Winnipeg comedian Lara Rae was out for a morning walk with a friend on Tuesday when they noticed a series of nearly a dozen graffiti messages left along Wellington Crescent and on a trail in Omand Park, across the Assiniboine River.
"To look down on the ground and see this horrible, horrible racist anti-Semitic garbage, it's just so distressing," said Rae, who lives in Wolseley.
Messages such as "Lost white civilizations" and "White extinction?" were scrawled on pavement and at least one bench along Wellington Crescent.
They were also found in the West Broadway area near the Granite Curling Club.
Rae said the graffiti wasn't there on Saturday morning when she walked the same route, and only noticed them for the first time on Tuesday morning.
Other people on the trail told a reporter they first noticed the graffiti as early as Sunday morning.
"I don't think it's irresponsible to suggest that people were inspired, if that's the right word, by the garbage that went on in the United States on Saturday. They've been emboldened and we have to un-embolden them," Rae said.
A car plowed into a crowd of people protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring nearly three dozen people.
Rae said her friend posted pictures of the graffiti on Facebook, and at least one person made a complaint to 311.
She wants the city to remove the graffiti.
"They should remove it instantaneously. It should be a priority."
Mayor 'personally sickened' by graffiti
In a statement Mayor Brian Bowman said he was "personally sickened" by the incident, and called on "Winnipeggers of all backgrounds to join [him] in denouncing acts of hate like this."
Bowman said crews have been sent out to remove the graffiti, and he personally reached out to the Winnipeg Jewish Federation to offer his support.
"These intolerant acts of hate are reprehensible and offensive to our community and will not deter our ongoing efforts towards strengthening inclusiveness in our city," Bowman's statement went on to say.
Winnipeg police said they received one complaint about graffiti at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg at 603 Wellington Cres. on Sunday.
Part of the church sign had white paper taped over it on Tuesday evening. Church representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
Representatives from Shaarey Zedek Synagogue said while no grafitti has shown up near the synagogue, they are being vigilant given the current political climate.
Who is Soros?
Aidan Fishman, interim national director of the League for Human Rights for B'nai Brith Canada, said the graffiti, while cryptic, is anti-Semitic.
It included phrases like "Soros?" and "Soros wants you dead."
"'Soros' is a reference to George Soros, who is a billionaire Jewish-American-Hungarian philanthropist who gives money to lots of left-wing causes," Fishman said.
"It's perfectly legitimate to criticize George Soros and his politics … but the words under 'Soros' in the graffiti are 'white extinction,' and this refers to a conspiracy theory that is common on the far right. One might even say on the alt-right, and among white supremacists and neo-Nazis, that George Soros is the frontman for some sort of Jewish plot to exterminate the white race."
Graffiti is often used by neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers to lure people into reading propaganda, Fishman said.
"They'll write graffiti, or messages that are sort of cryptic … and then what they count on people to do is go and Google these terms," said Fishman.
"The first hits you would find are links to this [Soros] conspiracy theory."
Similar theories can be traced throughout history as a means of vilifying Jews, Fishman said.
"This is a sort of insidious and clever tactic by neo-Nazis to get people to read their theories without throwing out all of the really outrageous material all at once, because perhaps they know in that case people wouldn't even read it."
The timing of the graffiti is alarming, he said.
"It doesn't seem like a coincidence, and it's not surprising. When we see acts of hatred, whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world, that have a really high profile and that gets lots of attention, it tends to prompt sort of copycat incidents in other places."
Fishman first learned about the graffiti on Tuesday and said B'nai Brith will investigate. They also received a report of similar graffiti on Aug. 6, on what they believe is a light post near St. Mary Avenue and Balmoral Street.
"The individuals are doing this … with the intent of building a base of support that would eventually lead to much more serious attacks on people and property," he said.
Not the first anti-Semitic act
Rae said the graffiti goes beyond free speech and more people should be alarmed.
"We have to remember that … this multicultural phenomenon that we've established in this country needs to be protected and fought for, or it can disappear just as quickly as it seems to be doing in the United States," she said.
"This is not speech, this is threatening behaviour … the desire is to make people unsettled and uncomfortable."
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Fishman said despite other anti-Semitic acts in Winnipeg in the past few years, he believes the vast majority of Winnipeggers will reject this kind of behaviour.
"The most important thing is that residents who live in the community, and who live across Winnipeg from a variety of backgrounds, come together and reject this form of hatred."