In the town of Cassidey <sic> just south of Nanaimo, a man named Ken McVay is quietly making what may prove to be the biggest local contribution of all to the anti-racist effort.
McVay, who worked the graveyard shift at a local gasbar until a car accident laid him up a month ago, has devoted the last year and a half to assembling databases within the Free Net computer network, part of an electronic service accessible to anyone in the world with a personal computer and a modem. A 52-year-old self-confessed “cyberspace junkie” and “creature of the nets,” McVay came across Holocaust denial material while browsing one day on his system.
“At first it seemed like some kind of ugly, tasteless joke,” he says, “but I slowly came to realize that these bastards were for real.” He began building a Holocaust archive, which spawned a second archive on fascist and neo-Nazi activity worldwide. “I started spending eight or 10 hours a day at the computer, putting in citations and giving authors credit, cross-referencing activities in Germany with the U.S. I worked harder when I realized it was pissing them off.” (“They” began leaving hate messages and death threats in the system for McVay). The files now contain about 10 megabytes (about two million words) of text. Much of it was typed in by McVay himself, who has developed tendonitis for his efforts.
The benefit of McVay’s work is that anti-racist groups who have access to the Free Net system can share and build on his information.
A couple of Victoria Free Net users, who discovered him through the system, have talked about trying to subsidize McVay in his work, perhaps buying him an optical scanner to spare his typing fingers.
Free Net has been available since November in Victoria. Last week the downtown library opened up the first public access terminal.
And so the communication networks hum, and the stakes rise on both sides. Allan Dutton believes that Tony McAleer, the Tom Metzger frontman, has suffered “serious credibility problems” as a result of the botched rally at the Century Plaza Hotel. “He’ll have to do something violent (to get back that credibility) or be replaced,” says Dutton. “We’re worried.”
Many of the anti-racists have braced themselves to fight on the same level. “The anti-Nazis are committed to using extra-legal tactics — and violence — against the Nazis,” one of the founders of the Victoria anti-Nazi Alliance proclaims.
Following the storming of the Century Plaza hotel, the Trotskyist League, which participated in the anti-racist “after-rally,” published a triumphant account of the squashed racist demonstation — the “victory we won in the streets.”
An anti-racist, anti-sexist leaflet circulating in town at the moment makes some similarly ominous noises. Issue through the offices of the “John Brown Anti-Klan Committee” in San Francisco, the flyer includes a little passage called “Kicking the Cops Out”:
“There can be no illusion about the purpose of the police. They are just another instrument of the racist ruling class to keep the rest of society from threatening their power. They are not a neutral force, and do not exist to protect us. They are tools of the state essential in keeping power in the hands of white male corporate America. We cannot and will not accept this.”
The danger inherent in such scenarios seems clear. Militants like the Anti-Klan Committee, who inhabith the finges of the anti-racist movement, do little for the cause. They are largely perceived as vigilante squads, no less frightening than their foes.
To hold the upper hand, the anti-racist side will have to be organized and disciplined, leaning on the strength of their numbers, the solidity of their arguments. (“Violence is the last resort of the incompetent,” says James McQuirter, the Canadian Klansman later jailed for, among other things, plotting to overthrow the Dominican Republic.
“A lot of these racist groups thrive on the image of respectability,” says David Lethbridge. “They want to be debated seriously. But to make any such debate lends them a credability they don’t deserve.” To make that point, Lethbridge did something which earned him a lot of discrediting press. Showing up for a meeting of the Council on Public Affairs, Lethbridge and a student noticed someone videotaping them from inside a nearby car. They approached the car, turned around and dropped their pants — creating footage destined to be shown repeatedly at council gatherings.
The messages Liberty Net traffics in are more subtle now, its users careful not to promote hatred against an identifiable group. They do not want to see the phone shut down.
Of course, even if Liberty Net were to be closed, the ultra-right would still find ways of communicating with one another, and with the as-yet-unconverted.
Understandably, those who are repulsed by what they say have trouble defending their right to say it. Indeed, the free speech debate has been among the stickiest issue legislators and anti-racist groups have faced. Can you avoid the spread of hate without putting up barriers to free expression? Can you tighten the criminal law without impinging on civil liberites? Can censorship be defended in a democracy?
Allan Dutton believes that the messages peddled by the far right are exclusive, rather than inclusive, and therefor anti-democratic by definition. “Racism is about power and privilege,” says Dutton. “These people (white supremacists, anti-Semites and the like) are facists. They want to deny people — deny you — dmeocractic rights.
True democracy, believes Dutton, can only occur when the power balance has been redressed. “The way to overcome racism is to ensure the full participation of everyone. If we don’t make sure we have full protection for people, they won’t have an equal footing. You have to start from the premise of equality. After that comes freedom of speech.”
The media pepetually struggles with the question of whether to report the views of extremists, thus giving them a forum for their views, or shut them out and ignore their ranting. One school of thought holds that given an opportunity to speak, noe-Nazis and white supremacists will hang themselves, with goss historical inaccuracies, pretzel logic or their own caustic bigotry. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a better way to discredit the Christian Identity movement than by allowing its leader, Jack Mohr, to speak his peace, as he did in the documentary film ‘Blood on the Face.’ “We’re in the opening stages of World War Three right now,” said Mohr, “Our military knows that there’s a force of at least 35,000 Viet Cong operating in the wilds of British Columbia.”
[Research assistance by Andrew Jackson.]