Montreal

Alleged Montreal neo-Nazi recruiter pleads not guilty to spreading online hate

The hate-propaganda case against an alleged neo-Nazi known online as Zeiger hinges on a single article published on a website called the Daily Stormer on Jan. 23, 2017.

Prosecution's cases hinges on a single article from Daily Stormer website written in January 2017

Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, who admits to using the pseudonym Zeiger, appeared in footage from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. (Submitted by Shannon Carranco)

The hate-propaganda case against an alleged neo-Nazi known online as Zeiger hinges on a single article published on a website called the Daily Stormer on Jan. 23, 2017.

Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, 35, who freely admits to using that online pseudonym, appeared before Quebec court Judge Manlio Del Negro Monday, on the first day of his trial on a count of wilful promotion of hate propaganda.

Wearing a grey button-up under a navy sweater with a charcoal blazer and round glasses, Sohier-Chaput looked very little like the bearded man in the white T-shirt who took part in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

Sohier-Chaput pleaded not guilty to a single count of wilful promotion of hate propaganda against Jewish people. He has admitted that as Zeiger, he contributed to the Daily Stormer between 2016 and 2017, and wrote part of the article at the centre of this case, entitled "Canada: Nazis Trigger Jews By Putting Up Posters On Ch--k Church," utilizing a racial slur to refer to the Asian community.

Zeiger's image appears on a website called Blanche Europe (white Europe). The well-known neo-Nazi online writer has been linked to a Montreal IT consultant. (Submitted by Shannon Carranco)

The article celebrates neo-Nazi posters pasted on a bus stop in British Columbia and insults a Holocaust survivor, saying he only survived "for now." It drew on a Global News report about the posters, adding antisemitic memes and editorial comments.

The Daily Stormer article opened by saying that 2017 would be "the year of action."

"We need to make sure no SJW [social justice warrior] or Jew can remain safely untriggered," it read. "Non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies."

Daily Stormer still active, cyber investigator says

The trial at the Montreal courthouse is expected to last three to five days, said Crown prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière. The first witnesses to testify were two police officers from the Montreal police service (SPVM) cyber investigation unit.

SPVM Const. Sébastien Pelletier-Langlois testified that he was contacted July 10, 2018 and told to find articles that were once on the Daily Stormer, after the website was shut down.

Using the Wayback Machine, an archive of the World Wide Web, to find the articles, Pelletier-Langlois said he was able to find Zeiger's author page. The Daily Stormer has moved domains and servers several times, he said, and it is still active.

Pelletier-Langlois said he saw about 120 articles written by Zeiger on the first page of a list of all Zeiger's articles, which ran for eight pages.

Questioning Pelletier-Langlois, defence lawyer Vicky Powell argued it can't be proven Sohier-Chaput was the one to add the antisemitic images or that an editor didn't modify the content prior to publication. She also said that although the name Zeiger appears on the articles, it can't be proven Sohier-Chaput actually wrote them.

The Crown said the nature of the website the Daily Stormer will play into the trial.

"If I write on a Nazi, extreme right-wing, fascist website and say something addressing its particular readership, it's one thing," said Lafrenière. It is not like writing for Le Devoir, he said.

Screen grabs from the Daily Stormer entered as evidence by Montreal police show a banner with the publication's name in green letters, a man holding a gun pointed at the camera with Hitler's face floating in the background and the tagline "The world's #1 PewDiePie fansite"— a reference to a controversial Swedish YouTuber with 111 million followers.

The website's sidebar featured Pepe the frog, a popular meme among in far-right circles, with swastikas in his eyes, among other offensive images. Sections at the top of the site next to "Featured Stories" included "Jewish Problem" and "Race War."

Const. Jean-Pierre Larente of the SPVM's cyber investigation team said he started looking into Zeiger's online presence May 3, 2018. His task was to find anything related to Zeiger on the web, which he testified led him to the Daily Stormer, Iron March and episodes on podcasts including This Hour Has 88 Minutes, Radio Werewolf: Zeiger, and Race Ghost Roast to Roast: Eulogy for Iron March, among others.

Larente said he saw a lot of racist, misogynistic, white supremacist and neo-Nazi content on the Daily Stormer.

However, when questioned by the defence, he admitted articles with Zeiger's name on them couldn't be proven to have been written and published by Sohier-Chaput, speculating someone could have added the defendant's name without his knowledge.

There were discrepancies between the two officers' accounts of the number of articles written by Zeiger, although Larente said this could have to do with the many times the website changed domain names and servers.

Sohier-Chaput faces up to two years in prison if he's found guilty. The trial continues Tuesday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erika Morris

CBC News journalist

Erika Morris is a reporter and researcher at CBC Montreal.

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