Interview, Kristin Schwartz's Blog, PM Press Blog

Interview with Harry- We Go Where They Go: The Story of Anti-Racist Action

December 13, 2019

We Go Where They Go: The Story of Anti-Racist Action was published in January 2023. Based
largely on interviews with past participants, the book documents and analyses the history of
Anti-Racist Action (ARA), a youth-based network of groups and individuals, from the late 1980s
until the early 2000s.

At its height, the ARA network included over 170 active local groups or chapters, and we
authors had to select which stories to share in the book, and which to leave for another day or
another forum. One person I interviewed, Harry, was interested in having his entire interview
transcript published. He was involved in the Toronto chapter of ARA from late 1992 into 1994.
As he says, “we packed a lot of living into those two years”, and I am pleased to share this
deeper dive into his experience.

Question: What attracted you to do this anti-racist, anti-fascist work?

I was essentially born into it. I was born in the east end of London, England, when the far right
was ascendant there. Both my parents were opposed to it, and my dad was involved in anti-
fascist organizing that confronted them. It was the lore of the house; it was our story. My early
babysitters had cricket bats to protect us when there were threats made to our family. I grew
up with that. The books and pamphlets that would be on the bookshelf described those events.
And then it just happened that we moved to Hamilton, Ontario which in the 80s had its own
sort of ascendency of the far right.

Skinheads – or “boneheads” which I think is more appropriate – were a big part of the social
scenes in Hamilton that I grew up in. Given my background, taking them on felt an obligation,
so in some senses I didn’t have a choice. And of course, it has its own life, as you know. It
becomes a war of attrition, strategy, everything else. Even if you want to not be part of it any
longer, by virtue of what you may have done in terms of opposing it, they come to you and you
don’t have a choice.

Question: Tell me one story of Hamilton, before ARA.

I was very young, and I had already been fairly open in my opposition to them. But we were
badly outnumbered. There were very few who would stand up. And I was very young, early
teens, and quite frankly I hadn’t finished growing yet.

In the punk and other counterculture, the skinheads were a large contingent. They were all
neo-Nazi affiliated. Some were very ideologically committed. They got more serious in the mid
80s when they started making contacts with various Ku Klux Klan branches in the US, with
White Aryan Resistance, and with the Aryan Student Union. They would start to leaflet and
flyer. And of course, they would be further emboldened and they would attack various groups,
whether it were queer folks or immigrants or people that they perceived as opponents or weak
in some way.

I ended up being a bit of a pole of attraction for anyone who felt they had news, and I learned
that they were meeting regularly at a bookshop. At the time they called themselves something
like the Invisible Wall of the Ku Klux Klan. A friend and I would just go and do surveillance, with
cameras and all that. And someone photocopied for me one of the main one’s address book, so
I knew exactly who they were contacting.

At that time, I would have written to the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and received some
stickers and literature.

Around that time, we started to confront them. That happened a handful of times in those
days. They were fairly entrenched in a couple of Hamilton-area high schools where they had a
lot of support. It was pervasive and permitted.

It was matter of trying to collect around myself, who I could, until I found my way to larger,
wider networks elsewhere.

Question: At some point you visited Minneapolis.

I had increasingly deepened in my political commitments and taken trips into Toronto and met
people at various events. I had come in for the 88 Anarchist Convention, although I was too
young and not really connected. So even though many of the people who were organizing that
would later become dear friends and comrades, I didn’t really know very many people. And
after that there’d be other events and you’d meet people and they’d suggest others who lived
where you lived and they’d become your network and you’d politically organize. So, I ended up
becoming part of an anarchist collective, that wasn’t doing specifically anti-fascist work. But
then we joined in with a larger group which was the Love and Rage network. Some of the
people who were part of that had been anti-fascist organizers in the 80s in places like
Minneapolis. We’d come to meet, become friends.

At one point in 89 or 90, through Love and Rage and the Anti-Racist Action groups that existed
then, there was a project they wanted to do, which was to bring people that had experience
into the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota, where there had been an escalation of the far right.
The east side of St. Paul was predominantly white, working class. It was very familiar in terms of
where I’m from – working class Hamilton, largely white at the time when I grew up. By virtue of
that, I was picked to go to do organizing on the east side of St. Paul. The far Left, anarchist anti-
fascist milieu in the Twin Cities was very large by our standards, in those days. I was involved
with reviving the east side St. Paul ARA, I was involved in reviving the University of Minnesota
ARA even though I wasn’t a student. And also, I was involved in the wider Twin Cities ARA. I was

there for about a year. When I came back it just happened to dovetail with the need for that

Question: When did you come back?

I came back essentially in the same month that ARA started….

Toronto ARA become “ARA” inspired by what was going on in Minneapolis, who had in turn
formed in the late 80s as part of a network of anti-racist skinheads that initially called
themselves The Syndicate. They anti-racist and multi-racial skinheads in the Midwest of the
United States. A couple of them, who had overtly political, left-wing and anarchist leanings, had
promoted it to be called Anti-Racist Action. This was in turn inspired by Anti-Fascist Action in
the UK, but their feeling was that Americans wouldn’t necessarily appreciate “fascism” as a
political concept, so they went with the more common term “racist”. They had been doing good
things and been doing good things for a while, and the people here were familiar with it, in the
way that I was familiar with it, and decided to name Toronto ARA, “ARA”. I had actually come
back with the express purpose of starting something in Hamilton that we would be called Street
Opposition to Fascism and Racism (SOFAR). But when I came back the ground had already been
laid for ARA.

Question: What was the membership of ARA like at the time? What was the social base?

In Toronto, there were a sufficient number of anarchists in Toronto, with slightly diverging
views, that you didn’t interact with them all regularly. ARA, as it formed, seemed to bring many
of those factions together, as well as some of the other left-wing formations, whether it was
the Socialist Worker types and or various other Trotskyist groups. The idea was it would sort of
almost a coalition, it would be open membership. It was a big collection of disparate people,
but almost all from political backgrounds. I was familiar with probably over two thirds. And
even if I hadn’t necessarily politically organized with everyone in the room, everyone was more
or less familiar.

I had spent a little bit of time in the Kensington Market when I was younger. The early ARA felt
like a Kensington Market thing for the longest time. It was obviously entirely healthy and
organic. That was just sort of how it came to be. As it grew in prominence and effectiveness you
started to get even a wider base, when we started to collect a lot of young folks who were
coming out of high schools who were great amazing organizers but didn’t necessarily have the
deep political roots and background. And quite frankly, that’s when ARA became much more
diverse and more reflective of Toronto at the time. But at first it was definitely people, almost
entirely, who had political experience, from the left and predominantly from the anarchist left.
Question: So the main focus of the work in the period was the Heritage Front. What was
important about doing this work to challenge the Heritage Front specifically?

I had just come back from Minneapolis and St. Paul. In St. Paul it felt like they were emboldened
and prominent and violent and everything else. (I’m going the long way to draw a comparison.)
At the time I happened to be in East St. Paul, we were intent on organizing but didn’t really
have a sense of how. As fate will sometimes hand you, there happened to be an event that
focused the entire nation on the outbreak of hate in St. Paul. A Supreme Court decision came
down on something that had happened a year or two prior. Those same Klan types and White
Aryan Resistance and a white supremacist band that was based in St. Paul, had erected a
burning cross on a family on the east side of St. Paul, who were multiracial. A white and Black
couple and their children had moved in, and someone had burned a cross and lit it. This is
George Bush Senior era. Reaganism essentially, in the US. The Supreme Court ruled actually, in
favour of the white supremists [sic], that the lighting of the cross on this family’s lawn was
evoking freedom of expression, to politically express themselves. As awful as that was – it
needed to be exposed – that gave us the momentum and impetus to organize there. This was
primarily about getting ourselves out and prominent, which we did, but also building a wider
coalition that culminated in a march through the neighbourhood to oppose these guys.
I thought that was pretty significant. And I was also getting plugged into the wider anti-racist
and anti-fascist networks in the US and the Midwest in particular. So you’re seeing what the
Klan was like in Kansas City etc. etc. and you’re getting that intel. White Aryan Resistance, and
Church of the Creator. I was already familiar with them. And then I came back to Toronto. And
by virtue of the work that I had been doing as a young guy, that natural intelligence-gathering, I
had been predisposed to that in St. Paul.

So it was pretty clear that the Heritage Front were obviously very aggressive, very emboldened
and very determined, and seeking to have more of an imprint and a presence than had been
experienced prior to that. And I thought that the Church of the Creator, as bizarre as they were,
were quite frankly the real pronounced threat. I thought they were capable of extreme acts of
violence, and it turned out they were.

Question: Thank you for saying that.

We found out later how they related to one another, as they inevitably do, they spectacularly
feast on each other and they did. But the Church of the Creator were being relied upon as the
real enforcement. And their political ideology which persists in some forms today – some of
their members have gone on to launch massacres on populations as they did in Chicago and

I knew there was no appeal to be made to them on a moral basis. They had eschewed anything
rational or reasonable. They were nihilists in that way. They were clearly prepared and revelled
in a great deal of violence and had completely dehumanized marginalized populations in the
worst kind of way. There was no appeal to made to them. And when you know that, you know
that you will be fighting them and potentially defending yourselves against them. Because that
is what they were.

Question: How do you see the relationship between these fascist groups and the systemic
oppressions that are upheld by institutions, and the state?

That’s the terrific thing about ARA Toronto in particular, and in many respects my experience
elsewhere as well. Almost all of the core group of organizers were people who were
experienced and committed enough to accomplish the tasks that come with political organizing.
We happened to have an abundance of people who were actually prepared to do the work.

That’s by virtue of the fact that many of them already had a decade or more of political
organizing in one form or another. But also, with that came a critique of the society in which we
live. People were doing Indigenous solidarity already, at that point in time. They were either in,
among, or doing solidarity work with various immigrant communities in various ways, or they
had done anti-colonial solidarity work whether it was on matters of El Salvador or elsewhere,

So, there wasn’t a need to convince many people who had come to ARA-Toronto that there
were wider issues that needed to be dealt with. I suspect you feel the same way today as we
did then, you knew that when you were effective in doing anti-fascist work, that ultimately you
would come up against the state and police repression, for doing that work effectively. That’s
the history of this, whether it was through the Civil Rights movement or even before that. In the
U.K. it was the same, and anywhere this has manifested it’s been the same. In some senses
groups like the Heritage Front, and the Church of the Creator and the WAR, are just the ugly
actualization of the world that we live. Like letting the monsters out of the attic, but they are
“of us”. The best education you’ll ever get in that, is trying to do a demonstration that actually
accomplishes something and have the police hit you over the head and arrest your friends. In
my feeling, a lot of our work then became more almost opposing the police, in those days.

There were other events. Toronto was experiencing at that time prominent killings of Black
men by police, so the Black communities in Toronto were themselves organizing and that
brought us together at key moment. ARA was participating in demonstrations of the Black
community. I had done that in Minneapolis when there was a prominent case that involved the
railroading of a number of young innocent Black men, that were seen to be effective organizers
in the Black neighbourhoods of Minneapolis. ARA there did the same thing, it did solidarity
work and joined in coalition. As was our opposition to that cross-burning. Keith Ellison, a state
senator and a prominent Democratic politician was involved in that coalition as a movement

The idea being that the systemic nature of white supremacy was not lost on many of us in the
early ARA days.

Question: Is there anything that’s changed in the way you see it now?

You sort of age out and hope to pass the torch. It doesn’t become as possible to do the level of
work that you may have done on this. In some sense these, of necessity, need to be youth
movements. Not exclusively, ever, and they never were. But obviously there’s a certain
youthfulness that comes with it. Now, at the point of time when I don’t feel I can be as 24-hour-
365-days invested as I was then – It was an absolute life. It wasn’t just that you did it
sometimes, it was your whole life. At some point it isn’t up to you. You can’t just pull yourself
out, because you’ve opposed considerable forces in the world and sometimes they will want to
exact their pound of flesh.

Now, in some senses what I perceive, is more worrisome in some ways. I don’t think it’s actually
probably possible for there to be people, white supremists, walking around in paramilitary
style, with the boots up to their knees, in the same way here in Toronto. Not even in Hamilton
which I’m very proud of. They would be seen to be freakish in nature and probably opposed
very quickly by young people who probably wouldn’t even think twice. But of course, they
learned those lessons. And now you have as awful a white supremacy, as ever before, tied very
much to their movements of the past, but in some sense much more mainstream in
appearance, in accessibility, and everything else. The Conservative politics in North America,
and presumably elsewhere, are completely infused with what we would have considered
outlier white supremacy. It’s now just absolutely taken for granted, mainstream. It doesn’t
always express itself in racialized terms; sometimes it’s building on misogyny, in its broadest
sense including opposition to queerdom. The idea being that they’ll start there. The alienated
male at his computer. Starting there. So now you’ve got multiracial white supremacist
movements here and in the US. It’s much more pernicious and dangerous and they have clearly
benefitted from hindsight.

Question: Our mission statement in Toronto ARA was: “We will expose, oppose and confront
organized racism and the far-right agenda, through education, mass action and support of
broader anti-racist struggles.” What’s a keeper in that?

I think that holds true today. I just think it can be a little more complicated in how you can
identify that. There are expressions of it, I think, in mainstream conservatism, that you can
point to. But it’s much harder to make the case and they feel that they are somewhat insulated
by having [online] forums that didn’t necessarily have before. They don’t need to have those
completely alienating, bizarre newspapers and flyers anymore, because they can access people
directly in these networks that I would never even know how to find my way to.
I’m glad that a lot of anti-fascism has figured this out. I started out with microfiche and
telephone books. Now people can identify where a guy works and where he lives and apply
pressure on him. That cuts both ways, always did. But now they can effectively neutralize
fascists through doing just this sort of intelligence, open-source intelligence.
But a lot of them will live through it. Because there is a certain acceptance that it is a “differing
of opinion.”

Question: So “exposing” fascists may not work in the same way.

It’s not guaranteed in the same way, as it may have been. “Confronting” is happening all the
time. Of necessity, that’s something that gets passed on. When I was first coming around in
Toronto, I know there were still veterans of the Spanish Civil War that were imparting their
wisdom and happily loosening the pocketbook somewhat, to help with things. But we wouldn’t
reasonably think that these heroes of that time, who confronted fascism in the 30s, should be
physically confronting it in the 80s and 90s. I’m quite confident that there is opposition now
although it doesn’t come from us.

Question: Tell me about one or two memorable events during the time you were involved.
1992-1994. Time goes by quickly now, but we packed a lot of living into those two years.

I was trying to involve people who I knew in Hamilton, but I was still primarily going into
Toronto to the point that I was part of the subgroups that were to accomplish certain tasks. I
was part of those bodies and I would sometimes be part of the main body that would be
responsible for organizing various protests. I was doing that at the same time in Hamilton. At
one of the high schools there had traditionally been a lot of sympathy for white supremacy.

Those areas have since become more diverse. So, South Asian communities were moving into
the areas, and the kids go to the high schools, and some of the Sikh youth were attacked. They
had their turbans removed and were beaten and paraded around in a public way. Very
humiliating. We had someone who was already in the high school who was a supporter. They
helped us to identify the folks that were enraged about that and would do something about it.

So, we staged a walkout around that, and the lack of action on the part of the school. All the
youths who were supportive of us walked out, and took over a nearby street, which is a main
thoroughfare in that part of the city. We gave speeches and a few of the Toronto people came
down to lend support. For me that was hugely significant because nothing like that had been
done in Hamilton before. The event was driven by the students.

Toronto ARA had that experience too, where we lent our support to things that were
happening. There was an instance where there was some sort of discriminatory thing
happening where Black youth were being sanctioned disproportionately. Because we were
becoming somewhat prominent, ARA had some cachet in Toronto in those days. I thought we
went to a North Toronto high school that was entirely Black and Brown and supported them in
a walkout just by showing up and acting as marshals, or helping them figure out to address the

Question: Neat! I didn’t remember that at all. That’s a good story.

We had people who were organizers with the Midwest ARAs, who were visiting.

The opposition to the appearance of the Heritage Front at the Courthouse near City Hall. There
was the prominent demonstration there. 500 people came, which in Toronto terms at the time
was a big demo. They came out in the bitter cold; I believe it was in January. We did our level
best to get at them as they paraded to the Courthouse but we faced a wall of police. We were

attacked by police and there were some pot-shots between us and the fascists that day. That
became a significant event in the life of ARA.

Then there was incredibly effective demonstration at the home of Gary Schipper. To this day, I
credit that with being one of the most effective mobilizations that I had ever been party to. ARA
was a democratic group in a way that I’ve also never experienced in the same way. A large
group of people, coming from some divergent backgrounds, were able to arrive at consensus an
awful lot of the time. Because it was incredibly pragmatic, as a group, for the most part,
especially at the height of it. I think that in some senses, everyone recognized we were in war
times in a way, and that requires something of you. So any of the people who were inclined to
be disruptive were effectively pushed out, or marginalized or minimized. But the sway of the
group seemed to be around pragmatism. In so doing, there was a request of the main group,
that the organizing of the demonstration would not be shared with the rest of the group. A
small group developed it.

That is the level of trust that had been built up in that time, which is in my mind without
precedent, in this kind of organizing.

The small group developed it. It would be on a prominent target of the Heritage Front. Because
of what had been accomplished at that earlier demonstration at the Courthouse, there was
almost a reputation that Toronto ARA had of being incredibly effective.

They did the very bold thing of organizing a demonstration where the target of the
demonstration was never made public, including in the organizing of it. 100s of people joined
the demo and then the organizers handed the marshals packets, but we weren’t supposed to
open the packets. It was in the east end in Toronto, and we all mobilized in this one park that
gave everyone the impression – including the police and the fascists – that we were on our way
to Ernst Zundel’s house.

And they managed to get us all onto these streetcars, and we took those streetcars into a
residential neighbourhood that turned out to Gary Schipper’s neighbourhood. We marched
there in a very loud and angry way. A lot of the youth that we had around us at the time, who
were from a range of diverse backgrounds representing a cross-section of Toronto, were
enraged at the sight of the place that had been the hotline, spewing these vitriolic hateful
messages. Our whole thing was not to police movements. So people’s expression of how they
wanted to oppose, they did that. Our thing was about keeping the demonstration safe, it wasn’t
about policing what took place. And that was it. So, the house got “renovated”.

I was one of the marshals. I didn’t have any knowledge of the site of the demonstration; I also
thought it was likely to be at Ernst Zundel’s. I didn’t know what I possessed in my package.

When we turned the corner and I opened it up, it was flyers about Gary Schipper and it was
meant for us to go door-to-door in the area while the demonstration was taking place. Now he
lived in a duplex and next to him, in my memory, was an immigrant family, who of course
would have been frightened of this large, angry mob basically on their lawn. I did a lot of the

talking for the group in various settings, I was giving speeches and things like that. I was going
door-to-door, handing out the flyer. While you could hear the crash-bang of what was going on,
I was having actually really good conversations with people to keep them appreciative of the
fact that no one was going to be harmed, they weren’t going to be harmed, it wasn’t about
them. None of this was being “organized”; this just happened to be how these young folks
responded to what they were seeing. And I didn’t have anyone angrily react. The whole day was
impressive. In my memory, nobody was arrested, nobody was hurt.

We, by doing that, enraged the Heritage Front and Church of the Creator and all that. They lost
their minds and threatened everyone that we had any connection to, that was prominent. Like,
we worked in coalition with at that point with a prominent First Nations representative in
Toronto, Rodney Bobiwash, as well as some others. They ended up being threatened that day,
by the Heritage Front, in a way we deemed significant. We sent a group of us to his house. He
didn’t need us because he had AIM members who were there to provide security. The reason
I’m relaying this, though, is that I actually wasn’t there for what ended up happening in the
street afterwards. Any social movement should hold territory, space, and socialize, right? So,
there were a couple of areas where we did that, and they knew where those areas were
because they had been effectively kicked out of those areas. And then they came looking for
everyone and that’s when that prominent fight happened at College and Bathurst.

That night lived in infamy and shed some glaring light on ARA. Obviously, there was blowback
on that. That was one of the physical confrontations that took place that raised the stakes for
all of us. Everyone knew it was going to be a physical fight as well as a political one. And I was
there for the next demonstration that marched on Ernst Zundel’s. He’d been the ghoul of the
Canadian Nazi milieu for decades and had that weird house on Carlton where he would host
events. It was sort of a compound. We had that march there, angry. Our whole point was we
never really sought acceptance, or permits. We were trying to encourage people that if you feel
strongly about something and you want to oppose it, or advance something, that you just do it.
You organize with your neighbours or your friends and not worry about respectability. It didn’t
matter to get a permit, or whatever. Our whole thing was it was about protecting the streets,
and taking over space. We marched on Ernst Zundel’s and there was the same sort of thing. The
police overreacted. A number of people we were organizing with were arrested.

As will happen, when people are arrested, that proceeds to become its own sort of event. It
sucks up your time, your resources, your morale. It’s intended to do that, and that’s what it did.
Our organizing became oriented around supporting the people that had been arrested. We had
experienced a lot of that, to that point, because we’d placed a premium on security culture,
keeping everyone safe.

Another example of that – there was a daily talk show, and they were having on the prominent
leaders of the white supremist movement in Toronto. We opposed that. Our whole thing was
“no platform” for them, right? So any time they were to appear we went to confront, and
oppose. But this time we had only several hours’ notice. And it turned out that they had
mobilized very effectively and had taken precautions to have dozens of their supporters there

for the show, and to be basically a demonstration of their strength. We had had notions that
we would try to oppose it, we showed up to wherever the studio was, and it became very clear
that we weren’t going to succeed that day. We didn’t have the numbers, we didn’t have the
strength. That was important even though at the time it would have counted as a defeat. It was
still important for us to recognize that in this kind of world, where politics aren’t abstract,
where the consequences for us are real. This was an instance of that. That old maxim that you
don’t pick a fight that you can’t win – we were very good about picking fights we could win. This
would not have been one of those times, because of how badly outnumbered we were and
how prepared they were compared to us. So we had to go and sort of recalibrate and rethink. It
felt terrible to have them be able to take that space for the night.

But overall, history will record that we were a big part of why they failed to truly take root here.
Question: Why do you think the fascist movement declined?

I think it was in response to how effective Toronto ARA was. They had bruising defeat about
bruising defeat. They couldn’t do what they had hoped to do. They were probably thinking of a
few years prior, of Toronto the Good, a city that was much more Protestant, a quarter of its
size, where you might be able to do that and get away with it. But they couldn’t.

We were quite inventive and effective, and because we were almost seen as the thing you
wanted to be around, if you were a certain age, they couldn’t even take up that space. Because
inherently the people that they collect around them, certainly then, are unstable people, who
are angry in a way that needs an outlet – and if we stymie their outlet it still will find an outlet.
So those groups are very good at internecine sort of warfare. There were lots of instances
where they fought amongst themselves with the result that they could not be effective.

Toronto was changing then. It has certainly changed now. It is inherently better. Same thing for
Hamilton, it is a much different place than it would have been then.

I think there’s a certain shelf-like to these types of groups. I always joked that white supremists
are like June bugs. They seem to pop up every couple of years. They have to be opposed, but
because of their propensity to hatred and extreme violence they were also getting themselves
in trouble in a way that even mainstream Canada would not have been able to accept.

It was all those things together, and they lost steam. I don’t think that you can ever necessarily
put your finger on it and say “it was that moment in time”. Inevitably some will carry it on, and
they did but nowhere near as effectively.

Question: Anything you want to say to people doing this kind of work today?

Sometimes you can get a bit grandiose about it. I recognize that for the first time in my lifetime,
the concept of anti-fascism is prominent. That’s what we were doing. It was about a
comprehensive opposition to white supremacy and authoritarianisms that go hand-in-glove
with white supremacy. That I think are more accurately termed fascism. In a way that term now
has purchase in a way that it did not have then. Now that has taken on a life of its own.

I think there’s a lot of really effective work being done online in counter-intelligence. They have
to contend with such a perverse mainstreaming of a lot of this in a way that we didn’t,
necessarily. I know that everyone has still got their work cut out for them. In Toronto, and
Hamilton, there’s been ugly outbreaks. Some of it is downright strange. It doesn’t look like what
we contended with, which was much more overt. But there are lots of people who are willing to
oppose it now, which is great.