TORONTO—Canadians don’t like Donald Trump. From the Prime Minister right on down to your average Canadian citizen, we don’t like the things that the Republican presidential candidate says. At all.
We don’t like his use of vulgarities to describe women (he calls them “fat pigs,” “dogs,” and “disgusting animals”). We don’t like what he has said about Mexicans (they’re “killers and rapists”). We don’t like that he promotes lies, like when he said that most whites are killed by blacks—or that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11 (respectively, “Am I gonna check every statistic?” and “It did happen, I saw it!”). We don’t like the roughing up of a black protester at one of his rallies, and we don’t like his mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter.
Most notably and most recently, we don’t like his plan to stop all Muslims from entering America. That now-infamous statement— there should be “a complete shutdown,” of Muslim tourism and immigration in the U.S., quote unquote—probably would have sounded more authentic with an Austro-Bavarian accent, say circa 1930. But Trump’s words were sufficiently understood to invite condemnation from around the world, and across Canada, too.
And, guess what? As soon as he made his statement, he went up in several U.S. polls. It made him much, much more popular. In New Hampshire, in fact, it propelled him to a lead that is more than double his nearest opponent for the GOP presidential nomination.
Now, before you lose your mind, or before you think that most Americans are just as awful as Donald Trump, let me take you back in time. Let me take you back to one evening in March 1989.
On that night, self-described “moderate fascist” David Irving came a certain town. There he stood, beaming, beneath the glittering chandeliers at the posh old hotel. Management had been asked by several people to deny the British Holocaust denier a room rental, but they adamantly refused.
So, there Irving was, dressed in a natty suit and protected by about a dozen neo-Nazi skinheads. Then and now the sainted knight of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Hitler freaks around the globe, Irving stood before his audience and declared himself a “hardcore disbeliever” in the gas chambers used to exterminate Jews at Auschwitz.
Now, Irving is kind of like Trump. Guys like them—and the organizations they lead—come and go. David Duke, David Irving, Jim Keegstra, and Ernst Zundel: their existence is regrettable, but largely unavoidable, in societies that cherish free speech. That’s the bad news. The good news, however, is that they rarely attract many followers. Overwhelmingly, folks are decent, and they reject overt racism and anti-Semitism.
Most of the time, that is. But not always.
On that night in March 1989, I saw more than 300 people walk into that hotel’s ballroom. It was sold out. Dozens were turned away.
Irving’s audience was mainly comprised of older, white men and women from the surrounding area. They stood and wildly applauded his statement about the gas chambers, and virtually every word he said after that. The neo-Nazi skinheads slouched at the ballroom’s doors and handed out copies of a self-published magazine. It called for “death to race mixers,” contained tributes to Adolf Hitler, and called for “race revolution.”
It was an astonishing scene, of course. And all of it was taking place below the gilt ceilings of this wonderful, renowned hotel. More than 300 people, paying to listen to a notorious Holocaust denier, knowing in advance that the media would be there to document their presence. They came anyway. And they weren’t hateful nobodies, either.
There was a school trustee, a former ranking diplomat, a Department of Justice lawyer, dozens of public servants, plenty of school teachers: all of them there, notwithstanding the risk of media exposure, to hear their St. George, the one whose bestselling books would slay the twin-headed dragon of International Jewry and Communism. As a reporter for the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen, I had followed North America’s far right movement for quite some time, but I was surprised and disturbed by what I witnessed that night.
Seven months following that wildly successful visit, David Irving flew to Austria and spoke to banned neo-Nazi groups. In Vienna and Leoben, Irving stated “the gas chambers in Auschwitz never existed.” Later on, when not sharing stages with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke or one-time American Nazi Party leader William Pierce, Irving would call survivors of the Auschwitz death camp “assholes,” and claim that “more women were killed in the back seat of Edward Kennedy’s car in Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.”
But before all that, one night in March 1989, David Irving had appeared in a place called Ottawa, Ont., at a hotel called the Chateau Laurier. At a sold-out event attended by many important people—and some elected people—who gave the notorious Holocaust denier ovation after ovation. At an event the hotel refused to cancel.
So: condemn Donald Trump, to be sure. Rally against the hatred he preaches. Oppose his loathsome followers.
But don’t think, not for a moment, that we don’t have quite a few of them up here, too.
Because we do.
Warren Kinsella is a Toronto-based lawyer, author, and commentator. He has been a special assistant to prime minister Jean Chrétien and has also been a ministerial special representative on aboriginal files since 2003.
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