There has been a lot of media attention surrounding the recent murder trial involving individuals who claim to be former members of a Calgary Neo-Nazi group. There has been much speculation, confusion and outrage surrounding the white supremacists involved in the grizzly and senseless slaying and the groups they were part of. Our friend Brett Gundlock spent years as a photojournalist documenting their world (a selection of his series – which included photos of the accused – appeared in the Vice Photo Issue 2011 as “The Movement”) so we asked him to share his experiences with them as well as a selection of previously unpublished photos.
I first approached these groups in Calgary in 2007, following their first annual White Pride March that weaved through the streets of downtown Calgary. This event was Calgary's first major introduction to the Aryan Guard, (aside from an anti-immigration flyering campaign) which quickly became the most notorious Neo-Nazi group in Canada.
The origins of the group started with Kyle McKee who came to Calgary from Waterloo. McKee joined forces with other Nazi sympathizers to create the Aryan Guard. The group followed “The Fourteen Words,” which has become the adopted mantra of the international White Power movement: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”
Traditionally Canadian Skinheads have kept their actions quiet, keeping out of the public eye as much as possible. The AG took the opposite direction with their actions, from handing out anti-immigration flyers, using White Pride CDs to recruit youth, and being more visible with their public marches, McKee and his comrades quickly gained national attention from the media, the public, racists, and non-racists alike.
Working as a photojournalist in Calgary at the time, I proposed a long-term photo documentary project, examining their lives and the role they play in our society. Our first encounter was a bit shaky. But after explaining my intentions and showing other examples of previous similar work, they agreed to have me over to their SE house on Friday night for some beers.
A tense incident involving suspicion of my switching vehicles from our first meeting (I forgot I had borrowed my brothers car) was thankfully resolved and set the tone for the rest of our interactions, a mutual respect and well defined lines, which were not to be crossed.
Aside from the extremist views these individuals had, their lives are quite similar to anyone else in their demographic. Beer and girls were high on the list of priorities and macho challenges and drunken fights are not uncommon.
The Movement is mainly composed of people in their late teens and young adults. These groups offer a refuge for youth looking for an identity and companionship and individuals who are coming from a background of racist influences. I met people whose parents were KKK members, closet racists, or just regular rednecks. Other guys had been introduced to this theology in jail, by friends associated with these groups or just on the internet. Like many extreme subcultures the belief that general society is based on lies and they are getting a raw deal is enough to peak their interest. Once someone finds themselves inside that type of culture, surrounded by like-minded individuals, some of which are ex-university professors, these “facts” become more and more believable. They drift further and further away from regular society to the point where this racist way of life becomes their new reality.
Once you’rere inside, it is hard to get out. The psychological gravity is massive. It’s framed as an honour to be associated with The Movement, in order to save the “white world.” You are constantly tested to prove your loyalty, often through violence.
Interested individuals are always welcomed with an open door. Ample beer is always on hand and IDs are not checked for the legal age of the consumer. Some of the older members have been known to have extra Doc Marten boots and bombers on hand for potential Skinheads who are not able to afford the gear.
One of the most interesting people I met during my time was a teenager who traveled on the Greyhound from Hamilton to Calgary for the 2008 March. He had connected with the Calgary guys online, talking with them on Skype after drawing a fake Swastika on his body, which was backwards, in an attempt to impress his future friends.
We met him at the Greyhound station, he was a quiet, shaggy haired teenager wearing a backwards baseball cap, a hoodie, and a skateboarding backpack. He said that he has had racist beliefs since he was a kid, and he wanted to become involved in The Movement to take action.
After only a few days the shaggy hair and skateboard attire was gone, and he had a cleanly shaven head and a borrowed bomber jacket. Like some weird reality TV show, his appearance was changed from an average looking teenager to a stereotypical skinhead. He was in the club.
The next two years of his life was were less romantic then he had imagined. He fell to the bottom of the group’s social hierarchy when he hid in a bus stop to avoid projectiles while the White Pride demonstration he traveled across Canada to attend was clashing with Anti-Racist protestors.
In 2009, a warrant was issued for his arrest along with McKee, after two pipe bombs blew up outside the home of Tyler Sturrup, a rival Neo-Nazi Skinhead and his girlfriend who had previously been involved with the Aryan Guard.
He spent the next few months in jail before being released after being found not guilty. McKee, who ran to Winnipeg was found guilty of possession of bomb making materials.
I lost contact with him following that. He was charged again a few months later in London, Ontario for an assault with a weapon and since then has disappeared from the public eye, like many others before him. At the time of this writing, Tyler Sturrup and Rob Reitmeier are sitting behind bars in a Calgary jail. They’re both facing charges of second degree murder, following the death of male in Calgary after a random attack turned lethal. Kyle McKee is sitting in jail, one of the many times since I have met him, for a random assault in Edmonton. Following his arrest, cops executed search warrants at McKee's home. They found numerous weapons, including shotguns, ammunition, knives, and machetes. Along with two assault-related charges, McKee was charged with 15 weapons-related offences.
Despite what some media might have you believe, there isn’t a Nazi epidemic sweeping across Canada. I am not worried about a race war erupting on our streets. Why document these Nazi's who have little impact overall? The fact that these ideologies still exist is an interesting perspective on the current level acceptance in our seemingly respectful country. I feel that any dialogue and education around these beliefs is a positive thing. Especially considering the numerous acts of random violence connected to these guys since they came into the public eye.
For more of his work, check out Brett Gundlock's website.