For more than a decade, he has tracked the development of the far right and hatred in Canada, compiling an online resource called Anti-Racist Canada, a trove of information that has proven useful to journalists, academics, researchers, and even law enforcement. And he did it all in anonymity from his home computer.
Now, Kurt Phillips has come into the open. The Alberta-based school teacher and newest board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network spoke to Ricochet about what led him to the work, what’s happened since his identity became public (and the role of Rebel Media), and what comes next.
The beginning of Anti-Racist Canada
I’d always been active in some way, shape, or form in monitoring hate groups in general. I saw that some of them were growing, I saw that they were becoming more dangerous in some cases. But I also saw that some of them were attracting young people, kids and such.
That bothered me. It’s a lifestyle that has no direction. It’s dangerous. It inevitably ends in prison, death, or just a miserable existence. I thought maybe if I could expose these people, maybe if I could prevent one kid from getting into one of these groups, maybe that could help. These groups are like cults: they try to indoctrinate, they say “you belong with us,” they reach out to vulnerable people. I wanted to do what I could to prevent them.
More and more, I’m thinking it’s kind of investigative journalism in some ways. I researched and looked into the groups and the individuals in question — what were their ideologies, what were their views. When I first started the blog, I focused on the Aryan Guard, which was based in Calgary at the time. Eventually I expanded to other parts of Canada, other movements.
I didn’t focus on every single bigot you find online. I used this cliché in the Fifth Estate episode about tracking the far right that I recently appeared in: I’m not looking for the racist uncle who says stupid things during Thanksgiving. I’m looking for people who have a potential for danger.
In the current political climate, there are, unfortunately, some people who feel that they can be bigots without consequence. They claim freedom of speech. Well, that’s all well and good. What I’m doing is not denying them freedom of speech — it’s just putting things in context, showing “this is what this person believes,” “this is what this group believes.”
For example, the Northern Guard or Soldiers of Odin claim they’re a charitable group that provides food to the homeless. But if you look at their message boards and their social media, they are anti-immigrant, anti-minority, often antisemitic, almost definitely anti-Islam, misogynistic quite often too. The image they’re trying to present belies the reality behind it.
All of the work I did was from my computer. I’ve never been to a protest in my life. I spent most of my time revelling in my anonymity, not just on the blog but in my general life. I support protests, but I like to not make a big scene.
Academics have used the blog. It’s been cited in a number of academic journals. ‘A History of Violence’ has been one of the most important articles on the blog. It really does document the dangers these groups pose. It’s not just a few people throwing a few fists. It’s murders, rape, arson, very violent assaults.
I know the blog has been used by law enforcement. I’ve been told by police there have been instances where people who were on the blog were investigated for criminal activities for which they were eventually convicted. I also provided materials used in the successful winning of a peace bond against Kevin Goudreau, who is a Peterborough-based neo-Nazi.
A number of journalists have used the blog as a resource. There were times when CBC or CTV or Global had obviously used it and I was never given credit. Readers of the blog have contacted me about this, often bothered on my behalf. But I don’t care about the means of it happening as long as the information is being used. If media find it useful, I don’t need to get credit.
I’ve also had very good relationships with people from the big mainstream, CBC, CTV, Global have contacted me. Ricochet certainly. You guys have done some spectacular work. The exposé on Fireforce Ventures — I was glad to have been involved in some way by focusing on Mr. Bexte.
On allegations made by Rebel Media
First of all, I am not a member of any group. I’m certainly not a member of any extremist group.
I did this all in my spare time. [Rebel Media staffer] Bexte has alleged there’s evidence that I did it while at school. That’s not true. I could schedule things to publish when I wish. For example, if I’m away on vacation for three weeks, I’ll have three weeks of articles to publish while I’m gone. I also have other people working on the blog.
I also saw that he claimed I’m a member of “antifa,” using the example that I said I was an antifa supersoldier. I did say that, as a joke.
Will the Soros check come through this time? As an antifa super soldier, I was disappointed I wasn't paid in a timely manner (at all, quite frankly) the last time.— Anti-Racist Canada????♂️ (@ARCCollective) July 3, 2018
About two years ago, a group in the United States talked about having people come to every city in protest to resist the current government. And the far right in the United States picked that up as “this is about to start the civil war.” It got into Canada too. The III% were on red alert about the upcoming “antifa civil war.” In some cases they posted video of what they purported to be antifa soldiers training in secret. In reality, those were almost exclusively images and videos of far-right nationalist Russians doing that. The whole idea of the antifa supersoldier came from that. People laughed at it. It’s ridiculous.
Bexte knows that. He knows where that comes from. I think he’s hoping his supporters and his viewers don’t know that.
On becoming known
It’s been tough, having people lying about me online and receiving threats, people telling me to leave Canada, leave town, trying to get me fired. My workplace administration will tell you that in 18 years of teaching, I’ve never had a complaint about my teaching. I am very much politically neutral in the classroom. But it still bothers me because people claim that can’t possibly be true.
When you’re being barraged by the hate, it seems like that’s all there is. But one of the nice things that has been happening is the people rallying around me, even people I don’t know. A friend of mine was at a hockey game and she said that she heard a couple of people talking about this. They were conservative individuals, but the centre of the conversation was “this guy is against racism, so why are we supposed to be mad at him?” And another person said, “If I see him, I think I’ll buy him a drink and call him a hero.”
My friends have been spectacularly supportive. People who moved away, to Ontario for example, have reached out to me, saying, “I didn’t know you were doing this, this is incredible, you’ve done a lot of good.”
I’ve had students give testimony about my teaching, about how they appreciated how I taught them to be critical thinkers and I didn’t teach them what to think but how to think.
I had one young woman talking about an incident where around Remembrance Day she was probably talking about her father, who served in the military. She was born in Germany, where her father was stationed. One of the students in the class bullied her and called her a Nazi quietly over the course of several days. She was quite a mess. I saw it eventually and asked him what he was saying. He walked off. So I talked to her, and I promised her I’d deal with it in the next class. We talked about what that word means, why it’s horrible to say to another person, I did a whole presentation on the Holocaust and the dangers of this particular ideology. I focused on showing that it’s not a joke thing to tell people. It’s a real evil philosophy that hurt a lot of people. They were grade 7s at the time. The young man was punished for what he did. The woman said she was relieved because I stood up for her and I didn’t look away. We live in a world where too often people do look away.
On moving forward
I’m hoping to focus my work in the future on perhaps doing presentations on how to look for extremism in young people so as to prevent them from going down a dangerous path.
The most important thing in my mind is that you don’t get rid of racism and hatred by pretending it’s not there. You shine a light on it, you show it exists. And it’s ugly. It’s very ugly. But that doesn’t mean you should look away or ignore it or pretend it’s not there. It’s there and it’s increasing and it’s dangerous.
I’ve taught over the years students of a multiethnic and multireligious character. I look at all of them as valuable human beings who deserve to be treated with equity in this country. It bothers me that there are people who would not do that, who would look at them as nothing more than a skin colour or a religion or a gender or a sexual orientation, and that’s all they would be to them. They’re loving human beings who deserve to be treated with respect. I take this motto of “making the world a better place,” I take that very, very seriously.