubt that more people have been harassed but have not reported it,” says Devine.
Kevin Brookwell, spokesperson for the Calgary Police Service, confirms that the police have received hate-crime complaints against the Aryan Guard, but doesn’t know whether any of the complaints has been proven.When planning protests, the group has co-operated with police, he says.
“They have always lets us know in advance what they are going to do. So far, the clashes that they’ve had have been able to be controlled,” he says. “Any allegations of hate crimes have been taken seriously and have been looked at.”
According to court documents, McKee and fellow group member Dallas Price have previously been arrested for assault and possession of a weapon in relation to a September 2006 brawl, and another group member was arrested for attempted murder in a separate incident. McKee’s case is closed, while Price’s is still open. Charges were stayed against the man arrested for attempted murder, Robert Reitmeier. It’s not known if the arrests were linked to Aryan Guard activity or hate crimes.
ALBERTAN HISTORY X
Neo-Nazism is not new to Alberta. In the 1980s and early ’90s, the Aryan Nations’ Canadian branch was led by Alberta-based Terry Long, who staged a major rally and cross-burning in Provost, Alberta. From 1989 to 1992, a violent neo-Nazi gang named Final Solution operated in Edmonton. In 1990, Daniel Sims and Mark Swanson, two Final Solution members, beat up retired journalist Keith Rutherford for outing a Nazi war criminal. The attack left Rutherford blind in his right eye.
In 2004, Glenn Bahr set up a neo-Nazi group named Western Canada for Us in Red Deer. Devine and the ARA informed his boss and his landlord that he was a racist, which got him fired from his job and evicted from his house. Bahr subsequently moved to Edmonton, where his house was raided by police. The police seized his computer and hate literature and he was charged with distributing hate propaganda.
Devine urges a similar approach in Calgary. “I think it would be the height of ridiculousness to sit on our hands and hope they go away,” he says. “If someone assaults you, you should defend yourself, that’s your right.”
Vilma Dawson, executive director of the Calgary Centre for Culture, Equity and Diversity, says that hate crimes are on the rise in Calgary, and people need to confront the Aryan Guard. “Their actions are bordering on promoting hate,” she says. “I’d like to hear something more from our leaders.”
ARA is encouraging community groups and citizens to oppose the Aryan Guard by telling them that they aren’t welcome in the city. Two recent forums drew crowds of 30 to 50 people to discuss the group and how to pressure its members to leave Calgary.
Three weeks ago, 20 members of ARA and their supporters went to a housing complex in southeast Calgary where some Aryan Guard members live. Over the course of a few hours, the group handed out flyers informing the neighbours of the Nazis living next door. While some residents were surprised to find out about the group, others said they had been monitoring them and calling the police. The pressure seems to have worked — the group’s activity had quieted down at the house.