| 28Feb2009 | Orest Slepokura

The Anatomy of a Riot

The following is a couple of headlines that appeared in two Toronto
dailies on Monday, May 31, in the aftermath of the Allan Gardens riot that
occurred in Toronto on Sunday, May 30, 1965:
Mob Beats 'Nazis' in Park Hate-Riot
[The Toronto Telegram, front-page headline]
...mob shouts 'kill, kill, kill' as it looks for Nazis
[part of Toronto Star headline]

As the headlines suggest, a riotous mob had erroneously attacked some
people whom it believed to be Nazis. In fact, the entire event had more
or less been deliberately engineered from the start, and then suddenly,
apparently, veered out of the control of its organizers. Here's what
It began with a young man by the name of John Beattie. John Beattie
fancied himself a "Nazi." Every Sunday, he would don a Nazi uniform and
swastika armband and, attended by a half-dozen or so bodyguards, sally
forth to Allan Gardens, a park in downtown Toronto.
There he would make speeches calculated to outrage the generally sober and
very levelheaded Torontonians who paused to listen to him. What they saw
and heard was a kind of unintentional parody of the speaking style and
kitschy dress of a made-in-Hollywood Nazi. As Beattie went on with his
harangue, his bodyguard of 6 or 7 young men would stand by, ready to
repulse any attack upon its leader made in reaction to one of his more
provocative statements. Invariably, though, any attacks on Beattie
consisted of the usual invective from a few of the passers-by.
After a while, Beattie's Sunday afternoon performances amid the bucolic
park scenery became routine; he and his small band of followers joined
other weird characters that streamed through the park on weekends: some
laidback hippies, fervent soabbox preachers, and colourful street people.
Still, there were those for whom the Beattie bunch was no laughing matter.
In the week leading up to the riot, the Toronto news media carried many
alarmist stories describing a "Nazi rally" to be held on Sunday, May 30,
at the Allan Gardens in Toronto. Inspector Harold Adamson of the Toronto
Police would later blame the riot, in part, on the media for spreading
false news stories; among them stories reporting the Nazis had been
granted a municipal permit for a public meeting in the park, and that a
significant number of Nazis was expected to turn out for the event.
The truth was no such permit had been issued, and the "rally" was nothing
different from what the Beattie bunch had been doing ever since the warm,
spring weather set in: a group of six to eight young men (10 at most)
strutting and posturing in a city park, with its leader playing to the
peanut gallery. Where and how this story of a forthcoming "Nazi rally"
orginated is unclear. Somebody must have been purposefully feeding someone
"a line," as they say.
Nevertheless, in response to the misleading news stories the activist pot
began simmering in Toronto's large and influential Jewish community. On
Saturday, the day before the expected "Nazi rally," the Toronto Globe and
Mail reported [May 31] that "more than 30 Zionist and other Jewish
organizations had met to plan a protest at the announced Nazi rally." The
result of it was a large crowd numbering 5,000 strong thronged to the
Allan Gardens to confront the Nazis. This also included a mob, estimated
by the press at 500, who arrived at the park wielding bats.
Meanwhile, as he did every Sunday, John Beattie--like some absurd
character invented by novelist Kurt Vonnegut--put on his homemade Nazi
uniform and swastika armband and headed for the park. This time, though,
he was all by himself. His bodyguards were nowhere to be seen. They had
presumably done the smart thing and were hunkered down somewhere, out of
sight. So Beattie went on alone.
Already, by mid-afternoon, the bat-wielding mob of 500 had attacked and
beaten several innocent bystanders. They included Charles Thompson, a
Pentecostal preacher, and a tiny group of out-of-towners who had come to
the park to find out what all the commotion there was about. The latter
were surrounded and knocked down, punched and kicked by the mob shrieking
"Kill them! kill them!" It was, as the press would later report, an
unfortunate case of "mistaken identity."
As for the uniformed John Beattie, his identity as a Nazi sympathizer was
unmistakable, of course. Naturally he, too, was mobbed and beaten upon
his arrival. Luckily, there was a police presence of some 50 officers who
intervened in the nick of time. It probably saved his life. Beattie, not
surprisingly, would turn out to be the one and only Nazi sympathizer to
show his face at the park that day.
In the aftermath of the riot, Toronto Police Chief, James Mackey, royally
ticked off by the episode, made his feelings plain: "This was a
disgraceful action by the mob, the most disgraceful thing I have ever
heard of. To go down in the numbers they did, in the way they did, trying
to take the law into their own hands..." The Chief added: "They [i.e., the
demonstrators and especially the mob] were poorly advised, whoever advised
them and whoever told them to go down..."
Press reports described the mob as being composed mostly of Jews and, par
for the course, several civic and rabbinical leaders gave their own spin
to what had "really" happened. They suggested the Sunday riot had been an
"emotional" outpouring, a spontaneous and almost "reflex" action. Read:
the bitter fruit of a terrible provocation by the Beattie bunch.
Rabbi Abraham Feinberg adopted a fatalistic view of the event [The Globe
and Mail, May 31]: "This was bound to happen," he said. "The fault lies
with the lawmakers who have been paralyzed by philosophical debate. The
best answer is to set about passing laws to prevent the spread of hate and
to prevent hate meetings..."
One observer was even moved to profess an unabashed admiration for the
rioters. The Globe and Mail's May 31st article included a statement by
Phyllis Clarke, the leader of the Communist Party of Metro Toronto, in
which she declaimed: "I think this was a magnificent display of the depth
of anti-Fascist feeling in our city." But something more deliberate than
merely spontaneous feelings was at work here.
I said at the outset the event had been deliberately engineered, and it
was. In the fall, several of Beattie's former bodyguards informed the
newsmedia that they had infiltrated Beattie's "movement" as agents working
for the Canadian Jewish Congress and a Communist-dominated "anti-racist"
faction known as the "N-3" group. Three of Beattie's old comrades appeared
as guests on the CBC Radio network's "Don Simms Show" on October 20, where
they made a number of significant revelations on air.
Ronald Bottaro and John and Chris Dingle admitted to working for the
Canadian Jewish Congress and the N-3 group. The total membership of
Beattie's "Nazi Party," they said, was ten in all; of whom perhaps three
may have been true believers. The Rhodes Avenue home where the group's
headquarters was located had been acquired with the help of the Canadian
Jewish Congress and chosen as the site because of its centrality. That is,
it had been located where it could be used to provoke a reaction. The
nominal down payment on the house had been made by another, albeit much
older, bogus Nazi--also in the employ of the Canadian Jewish
Congress--named Henrick Van Der Windt. The whole thing had been a huge
Should you read again the above paragraph, you will note that Bottaro and
the Dingle brothers speculated that perhaps only three of the 10 "Nazis"
who were members of the Beattie bunch "may" have been true believers. It's
even possible that John Beattie--even so, more nutzi than Nazi--was the
only true believer among them.
After he recovered from his injuries, the young man dropped out of sight.
And remained out of sight for a decade or two. John Beattie was last seen
in the 1980s attemping to join the British-Israel Federation, a group that
believes the Anglo-Saxon people of the British Isles are among the true
descendants of the Israelite tribes of the Mosaic period. It is a
denouement Kurt Vonnegut would have relished.

Orest Slepokura