Neofascist acquitted on charges of intimidating and harassing journalists
Press freedom advocates don’t see the funny side of “prank,” but judge rules there was no intent to intimidate
June 13, 2020
Ruby Irene Pratka
Philippe Gohier knew immediately that the man standing at his office door holding a bouquet of flowers wasn’t there to declare his love.
Gohier was editor-in-chief of Vice Québec when Raphaël Lévesque, leader of the far-right group Atalante, showed up at Vice’s Montreal newsroom with six masked men on May 23, 2018.
Lévesque, who also goes by the name Raf Stomper, “had a bouquet of flowers. He rang the doorbell and the receptionist unlocked it. Simon recognized him immediately,” Gohier says, referring to his colleague at the time, Simon Coutu, who covered right-wing extremism and had written about Atalante for Vice Québec.
Coutu was seated toward the back of the newsroom. “They went straight for him, playing music and throwing flyers, and then they gave him a fake trophy with ‘média poubelle’ [garbage media] written on it,” recalls Gohier. He says the incident lasted only about a minute. “I was in a [glass-walled] upstairs conference room, and by the time I ran downstairs, they were on their way out.”
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Coutu, who now works at Radio-Canada, declined an interview request. He wrote an account of that day’s events that was published the same day on Vice.
Atalante said on its Facebook page at the time that Vice was starting a “war” through its coverage of the far right.
Lévesque was arrested on June 19, 2018, and charged with breaking and entering, harassment, mischief and intimidation. Almost two years to the day later, on June 10, 2020, he was acquitted of all charges. Judge Joëlle Roy found that “the accused had no intention of intimidating anyone”.
“It was a gesture of intimidation to harass Simon and all of our staff.”
In court testimony reported by La Presse, Coutu acknowledged he was rattled by the prank. “People were shaken up. … I felt surrounded. [Lévesque’s] presence and the presence of people in masks was threatening.”
Gohier doesn’t see the humour in it either.
“It was a gesture of intimidation to harass Simon and all of our staff. There were about ten people in the room, many of whom had nothing to do with Simon’s reporting, and they were profoundly rattled. As editor-in-chief, I was worried for their safety.
“[Lévesque] said it was a joke, but I think that explanation is as stupid as his actions. The whole thing was deeply unpleasant, inappropriate and stupid.”
A known figure
Gohier says that when Lévesque and his masked comrades entered the newsroom, staff immediately “knew who we were dealing with.”
Researchers describe Atalante as a neofascist group with a few dozen hardcore members and two to three thousand sympathizers. Founded in 2016 out of a fusion of several smaller right-wing groups, the Quebec City–based group has ties with Italian, French and Greek neofascists.
They have drawn the attention of the media and the general public through acts of guerilla theatre such as holding an open-air mass with a Catholic extremist group near the Quebec City ramparts, and “decorating” Montreal’s Olympic stadium with a banner calling for immigrants to leave while the stadium was being used for temporary asylum seeker housing in 2017. They also pulled similar fake trophy stunts involving reporters at Le Soleil and CBC Quebec, and were a regular presence at right-wing rallies in Quebec City when the previous provincial Liberal government was in power.
The Vice incident “was not the first time this has happened to a media outlet,” says Xavier Camus, a Montreal-based philosophy professor and anti-extremism researcher. “They know exactly where the line is and they will not cross it. Instead of roughing someone up, they will simulate a trophy presentation and broadcast it on their Facebook page. That’s how they get their audience and grow their movement.”
Camus emphasizes that there is hard-line neofascist ideology behind the group’s theatrics. “These people dream of a fascist state,” he explains. “They don’t believe in democracy. They want to install an authoritarian regime where white people will dominate, minorities will be marginalized and immigration will stop.”
According to La Presse, Judge Roy was not receptive to arguments centred on the group’s ideology. When Jimmy Simard, a Crown prosecutor who worked on a previous stage of the case, brought up Lévesque’s apparent fascist sympathies at trial — telling the judge that Lévesque had written “Roll out the barbed wire and prepare the Zyklon B,” a reference to Nazi concentration camps, as part of a song lyric — the judge rebuked the prosecutor for “introducing “corrosive and irrelevant elements.”
“We’re going to stick to May 23, 2018,” she later remarked.
The judge’s full decision was not available at press time. Jean Pascal Boucher, a Crown prosecutor and spokesperson for the Quebec Crown prosecutor’s office, said his office “acknowledged the decision” and was considering filing an appeal. Lévesque’s lawyer, Mathieu Corbo, said neither he nor his client would comment further.
A chilling effect
Roxane Martel-Perron is the director of education and skills development at the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, a Montreal-based think tank that has followed the Quebec City right-wing scene closely.
“Just because fewer people want to participate in traditional protests” due to COVID-19 and the threat of being exposed on social media and doxxed “doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared,” she warned. While she declined to comment on Roy’s verdict, she expressed concern that it would act as a disincentive for people to press charges, and emphasized that it was “important to denounce attempts to strike fear into people.”
Jean-Thomas Léveillé, vice-president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, fears that the decision amounts to “a free pass” to harass journalists at their workplaces.
“Journalists are worried that this threat to their safety was not taken seriously by this country’s justice system.”
“Would we find it funny if someone barged into a dentist’s office or an accountant’s office or a judge’s place of work? Would the judge have accepted that behaviour in her chambers? The public has a right to criticize our work, and there are many ways to do it.”
“But that’s going too far.”
He also points out that both Coutu and a reporter with Le Soleil were visibly rattled when Lévesque entered their newsrooms, ostensibly as a “joke.”
“If I’m accused of harassing you in public, it doesn’t matter what I intended, it matters how you felt,” says Léveillé. “In private, even more so.”
He is concerned that the decision could affect which subjects journalists choose to cover, and by extension, impact the public’s right to information.
“If a journalist feels threatened in his or her work, freedom of the press is impacted and the public is less informed. If we legitimize [harassment of journalists], where is it going to stop? Are representatives of the state, or of private companies, going to barge in and tell us how to do our jobs?”
“We’re not asking for special treatment for journalists, but they have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else in society, and that includes the right to work in peace and safety,” he says. “Journalists are worried that this threat to their safety was not taken seriously by this country’s justice system.”
Editor's note: Here's our analysis of the verdict.
The acquittal of Raphael Levesque, aka Raf Stomper, should sound the alarms for anyone concerned with the growth of the far-right. While Justice Joëlle Roy bought the argument that the stunt was not meant to intimidate, the neo-fascist group’s activity and ties are strong evidence to the contrary.
Video of the 2018 incident shows Levesque thanking Coutu for “starting a war.” A pro-terrorism neo-Nazi Telegram channel celebrated the incident, writing “We aren’t hanging journalists yet, but they know it’s coming.”
While Levesque was the only individual charged, the idea that the other half a dozen Atalante members cannot be identified is difficult to believe, as Atalante’s membership has been widely documented by Montreal Antifasciste.
Prior to Atalante’s formation, in 2007, Levesque and Yan Barras, both future members of Atalante, along with other members of the Quebec City Stompers, attacked patrons at the Bar-Coop L'Agitée. Barras stabbed 6 individuals and was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Mathieu Bergeron, also a future Atalante member, stabbed 2 Arab men. He was sentenced to 2 years in closed custody.
Just yesterday, on June 12, another Atalante member was convicted of assault against an individual he identified as an antifascist.
As singer of the Atalante bonehead band Légitime Violence, Levesque’s lyrics include “I can hear your bones breaking under my billy club,” in a song about antifascists. In another, he sings “unroll the barbed wire, let’s prepare the Zyklon B!,” a reference to the gas used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.
Atalante, and Levesque, have ties to the Italian fascist group CasaPound (and in fact Légitime Violence has played shows with the CasaPound band, Bronson Crew) and Azov Battalion.
Atalante member Shawn Beauvais-Macdonald participated in the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally, and even provided Heather Heyer’s murderer with a shield, according to photographs of the event.
Rather than be a cautionary tale for far-right actors who wish to intimidate their opponents, the outcome of this trial has only served to embolden the group, and their supporters.
Read more on Atalante here: http://anti-racistcanada.blogspot.com/2019/12/who-are-atalante-deep-dive-into-quebec.html
Why was the alleged leader of Atomwaffen’s Washington State cell travelling in Canada?
Kaleb James Cole was detained, deported and banned from the country
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
November 13, 2019
Kaleb James Cole (left) and posing in front of Auschwitz (right). Source: court documents.
On Sept 26, the Seattle Police Department seized a stockpile of weapons from 24-year-old Atomwaffen cell leader Kaleb James Cole. Thanks to court documents, we have learned that Cole was travelling in Canada and has a girlfriend in British Columbia.
Atomwaffen Division is an international neo-Nazi terror group founded in the United States which follow an accelerationist ideology – meaning they believe in the use of terrorist attacks to accelerate what they see as an inevitable societal collapse and race war. They are collectively responsible for five murders, and two members were arrested with weapons and explosives which they were allegedly planning to use to “harm civilians, nuclear facilities and synagogues."
Atomwaffen in Canada:
The now defunct Iron March forum for self-described fascists and neo-Nazis which spawned Atomwaffen had approximately 87 members with Canadian IP addresses, including some of its key admins and propagandists.
Atomwaffen-affiliated cells in Canada have operated under the names Northern Order and The Solar Contingent. Northern Order has put up stickers and posters in Toronto and Ottawa. The Solar Contingent involved at least four individuals who put up a series of posters in Toronto in May 2018, but has not since been public under that name. Artwork for both groups was produced by or copied from ‘Dark Foreigner’, Atomwaffen’s one-time graphic designer. Dark Foreigner posted on the Iron March forum in June 2017 that he and his friend ‘Bobby Fasher’ are from Ontario, and would now be in their early 20s.
Our investigation with VICE Canada revealed an Atomwaffen member who had served in the Canadian Armed Forces and was serving in the reserves. Thanks to the new Iron March data dump, we know that Montreal man Gabriel Sohier Chaput, aka ‘Zeiger’, was also in contact with Atomwaffen. Chaput, currently wanted and on the run from a Quebec warrant, was a key figure in the Iron March forum and to the Alt-Right Montreal group.
Canadian Atomwaffen members may have travelled to the United States to participate in hate camps.
Here’s what we have learned from the Seattle Police Department’s Petition for an Extreme Risk Protection Order against Kaleb James Cole:
Kaleb James Cole, born October 13, 1995, resides with his father in Washington State. His listed occupation is as a general labourer. According to ProPublica, he lives in Blair, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.
Cole, who used the alias Khimaere, was identified in a February 2018 ProPublica piece. He is believed to have organized hate camps in Washington State.
He travelled to Prague, Wroclaw, Kiev, and Krakow in December 2018, taking an Atomwaffen flag with him, and took a photo in front of Auschwitz. He was travelling with Aidan Bruce Umbaugh and Edie Allison Moore.
Cole was interviewed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon returning to the United States. He told them he was travelling to see a music festival in Kiev and that he doesn’t use email or social media.
Cole was in Quebec in May 2019, and flew from Quebec to B.C. to see his girlfriend in late May/early June.
He was then detained for 42 days, deported under Section 34 (1)(F) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on the grounds that he is a “member of an organization that may engage in terrorism,” and banned from Canada for life. Note: While Atomwaffen has not been officially designated as a terrorist organization in Canada, this may indicate that the Canadian Border Services Agency and other security entities have internally (formally or informally) recognized Atomwaffen as a terrorist group.
We have filed an ATIP (access to information) request for Cole’s deportation order and any supporting materials, which we hope will shed light on his activity in Canada.
The Seattle Police Department says Cole “poses a significant danger” and confiscated a number of weapons, including weapon parts which could be combined to make untraceable firearms.
If you have additional information about the Canadian activity of Atomwaffen or affiliated groups, please write us at email@example.com.
Quebec Far-Right Hold Rally in Support of Government’s Law Against Religious Symbols - Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Quebéc Far-Right Hold Rally in Support of Government’s Law Against Religious Symbols
Far-right organizers and hate groups are trying to use support for the law, widely characterized as discriminatory and unconstitutional, to gather new supporters
April 9, 2019
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Far-right supporters gather for the vague bleue demonstration in Montreal on May 4.
For over a month in the leadup to May 4, Québec’s far-right had been excited. There was a wave coming, they said. A “vague bleue;” a blue wave - a sea of blue and white Québec flags.
The vague bleue was initially meant to be a demonstration in favour of a “citizen’s constitution,” the primary demand of the Québec Yellow Vests. The group is characterized by racism and conspiracy theories and led by Pierre Dion, who was recently arrested for inciting hatred towards Muslims. Vague bleue, like the weekly, dozen-strong Yellow Vests demonstrations, was held on a Saturday outside Québecor-owned television station TVA.
Vague bleue was set to be Québec’s largest far-right demonstration in a very long time. Over 2,000 people were listed as attending on Facebook and far-right internet personalities filmed themselves putting up posters around the city, expecting a massive turnout.
While it was being organized, vague bleue became a rally in favour of Bill 21, the governing Coalition Avenir Québec party’s proposed secularism law which would ban individuals who wear religious symbols from working in large segments of the public service, including as police, judges, and teachers. Far-right organizations loudly support the law with the anti-Muslim group La Meute even briefly switching the banner photo for their public Facebook group to a picture of Premier François Legault.
Making the vague bleue rally about Bill 21 led to significantly more interest, and exploded the reach of its Facebook event, which made no direct mention of any of the extremist groups involved.
Despite their attempts to mask the nature of the rally, far right groups were very much on the scene, and wearing their colours. Photos of the demonstration show members of Storm Alliance, La Meute and other militant anti-Muslim groups in paramilitary gear acting as “volunteer security.” Organizers explicitly asked that participants not fly the flags of their groups, but instead use Québec flags (as well as the Patriots flag, which is popular among nationalists).
At around 500 attendees, vague bleue was larger than most previous far right demonstrations—the last major one being La Meute’s incursion into Montreal on July 1, 2018, which was prevented from marching by anti-fascist activists surrounding the demonstration.
Vague bleue was also met by an anti-racist counter demonstration which peaked at 250 persons. Some left after police began firing tear gas at the counter-demonstrators, shooting one anti-racist in the face with a canister. The counter-protest dispersed, but later regrouped. Separated by a police line, the two demonstrations faced off until the vague bleue contingent marched back to the buses which had brought many of them in from out of town.
Previously, the largest far-right demonstration had occurred in November 2017, when La Meute and Storm Alliance—as well as neo-Nazi aligned Atalante Québec and Soldiers of Odin—formed a coalition against the already-cancelled provincial inquiry into systemic racism, drawing around 500 people to the streets of Québec City. However, the far-right’s capacity to mobilize people onto the streets started to stagnate and decline as a result of concerted anti-racist organizing and far-right infighting. By summer 2018, their demonstrations would only bring out one to three hundred supporters.
Now, the far-right is picking up steam again, using vague bleue as a way to ride on the very real wave of online Islamophobia that has become more visible since the government’s announcement of Bill 21. Organizers believe they can use Bill 21 to draw Quebecers beyond (but still including) the usual cohort of far-right groups into their fold.
A “Vague Bleue Part 2” is currently being planned for the end of June, in Trois-Rivieres, about an hour and a half away from Montreal.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network would like to thank a contributor from Montréal for their help in researching and authoring this article.
Un rassemblement d'extrême droite québécoise en faveur de la loi du gouvernement contre les symboles religieux
Des organisateurs d'extrême droite et des groupes haineux tentent d'utiliser le soutien à la loi, largement qualifié de discriminatoire et inconstitutionnel, pour réunir de nouveaux partisans
April 9, 2019
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Depuis plus d’un mois, jusqu’au 4 mai, l’extrême droite du Québec était excitfée. Il y avait une vague à venir, ils ont dit. Une vague bleue; une vague bleue, une mer de drapeaux bleus et blancs du Québec.
La vague bleue devait au départ être une manifestation en faveur d’une «constitution de citoyen», revendication première des gilets jaunes du Québec. Le groupe se caractérise par des théories du racisme et du complot et est dirigé par Pierre Dion, récemment arrêté pour incitation à la haine envers les musulmans. Vague bleue, comme les démonstrations hebdomadaires d'une dizaine de manifestants, a eu lieu un samedi devant la station de télévision TVA détenue par Québecor.
Vague bleue devait être la plus grande manifestation d’extrême droite au Québec depuis très longtemps. Plus de 2 000 personnes étaient inscrites sur Facebook et des personnalités d'extrême droite de l'internet se sont filmées en train de poser des affiches dans toute la ville, dans l'attente d'une participation massive.
Pendant qu’elle était organisée, la vague bleue devenait un rassemblement en faveur du projet de loi 21, le projet de loi sur la laïcité proposé par le parti au pouvoir de la Coalition Avenir Québec, qui interdirait aux personnes portant des symboles religieux de travailler dans de larges secteurs de la fonction publique, notamment en tant que policiers, juges, et les enseignants. Les organisations d'extrême droite soutiennent la loi avec force. Le groupe anti-musulman La Meute a même brièvement basculé la photo de la bannière de leur groupe Facebook public sur une photo du premier ministre François Legault.
Faire le rassemblement de la vague bleu autour du projet de loi 21 a suscité beaucoup plus d’intérêt et a fait exploser la portée de son événement sur Facebook, qui ne mentionnait directement aucun des groupes extrémistes impliqués.
Malgré leurs tentatives pour masquer la nature du rassemblement, les groupes d'extrême droite étaient très présents et portaient leurs couleurs. Des photos de la manifestation montrent des membres de Storm Alliance, La Meute et d'autres groupes militants anti-musulmans en tenue paramilitaire jouant le rôle de «sécurité volontaire». Les organisateurs ont explicitement demandé que les participants n’apportent pas les drapeaux de leurs groupes, mais qu'ils utilisent plutôt des drapeaux du Québec ( comme le drapeau des patriotes, qui est populaire parmi les nationalistes).
Avec environ 500 participants, le vague bleu était plus grand que la plupart des manifestations précédentes d’extrême droite - la dernière en date étant l’incursion de La Meute à Montréal le 1er juillet 2018, qui avait été empêchée par les activistes antifascistes qui avaient entouré la manifestation.
Vague bleue a également rencontré une contre-manifestation antiraciste qui a culminé à 250 personnes. Certains sont partis après que la police ait commencé à tirer des gaz lacrymogènes sur les contre-manifestants, tirant un antiraciste au visage avec une cartouche. La contre-manifestation s'est dispersée, mais s'est ensuite regroupée. Séparés par une ligne de police, les deux manifestations se sont affrontées jusqu’à ce que le contingent vague bleu se dirige vers les bus qui en avaient fait venir beaucoup d’autres villes.
Auparavant, la plus grande manifestation d'extrême droite avait eu lieu en novembre 2017, lorsque La Meute et Storm Alliance, ainsi que les groupes Atalante Québec et Soldiers of Odin formaient une coalition qui a attiré environ 500 personnes dans les rues de la ville de Québec contre l'enquête provinciale déjà annulée sur le racisme systémique. Cependant, la capacité de l'extrême droite à mobiliser les gens dans les rues a commencé à stagner et à décliner à la suite d'une organisation concertée antiraciste et des querelles internes d'extrême droite. D'ici l'été 2018, leurs manifestations ne réuniraient que de cent à trois cents sympathisants.
Maintenant, l'extrême droite reprend son élan, utilisant la vague bleue comme moyen de tirer parti de la véritable vague d'islamophobie en ligne qui est devenue plus visible depuis l'annonce par le gouvernement du projet de loi 21. Les organisateurs pensent pouvoir utiliser le projet de loi 21 pour attirer les Québécois en plus de (tout en incluant) la cohorte habituelle de groupes d'extrême droite.
Une «Vague Bleue 2me partie» est actuellement prévue pour la fin juin à Trois-Rivières, à environ une heure et demie de Montréal.
Le réseau canadien anti-haine aimerait remercier un contributeur de Montréal pour son aide dans la recherche et la rédaction de cet article.
A demonstration in Montreal on Canada Day hosted by La Meute, an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, far-right group, didn't amount to much. They were outnumbered by anti-racist and anti-fascist activists.Read more
The leader of the neo-fascist group Atalante Quebec, Raf Stomper, has been arrested and charged for his role in storming the VICE Quebec offices on May 23rd. The charges are "breaking and entering, mischief, intimidation and criminal harassment."