Antifa-supporting mass shooter presents a challenge to apologist media
The United States was shaken to its very core this weekend. Two horrific massacres striking two small communities, one at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and one at a Bar & Grill in Dayton, Ohio.
As the world watched in horror at what has become an all-too-regular kind of tragedy in America, the news media began to piece together suspects. Though the motives for one have been made a bit more clear by the revelation of an online manifesto posted moments before the attack, the motives in Dayton remained a bit of a mystery, until internet sleuths did their digging.
On September 29th, Twitter user @ThinGrayLine posted a video of 81-year-old Dorothy Marston being prevented from safely entering Mohawk College to see Maxime Bernier and David Rubin speak. While a stoic, orange-shirted man would block her way, a woman would scream “Nazi scum off our streets!” point-blank in her face, horrifying the millions of Canadians that would go on to watch the footage over the coming days.
The internet, consumed with fury, would immediately mobilize in an attempt to identify those who committed such an atrocious act against on a senior was such a clear representation for so many Canadians’ own grandmothers. And on October 2nd, the man in the orange shirt was identified as Alaa Al-Soufi. It didn’t take long for his family, proprietors of Soufi’s restaurant in Toronto, to be found.
It was on this day that Alaa’s father, Husam Al-Soufi, first heard about what happened at Mohawk College. “Before that, I did not know what antifa was…” He says, “I had not even heard of it.”
The Al-Soufi patriarch and I began speaking after he politely requested I remove a post I had made that had generated quite a bit of attention on my personal Twitter. Husam became anxious over a screenshot I had included from an older Toronto-area foodie article which revealed the name of one of his sons’ Universities. “I don’t blame you, Anna,” he said, but his fear was palpable.
He lit up when I offered to delete my post, thanking me with a little heart emoji when I offered to contact the news outlet who had published information about his son on his behalf to request that they delete or edit the article of the potentially revealing information.
While my post had been critical of the Soufi’s, and generally dismissive of the air of virulence that had emerged on both sides of their situation, speaking with Husam instilled in me a new appreciation for his family by showing me a side the media had not covered. I took the opportunity to pick Husam’s brain about what happened that day, offering him an audience that was likely full of his biggest disparagers. But only wanting to foster dialogue, Husam jumped at the opportunity.
“We just want to wake up from this nightmare,” Husam said. “I hate politics.”
After his daughter notified him about what she saw on social media, Husam says he was incredulous. “I was so ignorant about what was happening. I thought antifa was anti-fascist—[that’s] anti-Hitler, anti-terrorist. I had no idea it happened in Hamilton. I had no idea about Mr. Maxime’s speech.”
Husam says he knew his son was politically active, but that he demonstrated for causes he believed to be right. “For Hong Kong, Tibet, Venezuela … He does volunteer work, he is a sweet young man. This time he did a mistake.” After finding out about the incident at Mohawk, Husam reviewed past footage of Alaa’s demonstrations and activities, only then becoming aware that they had become physical at various points. According to his father, Alaa has been extremely ill recently, so much so that he’ll be taking time off of university to recover.
I asked Husam if Alaa knew who the woman who screamed at Dorothy Marston, and he said that his son had never met her before. He also said he and Marston’s son, Davis, have sat down, and he hopes to have the opportunity to apologize to the elderly woman in person. “I pray it will happen. And when I say pray, I usually look at a beautiful thing and make a wish. Usually, this beautiful thing is my wife.”
On freedom of speech, Husam agreed it was a fundamentally Canadian value, even going to far as to believe people had a right to be upset over how Dorothy Marston was prevented from safely entering Mohawk College.
“She is a lovely senior lady and my son blocked her way. Wearing a scary mask is not something we should accept. It is legal but immoral.”
When the conversation shifted to antifa, Husam believed they might have good goals, but the wrong methods.
“I don’t know much about them, but I will say this … Even if their intentions are to serve and protect marginalized communities, they are going about them the wrong way.” He suggested to his son that they should be giving out flyers and handing out flowers to people. Peaceful methods to win over the hearts of people, not “shouting and wearing masks.”
Husam says his decision to close the restaurant was hasty, but only in hopes of diffusing the situation. In doing so, he found himself stuck in the middle of an even worse situation.
“I thought I would give a victory to angry people, and the threats would stop coming. I was wrong.” He says, “But then people on ‘the other side’ told me I was giving up hope for newcomers. I was in the middle. I was on no one’s side!”
Currently, Soufi’s is being managed by Paramount Foods while Husam and his wife care for Alaa and their own health. Husam noted he is unsure of when he will return to his restaurant, feeling unconvinced reopening was the right decision to begin with.
“When I closed the restaurant my decision was final, but I was under so much pressure from a lot of people,” Husam says, “I felt like I didn’t want to be the one to discourage new immigrants or refugees.”
Husam says he never intended for notoriety, or to become a symbol of anything, least of all resistance towards some racist bogeyman. Through and through, he demonstrated he was a simple man who only sought to run a quaint Syrian restaurant in his new country—a country he came to as an investor immigrant, mind, not a refugee as many had wrongly claimed. The stress this situation has brought seems to have genuinely taken its toll on him.
“Canada is my home until I die,” Husam says, noting that he loves and admires Canadian values. A civil engineer, Husam says he has much larger projects he is able to pursue, but his Soufi’s was his ‘baby,’ and he had been floored by its success. “My restaurant introduced me to Canadian people. [It was] a place where we could talk and laugh. We felt at home after this restaurant. We knew people of all ethnicities, religions, and cultures.”
When I asked him if he had any final words for the article, he reiterated a sentiment he had repeated many times throughout our conversation, once before he said he forgave everyone who had said something cruel or threatening towards his family, and once more when he was reflecting on antifa:
“Love is our only hope!”
On Saturday morning, a Portland-area man was killed under mysterious circumstances.
Twenty-three-year-old Sean Kealiher, who was known locally in the Antifa community under the pseudonym “Armeanio Lewis,” died of blunt-force trauma after being hit by a car, according to police. The vehicle that allegedly hit him had been shot at and was found crashed outside the building of the Democratic Party of Oregon. Local politicians, media and activists are praising Kealiher as a progressive hero. Full disclosure: I had numerous run-ins with Keahiler in my capacity as a journalist documenting antifa’s activities.
So far, no one knows what really happened on early Saturday morning when Kealiher was killed. Portland Police have mostly kept mum about their early investigation, though they are pleading for witnesses to come forward. Antifa ideologues have a code of never allowing each other to cooperate with police. Police did confirm that the crime scene and car showed damage from gunfire. Unsurprisingly, the police and emergency responders were never called by Kealiher’s comrades. In fact, a homeless man who lives in a tent across from the Democratic Party headquarters told local media he saw Kealiher’s friends drag his body into a car, leaving a trail of blood.
Despite the uncertainties, this hasn’t kept the local media from running stories that insinuate—without evidence—that he may have been targeted for his left-wing activism. Many headlines have focused on the fact that Kealiher was fatally injured after leaving Cider Riot, an antifa pub found by state regulators this year to be a militant left-wing hotbed where patrons were allowed to carry illegal weapons.
Still, Kealiher’s death has reverberated across the mainstream left in Portland. Mayor Ted Wheeler took the rare step of publicly expressing shock and sadness. Brad Martin, executive director of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said that because Kealiher “was involved in progressive causes…it makes it all the more sad and concerning.” Other media pieces have focused on remembering Kealifer’s social justice “activism.” One publication ran a story where he was described as having a “soft heart.”
I first crossed paths with Kealiher in spring 2016 at Portland State University where I was a graduate student. On my first assignment for the student paper, I documented how around a hundred people, many who were non-students, shut down the inaugural meeting of the “PSU students for Donald Trump” group. I recorded Kealiher, who was not a student, jump on a table to try and fight a student who was filming. He had to be separated by his comrades. The event was widely covered on conservative media at the time as the country was awash in incident-after-incident of campus agitators shutting down speakers.
This was all before the election of Trump and before antifa became widely known in the U.S. but it was an important step in galvanizing Portland for Nov. 2016. After the election results were announced, Portlanders protested violently for days in downtown, causing over US$1 million worth of damage. It was on one of those nights that I came face-to-face with antifa “black bloc” for the first time. Wearing masks and black uniforms, they ran around the city destroying property with weapons and started fires on the streets. Interviewed by the Washington Post at the time under his pseudonym, Kealiher defended the violence, calling it “an unleashment of rage” against Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
A couple months later on the presidential Inauguration Day in Jan. 2017, thousands of Portlanders again amassed to protest the election results. Entire blocks of businesses in downtown closed and boarded up their windows, fearing a repeat of the rioting.
Kealiher was with a large group of antifa black bloc militants that day. They came together with banners, flags, sticks and other melee weapons. He was one of the few who was unmasked. I attempted to record footage of the black bloc for an assignment for the student paper, where I was now a multimedia editor, but was accosted by Kealiher. He warned me not to record his comrades or they “might do something” to me. This was the first time I had been threatened while working as a student journalist. Later that night, the protests devolved into chaos when demonstrators shut down the streets and refused to obey orders to disperse. One of the protesters told me on camera: “We must use violent revolution, there’s no other way to deal with [white supremacy].”
In Feb. 2017, Mike Bivins, a student journalist colleague at the time, was confronted by Kealiher outside city hall. Kealiher blamed Bivins for recording video footage of the riots in Nov. that led to his comrade, Mateen Abdul Shaheed, pleading guilty to five counts of first and second-degree criminal mischief. “It’s your f—ing fault someone is facing a felony f—ing charge,” shouted Kealiher to Bivins. “So you know what’s going to happen next time? I’m going to break your f—ing camera.” Kealiher also called for others to attack Bivins’ in a post on social media.
It remains to be seen what really happened that led to the untimely death of Kealiher. The circumstances are mysterious and antifa activists are encouraging others to stay silent. A tweet by the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, a regional antifa group, tells the public not to help police on the investigation and says his family is asking no one speak to the media. A GoFundMe for his family has already surpassed its goal by thousands. Kealiher was reportedly killed after leaving Cider Riot. The pub has a security camera system but it also has a documented history of concealing or destroying evidence, according to state regulators who investigated the business earlier this year following the May Day riot.
On Sunday night, dozens of masked antifa militants amassed in the dark carrying flares.
They vandalized the state Democratic Party office with graffiti to turn it into an antifa memorial. Messages on the building now urge others to kill law enforcement. The executive director for the state Democrat group expressed support for antifa black bloc’s actions, saying, “It’s just paint.”
Others are claiming online he was martyred by the far-right but what’s telling though is how antifa groups themselves have been uncharacteristically restrained in their statements. Rose City Antifa, the Portland antifa cell that claimed responsibility for beating me in June and a group Kealiher was associated with, tweeted this: “Our hearts go out to the friends and family members affected by the death of Sean Kealiher. Our sources indicate that this was not related to fascist activity.”
Disclosure: Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which has written to Mohawk College President Ron McKerlie about not imposing security fees on innocent parties.
Like so many other Canadian colleges and universities, Mohawk College in Hamilton is asking the wrong people to pay for event security.
The victims of Mohawk’s security fee censorship are the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier, and American talk show host Dave Rubin.
Rubin interviewed Bernier at a ticketed event on Sunday, September 29, using the 1,000-seat McIntyre Art Centre, rented from Mohawk College. Threatened “protests” almost derailed the event after Mohawk College increased the “security fees” by an unknown quantum. Rubin agreed to pay the sum, in order to ensure the event still went ahead.
Rubin, who is a gay and Jewish libertarian has been denounced by Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-hate Network as “far-right” and as “a significant part of a radicalization process ushering people into the neo-Nazi movement”. However, Rubin is a respected American political commentator with a syndicated show, not some deranged hateful maniac.
Rubin isn’t charged with a hate crime, or hate speech, and he’s not on any Interpol wanted lists. That Balford would prevent Rubin from speaking says more about Balford than it does about Rubin.
In a similar fashion, Balgord claims that many supporters and organizers of the libertarian PPC are “bigots, members or supporters of hate groups, radical conspiracy theorists, or full-blown neo-Nazis.”
Sadly, Balgord’s accusations are not unique, and his tactics are not original. More and more, intolerant people denounce the speech they hate as “hate speech,” then move quickly to argue for “de-platforming”, or silencing their opponents.
They elevate their own opinion to a new legal standard and demand societal compliance. Balgord and his ilk hate the marketplace of ideas, and the personal liberty to participate in it. They claim that
Shree Paradkar, the Toronto Star’s “race and gender columnist,” suggests that giving Bernier a platform is like giving a platform to flat-earthers. Even if this broad and sweeping comparison about a public figure’s diverse political platform were accurate and fair, Paradkar is still wrong because she believes that we should not even listen to opinions we strongly disagree with, and that media should censor the “wrong” views by not reporting on them. But if a candidate running for office did believe that the earth is flat, should media not report on that? According to Paradkar, the “free speech argument” that media should cover Bernier (as they do other party leaders) validates “hate speech.”
If someone found Paradkar’s speech to be “hateful,” would it be okay to “deplatform” her from her privileged place as a media talking head, and to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that as few people as possible have a chance to listen to her “extreme” views? Why does Paradkar get both a platform and a veto on who else can be in the discussion?
And why is screaming “hate” the ultimate veto? Hate is a personal feeling, experienced subjectively by individuals. Absent definition, “hate” is devoid of any objective way to measure it.
Bernier’s response that “people who are racist and (don’t) believe in the Canadian values aren’t welcome in our party” will not deter the likes of Balgord and Paradkar from arguing that Bernier should be silenced.
In their own minds, their own accusations of “racism” and “hate” carry far more weight than their opponents’ denials. This is the same sanctimonious, unvarnished arrogance by which violent groups like Antifa (“anti-fascists”) use physical force to obstruct, interrupt and shut down the events of people they disagree with (much like fascists in Europe did during the 1920s and 1930s).
I will be the first to defend the free speech rights of Balgord and Paradkar to spew their vitriol as they please, and I will also defend the legal right of Rubin and Bernier to contemplate a defamation action over false and damaging accusations.
If such legal action were commenced, the court would sort out whether the accusations of hatred, “
Mohawk College is a taxpayer-funded, government-controlled institution. The taxes which support it come from a diverse public with views as diverse as the Canadian mosaic. It’s one thing for ideologues and activists to cry “hate” whenever someone disagrees with them, followed by demands that no college, university, library or other venue provide “a platform for hatred.”
It’s quite another for public and
The need for a large security presence arises solely from those who threaten to disrupt, obstruct, shout down and shut down the speech they disagree with. For example, at the September 29 event, some masked “protesters” physically obstructed an elderly woman who was using her walker to make her way slowly to the entrance, to presumably listen to what Rubin and Bernier had to say.
While physically preventing her from using the crosswalk (a violation of several civil statutes as well as section 175 of the Criminal Code), they shouted “Nazi scum, off our streets!” at this vulnerable senior citizen. Without this kind of behaviour, there would be no serious need to hire security, beyond a token presence of a handful for a large event.
It’s wrong to force a person or group to pay money to exercise her or his legal right to speak peacefully at a college or university campus. Mohawk College should force disruptive and violent groups like Antifa to pay the security costs, instead of forcing Antifa’s victims to pay.
Unfortunately, Mohawk College is following the bad example of other universities. For instance, the University of Alberta demanded that a small number of pro-life students pay $17,500 in security fees as a condition for erecting a stationary educational display on campus for two days. The U of A could easily have demanded this $17,500 from the self-identified students who spoke publicly on social media about their intentions to shut down pro-life expression on campus by using physical obstruction and other illegal means. But it is usually easier to pacify the mob.
By putting a price on free speech, Mohawk College contributes to a chilling effect on free expression on its own campus, contrary to its own stated policies. Mohawk College claims to oppose obstructing or interfering with “the freedom of others to express their views,” but then makes Bernier and Rubin pay for the bad behaviour of other people.
Lawless and disruptive individuals are motivated to continue behaving badly because Mohawk College and others pander to mob censorship, by forcing the victims of bad behaviour to bear the cost of that behaviour.
By extorting security fees from those who seek only to express their opinions and listen to others, Mohawk College has effectively blamed the victim and encouraged the bullies. This punish-the-victim approach amounts to condoning the mob censorship of free expression.