kitchener-waterloo -- the second-floor meeting room at the Spot is supposed to be a retreat for local street kids, activists and young people.In recent months, however, the youth centre has been the target of attacks by the Tri-City Skins, a loose coalition of militant neo-Nazi skinheads living throughout the region.
Gangs of up to a dozen skinheads, often in Nazi-inspired regalia, have made a habit of crashing the hangout -- usually after a night of drinking at a nearby watering hole. Anti-racist activists have been the most frequent targets.
While the presence of such groups has dwindled in larger metropolitan areas like Toronto and Ottawa, their scattered remnants seem to be alive and well in this pocket of southern Ontario.
Besides the attacks at the Spot, white rights brochures have been turning up regularly at bus stops, local high schools and other public spaces. Local white-rightists have also been involved in disrupting Gay Pride activities in nearby London. Watchers of the far right report underground white power concerts in the area as well.
Recently, a member of another neo-Nazi offshoot known as the Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team was arrested for posting death threats on the Internet after the September 11 attacks.
The offending missive counsels attacking "B'nai Brith offices, Mossad temples and any Jew (or) Arab temple, building, house and cars. There are no innocent Jews especially in a time of war."
Another member of the group has also been linked to a beating incident of a black man on the TTC in Toronto. A third group, the anti-immigration Canadian Heritage Alliance, has also sprung up in the K-W area.
Canadian Jewish Congress executive director Bernie Farber, a long-time observer of the far right, cautions against making too much of the heightened activity.
The terrorist attacks in the U.S. are precisely the kind of events that groups on the right have traditionally used as occasions for asserting their often virulent brand of politics.
"The fuel that's needed for white supremacist activity or its growth is instability within society," Farber says.
On the other hand, Amelia Golden, who's been monitoring the situation for B'nai Brith, is more alarmed. She says there have been neo-Nazi attacks in the area over the past couple of years, and recruitment is on the upswing.
"These groups are certainly not isolated in their views."
Golden says some of the old faces involved in the Heritage Front, the most active white rights group in Canada throughout the 90s, have taken up the cause in K-W and the surrounding area.
In the view of some of the youth who've been the targets of recent attacks, police have been slow to rein in the groups.
Staff sergeant Gary Askin says police have been "monitoring" the situation and have instituted a no-gang-colours policy to deter the groups from entering the city's core in Nazi wear.
But, he says, "we cannot go out and arrest them or seize their computers based on their beliefs." Others argue that this police approach borders on complacency.
"This is not a gang issue," says anti-racism activist Davin Charney, part of the collective at the Spot. "Monitoring is not good enough," says Charney, when people are being assaulted and there's ample evidence of hate literature being distributed in the area.
Until recently, the Walper Pub, a local watering hole, has been a popular hangout for skinheads. Bar staff report skins in full Nazi regalia drinking themselves into a stupor at the bar, then heading out later to look for trouble at the Spot.
There's new management at the bar, and the skins are still hanging out. But now, bartenders say, the number of drinks they get is tightly controlled.
Alex Krause, a member of the Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team who runs the server that the Tri-City Skins et al. use to run their Web sites, is reluctant to get into a detailed discussion of the activities of any of the groups -- except to say that they use the Internet to network. "We're not opposed to anybody," he says. "We just do our own thing."
According to Matt Lauder, anti-racism director for the Guelph and District Multicultural Centre, renowned racialist Paul Fromm has been something of a regular fixture in the area. He's spoken at a number of recent events.
Says Lauder, the meetings are more than just information sessions, and serve as networking opportunities for a broad array of extremists -- Holocaust revisionists, far-rightists and free speech advocates, including the Canadian Heritage Alliance.
The latter group claims to be just opposed to immigration. However, there is a racialist tinge to some of its views. One article posted on its Web site poses the question, "When is a Jew a Jew?"
The Alliance's participation in a regional Adopt-a-Road program made headlines that led embarrassed city officials to pressure the group to remove their sign. The group has also been active on the campus of Sir Wilfrid Laurier University, where a frontperson for the organization is a fourth-year student. The group declined to comment when reached by NOW.
Observers say the Alliance has been taking its cue from some of the usual suspects on the right, Fromm in particular. Fromm, though, is quick to distance himself from the attacks at the Spot."I didn't ask anybody to go and punch anybody out," he says.
Ottawa-based lawyer Richard Warman has filed a formal complaint with the federal human rights commission against the Tri-City Skins and the Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team, alleging the wilful promotion of hate.
Additional reporting by Enzo Di Matteo