Nick Cooper’s anti-racist Tweet after he painted over graffiti in Chilliwack on Aug. 3 went viral, receiving more than 350,000 likes in four days. (Twitter)

B.C. man’s Tweet about painting over racist graffiti goes viral

Once a member of hate groups himself, Nick Cooper’s simple message had 350,000 likes in four days

When Nick Cooper painted over racist graffiti under a bridge in Chilliwack last week, he never imagined his simple action would be shared in a viral Tweet that would go around the world.

Then there is the irony that 20 years ago, Cooper thought and said some of the very words expressed in that racist graffiti.

Cooper responded to a social media post by a Progress reporter who stumbled across the carefully drawn counter-clockwise swastika under a Eagle Landing Parkway bridge over a creek. The image was surrounded by a rant about white pride, a confusing rant rife with spelling errors and grammar mistakes.

Cooper saw that post and said to himself, “someone should cover that up.”

“Then I said, hang on a minute, I’m preaching to myself. I’ve got a tin of paint and a paintbrush and I’m not doing anything.”

So off he went in search of the offending work. After a phone call to narrow down the location he found it. He covered it up and, by request, took a photo of himself with the tin of paint.

Then he posted the original image of the graffiti and the two photos he took on Twitter, all with the simple message: “Goodbye racist graffiti not in my town thank you”

Active on Twitter, Cooper didn’t think much more about it going to bed Friday night. He woke up Saturday morning for his weekly ritual of watching English football, only to think his phone had been hacked.

“I had 33,000 notifications,” he said. “It just blew up. I couldn’t believe it.”

Then 33,000 became 50,000 then 100,000 then 200,000 then 300,000. By Tuesday at 3 p.m., his Tweet had 352,000 likes, it had been retweeted 78,000 times and there were 1,700 comments.

Comments such as: “Whitewashed” and “You’re doing great sweetie” and “Nice one, Nick,” were left along side dozens of other supportive messages, invites to barbecues, many notes with memes and gifs, even some in German and French and other languages.

He said there were a handful of negative comments, some from extremists and some from those thinking he was trying to promote himself, but “99 per cent” were positive.

Painting over some ignorant words is one thing, but part of what sparked Cooper to act was the number 88 written in the swastika. That’s code for “Heil Hitler,” the eights referencing the letter H, the eighth letter of the alphabet.

“The white power movement uses 88,” he said. “That to me said it was more than someone who scrawled some racist graffiti. It was someone knowledgeable, it had taken some time to do that.”

And Cooper should know. In the 1990s growing up in east London, he started joining hate groups fully on board with the same white power message represented in the Chilliwack graffiti.

Then, in the year 2000, his wife was in labour and they went to the hospital. He was his regular, angry self looking to ensure only white doctors and staff took care of them. But then his wife’s labour went wrong, his unborn baby was in distress, and his wife was sent for an emergency C-section.

And there he was, a racist extremist holding his wife’s hand while a doctor of Indian descent and an Afro-Caribbean nurse delivered his daughter.

“They saved their lives,” he said. “And that just blew me away. Then when they took my wife and baby away and I was alone and the nurse, who I had been very rude to, brought me a cup of tea.”

He apologized and she told him to think nothing of it.

“That little bit of compassion that she showed me when I least deserved it, it just changed my entire life,” Cooper said.

He began the not-simple process of disentangling his life from hate groups. He managed to break away and then they moved to Canada, to Yarrow, where he found himself on the other side of the coin, an “other,” an outsider arriving here to be treated so very well by the Chilliwack community.

Then he found a group called Life After Hate. Founded by former violent extremists they focus on countering hate and discrimination and helping people leave these groups. Cooper said others in the movement have similar revelatory moments such as Brad Galloway, a former skinhead from Toronto whose life was saved by a Jewish doctor.

In addition to Life After Hate, Cooper is involved with Inclusion Chilliwack, a Facebook group focused on increasing diversity and acceptance in Chilliwack, particularly focused on the LGBTQ community that has been a target in recent months. Specifically, Inclusion Chilliwack members have been vocal in response to the homophobic actions of those opposed to SOGI 123, which is a provincial education resource designed to help young people and limit bullying of LGBTQ youth in schools.

Cooper was there with a sign and T-shirt supporting inclusion in November 2017 to counter those at a rally hosted by the alt-right group Culture Guard to support Trustee Barry Neufeld who has expressed his opposition to what he calls the “radical cultural nihilists” looking to take over the school system.

• READ MORE: Neufeld will run again on ‘gender positive’ platform

• READ MORE: BCTF files human rights complaint against B.C. school trustee over LGBTQ comments

Once involved in the very hate-filled movements he is now opposing, Cooper had a change of heart and now wants to spread the message of diversity.

“Now I’m trying me best to bring light out of darkness,” he said in his thick English accent. “Because that was a very dark time in my life. My message is, don’t do that because it it’s wrong. Everyone deserves to live a life in safety.”


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19 test tube. (Contributed)
test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health launches online booking for COVID-19 tests

Testing is available to anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms

100 Mile RCMP Staff-Sgt. Svend Nielsen. (Patrick Davies photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
RCMP responded to 212 calls in first two weeks of October

B&Es, bears and mischief on the list of reports

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Siblings Ash Patterson and Kaimarra Patterson (left) take to the skies with Ursula Hart on Oct. 1. (Photo submitted)
Youth take to the skies with 100 Mile Flying Club

The grand Junior Kids Fly Day was grounded, but students still got a chance to get up in the air.

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Volunteer registered nurse Stephanie Hamilton recieves a swab from a driver as she works at a Covid-19 testing site in the parking lot at Everett Memorial Stadium on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
13 more COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

There are 624 cases in the region since the start of the pandemic

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

Most Read