Fussing over his last-minute travel plans, David Divine, James R. Johnston chair of Black Canadian studies at Dalhousie University, seems a worldly fellow, not at all the poster child for naivete on racism.
At his suburban Halifax dining table last week, with his phone ringing off the hook and teenage children coming and going, he explained that he is not afraid to vigorously defend his belief in the rightness of multiculturalism. “Only one look at my background will tell you I’m up to any challenge,” he said.
With his command of black history in Canada, his cautiously precise speaking style, strong academic reputation and seat on the board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, to say nothing of his pleasant Scottish trilling nor his skin like milky coffee from his African-American father and Irish-Scottish mother, he seems as good a candidate as any to debate racial diversity against Jared Taylor, a notorious American white nationalist who was booked to speak at Dalhousie last week.
Canadians have a “lewd curiosity” about racism, says Karen Mock, former executive director of the CCRF. They also have the naive confidence that good argument will refute lies. Together, she says, curiosity and confidence make for a broad vulnerability to the propaganda strategies of modern “race realism.”
In its reaction to Mr. Taylor’s brief visit last week, Halifax failed on almost every measure. Prof. Divine did not check his background before agreeing to debate him as an intellectual peer, an omission that later forced him to publicly refuse to debate. The media courted Mr. Taylor, then shunned him, then courted him again, turning a non-story into a near-scandal; and citizens stooped to mob violence and an anonymous e-mail that read: “Next time he comes, we’re going to cut off his head.”
“Must be Muslims,” Mr. Taylor said.
Literally overnight, this coincidence of failures transformed a harmless kook handing out fliers in a Maritime snowstorm into the hottest interview in Halifax. He is now hailed on the Internet among like-minded American “paleoconservatives” as a martyr for free speech in the face of aggressive Canadian political correctness. Even the local papers that refused his ads turned around and defended his right to get his message out.
“I felt very sad that someone of the calibre of Prof. Divine, with all the best of intentions, fell into that trap,” said Dr. Mock, a psychologist who was once dubbed the “hate hunter” for her expert testimony on neo-Nazi tattoos. “It’s an old Klan trick. . .. They can’t be refuted because their lies are propaganda and the arguments are circular and conspiratorial.”
It was the same trap laid in the late 1990s by Wolfgang Droege, then leader of the neo- Nazi Heritage Front, who got himself invited to address a University of Toronto political science class, by a teacher who intended his class to see through Droege’s arguments. What happened was a publicity bonanza for white supremacy, after which the notorious Heritage Front “hateline” phone service praised the school for its brave stance on free speech.
The trap for Prof. Divine was planted last summer by a man who describes himself as an antiracist, with intentions similar to the U of T professor’s. Brian Boothe, an “independent booking agent” from Lafayette, Ind., said he wanted to see Mr. Taylor’s views well and properly challenged. And so he proposed a debate on racial diversity, in which Prof. Divine would argue the pro, and Mr. Taylor the con. He had done the same thing once with Mr. Taylor and a Hispanic nationalist at a Texas University.
Knowing nothing of Mr. Taylor other than that he graduated from Yale University and a top Parisian politics school, Prof. Divine accepted, and suggested Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Day.
Prof. Divine had not read, for example, Mr. Taylor’s description of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which was based on nothing more than cherry picked press accounts, in which he says that “when blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization—any kind of civilization—disappears.” Nor was Prof. Divine familiar with the content of Mr. Taylor’s American Renaissance magazine, which disseminates writings and studies about the genetic inferiority of blacks, in a tone described by the Anti-Defamation League as “genteel racism.” A recent AmRen article about the 2005 Toronto Boxing Day murder of Jane Creba, for example, said: “The Ontario government is promising to crack down, but blacks keep killing people.”
And so Prof. Divine booked a hall, Dalhousie’s media office wrote a press release, and the New Century Foundation, the Virginia-based white nationalist group of which Mr. Taylor is the head, purchased non-refundable airfare. Late last month, the first public notice made its way on to Stormfront.org, an American neo-Nazi Web site, whose moderator encouraged like-minded Nova Scotians to attend.
Dr. Mock said the best polling on racism in Canada suggests two-thirds of us are pleased with and supportive of official multicultural policy. Between 12% and 15% are bigots, and unlikely to change their minds. That leaves about one person in six unaccounted for.
“And that’s the group that can go either w ay,” she said.
They are the undecideds, the swing voters of racial harmony, and because of their disinterest, they are the most vulnerable to propaganda about the evils of different races. Should they ever go to the bigots, Dr. Mock says, together they would make up roughly the portion of Germans who elected Hitler.
“I meet people through antiracism who are fighting for the equality of their people and they don’t realize they’re anti-Semites,” she said. “Canada should fear and counter any movement in any country, because hate and this kind of material knows no boundaries, especially because of the Internet. What the Internet does is make credible-looking publishing very easy.”
On first glance, Jared Taylor, 55, looks perfectly credible. People who write about him tend to mention his clothing and how nice it is, how remarkable that he is not wearing boots, jeans and a dirty undershirt. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald, for example, called him “impeccably dressed,” and the Southern Poverty Law Centre has called him the “cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy.”
“I’m impressed by him. He’s my favourite white nationalist, because he just personifies everything that I believe makes white nationalism dangerous, because I think it does have an appeal to educated people,” said Carol Swain, a black woman law professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and author of The New White Nationalism in America. “If I were white, same profile, I don’t know that some of his message wouldn’t resonate with me. . .. It’s sad, isn’t it? Such a waste of a person.”
It is true that Mr. Taylor, wearing a suit for an interview, was well-dressed by Halifax snowstorm standards. He even plays the clarinet, speaks Parisian French, and travels frequently to Japan, where he was born to Presbyterian missionaries. But it was just a suit.
He dismissed the “white supremacist” and “racist” accusations as empty epithets. If anything, he says he is a yellow supremacist because he believes Asians are genetically the smartest race, then whites, then blacks.
It is clear he enjoys his slick reputation. He speaks with the forced formality and exaggerated enunciation of a man who has been showing off for so long he has forgotten he is doing it. Witness his response to the offer of a drink, “I think I shall be abstemious,” and his order to the waitress, “I believe I will indulge in the cheesecake, if you please.” He also needs a haircut, but it is unfair to judge a book by its cover.
“I want my children to look like my grandparents,” he said. “I don’t want them to look like Oprah Winfrey or Fu Manchu.”
If one of his two young daughters were to bring home a nonwhite boyfriend, he would be “deeply disappointed, because my people have been white for 20,000 years. I would ask them to change their mind. I mean, for heaven’s sake, people are permitted to express preferences of this sort about their dogs. On what basis? Appearance? Mere esthetics? If esthetics matter in the case of dogs, can they not matter in people? I think this is the most trivial of reasons, but I like the way white people look. I like the kind of societies they build. I like their culture. I like their literature. I like their music.”
His distate for racial impurity extends from the personal to societal, and so it is immigration, especially from non-white countries, that is the main target of his advocacy, followed by affirmative action policies.
The speech he wrote for Halifax, for example, was not overtly racist. Rather, it was a selection of out-of-context quotations from Canadian press reports, compiled into a mostly unconvincing argument that, “at its worst, racial diversity leads to race riots, racially motivated murder and assault. At its best, when communities of different races try to live together they simply leave each other alone. Except for a few bohemians, people of different races do not usually mingle naturally and happily.”
In North America, he believes whites are “forbidden to express any kind of group pride,” which is “unfair on the face of it. . .. Ultimately, it really is a question of survival.”
Notably among white nationalists, he says he is not an anti- Semite, because Jews “look white to me.”
With the help of annual grants from the Pioneer Fund (a private American trust set up in 1937 to promote white racial purity, which is now less overtly racist, and headed since 2002 by J. Philippe Rushton, the notorious race researcher in the University of Western Ontario’s psychology department, whom former Ontario premier David Peterson once said he would fire if he could for his views on racial IQ differences), Mr. Taylor conducts a continent-wide public relations campaign in which he is neither academic nor journalist, but a racial pundit who trades on the good names of Yale and Sciences Po, the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, to promote white pride and argue against racial integration. As such, he has spoken his mind everywhere from Fox News to the Queen Latifah Show.
Dr. Mock said this a difficult strategy to counter without tripping over freedom of speech, especially, as in the case of Prof. Divine, when you do not even know about it.
“We became more worried when the skinheads and the Klansmen grew their hair and took off their white hoods and their Doc Martens, and put on suits and ties and ran for office and started publishing journals and marketing their ideas via the Internet. They are very dangerous in the way they promote their pseudo-science to a naive public and students who have no critical way of evaluating them,” she said.
Tom Vinci, a Dalhousie philosophy professor, wrote in the Chronicle-Herald last week that the silencing of Mr. Taylor was “outrageous,” because “as long as a person reflectively and sincerely arrives at [their opinions], giving expression to them in a public forum should be protected. That is what the right to free speech ultimately comes down to.”
The trouble is that Mr. Taylor is too smart to be anything more than half-honest. He did not want to state all of his views, only the legally acceptable ones. His script was self-censored to conform to Canadian hate speech law and standards of civil discourse, and it was only reluctantly in the relative privacy of an interview that he gave voice to his full opinion about the genetic hierarchy of the races.
Tom Traves, the president of Dalhousie, first learned about Mr. Taylor’s impending visit from the Atlantic Jewish Congress on Dec. 20, and he forwarded his concerns that day to Prof. Divine, demanding nothing, but suggesting that such a debate would be “odd.”
“When a university feels that, essentially, it is being taken advantage of by someone who just wishes to use the credibility of the institution to advance a noxious cause, obviously it’s our duty to preserve our institutional integrity,” Dr. Traves said. “This was not a discussion about diversity, it was a question of what could be characterized as white supremacy.”
For his part, Prof. Divine was “horrified” to learn what he had scheduled. He cancelled immediately, and sent Mr. Taylor an apology e-mail about how worried they both must be that other people might exploit their serious academic debate to promote intolerance. He decided to give a lecture himself on racial diversity, in which he would explain why Mr. Taylor’s notion of white pride is part of a long tradition of racism.
To cancel was the appropriate response, said Dr. Mock, who has refused debates with Droege, Ernst Zundel, and assorted other Canadian extremists. She compares it to debating drug abuse with a dealer, or prostitution with a pimp, or sexual abuse with a rapist. Racism can be discussed, she said, just not with racists.
At the time, James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was deeply critical. “The way you deal with speech some may find objectionable or even abhorrent is not with silence. It’s with more speech, with criticism and debate,” he said.
But such timidity is typical of big organizations like universities, said Clive Seligman, head of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, which opposes preferential treatment of minorities at universities.
He said there are no questions of academic freedom here, even if the university put pressure on Prof. Divine behind the scenes. “I wouldn’t want them to do it. I think it would be shameful if they did it that way, but people are human, people are afraid,” he said.
Mr. Taylor is a lot of things, but he is not afraid. Invited or not, he decided to keep his date with Prof. Divine, to speak during the question period and to advertise his rebuttal lecture, for which he had booked a hotel conference room the following night, last Tuesday.
But a snowstorm cancelled Prof. Divine’s Monday lecture, and the Halifax media, which had originally scheduled interviews with Mr. Taylor in anticipation of a big public debate at Dalhousie, decided en masse to cancel them and refuse to run his promotional ads. A sales representative for the Chronicle-Herald even took his money and had to refund it after speaking to the manager, according to vice-president Fred Buckland.
And so the “cultivated, cosmopolitan” Mr. Taylor found himself the host of a lecture nobody knew about, rebutting a lecture nobody had given, and with no good way to promote it, which is how he came to be handing out fliers in a snowstorm on the Dalhousie campus, looking for all the world like a crazy one-issue candidate in a local election, or a child having a pathetic little bake sale.
John Price, 28, is an experienced and thoughtful anarchist protester who has roused rabble against the G8 in Ottawa and hobnobbed at the summer conference of the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs.
To the mob of angry, inarticulate hippies gathered outside the Lord Nelson Hotel on the night of Mr. Taylor’s lecture, he is what Mr. Taylor is to the unwashed racists of North America—an eloquent, peaceful front man.
“Canada is a white supremacist society,” Mr. Price said. “There’s an obligation that white people have to speak out against white supremacy, because we have the opportunity to do that. [Mr. Taylor] wants us to tolerate his intolerance, and that’s just unacceptable.”
The protesters’ response, decided by what Mr. Price called a consensus, was to “enter, occupy as many seats as possible, and when he started speaking, to become unruly.”
Mr. Taylor had not even arrived when the first protester clumped through the door with the nervousness of a man looking for a fight. He found nobody but reporters, cameramen and an observer from the Atlantic Jewish Congress, and so he sat down in the front row, fidgeting with his face-mask. He would not give his name. And then, like campers into a mess hall, the rest of them followed, keffiyehs wrapped around their mouths, marching single-file, rudely, aggressively, a great galumphing mass of vigilante social justice.
As Mr. Taylor arrived (although, without his pitchfork, the protesters did not recognize him), the man in the front row grabbed a stack of American Renaissance magazines off the table and sat back down, hoping to provoke. Mr. Taylor said they do not belong to him, to please put them back.
“Who are you?” demanded the thug. “I’m Jared Taylor,” answered the racist, as if to say, “And a-one, and a-two . . .”
A woman started to bang an iron skillet with a wooden spoon. The others, in the hastily written childish poetry of protest chants, shouted, “Jared Taylor, racist scum, let’s put fascists on the run!”
“Do us a favour and put a bullet in your head, you f—-ng Nazi,” someone shouted. Two women started to pack up the chairs, while the largest of the men circled Mr. Taylor menacingly, and eventually manhandled him out of the room. This demonstration of mob mentality took about five minutes, during which Mr. Taylor struck a haughty, holier-than-thou pose for the many news cameras.
Thus did the protesters turn Mr. Taylor—a creepy, smooth talking bigot from what Nova Scotians refer to as “away”—into a local celebrity. By Wednesday morning, he was the number one interview in town, and the alleged victim in a police investigation of alleged assault, death threats and the wearing of masks in the commission of an offence.
Lewd curiosity and naive confidence had conspired to get Mr. Taylor invited to Halifax, but it was old-fashioned thuggery that allowed him to leave as a weirdly sympathetic figure, a media darling with another great war story to tell of his pseudo-intellectual derring-do. He became, in the end, a more effective racist.