Book Review: Race Traitor: The True Story of the Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-Up
This Book Review is now published on Violent Extremist Exit Resources website.
“We’ll tear her to shreds.”
~ CSIS Toronto Region Investigator speaking of eighteen year old Elisa Hategan, whose affidavits implicated CSIS agent Grant Bristow in criminal activity. CBC’s The Fifth Estate, October 1994~
Race Traitor: The True Story of the Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-Up was a pleasure to read. Elisa Hategan has delivered an upfront account of her personal lived experience that definitively checks out with other sources within the public body of knowledge on this topic. A true account of government corruption, and security and law enforcement cover-up. The blatant role that the Canadian system had in establishing what could be said to be the most notorious neo-Nazi organization since WWII. It is noteworthy that Elisa starts her autobiography by explaining the difficulty she had in attempts to publish her book.
Publishing companies shy away from stories like this. In my own personal experience, publishing companies were resistant to my autobiography as a former violent racist skinhead. I am inspired to consider self-publishing, in a no-holds-barred way, much like Elisa. I want to start off by saying to Elisa directly:
“Thank you for your honest and courageous modeling, you are a living inspiration of true change. Your path is unique and beautiful. I commend you, and hope to honor your work.”
This story includes the detailed ins-and-outs of a CSIS conspiracy that involves the planted agent, Grant Bristow, within the Heritage Front. In fact, Elisa does what no one else would do. She brings together many of the fragments of facts to tell ‘the’ story in its most comprehensive form to date. Her facts are hard. Her sources are solid. She does a fantastic job of calling out poignant politicians, security agencies and law enforcement for their role in establishing one of the largest neo-Nazi organizations since WWII. This is a true account of CSIS and politicians who were involved in, and with, a Canadian domestic terrorist group. This book leaves many questions that should be asked in public spaces:
“How deep does systemic white supremacist ideology run in Canadian society?”
It could be said that former Heritage Front members are still at the center of the Canadian white supremacist movement. Many of its members are still in operation. The fact that CSIS funded, at minimum, some of the operations of the Heritage Front is troublesome, although, Hategan’s story reveals a grotesque abuse of Canadian tax dollars. Moreover, Elisa’s exposé on the cover-ups ordered by those at the top of security operations is very troubling. Her lived experience, combined with both her writing and research skills, presents an enthralling story that is raw.
Elisa’s ability to include comedic interludes throughout the story was superb. I have never literally laughed out loud while reading, until I read Race Traitor. Elisa captures the reader with her vulnerability. She is real. An authentic voice that is amplified through her fact based presentation of Tory corruption within the Canadian government, security forces and law enforcement.
In my opinion the most important facts embedded this story include the following points:
- insights into the process of radicalization and deradicalization
- most people in the movement come from fairly ‘normal’ lifestyles and backgrounds
- in the highest ranks of hate groups and white nationalist movements there are working relationships between violent right-wing extremists and other ‘non-white’ groups and individuals, which may result in a lack of perceived threats from ultra-right factions by the general public
- the most important people who supported and assisted Elisa’s exit were anti-racist activists, a journalist and members of the American Indian Movement
Book Review Author’s Bio:
I myself had spent nearly a decade in the white supremacist movement, shortly after the Heritage Front fell apart. Little did I know that an 18-year-old girl, a journalist and a handful of committed anti-racist activists would dismantle the terrorist group that the Canadian government funded and helped to create. Since leaving the white supremacist movement well over a decade ago, I have achieved two university degrees and have researched the historic relationship between the Canadian government and what we now call violent right wing extremist networks. My area of research also includes the analysis of former violent white supremacists autobiographies. It is my opinion that Elisa Hategan’s autobiography is the most important autobiography of this category to date.
The grim reality is that white supremacy, racism and anti-Semitism runs deep within our Canadian Society, and Race Traitor reflects how deep that is. This is a must read for every counter-extremist/terrorist scholar and researcher in North America; especially for those who are studying extremist/terrorist disengagement and deradicalization in the North American context. Scholars who are studying right wing extremist networks need to focus on the context that our society breeds right wing extremists, quite literally. This is not only my opinion, but is shared and reflected through several North American scholars who specialize on this subject; furthermore, this point is driven and exemplified through Elisa’s story. Elisa Hategan deserves national attention and acknowledgement for her sacrifices that resulted in dismantling the largest terrorist network in Canadian history, which was in part funded and founded by the Canadian government and CSIS.
Race Traitor is a must read for anyone concerned with CSIS’s operations, systemic racism in Canada and corruption of both government and law enforcement. I believe that every First Nations activist and like-minded allies would benefit greatly by reading Elisa Hategan’s story. Further insights into structural racism could be gained from this story.
I have recently established an organization that works towards developing deradicalization resources for those who have disengaged from violent right wing extremism. Deradicalization means to unlearn and re-constitute one’s worldview and self-identification; moving away from a violent right wing ideology to a non-violent and less schismatic worldview. Challenging the fundamentals of right wing worldview is a long process, one that I know intimately. My work and life are centered around educating the public on how deep white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideology run within Canadian society and culture. I believe this book, by Elisa Hategan, is a powerful contribution into the conversations that need to be had amongst those involved within counter-violent-extremism. Elisa Hategan is a primary example of true deradicalization that supersedes any other current former white supremacist autobiography I have read.
Scholars should take note of this autobiographic story as a poignant insight into gaps within scholarship on right wing extremist networks; we as scholars often buy into the myths and stereotypes of what a white supremacist is and does; like the general population. Race Traitor gives us an insight that breeches the common perspectives of who is in and around the ultra-violent right wing. Elisa’s literary contribution offers us some core challenges to re-consider from what is commonly believed about white supremacy and anti-Semitism.
This book is also great for anti-racist activists who want to learn more about the twisted, manipulative and coercive nature of the extreme right ideology and networks that plague North American society. Progressive critics of Canadian society, security services and the overall establishment may benefit from reading this book. The contentious facts contained within the book are verifiable. The facts Ms. Hategan presents can be cross-referenced with other sources. As I have already had a working knowledge on the topic at hand, both through old personal contacts and research experience, I know the facts in this book are solid. The book is clearly a ‘tell all’ about Elisa’s experience and dynamic relationship between CSIS and the white supremacist network in Canada. Elisa offers a state of vulnerability and authenticity, which reflects her resiliency, self-reflective and reflexive nature. She is a bold strong woman filled with courage that is only contended by her own demons.
Lastly, while reading Race Traitor, I thought to myself it is no wonder why the Canadian government and intelligence communities focus their counter-extremist/terrorist efforts towards both First Nations and Muslim communities. Looking at the ideological connections and direct social networks shared between the Canadian government and the extreme ultra-violent-right-wing may just be ‘too close to home’. Perhaps with more digging, Canadians will see how deep the roots of archaic and schismatic worldviews of our society go; views and behavior that contradict our stated policies of inclusive multiculturalism and human rights.
Elisa was sixteen years old when she was recruited into the Heritage Front, one of Canada’s most infamous white supremacist groups. As Elisa points out, the HF was infamous for trying to change the brand and face of the white supremacist movement in Canada. People such as David Duke, Wolfgang Droege and others were strategically changing the identifiable brutish reputation of the extreme far right. A new face to the white supremacist movement was being promoted in order to manipulate recruitment into the violent and racist network. The newer face of the violent right wing movement claims to be made up of revolutionaries fighting a courageous war of ideals; the author does a great job at showing that this self-righteous and self-imposed proclamation is just yet another white lie.
This brings to surface another core issue I discovered halfway through the book. This story reminded me of an old ‘made for TV’ movie I had watched several years back. It was called White Lies (1998). Elisa’s book reminded of the movie. I hadn’t never thought about the movie since I had seen it years ago. The movie was a poorly written and failed production. The tale of a young middle class ‘white girl’ who was recruited by a white supremacist organization as a magazine writer. From my recollection the only differences between Elisa’s lived experience and the story of the girl in the movie, played by Sarah Polley, was that the character in the film came from a middle class home and had sex with white supremacist skinheads. Other than that, this movie was Elisa’s story. After further inquiry, I discovered that the CBC produced TV movie, White Lies, was loosely-based on Elisa’s lived experience. Moreover, the CBC had not compensated Elisa in any way. I discovered that CBC fictionalized a lot of things in order to avoid paying for the story rights.
I send out a big boot to CBC for exploiting this woman’s, or at the time might I say “girl’s,” story. I appreciate the CBC in many regards and value the news provided by the semi-progressive broadcast network, but this is an abhorrent scenario that should be resolved. I was thoroughly disappointed when I learned about this history.
Elisa’s experience as a young recruit brought her into the heart of the Canadian white supremacist movement. She hung around Wolfgang Droege, who was born in Austria and had previously spent time in a USA prison for a failed attempt to overthrow the Dominican government. In 2005, Wolfgang was shot to death by a drug-using associate, not a surprising end for a man who lived a violent and hateful life.
Elisa also spent time in the home of Ernst Zundel, who has been on the run in almost every country he has lived in. He is a hate-monger who considers himself a ‘revisionist scholar.’ A revisionist who constructs a fictional argument that attempts to claim the number of people who died, as the result of the totalitarian Nazi regime in WWII was false. Unfortunately these holocaust deniers are grotesquely fueled by a perverted sense of direction that propagates hateful anti-Semitic propaganda. Young Elisa forged close relations with these grotesque people; she was a socially isolated child and they were emotional predators that spoon-fed her hate.
Elisa tells her story of being lost and alone, a child who was marked by these manipulative and coercive leaders. Boldly, Elisa informs us that her case was not common within the circle she ran with. In fact, she tells us that her experience was the anomaly. She was the only street kid she had met, especially to be groomed for leadership. The majority of the members of this extremely racist movement were people who lived relatively ‘normal’ lives prior to joining the Heritage Front; this is an important insight for those academics familiar with the radicalization process and hate crimes stats. Of course she tells stories of brutish, violent and ignorant skinheads, crusty old hateful people and the manipulative and abusive nature of men who operated like a cult; The Heritage Front was a political cult.
A Lighter Flavor
Elisa talks about some of the inner workings of the Heritage Front. I was glad to read that she included that there was a color-coded system used by the racist skinheads. Bootlaces and suspenders codified their self-identified standing within their gangs, along with racist tattoos. Elisa also offers some comedic pun elements that lighten up the heavy load of the books content. As a reader this brings in some humor in order to make the reading journey of her horrible experience a little more palatable.
First Nations Community
Interestingly enough, Elisa did not initially seem to buy into the lies that were being fed to her when she was recruited at sixteen years old. She was bold enough to question the information that these de-bunked leaders were throwing at her. This speaks to Elisa’s resiliency and the strength of her character, which is echoed at the end of the book.
I was astounded to learn that she stood in solidarity with First Nations during the injustices of the Oka Crisis, prior to her recruitment into the Heritage Front. I believe this further speaks to Elisa’s inherent progressive thinking, which through my own perceptual lens considers is probably due to the fact that she, like me, understands what it means to be beaten down; thus, can at least in part empathize with people who have been systemically abused by the colonial racist Canadian government.
Identifying with the political plight of First Nations peoples has been poignant in my own process of transformation, after leaving the violent white supremacist movement in Canada. Of course, the chief manipulators in this story prey upon Elisa’s young mind and try to convince her that First Nations peoples are drunkards and losers. Interestingly enough, the climatic point of the book for me was when the American Indian Movement (AIM) were the only people who offered her effective protection and support. In both my own personal story and Elisa’s story it seems that the people who were abused the most by the Canadian government and RCMP were rescuers who had a deep understanding of structural racism. Thus, in my experience I know there is a lot of respect offered to people who reflectively consider their role as an overt oppressor and work towards making a profound change to expose racist corruption and to engage public conversations about historic and contemporary racism in Canada.
Elisa’s account of the Heritage Front’s involvement in the global context is what I consider to be one of the most profound aspects of her literary contribution. She explains that the white supremacist movement was directly tied to Khadafy’s regime. Most people would not understand, know, nor even heard of this. The Libyan dictator seemed to adore the Canadian white supremacist movement, most likely due to anti-Semitic ideology. Khadafy was responsible for inhumane treatment of Jews in Libya, like his predecessors who implemented laws that identified the Jews as a race, and then systemically abused them. To most people this is shocking to learn about, but those who have an intimate history with violent right wing doctrine and networks know that there are many relationships forged in the name of anti-Semitism. I argue that the core thread of right wing ideology is the fictionalized Jewish conspiracy that the world is led by an alleged ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government). Most people do not understand the historical roots of the information they are taught that leads to anti-Semitism. Elisa’s autobiography reflects that indeed, anti-Semitism is at the core of the white nationalist movement.
Elisa tells us that Ernst Zundel had a young Orthodox Jewish boy, David Cole, visit him every couple of weeks. This broaches that very important misconception people have of the white supremacist movement. What most people believe about neo-Nazi, and white nationalist, networks is not the way these groups actually function. Hitler’s Nazi regime had many alliances with Japan, some Muslim militias and other armies; all of which were anti-Semitic at their core. Moreover, the current right wing extremist network is fraught with seemingly contradictory connections that confuse most people, until they learn how these ideological threads of anti-Semitism operate as alliance vehicles. These are an insidious and very real threat that threads extremist and terrorist organizations together all around the world. Elisa offers her insights into the inner workings of the Heritage Front and how this CSIS funded domestic terrorist organization was connected to a global network of anti-Semitism.
The white supremacist narrative at its core is anti-Semitic and is built upon a legacy of racist stereotypes that blame Jews for the problems of the world. Scapegoats are necessary because the ideology of the extreme right wing is built upon deception and coercive information that does not withstand the application of progressive critical lenses. The archaic racist science and ideological lineage of the far right wing doctrine is reinforced by contemporary mainstream belief structures. This can be seen throughout Canadian history and the foundations of the Canadian government. Canada has a long historical function of applying racist social policy, which is still a contemporary mainstay, and relationships with what are now referred to as extremist right wing groups.
Elisa Hategan’s book Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence Service’s Greatest Cover-Up offers an invaluable perspective that does effectively counter all of the hate she previously promoted.