Warning: This story contains disturbing details.
Testifying in his own defense, Nathaniel Veltman detailed a troubled childhood led by a “passive” father and a “religious fanatic” mother, and then a “process of mental deterioration” in the months leading up to the June 6 van attack. 2021. about a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
“I was constantly watching this conspiracy garbage, this propaganda… I was trying to figure out why I was in pain. I didn’t know it was because I was consuming this garbage,” the defendant told the jury in his murder. -Terrorism trial in the Ontario Superior Court in Windsor.
The 22-year-old was the defense’s first witness in the trial that began on Sept. 11 and is expected to last eight weeks.
In brief opening remarks to the jury before his client took the stand, defense attorney Christopher Hicks said: “You will rely on common sense, life experience, your collective wisdom and your human logic. It is an exercise that best done in a rational and dispassionate manner. manner.
“There are two sides to every story. At the moment, there is only the side that the prosecution has presented. They are not yet in a position to draw any inferences or reach any conclusions.”
At the beginning of his testimony, the defendant spoke so quietly that Judge Renee Pomerance had to tell him several times to speak louder so the court could hear him.
Most of the day focused on the defendant’s strict Christian upbringing in Strathroy and his mother, who he said home-schooled him, his twin sister and his four younger siblings. He said his mother isolated him from the secular world and punished him for what she perceived as disrespect and contradiction.
“I hated her,” he told the jury. “I hated my life situation, but I knew how to hide it because she couldn’t show any signs of discontent.”
He said he and his siblings “were told that the school was a terrible place and that there were increasing conflicts.”
“There was an extreme fear of corruption from the secular world, of interactions with other people in the church… I had to learn to be an expert at hiding my emotions and keeping everything inside.”
In the afternoon, Hicks began questioning the defendant about some of the evidence and events that led to the murder of the Afzaal family: the Dodge Ram pickup truck that the defendant purchased in May, a month before the attack, the grill that was on the truck , and the weapons found inside the vehicle after his arrest.
The defendant has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as terrorism charges associated with the June 6, 2021, attack. Defense and prosecution attorneys agree that he ran over his truck to the Afzaal family while they were out for a walk.
Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A nine-year-old boy survived.
Accused says he bought a truck to go fishing
The defendant testified that he bought the truck because he wanted to go fishing with a coworker and thought it would be good to use it off-road.
“I had a lot more money at the time,” he said.
He testified that he bought a grill guard after his co-workers encouraged him to purchase some upgrades for the truck, and that he had gone off-roading with his brother and didn’t want the truck to get scratched.
The defendant also testified about some of the objects found in his truck after the attack.
He said he had the machete since he was 16 because he had seen fights among “tough people” at his high school and was paranoid. A serrated knife was a gift from his parents, another knife was used to cut thread at his job in the warehouse and he had an airsoft gun because he liked to play airsoft games with people he knew from his family. childhood, he said.
Veltman testified that there was little contact with people outside the family while growing up, but there were frequent punishments that included spankings on the bare bottom, writing Bible verses and writing lines.
He said he now knows that some of the ways he coped with the stress of his childhood are common traits of autism, such as making strange noises and biting the inside of his cheeks until they were “destroyed.”
“She didn’t know I had mental problems or that I had autism. She misinterpreted my behavior as being disrespectful,” he testified about his mother.
While his mother reprimanded him, words like “but,” “just,” and “stop” were banned and considered disrespectful and talkative, which would lead to more punishment.
Defendant testified that when he was 10 or 11 years old he attributed what he called his “antisocial and strange” childhood behavior as a product of his isolated childhood and “not being properly socialized.” He found out about something called obsessive-compulsive disorder and thought he might have it.
“I knew something was wrong with me,” he said.
“I was simply tormented because there was something terribly wrong with me. I believed that mental illness was simply the secular world’s explanation for being possessed by demons.”
When he was shown photographs of people burned alive in hell at the age of seven and told not to think evil or violent thoughts, he said, he became obsessed with not having those thoughts, which led him to think about them more.
“I started obsessing about not thinking about violent, evil things. I was becoming obsessed with it. I was stuck in this constant loop. I started suspecting that something was terribly wrong with me, because I was thinking about these things.”
He said that when he told his mother there might be something wrong, she told him it was a spiritual problem.
Any contact with people outside the family was closely monitored, including access to a church youth group, and when the defendant was given access to electronic devices when he was 14 or 15, there was an application installed on the computer. familiar that would trigger an alarm if he accessed something that was prohibited, he said.
When he was finally allowed to go to public high school in the 11th grade, he was socially awkward and didn’t make friends easily, he said.
“My social skills were very bad. I didn’t know what was appropriate to say and I guess in a way it was a culture shock.” He also said he was bullied.
Consuming ‘conspiracy theories’
Veltman said his decline began in September 2020, when he began “consuming a lot of conspiracy theories” online.
“I felt suicidal depression that I had never felt to that extent except briefly when I was 11 or 12,” he said. “I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
He said he watched “conspiratorial garbage and propaganda” online six or seven hours a day, videos about the coronavirus, the New World Order and the reorganization of society. He said that he began to believe that processed food was a biological weapon used to make people passive and docile, so he destroyed most of the food in his apartment.
“I started compulsively destroying the things I had in my apartment,” he said, adding that he got rid of his TV, couch, couch, Playstation and video games in the hopes that purging where he lived would help him mentally.
The Crown has said the murder was a result of the defendant’s far-right ideology, developed during months of online “research” that included watching videos of mass murders and reading white supremacist manifestos left by those killers, even immediately before leaving. from his apartment that night. of the attack.
Early in the trial, the Crown read portions of the defendant’s manifesto, titled “A White Awakening,” which criticized mass immigration, multiculturalism and alleged crimes against whites.
The jury also heard that the defendant took psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, in the early hours of June 5, 2021, about 40 hours before the attack on the Afzaal family.
Defense promises “compelling evidence”
Also testifying during the defense case will be Dr. Julian Gojer, Hicks said.
Gojer is a forensic psychiatrist who will discuss personality disorders, developmental disorders, and substance use disorders, including the use of psychedelics and how they affect people.
“Dr. Gojer is qualified to speak about obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, psychosis, complex trauma and other topics, but most importantly, as you will see, about hallucinogenic substances,” Hicks told the jury.
“You can believe all, part or none of what he says, but I suggest you will find it compelling evidence.”
The defendant is scheduled to continue testifying on Friday.