Kevin Potvin thought he could run for the Green Party in Vancouver-Kingsway during the next federal election, take on the hated David Emerson and win a seat in the House of Commons. Holy shit, he was way off.
Instead, the publisher of The Republic and owner of Magpie Books and Magazines on Commercial Drive got slammed in every newspaper in the country, got hundreds of death threats and got bumped by the Greens because of an article he wrote five years ago called “A revolting confession” about 9/11 and America’s devastating imperialism.
Potvin spoke with me in the Italian cafÃ© beside his store and (after probably having watched too many mob movies) wisely sat facing the front door. I tried to find out if the respected Vancouver media were right by painting him as a terrorist. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
ONLY: Are you now, or have you ever been a member of Al-Qaeda?
Kevin Potvin: [laughs] No, I’m so dead against terror for politics. I was opposed to Al-Qaeda when it was created by the US and when they were financing it to the tune of $2 billion in the ‘80s.
ONLY: You do know that you have a beard, right?
KP: It’s shaven now. I don’t let it grow. But in all seriousness, I usually find myself in opposition to any group that the US covertly funds, which is what Al-Qaeda is.
ONLY: You got caught in an insane media craze last month for an article you wrote about 9/11. What’s your take now on how it all blew up?
KP: How it exploded in the media was a combination of things. One was what I speak about. Because I’m a member of the independent media that actually owns his own media I am in a position to write whatever I want and I don’t have a boss to answer to. That is the biggest complaint in the professional ranks of journalists today: the pressure from the bean counters and the politically motivated bosses and owners of the papers. And here’s this guy (me) able to spout off without having to clear it to anybody and I think there’s a professional jealousy.
The other thing is it was just a chance to kick somebody at no cost. I was with the Green Party, not one of the big establishment parties, where there may be arrangements and sources that you want to protect.
And lastly, everybody in the media says and thinks what I wrote. I’m totally convinced of that because if you’re going to write in the media, you’re aware of American foreign policy and its crimes in the last century, and therefore understand the point of view that I was writing it from. But you don’t want people to know that’s what you think.
ONLY: Green Party leader Elizabeth May didn’t sign your nomination papers after the story erupted. Were you surprised by her response?
KP: I’m reluctant to throw a match over my shoulder as I’m leaving the party. But I don’t mind offering constructive criticism. I was surprised at how she handled the scandal. They could have known there’s a three-day media cycle on everything. You can have a national leader go on a murder spree, and if you wait three days everyone will forget. One thing she could have done is turn it to the positive. She could have said this party stands for free speech. She didn’t have to agree or endorse what I said, just endorse free speech and say Parliament is a place where people should be open minded.
ONLY: A lot was made about some of the quotes in the article, ‘Go Osama Go’ and [when the towers went down] ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Yeah’. But your article also seemed to touch on a sentiment that a lot of people share, not that it’s condoning or celebrating deaths, but that it was payback against the US.
KP: My article didn’t never even say that, but a lot of people read that into it. But it was and remains a popular sentiment. The task I give myself as a journalist is to reflect and mirror what I hear my community saying. A thousand people told me what they felt about 9/11 and described it in ways well beyond anything I’ve ever written. But that’s the reason why I printed it. All the media was allowing was whether you were more shocked than sad or more sad than shocked, and that was as far as any debate about what you thought of 9/11 went. And here everyone in my community was saying things like ‘payback time’ and that’s why I felt it necessary to write my article.
ONLY: Your article also talked about US corporatism and militarism, but that was never brought up in the national media. Do you think the media has the appetite to go into broader issues?
KP: No, I don’t think that’s the case. If you look at the papers lately there’s more analysis than you could hope for on the Alcoa/Alcan takeover deal. The public doesn’t give a shit whether it’s Alcoa or Alcan because they’re all the same assholes. They can do in-depth analysis, but clearly my example shows that there shall be no discussion of what the perpetrators of 9/11 meant. We will not have an analysis of that. All you can say is that they were all insane, it was totally misguided and they’re heartless.
ONLY: You have suggested a deeper conspiracy about 9/11.
KP: I have wondered in print who may have done it, but like a good reporter who comes across a dead body and five witnesses that have five different stories, I don’t just pick one and say that’s what happened. Because none of these stories make sense and that’s what 9/11 is to me. You can wonder that somebody must have had an ability to make the F-18 interceptor planes stay on the ground an hour-and-a-half after it had been clear that a massive series of hijacking attacks had been perpetrated. All we can say is that we know what we know so far doesn’t hold up. The media is reporting as if this isn’t story, which is totally irresponsible.
ONLY: Has your political career ended before it started?
KP: On a personal level, I’ve been writing about politics a lot and thought I was a tough customer and I have to admit with some humility that I didn’t think it would be this rough and tumble and I might have to admit that it’s a tougher world that I’m prepared to fight. The viciousness scared me off, maybe.
The day I gave an interview with Canadian Press, my phone rang about 800 times. Death threats started coming into my email at a rate of about 50 an hour. Some were signed by Iraqi solider veterans, saying, ‘I’m going to pump my fist in the air when I see your brains dripping off the back of the wall and I’m coming to get you and I see you have a kid.’ I didn’t call the police, but there were cop cars parked outside my house.
With the emails and cop cars, I suddenly hear a voice yelling, ‘Potvin!’ I think I’m going to get it. I’m on my hands and knees climbing around my own house and I peak out the window and it turns out the guy is yelling ‘taxi’. That’s how I’m paranoid I got. That’s not what I’m used to when I think rough and tumble politics. That’s a whole other level. I don’t know if I’m cut out for it. But people are people. It’s the media that [sensationalised the story]. [Vancouver Sun reporter] Peter O’Neil fabricated quotes to make it seem like I was celebrating 9/11.
ONLY: What was the fabrication?
KP: He implied I was apologizing for celebrating 9/11, which implies I was celebrating 9/11, which is the key to whole story. No I didn’t celebrate 9/11. It’s kind of an important quote and it was the one he couldn’t get me to say, because I’m not going to say it, because it ain’t true. So he writes the story anyway, with the fucking quote in there. And I call him on it and he responds that I’m a ‘sociopathic prick’. No [apology] that there’s a bunch of people that want to shoot me. I asked for apologizes and retractions from the Sun and Province because I thought the pro-9/11 and pro-Al-Qaeda headlines were over the top. The deputy managing editor of the Vancouver Sun says, ‘You’ve had your 15 minutes, move on with your life, the rest of us have.’ Move on with my fucking life? Knowing there’s some [US soldiers] that want to shoot me. Move on with my life? What a bunch of fucking dicks.
ONLY: As-Salamu Alaykum.