A homicide suspect who allegedly sent photographs of a swastika armband and a Hitler Youth knife to an online friend was not a Nazi sympathizer, but he did think the memorabilia was “cool,” says his father.
The photographs also show Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, in military fatigues, holding an Airsoft replica rifle and wearing a gas mask.
The man is a suspect along with Kam McLeod, 19, in two homicides in Northern British Columbia.
Alan Schmegelsky said that his son took him to an Army Surplus store eight months ago in his hometown of Port Alberni, B.C., and that Bryer was excited about the Nazi items there.
“I was disgusted and dragged him out,” Schmegelsky said. “My grandparents fled the Ukraine with three small children during the Second World War.”
The teens are charged with second-degree murder in the death of University of British Columbia botany lecturer Leonard Dyck and are suspects in the fatal shootings of Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, all in Northern B.C.
The search for the two men is focused on the thick and boggy forests of northeastern Manitoba.
Despite his son’s fascination with the items, Schmegelsky said he didn’t believe Bryer identified as a neo-Nazi.
“He thought he was Russian. Germans are their enemies,” he said.
But Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, wonders why someone who relates to Russia and communism — as has been reported elsewhere — would covet Nazi items.
‘Swastika represents one thing’
“That really doesn’t hold water when he’s full-on wearing a swastika arm band and has swastika-emblazoned weaponry,” said Balgord. “There is clearly some neo-Nazism thing going on here.”
“The swastika really only represents the one thing today and that is white supremacy. It’s hatred targeting primarily Jews, but all sorts of other people. The Nazis did not only target Jews in their genocide.”
Balgord said the sale of neo-Nazi memorabilia is fairly widespread, but not widely discussed in Canada.
The RCMP announced they are investigating the photos, although the context is unclear.
Balgord said, to the best of his knowledge, no one in Canada has ever been prosecuted for selling neo-Nazi memorabilia, however he believes the case can be made that it constitutes a hate crime.
“There will be a legal argument that these materials do contravene some portions of our law like the willful promotion of hate propaganda or hate materials, given what the symbology represents,” he said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Duncan, B.C., resident Thomas Elliot, who’s been trying to get the Cowichan Used.ca website to stop selling what he considers hate material.
Last year Elliot noticed Used.ca was hosting the sale of a replica Nazi knife that is almost identical to Schmegelsky’s.
Photos on Used.ca highlighted the multiple swastikas on the handle and sheath.
‘Glorifying inherent racism’
“The original may have some historic value, but since a replica is simply produced for the sole purpose of making money and glorifying the inherent racism of World War II Nazi Germany, then that is in fact worse than selling the original items,” said Elliot.
Used.ca told Elliot the knife didn’t contravene company policy.
Other Nazi material is for sale on the Cowichan Used.ca website by the same person who sold the knife. Elliot remains bothered that a website is not only promoting the material, but profiting from it, too.
A Used.ca spokeswoman declined a request to be interviewed.
Meanwhile, the mystery of where Schmegelsky obtained the Nazi knife appears to have been solved.
The Port Alberni Army Surplus he took his father to has shut down. But according to The Canadian Press, all its merchandise was sold to “A” Company Military Surplus in nearby Coombs, including the Nazi material.
Alfred Bergkvist, owner of “A” Company, said he didn’t recognize the red Nazi armband, but that his store does stock Hitler Youth knives identical to the one in the photo.
He recalled that two boys came into his store about three weeks ago and bought one of the replica knives inscribed with the German words for “blood and honour.”
“They were really excited about it,” he said, adding he didn’t know whether the pair were Schmegelsky and McLeod.