Former member of Canadian white supremacist group says hatred must be met 'with an open heart'

Elizabeth Moore was one of the few female members of the neo-Nazi group the Heritage Front in the early 1990s.
After she left the Heritage Front, Elizabeth Moore shared her story at a Canadian Jewish Congress event. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Moore)
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Elizabeth Moore was deeply disturbed watching the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August.

"That footage was very difficult to watch, because the exhilaration and the empowerment that hatred gives people is something that I'm intimately aware of," she says.

Elizabeth was a member of the Canadian white supremacist group the Heritage Front in the early 1990s. She joined when she was a high school student living outside Toronto. 

A friend introduced her to the group, explaining that it promoted pride in European culture and heritage. The messaging in the Heritage Front's brochures "used a lot of the language that you're seeing today with the alt-right, actually," she says.

This resonated with her at the time, as white students were in the minority at her high school, and she felt like she was being hassled for her race.

Elizabeth Moore celebrates her 21st birthday in her dorm room at Queen's University. She was a member of the Heritage Front during her early years at Queen's. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Moore)

She wrote for the group's magazine and recorded messages for its hotline. She tried recruiting other members at Queen's University, where she was a student. And she felt some pride in being one of the few women who had joined the organization independently, rather than through a boyfriend. 

She says the group tries to pull you in "by telling you, 'You're better than your teachers, you're better than your family, you're better than your friends because you're racially aware, and they're not. You know what's going on, you can see the truth, and they can't.'"

Over time, the group's overtly racist messaging became clear to Elizabeth. She was burning out. 

"I finally decided that … I didn't want to be promoting hatred any more."

She approached Bernie Farber, who was then the head of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He challenged her beliefs and helped her leave the group. 

She remembers visiting the Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto with him. 

"He stopped at this picture of a baby. … He said, 'This baby died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Now you tell me what she had to do with any Jewish conspiracy,'" she says. "And I just stood there, just feeling like, what have I done? What have I been doing?"

Elizabeth left in 1995, changing her phone number and mailing address and taking a year off school. 

She says she had to re-learn even her day-to-day activities. "I was looking at everything from what I watched on TV to my choice in breakfast cereal through a racist lens."

Elizabeth says she feels shame for what she believed in her youth. But she still understands the appeal of far-right movements.

Elizabeth Moore believes that far-right groups are so seductive because you "don't have to worry about shades of grey and nuance" when you're in them. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Moore)

"One of the things that is so attractive about the alt-right currently is that we're living in very tumultuous times, even before Donald Trump came on the scene," she says. "They provide simple answers ‒ simple, definitive answers. You don't have to worry about shades of grey and nuance."

She sees the value in counter-demonstrations. But she says that, if you really want to convince someone to leave a hate movement, responding to hate with more hate isn't going to work. 

"They want you to hate them, because they can't hate you unless you hate them back," Elizabeth says. 

"It's so hard to confront hatred with an open heart, but that's really what we need to be doing, as much as is safe and accessible for people to do."

This story originally aired on January 7, 2018. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Cut Through Hate".