Montreal Neighbourhood Grapples With the Neo-Nazi in their Midst
Since leading North American neo-Nazi “Zeiger’ was found to be living in Rosemont-Petite-Patrie, posters and protesters have come for him.
Posters of neo-Nazi Gabriel Sophier-Chaput in Rosemont-Petite-Patrie | Images courtesy of author.
Rosemont-Petite-Patrie is not the sort of neighbourhood that often attracts international attention. Bordered by more fashionable areas of Montreal, it’s sleepy in comparison. Gentrification has occurred slowly; rent is still cheap and one of the main attractions is a quirky, half-empty shopping district known for discount bridal and prom wear.
But now the area is in the spotlight due to one of its 140,000 residents. A leading North American neo-Nazi, Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, known online as “Zeiger” and “Charles Chapel” not only lives in the neighbourhood but has reportedly used his home as a meeting place for other like-minded individuals. After the Montreal Gazette published an investigation that revealed his identity, activists took the information a step further.
During the past two weeks, posters have blanketed the area surrounding his home that feature several pictures of Sohier-Chaput and detail his involvement with the white supremacist movement. He leads a local group of neo-Nazis, is a prolific writer on The Daily Stormer, and was present at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA. The posters mention what high school he went to, where he works, and in bold letters lists his address—an unassuming third floor apartment steps from a major commercial thoroughfare.
Other posters addressed to Sohier-Chaput have appeared as well. One read “We know you are a pathetic Nazi. We know your face and we know where you live. We are numerous and we’re watching you.” Others have been partially covered in eerie-looking hand-drawn eyes. Another poster reads, in part, “one day, you’ll desire one of us, and we’ll bite your dick off.”
The boldest statement, visible to those who head north through Parc Pere-Marquette, past the community garden and the playground, is scrawled in white across a blue dumpster. “Nazis out” it reads in large capital letters. Beside it, in smaller print, “bash the fash,” as in the fascist.
In a neighbourhood where politically-tinged graffiti pops up often, there is something different about this one. If Sohier-Choput were to step out on his back balcony and look towards the park, he would find this oversized message staring back at him.
I’ve lived in Rosemont-Petite-Patrie on two different occasions, resettling here in November of last year. In my apartment building my neighbours are mostly mysteries to me. I couldn’t put a name or an apartment number to a face if I tried. I couldn’t even pick the dog whose barking has woken me up at night out of a lineup, if pressed.
The most recent data from Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey says that 42 percent of Canadians don’t know their neighbours. This lack of neighbourly connection is also widely reported in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom.
Because I live reasonably close to Sohier-Chaput, it’s been hard to escape the knowledge that he’s living nearby. I’ve seen the posters on my way to the Metro and to run errands. They’re plastered everywhere: mailboxes, bus shelters, telephone booths, and utility poles. Over time, some of them have been defaced with black spray paint or by removing the apartment number meaning they may not have escaped his notice.
Knowing that he’s here poses an interesting question. If I know so little about other neighbours does knowledge of this one actually make a difference in how I view the neighbourhood or our collective safety? As a gay man, it’s a bit chilling to know that at certain times there would be multiple people in the area with a professed hatred for my ilk. I’m sure Jewish residents, racialized residents, and other LGBTQ people would say the same. But whether that would somehow put anyone’s personal safety in danger is a series of “what if” scenarios.
On a recent afternoon, a neighbour of Sohier-Chaput spoke to me on their front stoop. Due to safety concerns they asked for identifying details to be omitted, other than the fact that they live on the same block.
They are concerned for their safety because of the potential for vigilante justice on both sides. They suggested that friends or supporters of Sohier-Chaput could do something malicious for speaking out, or that the activists looking for Sohier-Chaput could have ill-intentions, causing harm for neighbours.
The neighbour had no suspicions of Sohier-Chaput’s other life, only learning about it after it became headline news.
While the neighbour recalled seeing groups of multiple people on the balconies at the apartment where Chaput reportedly held meetings with other white supremacists, it wasn’t something that aroused suspicion.
“They look more like geeks than like Nazis, if you ask me.”
The neighbour said that some residents had posters put directly on their doors by activists, yet they hadn’t heard from any other neighbours on the subject, suggesting that some might not have been aware.
“But that was before 100 people gathered in front of the house to protest,” they said, referring to an anti-fascism protest that stopped in front of Sohier-Chaput’s house on Saturday, May 12.
Montreal is no stranger to worrisome neighbours. Convicted killer Karla Homolka has called the region home for several years and periodically comes up in the media as she tries to live a normal life as a mother on the South Shore. A devoted Facebook group follows her moves, which is seen by some as a necessary precaution and by others as an overstep of boundaries and a violation of Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
One of the “dozens of people” behind the posters told VICE that exposing Nazis and white supremacists to the communities where they live is a long-standing tactic used by anti-fascists. “Doxxing, and helping communities self-organize against the Nazis,” they wrote in an email, “is only one tactic among many that anti-fascists have used in the past and will continue to use to eliminate the Nazi threat.”
Often, revealing these people results in personal hardship that could, in theory, compel them to change their ways. When the New York Times published an article on a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer he wound up losing his job and his home. Others have been reported losing jobs or being disowned by family.
An online map called FashMap allows people to pinpoint the locations of neo-Nazis in various communities around the world, though at the time of this article, nobody was listed on the map in Montreal.
VICE was told that the responses they’ve heard from residents towards the posters have been positive and that neither Sohier-Chaput nor his family have contacted them.
“And if they did, we would absolutely not respond. We have nothing to say to them.”
"If we cause a media storm every time we put up a few stickers, we'll own the news media," Zeiger once wrote. "[And] if they stop covering our propaganda, we also win; it means the system is now desensitized to hardcore Nazism."
In Canada, we lack some of the deep political divisions that have made the alt-right more fertile in the United States, and we have yet to have an event of similar magnitude as Charlottesville, which is no reason to feel too comfortable. But for some people there is no worry.
Passing by the “Nazis Out” dumpster the other day, I noticed a twentysomething woman sitting down to enjoy the afternoon sun in an adjacent patch of grass, in full view of the graffiti. It seemed an odd spot to settle in.
I pointed to the graffiti and asked what she thought about the revelation that there was a neo-Nazi in the neighbourhood—that he lived just across the street. She asked what the term neo-Nazi meant. When I started to explain she waved the question off for being too complicated and that she wasn’t interested in talking about it.
What is happening in the neighbourhood is largely a battle between two forces. There are neo-Nazis on one side and there are anti-fascist activists on the other. For many residents who don’t fall under either category it is possible to continue life as usual despite this strangeness going on in the background of neighbourhood life.
It is believed that Sohier-Chaput has left his apartment and gone into hiding. The neighbour who spoke to VICE said the car that was usually there was gone and he hasn’t been seen for several days. This was also echoed by the organizer, though it is unconfirmed.
When asked what their goal was, they said simply “Eradicate Nazis.” While they may not have switched his beliefs, he is assumed to be hiding in another neighbourhood, though that might not remain a mystery for long.
Follow Rob Csernyik on Twitter.
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