A Montreal man accused of fomenting hate against Jews testified in his own defence on Tuesday, arguing that the blog post at the heart of his trial was a “joke” designed to upset people who are “politically correct.”
Gabriel Sohier-Chaput, who went by the online moniker Zeiger, is facing one count of wilful promotion of hatred in connection with a post from January 2017 on the far-right website Daily Stormer. Sohier-Chaput, 35, has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of two years.
He told the court Tuesday he wrote or did research on between 800 and 1,000 articles for Daily Stormer beginning in 2016, including part of the blog post for which he is facing trial.
“We need to make sure no SJW (social justice warrior) or Jew can remain safely untriggered,” the post read in part. “Non-stop Nazism, everywhere, until the very streets are flooded with the tears of our enemies.”
Sohier-Chaput testified that he chose wording that was “exaggerated” and “poetic” in order to mock people who he felt were too sensitive and who branded those with whom they disagree as Nazis.
He said he felt Daily Stormer’s mission was to “disarm the left” through irony, absurdity and humour, adding that a “rational” person would not take its content literally.
“Either they understand the joke and they laugh, or they find it terrible,” Sohier-Chaput testified. “In that sense, the goal is to sap the politically correct by making extreme comments.”
The blog post on the far-right website refers to a 2017 Global News article about Nazi posters showing up in New Westminster, B.C., and about a Holocaust survivor’s reaction to the hateful imagery. The blog post includes racist images and comments about Jews throughout.
Sohier-Chaput said he felt the Global News article was “ridiculous” and “a propaganda article of the left” that amplified a minor event. However, he denied writing some parts of the blog post, which he said were added by Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. He said that included some of the cruder slurs directed toward Jews.
He said Anglin also added the images, captions and an embedded video.
Under cross-examination, Sohier-Chaput admitted that Daily Stormer published many articles that portrayed Jews in a negative light, but he insisted that the website was satirical. He said women, Black people, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community were also targeted for mockery on Daily Stormer, because it was politically incorrect to do so, but he insisted that white males were also targets.
He also denied that his use of the words “non-stop Nazism” would encourage violence against Jewish people, dismissing the existence of modern Nazis as “an invention of Hollywood.”
“People who would be enthusiastic at the area of doing real non-stop Nazism to persecute Jews, do a Holocaust, they don’t exist,” he said. “I’ve never come across that.”
Under further questioning from Crown prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière, Sohier-Chaput acknowledged that some Jewish people might interpret the words as advocating their persecution, but added that “anything can be interpreted in any way.”
At one point, Quebec court Judge Manilo Del Negro intervened, asking Sohier-Chaput: “How can you find something like Nazism funny?” The accused said that a lot of humour stems from playing a character that is “exaggerated to the absurd,” citing Homer Simpson as an example.
The charge against Sohier-Chaput came after a B’nai Brith criminal complaint in May 2018 — the same month a series of articles in the Montreal Gazette described him as a prominent neo-Nazi figure in North America.
On Monday, Lafrenière argued in court that Sohier-Chaput alone authored the short blog post.
Two Montreal police cybercrime unit members testified that day to having found hundreds of articles online with the Zeiger pseudonym listed as the author. Neither police officer, however, could definitively say whether the blog post in question had been edited or modified by someone other than Sohier-Chaput.
Sohier-Chaput was the only witness called by the defence team. The case returns to court Friday for closing arguments.