It was two days before Christmas Eve and the streets of Toronto’s theatre district were glowing under a dazzling array of holiday decorations. My partner and I had been invited to her company’s holiday dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, which was followed by a performance of The Illusionists, a Broadway cast of mentalists and veritable wizards who performed death-defying tricks on a stage glowing electric-blue.
During the intermission, while I was still fuzzy from the two glasses of wine I’d had at dinner and brimming with wonder at the magic spectacle, I fished my phone out to check my messages. I froze in panic. Weeks earlier, on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s election win, I had been interviewed for an article about young, attractive women being recruited by white supremacists to boost the burgeoning “alt-right” movement’s reach on social media. The article had just been published.
Although I was quoted in only one paragraph, I was now the target of a small army of neo-Nazi, white supremacist trolls who were hiding behind Pepe the Frog and swastika profile pics. A woman who goes by the name of Veronica Evalion – a 19-year-old Canadian who received notoriety for uploading anti-Semitic videos on YouTube and filming herself singing Happy Birthday to Adolf Hitler in the same syrupy, over-exaggerated drawl Marilyn Monroe used to serenade the pants off JFK – was egging them on.
As she hurled abuse at me, I felt sorry for her. My first impulse was to wonder if she was being manipulated by men who used her youth to propagate a hateful message. After all, I came from a single-mother household and was manipulated as a teenager by men old enough to be my fathers and grandfathers, who cast me as the fresh, new face of Canada’s white supremacist movement.
But then it dawned on me that, unlike Evalion, by age 19, I had already turned against the extremist group that recruited me, testified in court and helped send several of its members to jail. And that’s when a curious thought crossed my mind: would I still feel sorry for her if she was a mean-looking male skinhead with “White Power” tattooed on his neck?
‘It is a strange paradox to realize that I participated in hate because it earned me love’
Our society often doesn’t think that young people – especially young women – are responsible for their actions. It’s a testament to our still-paternalistic society that we view it as almost inconceivable for women to plan out heinous acts – especially if those women are pretty young girls, and especially if they are white, or come from a middle-class background.
We live in a society that equates white supremacists with violent, tattooed skinheads. Their in-your-face attitude, ugly words and combat boots telegraph a mental image we’ve come to expect. By contrast, a young, soft-spoken girl with long pigtails and a fuzzy hoodie is much more inconspicuous as a deliverer of hate propaganda. We are more apt to regard her as disarming, as the “girl next door,” and dismiss her complicity in Holocaust denial as youthful folly.
I was 16 years old when I became involved in the white nationalist, neo-Nazi movement. Although still a minor, I was smart enough to know that I was being mentored for a leadership role in the Heritage Front by neo-Nazi superstars, such as Ernst Zundel and former klansman Wolfgang Droege. Like so many other people who join gangs or terrorist groups, I came from a single-mother household. I had no friends and often felt powerless. Before the Heritage Front came along to lavish me with praise, nobody listened to what I had to say. Expressing hate made me feel powerful for the first time in my life.
When I was 17, I flew to New York to represent the Heritage Front on The Montel Williams Show. I didn’t care who saw me sitting next to John Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, or what repercussions it would have for my future. It never occurred to me to ask why Ernst Zundel or Wolfgang Droege wouldn’t go on the show to represent the organizations they had built from scratch.
I would be asked to take the limelight again and again – at rallies, during interviews with the press – being paraded to media and supporters like a trophy, or a circus freak. And for a girl with no friends, an immigrant who hadn’t even kissed a boy before, the kind of attention I received from people was overwhelming.
I didn’t do it for a cause. It is a strange paradox to realize that I participated in hate because it earned me love. The more attention I received, the harder I worked to impress the group’s leaders. I didn’t care who bought the videotapes I was featured in, as long as it meant I was no longer powerless. I didn’t understand that I was a commodity; that whatever came out of my mouth wasn’t as important as how I looked. By veiling a dangerous, white supremacist group behind the face of a young girl, we made sure the public would see us as a non-threatening organization. In turn, we recruited more angry, lonely men who rarely had girlfriends – men who I was instructed to flirt with, so we would raise more cash donations.
And it worked. While synagogues were spray-painted and Tamil men beaten to death by skinheads on the streets of Toronto, I was innocuously talking on TV about taking pride in my heritage.
Perhaps that’s why the Ivanka Trumps and Marine Le Pens of the world seem more popular than their crotchety, transparent fathers. They speak with a soft voice and look pretty in the spotlight. Their words wield a seductive, dark magic that reaches further into an audience’s hearts and prompts the question: are they really that bad?
Yet this is precisely what makes them so dangerous.
Elisa Hategan is the author of the memoir, Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up.