Murray Long remembers thinking, “The view out the window is beautiful, and yet here I sit, across from my son’s murderer.” It was a surreal moment, he says, recounting how his thoughts churned in the courtroom during the trial of his son’s killer.
In the spring of 2006, two years earlier, Long learned that his 22-year-old son, Stephen, had sustained life-threatening injuries at a house party. Long was at Rothwell United in Ottawa, attending the Easter Sunday service, when his daughter delivered the crushing news. Before Murray reached the hospital, Stephen had been transferred to the morgue.
The night before his murder, Stephen was at a Collingwood, Ont., house party with Christopher Broughton, a 27- year-old whose rap sheet already included 13 assaults.
Broughton, under the influence of alcohol, became so violent that partygoers forced him to sleep in a van parked in the driveway. When he awoke, Broughton flew into a rage, injuring one person and bashing Stephen’s head with a baseball bat while he slept.
Stephen Long’s short life was complicated, as was his family’s grief. Stephen was racist — a fact that his father and step-mother, Peggy Land, had struggled with for years before his murder and would only learn the full extent of after he was gone. When he died, Stephen — a white supremacist and card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan — was planning a party in honour of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Broughton shared similar beliefs. “The crime wasn’t about racism, but you could say it’s about the kind of people who are attracted to racist beliefs,” says Land.
Murray and Peggy would learn just how entrenched Stephen was in the supremacy movement when, three days after the murder, the Ontario Provincial Police confiscated boxes of supremacist material from Stephen’s bedroom in his grandmother’s Ottawa home. Supremacist videotapes and CDs, Nazi flags and T-shirts, as well as about 1,000 anti- Semitic posters were among the paraphernalia. “It was shocking, revolting,” says Long, who would eventually learn that his son was being groomed to be a leader of the Canadian arm of the KKK. “I was amazed at how much Stephen had, how much supremacist video and music was being made,” he says.
While the American Anti-Defamation League puts the U.S. membership of the KKK at approximately 5,000, Ayman Al-Yassini, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, says it is harder to gauge the size of the supremacy movement internationally. Given the number of supremacist websites and groups in Canada, “white supremacy shouldn’t be underestimated,” he says.
As Canada welcomes more immigrants, Al-Yassini is concerned that supremacists may redouble their efforts. Their messages are often cloaked in terms of defending traditional values or equal rights. People of colour are seen as the aggressor rather than the target. “We’ve seen the backlash in many countries that have become more diverse. And in times of economic crisis, supremacists seize the opportunity, mixing their hate propaganda with issues like immigration. They poison culture with an ‘us and them’ mentality,” says Al-Yassini. “Awareness is one of the key factors in addressing this kind of poison.”
At the time of his murder, Stephen had a strained relationship with his parents. “We met in darker bars for dinner rather than in restaurants,” says Long. “I was embarrassed by his tattoos. I would tell Stephen, ‘I love you, son, but I don’t love your beliefs.’ One day he told me that he was ashamed of me because I didn’t stick up for my race. I would try reasoning with him. I couldn’t get through.”
It struck Land that Stephen was in serious trouble when she glanced across the dining room table during his 19th birthday party and saw the word “HATE” tattooed across his knuckles. Shortly afterward, while riding the Ottawa bus that her stepson and his friend frequently used, Land read racist graffiti on the back of a seat. She suspected her stepson’s involvement and decided to call the OPP.
Stephen Long’s supremacist views may have stemmed from an assault that took place five years before his death. When he was 17, Stephen was allegedly swarmed by a group of black males who struck him with a bottle, split his head open and threatened to kill him. He managed to escape, but the perpetrators were never caught. “Of course, not everyone who is assaulted becomes racist, but for Stephen it was a turning point,” reflects Land. “It was hard to get him to discuss what happened. He never wanted to talk about it.”
Gradually, Stephen distanced himself from his family. His beliefs hardened. He shaved his head and bulked up. He scoured Ottawa until he found an artist who would tattoo the confederate flag and “KKK” across the back of his neck.
Looking back, Murray Long says the assault alone didn’t result in Stephen’s racism. “When he was about 19 or 20, an older guy who was obviously deep into the movement would pick him up after work,” says Long. “These guys see young people who have vulnerabilities and prey on them. Now, a lot of recruiting happens on the Internet.”
Richard Warman, an Ottawa lawyer described in an Ottawa Citizen article as “the Canadian neo-Nazi movement’s worst nightmare,” has lodged 16 complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against neo-Nazis and white supremacists for spreading hatred on the Internet. Fifteen cases have resulted in permanent injunctions against respondents to stop spreading hate propaganda, and one is under judicial review.
“Thirty years ago, supremacists handed out cards with a number people could call to hear the hate message or receive one in the mail. That was high tech. Now, the Internet is the main means of communication and recruitment,” says Warman. “Hate-mongers don’t have to fear getting shouted down on a street corner anymore.”
People packed into Rothwell United for Stephen Long’s memorial service. “I looked back and saw Stephen’s friends all sitting in a row. They just looked like boys, lost boys,” says Land. Behind them sat several tough-looking older men wearing black leather jackets. Murray Long says he was too distraught to remember the service, but he recalls giving Stephen’s friends permission to attend.
“They called and asked if they could come. I told them they could, but that they had to behave. They couldn’t salute. They couldn’t wear Nazi T-shirts. They had to wear suits.” Still, he says, some signed the guestbook “See you in Valhalla,” a Norse reference to the afterlife for warriors.
Two years after the funeral, Christopher Broughton was handed a 15-year sentence for Stephen’s murder. Originally charged with first-degree murder, Broughton agreed to plead guilty to second- degree murder after another victim of his brutal rampage testified to having wrenched the bat away from Broughton, who managed to wrestle it back and resume the beating.
Murray Long believes the sentence was fair. “I didn’t want to see him go away for 25 years. I hope he will be rehabilitated. . . . I hold no vengeance toward him,” he says. In his victim-impact statement, Long told Broughton that he knew he would take back what he did if he could.
After the trial, Long and Land began to piece their lives back together. Recently, Land has taken courses in restorative justice, and Long has spoken to police groups about his experience. “We need to recognize that there’s a whole world of hate out there,” he says.
In 2009, Long was a guest speaker at an OPP hate crime and gangs conference in Niagara Falls, Ont. In conversation with the officers, Long learned that the unit had monitored Stephen’s web activity and had even given him a nickname: the gentle giant. “Stephen was about six foot two,” says Long. “He looked quite menacing, but he could be a very sweet, kind and gentle person.”
This story first appeared in The United Church Observer’s February 2011 issue with the title “A complicated grief.’”