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This article was published 23/8/2017 (787 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Brandon man with alleged neo-Nazi sympathies and ties to an organization that’s been denounced as a hate group says he is planning an "anti-immigration" rally in Winnipeg on Sept. 9.
Jesse Wielenga is the protest’s main organizer and vice-president of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam — Canada (WCAI), the group that organized the ill-fated "anti-Islam" rally in Vancouver Saturday.
Around 4,000 counter-protesters flocked to Vancouver City Hall on the weekend, drowning out those addressing the crowd and turning the rally into a celebration of diversity and anti-fascism.
Wielenga is hoping the WCAI will have better luck on the streets of Winnipeg, but in a phone interview with the Free Press he admitted he was unsure how many supporters the rally would draw.
Citing concerns over a counter-protest by "antifa" (anti-fascists), Wielenga, 30, would not reveal the time or location of the rally, but a screenshot of a social media post he made on Aug. 12, under the pseudonym "Jesse Canada," says the march will begin near the CBC building downtown.
"We can’t ignore these organizations," said Helmut Harry Loewen, a retired University of Winnipeg sociology professor with a specialization in "neo-fascism."
"I think he (Wielenga) is trying to test the waters here given their lack of success in Vancouver," Loewen said. "If these plans go ahead we’ll see some strong counter-organizing by anti-fascists. We don’t want to see a march by neo-Nazis and white supremacists on the streets of Winnipeg."
Const. Rob Carver said he was unaware of plans for the protest, but could not say whether other members of the Winnipeg Police Service were as well.
"As we get more information we’ll have to look into whether it’s a public safety issue. If it’s not a public safety issue it’s not a police issue. We want to uphold the right to free speech, but our primary focus is the safety of everyone involved," Carver said.
Winnipeg police should consider this more than a potential public safety issue, said Loewen.
"The police should prioritize and monitor possible criminal code violations in connection with the spreading of hate propaganda," said Loewen, who’s also an anti-fascist activist.
"The state of (far-right) organizing locally is on the rise. These groups are insurgent and it isn’t just the WCAI."
While far-right groups remain small in Canada, they are growing and making strong recruitment drives around the country, Loewen said, adding groups active outside the province are pushing to establish themselves in Manitoba.
He said he isn’t concerned recent publicity the WCAI has received will lead to an increase in membership, believing instead that "exposure" of their agenda through "responsible reporting" is necessary.
Statistics provided by B’nai Brith, an international Jewish service organization, show acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in Canada. More than 1,700 incidents were reported in 2016, making it the highest year on record.
Aidan Fishman, a B’nai Brith spokesman, says it’s concerning people with "well-documented" affinities for neo-Nazism and white supremacism are attempting to hold a public rally in Winnipeg – especially given the hateful graffiti found in the city on Aug. 14.
"Hateful and racist groups will always try to hide behind freedom of speech, but freedom of speech in Canada is not absolute. It is a criminal offence to intentionally promote hatred of a particular group," Fishman said.
Wielenga denies the WCAI is a hate group and says he’s not a racist, despite social media posts he’s made referencing neo-Nazi and white supremacist slogans.
Screen grabs taken earlier this month show Wielenga clicked "like" on Facebook posts saying "1488" and "Hail victory" — statements which reference white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideas.
"Hail victory" is the English translation of the Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil," while "1488" refers to two separate slogans. The "14" is a reference to "the fourteen words," a slogan coined by white supremacist David Lane, which Wielenga posted in full on social media. The "88" stands for "Heil Hitler," as "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Fishman said Wielenga’s statements on social media display sympathies for hateful ideology.
"Using those slogans clearly demonstrates an affinity for that ideology. 1488 is not something you say by accident. I don’t see how that can be interpreted as anything other than support for neo-Nazi ideology."
Even Wielenga’s mother disavowed her son’s comments when reached by the Brandon Sun by phone.
"I don’t have the same views. He keeps telling me it’s not a racist group, well," she said in a brief interview with the paper, which has chosen not to name her.
Later, she called back to clarify her previous statements. Although she does not agree with her son’s point of view, she does not believe he’s a racist, white supremacist or neo-Nazi.
"I don’t agree with what he thinks. But if he’s anywhere near the white supremacists or anything, I wouldn’t be very happy and he knows that."
— with files from Brandon Sun
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.