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.


Soundgarden returns to rule all the Earth

One of the greatest regrets in my life, apart from that unfortunate tattoo incident, is not moving Heaven and Earth to getting myself to that Soundgarden-Pearl Jam gig that happened in Ottawa in 1989, or thereabouts. Soundgarden’s Kim Thayill is the Guitar Messiah, you see, and it is important to pay homage to your Messiah.  Particularly when his band intends to go on a hiatus for more than a decade, leaving you bereft.

Bereft. I like that word.

Anyway: hiatus begone! On Friday night in L.A., after long 13 years, the Guitar Messiah and his Soundgarden reunited for one of those secret gig things, as “NudeDragons.” (It’s an anagram.)

Exene Cervenka of X was there, a couple guys from Mudhoney, a SubPop founder, some Pearl Jammers, and a few fans willing to pay up to $2,500 for a ticket to get in. The band played ‘Loud Love’ and ‘Outshined’ and ‘Rusty Cage.’ I was not, however, there to see any of it.

Word is that the boys, older but wiser, are planning a tour. They can’t do that until drummer Matt Cameron completes his beat-keeping obligations with Pearl Jam, of course. But maybe – just maybe – they are heading this way. And, if so, I guarantee I won’t make the same mistake again.

Ditto the tattoo.


The Furious George campaign gets curiouser

Bruce Davis is a friend of mine.  Has been a long time.  His sister, who I adore, is one of my oldest friends, and is a political genius.

Bruce is also the chair of the Toronto District School Board – a former client of mine, full disclosure – and, now, the manager of George Smitherman’s  mayoralty campaign.  One editorial this morning wonders how Bruce can do that, and his business, and still give the TDSB the attention it deserves.  It’s a fair question.

I have a different question, however.  I know it’s a question Bruce will consider, because he is a regular reader of this web site.

Is it a conflict of interest, real or perceived?

Here’s my concern: the TDSB, along with the City, is one of the biggest landowners in the Greater Toronto Area. I can tell you that, on a near-daily basis, the TDSB and the City have multi-million-dollar dealings with each other on real property deals, swaps/sales, and taxation/revenue issues. In some cases, title searches will reveal that they actually hold interests-in-common on certain important pieces of land.  (There is a supposed arms-length body to deal with dispositions of TDSB land, but trustees like Bruce are regularly called upon to opine on same, and the agency openly admits it “partners” with political leaders like the city’s mayor.)

That’s not all: in the past – and I know this, because I was personally involved – TDSB had direct dealings with the Office of the Mayor over the shared use of schools and school/city property, in every part of the City of Toronto. (It didn’t go anywhere, because David Miller is a doofus.)

There are many more such relationships between the City and the TDSB.  Most of the relationships are managed by officials, and politicians like Bruce never get near them in any meaningful way.  But the fact remains that TDSB trustees – and Bruce is the top one – regularly get called upon to express opinions about, and make decisions about, deals with the City of Toronto.  That’s just a fact.

Will any of the other mayoralty campaigns make hay with what seems – superficially, at least – to be resplendent with potential for conflict?  Beats me.  I do know that a few of said campaigns have been buzzing about the dramatic changes in Smitherman’s campaign team. So they might.  It’s political low-hanging fruit, as they say.

If I were advising Bruce on this one, and I guess I sort of am, I’d therefore recommend choosing: be TDSB chair, or be campaign manager.  You’d do a terrific job at both.  You’d be formidable, as always.

Just don’t try and do both at the same time.


April 15 bits and pieces

  • Bonkers for bikes: If you live in or around Toronto, you (a) aspire to exist in a world where everyone is ferrying themselves hither and yon on bicycles but (b) don’t and can’t.  The fact is that the city is too big, and too busy, for this latest bit of NDP-inspired insanity to be permitted to succeed.  The candidates (with the exception of George Smitherman, who is running a classic frontrunner boy-in-the-bubble campaign, when I’m not even sure he’s the frontrunner) have all taken clear stands on the issue.  Vote accordingly.
  • Courage in Quebec: Voices are raised against what – to me, and precious few others – is a clear infringement on civil liberties and religious freedom.  I hope the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party heed these cautionary voices.
  • Grit Health: Medicare – like a belief in a strong central government, fiscal prudence and a vibrant social network – have always been a cornerstone of Liberal Party policy.  I’m glad to see that has been reaffirmed.
  • Raptors Rap: They were amazing, last night, against the Knicks – but it didn’t matter.  The Bulls’ win against Charlotte, down South, sealed their fate.  No playoff berth.  It’s over. For me, it was actually painful, because the Raps have been a happy constant in an occasionally-unhappy constellation, this year.  And – as my sons and I were discussing on the way to school this morning – if Chris Bosh goes, we are well and truly (ahem) hooped. Bottom line: CHRIS BOSH, DON’T GO.
  • Don’t i-mug me! As I opined on FB last night, the month-long delay of iPad’s release in Canada now makes me a riper target for a techno-mugging.  As such, I have retained the services of a team of Apple bodyguards to protect me and my iPad.  So don’t get any ideas.


Enough is enough (with interesting updates and comments)

I, like everyone else, have been having a grand old time with this Rahim-Helena stuff. On my web site, on radio and on TV, I’ve been having a go at them, too.  Yuk yuk.

Enough, as they say, is enough. For starters, this “news” story – which even reputable news aggregators have headlined, and which I am only linking to in the hope that you will feel as I do – is a goddamned disgrace. It is disgusting. How, in God’s name, is this anyone’s business other the than the couple in question? How? Shame on the “journalists” who considered this newsworthy.

We have to be better than this.

And while we are on the subject of this ill-fated couple, here’s another contrarian opinion: the police completely screwed up the Jaffer case. Thee was no conspiracy, there was no dirty deal: the cops screwed up, big time. As CBC revealed this morning, the charges got tossed because the police wouldn’t let the former Conservative MP speak to a lawyer when he was under arrest – one of the most fundamental constitutional rights there is.  They’re lucky they got the  careless driving charge to stick, in fact.  They’re fools.

Personally, I now believe the Guergis-Jaffer thing is getting really, really out of control. And, quite frankly, it looks bad on us – not them.

Therefore, I’m off it for a while.  Mob scenes don’t appeal to me, much.

UPDATE: The original headline, below, has now been amended.  Good call.

UPDATER: The news outlet has pulled the story and headline, apparently due to the commentary on this web site.  See that commentary here.