I'm sharing this story in two parts, because it shows the two sides of Stockwell Day's extremism.
That he is a small minded, despicable little man, is beside the point. Knowing that he is not only in government, but holds an important cabinet position, should be of concern to all Canadians.
Following is part two. Part one can be read here.
Bentley, Alberta: Hellfire, Neo-Nazis and Stockwell Day
A two-part look inside the little town that nurtured a would-be prime minister - and some of the most notorious hate-mongers in Canada
Part 2: The Neo-Nazi connection
In Part 1 of Bentley Alberta: Hellfire, Neo-Nazis and Stockwell Day - Gordon Laird's feature on the town that helped shape the Canadian Alliance leadership hopeful - Straight Goods looked at Day's evangelical roots and his connection to the controversial Accelerated Christian Education program. In Part 2, Laird looks into Bentley's Neo-Nazi ties.
Just as the Bentley region had more faith than it sometimes knew what to do with, it certainly saw more neo-nazis than most sleepy rural towns. Keegstra made international headlines in 1983 when he was dismissed for teaching "Jewish conspiracy theory as if it were fact" to hundreds of Eckville students over an eight-year span.
After unsuccessful appeals to win back his job, Keegstra wound up in criminal court in 1984, charged with a federal hate crime. He was convicted in 1985 after a sensational trial that revealed a central Albertan community torn by racism - and a trenchant defendant supported by a rag-tag collection of anti-Semite activists, "free speech" advocates, and self-avowed neo-Nazis.
Bentley resident Jim Green was an old Social Credit insider who'd been running - and losing - in federal elections since 1972. Green was also a formidable scholar and fundamentalist in his own right. When Keegstra got into trouble Jim Green phoned up to give him some practical advice: "'You should keep your mouth shut,' I told him," he recalls of Keegstra's outspoken and unrepentant ways. "I said, 'Would you consider losing your life over it?'" "He said, 'So be it.' - I said, 'Me too.' So that's how we got so close."
"I'd vote for Stockwell." - anti-Semitic teacher Jim Keegstra
Together with Bentley native Terry Long and Calgary Aryan activist Tom Erhart, Green and Keegstra formed the Bentley-based Christian Defence League (CDL), a Keegstra fundraising group that pledged "to defend the basic principles of Christianity in this modern age."
In Web of Hate, author Warren Kinsella describes the CDL as "the most extreme anti-Jewish organization active in Canada" at the time. Long would later leave the CDL to become Canadian head of the para-military Church of Aryan Nations. For those familiar with Keegstra's hate crime trial or the CDL, it came as little surprise that young Jim Keegstra came from a strong Social Credit family (like Stockwell Day's father who ran for the Party), attended Bill Aberhart's (the first Social Credit premier of Alberta) Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute, and by 1957, had already joined the party.
And what is to be made of the fact that this extremist who says he has differences with the Alliance candidate on theology still considers Day a political icon? "I'd vote for Stockwell," Keegstra tells me. "Not just [from] knowing him." He quickly dismisses other Canadian Alliance leadership candidates, including Reform Party founder Preston Manning.
"I don't know about Preston," he says with some concern. "Preston went to a Bilderberg [summit] meeting. Rides in a limo with Conrad Black. [He's] hobnobbing with the New World Order." Manning, says Keegstra, is too close to the "Jewish World Government" conspiracy.
Keegstra remembers meeting Day first in 1983. "I knew he had the gift of meeting people and of getting along with people," says the former schoolteacher from his home in Red Deer. "So when I heard that he was getting into politics, I thought he'd found his chosen path."
"I worked on Stock's cars all the time," says Keegstra, recalling chats they had in 1984 about freedom-of-speech issues and Keegstra's upcoming hate trial. "I discussed the topic with him."
He says that they differed on matters of theology, noting that Stock's church favoured prophetic doctrine that favoured "the Jews as God's children." Green says he knew Stockwell Day "pretty well" through the garage and the Bentley Christian Centre. "He came to the garage - said he wanted to be one of the first ones in there when Keegstra opened his garage." He says he didn't know Day's politics at the time.
"As far as I know Day didn't support the CDL - but he liked Jim Keegstra." Green, who now lives in B.C. claims Day corresponds with him. "Usually if you write to an MLA you get a form letter, but when you get a four page letter back, you know he's listening. And the handwritten one's too. I know he's reading my letters - but nothing that could be used against him, you know. You gotta read between the lines."
Few Canadian politicians have a rap sheet of gaffes as long as Stockwell Day. When he won his first election in 1996, his acceptance speech was full of ambitious moral prescriptions that had nothing to do with his new job as a provincial legislator.
He "railed against homosexuals in the armed forces and pornography," reported the Red Deer advocate at the time. "He called for harsher penalties for violent crimes, and attacked other issues that belong in the federal domain."
From early on, Stockwell Day had big aspirations. "As a Christian, I acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ over the whole universe," explained Day in 1998, in response to a gaffe made against single-parent families. "I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God and every word in it, cover to cover, is true."
With this literalist belief in the Bible comes some unusual ideas that rarely gather press.
As one educator made notes in an informal presentation Day made in Red Deer during 1997, the Treasurer claimed the following things to be true: 1) The earth is 6,000 years old; 2) Adam and Eve were real people; 3) Humans and dinosaurs co-existed; and 4) There's as much evidence for creation as evolution. The educator declines to be named because he believes Day to be vengeful and worries that a public comment could affect local school funding.
Around Keegtra's Bentley garage, fundamentalism was the common thread: in learning how to love God better, some of these men somehow learned how to hate, too. Day and Keegstra might not agree on Christian eschatology or conspiracy theory, but the fact of the matter is that Stockwell Day won the respect of men who have, more or less, decided that everyone is against them. Not just because Stock is a local boy done good, but because, as Jim Green put it, "he's a good Christian." Green and Keegstra attended a few 6am prayer meetings that pastor Day led for local menfolk.
"I realized that Mr. Day had a certain quality: it is the knowledge and experience in his life - from his Dad, too," says Green. "The people in North Red Deer [where Day was elected provincially in 1986], the Christian people, they liked what he stood for and talked him into moving there," says Green. "He was always pushed: people wanted someone with strong principles. I paraded [protested] with Day and his people in front of a school in Red Deer - against sex education." Self-avowed libertarian Gary Botting describes Day as a friend. "Stock and I would pick each other's brains," he recalls. "Politics, a lot to do with education, a bit to do with what was going to happen with Keegstra. I found him very much down to earth."
Botting is a fascinating figure: despite articling with Doug Christie as a lawyer in 1991, by 1996 Botting had completely disavowed Christie's "anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi agenda," as he put it. Throughout the 1980s, Botting prepared briefs for the local RCMP about the activities of Keegstra, Long and other members of the far right. But at the same time, Botting maintained extensive correspondence with - and sometimes hosted - insurgent racialists from the Western Guard and the American Anti-Communist Federation.
In 1991, Botting championed the case of Howard Pursley, a 250-pound Texan neo-Nazi - in his bid for political refugee status. His dismissal from Red Deer college was based in his controversial support of Keegstra - as a civil liberties case - and his own curious attempt to bring Keegstra's favorite book, The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, into his own college classroom.
Nevertheless, Botting remains convinced that his motives were pure and that both he and Day were above the repugnant but legitimate views of the Christian Defence League. "Day was concerned about the notion of free speech - the principle of free speech of where I was coming from. He understood. Not everyone did." Botting is emphatic: "Day didn't buy into Keegstra's anti-Semitic platform at all. Put it this way, if it had to be a Christian world - God help us - you'd want Day there."
(Gordon Laird is an award-winning journalist and author of Slumming it at the Rodeo: the Cultural Roots of Canada's Right-wing Revolution, Douglas and McIntyre. This feature originally appeared in Toronto's NOW magazine).