I have never bothered to answer his emails, since they rank in my cataloguing of the 100s of emails that I receive each day in the same category as fake Viagra ads and other email scams. I considered using my spam filter to send his emails to oblivion, but for some reason I never actually pushed the virtual death button to consign him and his furtive missives to electronic oblivion. At first, I thought it was because I was curious about whose email addresses I would appear alongside in these odd emails--who was the "group" that I belonged in at that particular moment as he railed against Chinese language signage in Richmond, or the enemies whom seemed in his mind to be destroying Canada by allowing non-white immigrants into the country. I'm not sure if the other recipients ever played this game of "Who am I in league with now...?" but it was at least a small entertainment. When you aren't actually in any real life cabals stalking the dark back rooms of power making secret plans to destroy the world, it is at least a small vicarious thrill to be imagined by "Brad" to be all-powerful and worthy of targeting. I would never consider hate mail a compliment, but at least it was a momentary respite from my own busy schedule to see whom else my busy little email stalker was also spamming.
After a few years of emails, however, even this little joy wore thin, especially as I began to realize that he really was angry. Occasionally, one of my friends would send me a note letting me know that on one of the blogs that "Brad" writes I had been accused of some thing or another--everything from being a racist against "white" Canadians to being an agent of Communist China. I have been told that some of these accusations would warrant a defamation suit, but his rantings seemed almost quaint and naïve, as if China was still the communist enemy of the Cold War. It was time, I thought, to delete him from my life. I went to my email settings to click the button that would send his messages into my spam filter. But I hesitated again, my mouse click hovering over...what? Why was I hesitating?
I went about my day's business--students, administrative meetings, research discussions--wondering in the back of my mind what had kept me from taking that relatively easy step of ignoring his emails. Was it because he was somehow dangerous and needed watching? Over the last year or so, others targeted by his emails and blogs have begun to become concerned that "Saltzberg" was being taken seriously in newspapers like the Vancouver Sun, as he continued to attack non-white immigrants and to speak for First Nations and Indigenous peoples on what they should want (as far as I could tell he thought that First Nations were as anti-immigrant as he was, while generously granting an exemption for "Euro-Canadians" like him, who really weren't immigrants in his mind...). He somehow managed, surprisingly, to bully SUCCESS into changing its Chinese language information signs--aimed at recent Chinese immigrants--into signage that contained English so people like him could also read about services for recent Chinese immigrants. Maybe he felt it was important that English-only readers could also access Chinese language services.
I thought about whether it was necessary that I add to an already long list of priorities in my life the job of keeping an eye on "Brad Saltzberg." Was that worthy of my time? Wasn't there something better and more productive and fruitful that I could do using the same amount of time that it would take to pay attention to him? After all, I surely could not be the only person in Canada who thought that his rantings were not even worth the effort of dismissing. I hope that the vast majority of Canadians are sensible enough to see through his rambling racism. If not, I reasoned, then the effort lay in having conversations with them, not him.
So why didn't I pull the trigger on sending "Brad" to spam exile?
I realized sometime that evening while playing with my kids that even though "Brad Saltzberg" was not worth listening to, somehow I could not take the final step of electronically ostracizing him because in his own bizarre way, he was a lost soul. He was already wandering in a purgatory, partly of his own making, but also one that had been bequeathed to him by the common history that I continued to share with him, along with all others in Canada that had been affected by our history of racism and white supremacy. He had taken that legacy and created his own deranged version of it--imagining himself one among many in a vast movement, a leader leading an army of redemption and revival. That this army was mainly a figment of his own imagination showed a canny cleverness in using the tools of the internet to pretend to himself and others that he was amongst friends. It was an illusion worth exposing, as Ian Young of the South China Morning Post finally did (a post that I have copied below). But it also seemed a delusion born of self-deception. After giving a cursory reading to so many of his unsolicited emails over the years, I knew that there was also a sad desperation on his part to be recognized, to be considered important. After so long howling alone to the wind, was it so surprising that he should yearn for someone to hear his cries? In his longing to be heard, to be listened to, he had made up his own fantasy friends, a group who would listen to him and discuss the weighty matters that he considered so important.
Perhaps that is why it was while playing with my own young children, who so naturally crave the attention of parents and loved ones, that I realized why I had not been able to exile this lost soul from my email inbox, despite all of the mean and spiteful things he had said about me and to me. There is an angry, lost child somewhere there in those desperate emails. As an adult (and not a child), he should not be encouraged by others giving in to his tantrums. But I have to admit that the lost petulant child behind his rantings makes me feel a sadness and pity for him. I wish that he would find the acceptance and recognition he needs in some other way--perhaps volunteering for a charity, maybe even meeting some of the immigrants that he disdains so much would help him realize that they are fellow human beings and just as much deserving of being treated humanely as he himself is.
I hope that he will find peace somehow. Until then, I can only feel sorry for him, even as I bemoan the ugliness and inhumanity of what he is trying to do.
The original meaning of the word "pathetic" alluded to the feeling of pathos that a person could elicit in others. It has the same root as words such as "sympathy" and "empathy." For me to call "Brad Saltzberg" a "pathetic" figure would probably be misunderstood by many, but there is a way in which that term would not be too wrong a description.
It is ultimately a sad feeling, the pity that we feel for others, even if their suffering is from a world of their own making.
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 3:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 8:10pm