provoking thoughts about the presence of our past

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Lost Soul?

Every few weeks, sometimes for several days in a row, I receive an unsolicited email from a man named "Brad Saltzberg." I'm usually one of about a dozen recipients of his mass emails, along with UBC colleagues or elected officials of various sorts, but sometimes he also sends an email to me personally, addressing me by my first name as if we are acquaintances or even friends, even though I have never actually met him. He has been sending me such messages for years now, and although they come sporadically, I have come to almost expect them, as if I were part of some marketing plan.

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.

SCMP outed Bradley Saltzberg’s use of aliases to attack Vancouver mayoral hopeful Meena Wong; his own group has now disowned him
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 3:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 September, 2014, 8:10pm
One of the most vocal critics of Asian immigration in Canada has been fired from the anti-multicultural group he helped found, after the South China Morning Post revealed he had been using fake identities to promote his agenda.
Bradley Saltzberg, one of the directors of Putting Canada First and its British Columbia regional spokesman, was dismissed for having "unnecessarily harmed the organisation through his inappropriate inclusion of race in his discussions, and his use of any unprofessional email techniques", PCF chairman Paul Bentley said, adding that Saltzberg had acted "deceptively".
Saltzberg has recently been targeting Olivia Chow and Meena Wong, two Hong Kong emigrants who are seeking the mayoralties of Toronto and Vancouver respectively. "Voters need to understand the ramifications of these two running Canada's two largest Anglophone cities," wrote Saltzberg in a recent PCF media statement. "Do voters really want two pro-multicultural, ethnocentric candidates running our largest cities? I don't, and from my direct experience, neither do most Canadians of European origin."
However, the South China Morning Post's Hongcouver blog revealed on September 18 that Vancouver-based Saltzberg had also been using two fake identities, "Pascal Brody" and "Paul Bradley", to send emails to dozens of journalists and politicians in support of his views about Wong, without specifically mentioning any connection to Saltzberg or PCF. Brody and Bradley were not merely pseudonymous email addresses; Brody described himself as a "Vancouver community activist" and Bradley responded to email queries in that name, at which point he suggested a journalist contact PCF because he was "not authorised to speak on these issues".
However, both ceased all communications after the Hongcouver blog asked them directly if they were, in fact, Saltzberg. They offered no denial. When asked about this, and confronted with evidence that Brody had been sending photos taken with Saltzberg's smartphone, Saltzberg claimed that both Brody and Bradley were "real people".
He said he knew both men and they supported his views, but was unable to describe their physical appearance. He said he could arrange for the pair to verify their existence via email, but when asked whether they could instead call or meet in person, said "that's probably not going to happen".
PCF posted a brief statement on its website on Friday: "Putting Canada First B.C. Representative Brad Saltzberg will no longer continue with the organisation, and a replacement will be sought shortly."
In an email, PCF chair Bentley said the group had "disassociated itself from Brad Saltzberg in light of his professional misconduct", although he said in a phone interview that he could not definitively state that Saltzberg used fake identities.
"Brad, who had been a member of PCF for several months, had received prior warning from the group regarding his non-compliance with communication protocols, and for undertaking his own interpretation of PCF policies as it relates to public communications. It is most unfortunate that Mr Saltzberg incorporated his personal viewpoints onto PCF," Bentley said by email.
Saltzberg has been by far PCF's most active member, sending hundreds of media statements on the group's behalf. His views have been widely cited by Canadian media.
Despite Bentley's description of Saltzberg as only a member of PCF, "although we did recently permit [him] to speak publicly as our B.C. Representative", Saltzberg is listed in corporate documents as a founding director of the group.
In his email and a subsequent interview on Saturday, Bentley rejected Saltzberg's linking of PCF's agenda to race and apologised. "Our organisation disagrees wholeheartedly with his personal viewpoints in this context, and his approach to act in any way deceptively," Bentley wrote.
"As a relatively new organisation, we are striving to ensure quality control with our members. This can sometimes be challenging, but we are creating safeguards to ensure that incidents like this do not recur," wrote Bentley, who is based in Hamilton, Ontario.
Saltzberg could not be reached for comment on his dismissal. However, in an interview last week, he said: "OK, I got it. No more fake identities, then." He later denied that this amounted to an admission he had employed such tactics.

Anti-multicultural group is pro-Canada, not racist, says chairman
Putting Canada First is a non-profit political organisation that has dedicated itself to challenging Canadian multiculturalism and large-scale immigration. 
Although the ousted British Columbia director of PCF, Brad Saltzberg, had vocally championed the rights of what he called “CEOs”, or Canadians of European Origin, in his media statements for the group, its chairman Paul Bentley said it was not the group’s intention to single out any race.
Bentley said by phone on Saturday that PCF opposed multiculturalism and the current scale of immigration to Canada, although it was not opposed to all immigration. It was not pro or anti any race but was pro-“Canadian culture”, he said. “I would like people to think that we are a very reasonable organisation, and that we are very reasonable people… We’re very Canadian in our approach,” Bentley said.
The group also advocates increased transparency in Canada’s trade negotiations.
He said PCF was primarily involved in conducting research, and that Saltzberg’s widespread media activities had “gotten away from us” and created an “understandable” but false impression that Saltzberg was the group’s primary participant.
Corporations Canada records show that the group was only officially incorporated on March 14 this year, with Saltzberg, Bentley, Dan Murray and Jacob Rivers listed as the founding directors. However, Bentley said the group had been working unofficially for a few years prior to Saltzberg’s involvement, and that its active membership numbered more than 100.
In a letter to Vancouver’s North Shore News in July, Bentley said it was inaccurate to suggest that PCF was invoking a “European Canada”. “We support a ‘Canadian Canada’, and we are not interested in creating European ethnic enclaves in Canada any more than we would support Filipino or Iranian enclaves,” he wrote.
Ian Young in Vancouver