Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada)
October 14, 1999 Thursday Final Edition
WHY WHITE RACIST CELLS FAIL IN CANADA;
FIRST U.S.-STYLE CLAN QUICKLY BROUGHT TO EARTH
BYLINE: BILL DUNPHY, CRIME REPORTER, THE SPECTATOR
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A1
LENGTH: 2105 words
“The last thing any federal snoops want, if they had any choice in the matter, is a thousand different small phantom cells opposing them … such a situation is an intelligence nightmare.”
From Leaderless Resistance, an essay by ex-Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam
It was in the dead dark hours of a Monday morning six years ago — in Oshawa of all places — that Canada’s first white racist phantom cell was fledged.
They didn’t fly high and they certainly didn’t fly far before being brought to earth by police. And truth be told, they weren’t very terrifying.
But with racists repeatedly turning to terror cell tactics in the United States, this group’s birth and brief life — largely unmarked by the media and most antiracists — should be seen as something of a warning.
Small cells of white racists or misnamed “lone wolves” in the U.S. have been responsible for everything from the 1995 Oklahoma City tragedy to dozens upon dozens of murders, bombings, arsons and armed robberies. Most recently Buford Furrow Jr., a member of the Aryan Nations, killed a nonwhite postman and shot five people, including three young children, in a midday rampage at a Jewish community centre in Los Angeles in August.
For a long time, Canada’s cooler racial climate and a tradition of tolerance led many to believe we had somehow been inoculated against this American sickness.
Manuel Prutschi of the Canadian Jewish Congress says there are several reasons for the lack of terror attacks by the racist right in Canada.
‘One of the big differences is that in the U.S. there is this very strong anti-government senti-ment. The government is seen as an identifiable enemy, which is not something most Canadians feel.”
Prutschi also points to America’s gun culture as another strong difference.
John Thompson, executive director of the Mackenzie Institute, monitors all manner of political extremists for his think-tank clients. He says there are likely subtle social reasons for the difference.
“The point of terrorism is to overthrow the government, at least eventually. And that doesn’t seem to be the goal of most of the (Canadian) extremists.”
“Maybe we’re less tolerant of splinter groups. We really are a largely middle-class, law-abiding society, although that may be changing,” he adds.
Thompson says one disturbing feature of the leaderless-resistance organizational structure advocated by Louis Beam is that “there’s no brake on you. The strategy is broadly discussed, but the specifics are whatever you think will work.”
It would be a nightmare for intelligence and policing agencies if leaderless resistance were widely adopted, he says.
“It’s almost impossible to keep on top of them. The intelligence effort is just about titanic and beyond the scope of any agency,” Thompson says.
The nightmare almost became reality in Canada in 1993. The summer of ’93 was a busy time for the mixed bag of white supremacists, religious zealots, skinheads and neo-Nazis that make up the racist right in Canada.
At the absolute peak of its powers that year, the Toronto-based Heritage Front had chapters across the country, a telephone hotline offering hundreds of listeners daily commentary, a magazine with a mailing list in the thousand range, and meetings that would regularly attract 200 or more stalwarts.
Security for the meetings was provided by an unarmed paramilitary group under the direction of a former member of the now-disbanded Canadian Airborne Regiment.
Openly racist rock bands held several concerts in Montreal, Toronto, London and Vancouver.
It was the most powerful the racist right had been since the days of the Swastika Clubs back in the Dirty Thirties. Perhaps because the Front was so “successful” for several years, no one seemed interested in adopting the American model of phantom cells or leaderless resistance.
And for all the noise and rhetoric, the legal clashes with the human rights commissions and the street fights with anti-racist brawlers, the movement was essentially above ground and strove to be largely legal in their goals and activities.
Some members of the anarchist left had been employing terror cell tactics for more than a decade; witness the Squamish Five and Direct Action’s attacks on targets as diverse as B.C. Hydro, pornographic video stores, and Litton Industries, makers of the cruise missile guidance system.
Members of the Animal Liberation Front also employed the phantom cell technique in organizing attacks in the ’80s on university labs and fast food outlets, resurfacing in the ’90s as the Anti-Fascist Militia to send pipe bombs to conservatives, hate group leaders and animal researchers. They also attacked hunting and wilderness guides and outfitters, as well as mink ranchers.
Heritage Front leader Wolfgang Droege — who’d spent most of the ’80s in American prisons because of his involvement in terror cell tactics — kept the racist right on what passed for the straight and narrow.
But a small group of disaffected Heritage Front associates began developing other ideas.
At about 2.45 a.m. on Sept. 27, 1993, they acted upon them.
Shaking almost as much as their targets would soon be, two young men pulled down their balaclavas and burst through the doors of the Gem coffee shop on Oshawa’s Bloor Street East. One of the young men brandished a sawed-off shotgun and screamed at the sleepy customers and the lone baker who doubled as counter help.
One of the gunmen, a deeply troubled young man with a fanatical allegiance to the racist Christian Identity sect, was in desperate straits.
“I was either going to blow my head off, commit suicide, or go out and get some money,” Leslie Jasinski explained in court later.
So he had the .12-gauge in one hand for all the world to see and a spare shell hidden deep in the pocket of his trench coat — his steel shot an insurance policy against capture by the cops. It was over in minutes, and the two young men raced out into the darkness clutching $257 they’d grabbed from the terrified baker.
As acts of terror go, it was pretty minor, but it was a beginning.
Jasinski was an unemployed 25-year-old from Etobicoke whose emotional instability and penchant for pipe bombs got him kicked out of a small Toronto-based Ku Klux Klan cell in ’92.
Hanging out with the Heritage Front in ’93, Jasinski had met Ken Barker, 31, of Oshawa, and Phil Grech, 21, and Marc Lemire, 18, both of Toronto. All of them became disillusioned by Droege’s emphasis on talk over action and they began to socialize and pool ideas and resources.
Lemire and Grech and a few others shared a Toronto home. And when Barker moved back to Oshawa, they let him run his Equal Rights For Whites telephone hotline out of their home.
The four men spent increasing amounts of time together, taking part in Heritage Front actions, promoting Barker’s hotline, and dreaming of bigger things.
In September, Jasinski tilted those dreams towards the nightmare end of the spectrum, buying the .12-gauge shotgun and cutting down the barrel and stock. Suddenly they were armed. And as Thompson says, the small, leaderless group was tough to spot.
Even though Canadian intelligence agencies and police had wiretaps running and several informants in the Heritage Front — including Grant Bristow, a mole for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and Front co-founder — they largely misread the threat this group posed.
Police knew who the members were and knew they hung out together but missed Jasinski and his friends’ potential for violent crime and perhaps even terrorism. As a measure of how far off their analysis was, the CSIS mole Bristow only learned of their criminal activities as Oshawa’s robbery squad was closing in on them. And even then Bristow, fond of acidic nicknames, dubbed them the French Cruller Gang as though they were a joke.
They came close to being a deadly joke. After the late-night coffee shop heist, Jasinski bought another shotgun, this one a .16-gauge, and a couple of boxes of ammunition and stashed them in Barker’s Oshawa apartment. With some other racists, he took the guns to a conservation area north of Oshawa for a little live shooting practice, returning them to Barker’s apartment when he was done.
On Oct. 21, Grech donned a clown mask, a fright wig and a pair of gloves and pulled off his first bank job. Without showing a weapon, he was still able to rip off the Oshawa bank for a couple of thousand dollars and terrorize a pair of tellers whom he screamed at while wrestling with a cash drawer.
Unfortunately for Grech, a bank employee ran after him as he left the bank and watched him climb into his battered Chevette a mere block away. Armed with a partial plate number, patrol officers found Grech’s car that night sitting in Barker’s parking spot in a lot just a few blocks away on Bloor Street.
Heavily armed members of the robbery squad moved in on Barker’s apartment. They found both shotguns, ammunition, a crossbow, a sword, a police scanner, neo-Nazi literature, and a wad of cash. They also found 10 batteries wired together with a timer in a realistic imitation of a bomb.
Simultaneous raids in Oshawa and Toronto the next morning picked up Barker and Grech. Jasinski was arrested when he made a surprise appearance at Barker’s bail hearing and confessed to the doughnut store robbery in an attempt to clear Barker.
Lemire was neither arrested nor charged with any criminal offence. And there’s no evidence to suggest he knew in advance of the robbery plans. But once he did know, he still stuck by his buddies.
A month later he opened his own telephone hotline and then a computerized bulletin board service for white racists. He has since been taken in hand by two deans of the racist right — Nazi apologist Ernst Zundel and a racist anti-immigrant activist, Paul Fromm. With their financial assistance, Lemire now operates the largest racist Internet site in Canada.
Grech pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in jail for the bank robbery.
Jasinski, who confessed to the coffee shop stickup during his friend’s bail hearing, was released without further criminal charges because police were unable to use his confession against him and had insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
They did, however, succeed in winning a court order barring him from owning or possessing firearms and explosives for the rest of his life.
He surfaced again in 1995 after a western counterpart in the group Aryan Nations identified Jasinski as his Toronto representative in an about-to-be-formed militia. It never formed.
The court threw out robbery charges against Barker, saying the police didn’t have enough evidence to connect him to the robbery. He was jailed briefly on weapons possession charges.
Barker has since left the racist movement and built a new life for himself and his family. Attempts to interview Barker and Lemire for this story were fruitless. Barker’s wife said he’d been out of “that stuff” for five years, and Lemire also refused an interview request. The Spectator was unable to locate Grech, and a source in the racist right wing said Jasinski is ill.
As terrorists go, the group was a pretty pathetic bunch. They put out a little propaganda, robbed one coffee shop and one bank, and dreamed of bigger things.
But they formed and began to act out in a classic terror cell fashion. And documents obtained from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service reveal that in 1993 and 1994, police were worried that one member of the group had talked about walking into the headquarters of the Canadian Jewish Congress with a gun and “taking out some people,” a chilling echo of the murderous rampage Buford Furrow Jr. would embark on six years later.
Since then, Canada’s white racist movement has collapsed with the demise of the Heritage Front. Those still active in it — including Zundel, Fromm and Lemire — are either producing propaganda or meeting in largely ineffectual groups that rarely rise above the street gang level.
Last month, Droege sat in an upscale coffee shop in Toronto’s Beaches and lamented the lack of real leaders in the movement. He said the people he’d worked with are too busy with families and accumulating wealth to risk them on a fringe movement.
It will take an economic collapse to rebuild the movement, Droege said, and leaderless resistance won’t bring that about. “Leaderless resistance makes people inactive or they do crazy things that bring the movement into disrepute,” the ex-con offered.
“Movements depend on leaders. And if the leaders aren’t there, it’s not going to go.”
SUBJECT: RACE & RACISM (90%); TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS (89%); TERRORISM (88%); COUPS (78%); CHILDREN (69%); ROBBERY (66%); JEWS & JUDAISM (65%); ARSON (52%);
CITY: TORONTO, ON, CANADA (77%);
STATE: ONTARIO, CANADA (88%); CALIFORNIA, USA (79%);
COUNTRY: CANADA (96%); UNITED STATES (95%);
LOAD-DATE: October 17, 2002
GRAPHIC: 2 photos by CP/Toronto Sun; 1. Leslie Jasinski parades with Heritage Front signs in a file photo. He admitted to an armed robbery to free a friend, but police could not use his statement against him.; 2. Marc Lemire found support for his activities from well-known racists, and now operates the largest racist Internet Web site in Canada.
TYPE: Special Report
Copyright 1999 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.