04.19.2010 09:12 PM

Fifteen years ago today

…I’d almost forgotten.

I was in L.A., that morning, and saw something on the TV screens at LAX coming out of Oklahoma City.  As I flew East, my pager was buzzing, providing blood-chilling details about some sort of a terrorist attack on the federal building in that city.  By the time I got to Miami, CNN was trying to reach me.  They wanted to interview me about the militia movement I’d written about in Web of Hate.

Below is a column I wrote in 2006 about young men like Timothy McVeigh – and how, almost always, terrible words precede terrible deeds.


From ordinary men, extraordinary hate

by Warren Kinsella

Around midnight on July 1, 1989, as a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen, I was standing on a rural road outside Minden, Ont., with colleagues from the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Sun. Not far from us, a 30-foot-high cross had just been set ablaze, and more than 200 young men were standing around it, making Nazi salutes, and screaming: “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! White Power! White Power! White Power!”

We (and the half-dozen OPP officers present) were silent. All day, the skinheads — present to attend the Save Our Canada Day Festival, at the home of a former leader of the Canadian Nazi Party — had been making not-so-veiled threats, and describing their desire to kill as many Jews and non-whites as possible. The cross-burning — and the sound of those reckless young men’s voices echoing through the trees, their hatred as thick as the heat — shook us all up.

Allan Cairns, the Toronto Sun veteran there with us that night, certainly was. “Jesus Christ,” he said, at last. “I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

The three of us talked for a while about what it was that would persuade so many young men to embrace hateful creeds such as Nazism and white supremacy. What had turned them into haters? Not all of the skinheads there that day were homicidal sociopaths — many of them seemed to be otherwise normal young men, with a professed fondness of cars, girls and sports. Some of them would even loiter at the edge of the property where the festival was being held, and chat amiably with us (until one of the senior neo-Nazi leaders directed them to stop talking to what they called “the Jews’ media”).

In the past week, I have thought about the events of that hot July night more than once. Surveying the newspapers, one could not help but be struck by the number of front-page stories — in this newspaper, in the Globe, in papers from around the world — grappling, yet again, about what could persuade indigenous young men to embrace another hateful, murderous creed. Stories about how youths who grew up in our neighbourhoods, attended our schools, and watched the same television programs as the rest of us, could plot to kill the rest of us.

The journalists writing the stories generally all consult the so-called experts, and interview inevitably-bewildered neighbours and teachers and family members. But — at the end of every story — no one seems to be able to convincingly answer one nagging question: namely, how can young men who are the product of our culture come to hate our culture so much?

Journalists seeking answers on behalf of their readers may wish to consider another possibility. It is a hypothesis that draws a faint line from the skinheads in Minden in July, 1989 to the young Muslims in Toronto in June, 2006.

The Post’s Robert Fulford, who writes more thoughtfully on these issues than just about anyone, seemed to point us in the same direction a few days ago, when he wrote about how “a bright mullah can pick out the youths who will put their anger to work, even to the point of surrendering their lives.” That is precisely what neo-Nazi leaders do with new recruits — similarly persuading them to maim, terrorize, and kill others. One of their recruits would go on, for example, to blow up more than 168 men, women and children in Oklahoma City in April, 1995 — and then welcome the death penalty for his crimes.

This is not to suggest the angry young Muslim men and the angry young neo-Nazi men are similar only because they all hate Jews (as they do) or foreigners (as they do). It is not just that. They are similar because they are unremarkable young men given an opportunity to do what they believe is somehow remarkable.

The hateful creeds, of which there are many, present these young men with what sociologists tell us are constituent elements of every youth subculture. A uniform. A sense of belonging. A clandestine group and some interesting new friends. A belief system that simplifies everything and provides answers to complex issues. Most of all, it gives them a culture — because the culture in which they have grown up has left them feeling raging and adrift. With few exceptions, they are always young men between adolescence and their early thirties.

The fact that these men are committing mass murder in the name of a twisted dogma is disturbing. But what is more disturbing is the fact that, at one time, these men were simply ordinary, easily manipulated reckless youth. And such specimens, as we all know, are found pretty much everywhere. Manipulators, too.


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    Herman Thind says:

    Frightening… More so is the “kook factor” that is working itself into the tea party movement – many of these people are just the type to be “impressionable” enough to seek out violence as a means to an end. The America to the South of us – with economy dying, angry extremes, and anger against newcomers – is a tinderbox, and very potentially more of a “world hot-spot” than most will think. We need to keep our eyes on our Southern neighbor.

    Extremists are the biggest danger in the world today – and they’re not “indigenous” to any one group, region, or nation… Religion flames the fires of hatred – more and more today, and the actions of extremists in that mileu will quite possibly dictate the future of the modern “liberal democracy”…

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    Catherine says:

    Let us hope that we have learned from the past.

    The Tea Parties are stirring up emotions and exercising the fragility of some folks.

    Hopefully, nothing is ignitied.

    But, leadership should contain the responsibility of firing up less than stable folks.

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    Kevin says:

    The same thoughts expressed on the Huffington Post:


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    Jim says:

    Tremendous article, Warren, and sad that the commentators here so broadly miss the point and opt to take cheap political shots at the usual targets.

    I read “Web of Hate” several years back and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants some insight into Canada’s extreme racist fringe. Warren did our country a great service by shining a flashlight on that dark crevice of society.

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    Merle Terlesky says:

    I agree its terrible but why blaspeheme to make a point as the reporter did??

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