The Anatomy of a Riot

Published: 1996-01-01

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 happened.

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 soapbox 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" originated 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 charade.

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 attempting 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.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): The TransCyberian Express
Title: The Anatomy of a Riot
Published: 1996-01-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 15, 2000, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
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