Brad grew up near the intersection of Bathurst Street and Wilson Avenue in Toronto, around part of the city’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Driven to petty crime in his teens, Brad later joined a white supremacist group. According to a new CBC documentary, the man who first recruited him to the side of far-right politics kept focusing on the difference between the teenager and the religious culture he encountered in his neighbourhood every day.
In Skinhead, which airs as part of the CBC Docs POV series on Nov. 26, Brad laments his 13-year-long stint as one of Canada’s most notorious white nationalists. (Due to a request from the director, The CJN is not using Brad’s surname.) Now a student of criminology and criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Brad has the time and perspective to look back at his shameful, bigoted actions as a young man.
“He’s deep into a singular reformation process,” says director Andrew Gregg. “He was a misfit that got wrapped up into something, and went way too far down that road.”
Gregg says the documentary originated as an investigation into the rise of far-right groups in the wake of Donald Trump’s political ascent.
However, Barbara Perry, a specialist on hate crime and professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, suggested to Gregg that he get in touch with Brad.
At the start of the film, Brad introduces himself as a “former right-wing extremist.” As a teenager, he was attracted to the hyper-masculine allure and appeal of white supremacist groups: the uniform, the code, and the sense of belonging. Soon after, he became interested in white power punk music and far-right literature.
After 13 years of belonging to white supremacist organizations, which culminated in a period where he was president of the Vancouver chapter of the racist group Volksfront, Brad left the fold.
Now, after renouncing this lifestyle, Brad is working to patch up the wounds he inflicted on Jewish, black, and LGBTQ communities around the country. He speaks to high school students to educate them about racism in Canada, and has even shot a PSA for the human rights group FAST – Fighting Anti-Semitism Together.
“Giving back to the community is important especially when I took away from it,” he says in the film.
In one of the doc’s most fascinating scenes, Brad deconstructs the arguments of a white nationalist who spoke to the media during a protest in Portland. In the clip, that hateful figure referred to “Commies,” which Brad took as a veiled slur that actually meant “Jews.”
Gregg was cautious before speaking with Brad. Perry and hate-crime expert Ryan Scrivens warned him about “formers,” people who have left white supremacists groups and now seek media attention by saying they were victims.
Brad, however, did not see himself as a victim, according to Gregg. “I’ve spent enough time with [Brad] to say that I’m comfortable believing him,” Gregg says.
Brad is currently busy working on his degree and collaborating on an academic paper (with scholar Randy Blazak) about the ways men are radicalized to join white supremacist groups in prison.
He is also working with Perry on another project that examines how white power videos spread on the Internet and help to inculcate young men.
One of the most startling things Gregg has learned from his research is that much of the hateful rhetoric used by these groups still recalls strands of classical anti-Semitism.
“It’s amazing that in this day and age that… young people are still buying this old line about a massive Jewish conspiracy,” he tells The CJN.
With the rise of the “alt-right” in North America, Brad’s commentary is vital to help one understand how hateful groups persuade and proliferate.
“I hope it’s valuable,” Gregg says of the documentary. “If we just assume this [white supremacist] stuff isn’t going on, that’s when it flourishes.”