Watch: A window into Canada's far right
The Globe and Mail
They come from all walks of life: tradesmen, soldiers, a student teacher, a financial analyst, an aspiring lawyer, among others. And they are in every province, in communities large and small. They gather on the internet to strategize and seek pathways into mainstream politics. They are anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, sexist and racist. They are young and radicalized. They are the new far right in Canada.
The Globe and Mail has obtained a trove of 150,000 messages posted between February, 2017, and early 2018 that reveal the private communications of a loosely aligned node of Canadian right-wing extremists. The record of their continuing conversations reveals a movement, energized by the rise of white ethnonationalism in the United States, that aims to upend a decades-old multicultural consensus in this country.
The discussions reviewed by The Globe and Mail originally took place on a text-and-voice application called Discord, an app meant for gamers that is also popular with the far right. The group called itself the Canadian Super Players, apparently to disguise themselves as video gamers.
This is good, it looks more like a generic gamers chat, which in the current year is probably better
We wiz incognito an sheeit
Axe in the Deep 2/8/2017
WE WUZ affected by GAMERGATE
Axe in the Deep 2/8/2017
anyway yes this chat is about GAMING and GAMING ACCESSORIES, especially about meeting up in real life to PLAY VIDEO GAMES, and ensure that we can propagate VIDEO GAMES across the country.
The messages were given to The Globe and Mail by Montreal-based anti-fascists, who infiltrated the chat room in order to gather information on the far right and disrupt their activities.
The discussions celebrate Nazism and joke about the Holocaust. They contain boasts of racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour on the part of participants. Many of the in-jokes and memes the members share resemble those propagated by the far right in the United States and Europe.
While the news media traditionally avoid publishing such offensive and inflammatory material, in order to prevent giving extremists a platform, The Globe has chosen, for the sake of transparency and accuracy, to reproduce a limited number of examples of the ideas expressed in the online discussions. The selection omits the most gratuitous slurs and images, but the result is a disturbing portrait of a virulent subculture that speaks in a graphic, hate-fuelled vernacular.
The size of this particular group discussion is modest, at 180 users. But its members do more than simply engage in online talk. They meet in person, spread propaganda and encourage each other to recruit and expand the movement. They purchase weapons and discuss training. They have also attempted to join, influence and volunteer for Canadian political parties, usually adopting a restrained and more palatable guise.
White nationalism has become a growing concern around the world, especially in its extreme and violent forms. Last month’s terrifying attack on mosques in Christchurch, N.Z., in which 50 people were shot to death and 50 more injured, and which were livestreamed by the alleged killer on Facebook, ignited a worldwide surge of anxiety about the simmering threat of white-nationalist terrorism. David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), said earlier this month that his agency is increasingly preoccupied by the threat of right-wing extremists.
His remarks came shortly after Facebook banned a number of people, including former Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy and Canadian white-nationalist campaigner Kevin Goudreau, for promoting organized hate. Other internet giants are also feeling pressure to crack down.
The threat of white nationalism, and the failure to denounce it, has become an increasingly pressing political issue. Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has been criticized for attending the same United We Roll rally as Ms. Goldy, and for failing to specifically mention, in his initial statement, that the Christchurch attack targeted Muslims. Mr. Scheer has called the criticism baseless and said that he condemns all hateful ideologies, but the criticism continues. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Mr. Scheer of not doing enough to condemn racism and extremism, a signal that the Liberals may seek to make this a ballot-box issue in the upcoming election.
Regardless, it is evident that an internet-based extremist subculture has spread across the globe. What to do about it is an urgent question, both for politicians and for the leaders of some of the world’s biggest social-media companies. The group chats reviewed by The Globe provide rare insight into who and what is behind this movement, and serve as a sober reminder that Canada is among the global breeding grounds of hate.
Not long ago, the far right seemed a negligible force. In 2014, CSIS declared on its website that right-wing extremism was not a significant problem in Canada. In part, that lack of concern reflected a view of the far right as self-defeatingly fractious. Groups tended to spring up – and disappear – with regularity, often destroyed by infighting. They were dismissed as an ineffectual rump of high-school dropouts who couldn’t effectively organize anything.
According to Barbara Perry, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and a leading expert on the far right in Canada, the threat of far-right violence here is often underestimated. Between 1985 and 2015, her research shows, roughly 120 violent incidents in Canada could be attributed to far-right groups and individuals. That compares, she says, with a relative handful of incidents that can be attributed to Islamist-inspired suspects, who tend to draw far more intense scrutiny from police and intelligence agencies.
Among the most horrific examples in recent years were a deliberate attack on police in New Brunswick in 2014, in which three officers were killed; and a shooting at a Quebec City mosque in January, 2017, that left six people dead. In both cases, the men convicted of the killings had been radicalized online.
Dr. Perry says that the makeup of the far-right ecosystem has also been changing: Over the past four years, the number of groups associated with the far right in Canada has, by her count, roughly doubled, from about 120 to more than 200. According to Statistics Canada, in 2017 alone the number of reported hate crimes jumped by 47 per cent from the year before.
And numbers tell only part of the story, says Dr. Perry. Skinhead and neo-Nazi groups comprising, for the most part, socially marginal members of society, have been supplemented by a new cohort whose recruits tend to be better educated and better off financially. They are also better organized, and are willing to embrace a range of new tactics.
George Ciccariello-Maher, an American academic and outspoken anti-fascist, told The Globe and Mail that anonymous platforms – such as the Discord server reviewed by The Globe – are part of a crucial radicalizing stage for today’s alt-right, a term he uses to differentiate the current generation of white nationalists from previous ones. “Anonymity, as we know, goes all the way from this level of basic recruitment and outreach in the alt-right, to the organizers and activists themselves,” he says.
For Dr. Ciccariello-Maher, infiltrating the communications infrastructure of the far right is an important step in stopping the movement’s rise. “The communications network,” he argues, “is an essential part of the war that needs to be carried out against them.”
In a statement, Discord said that its rules specifically prohibit the promotion of hatred, calls to violence or any illegal activity, and that it investigates and takes action against any reported violations. It added that it does not read each of the billions of messages sent on Discord every day, because it respects the privacy of its users; instead, Discord says, it relies on human and computer intelligence to bring violations of company guidelines to its attention.
The overarching goal for many in the Canadian Super Players chat group was the eventual creation of a white ethnostate. In the meantime, one aim was to begin slowly gaining a foothold in a range of institutions and professions, including law, education and the military.
One member described himself as a graduate student and an active far-right recruiter with a keen interest in grassroots political organization. Another said he worked in a small Ontario city at a blue-collar job where he was trying to gradually increase his “power level,” or overt racism, to convert his co-workers to his world view. A third was a middle-aged father who bragged that his teenage children seemed to be adopting his attitudes.
Yet another, who went by the online moniker Dank, described himself as a University of Toronto graduate who was now training at another institution to become a teacher. Like other members of the group, he took care not to reveal his name, but he shared an image of what appeared to be course material with the logo of Nipissing University in North Bay, Ont.
He said that at one point he was working as a student teacher at a school with children in Grades 6, 7 and 8, whose ethnic makeup was almost entirely white. “It’s the ethnostate basically,” he wrote.
Dank told the online group that he was using his position as a student teacher to influence young minds. He described one classroom scene in which the students were learning about the Second World War and the Holocaust. “In a moment where the actual teacher wasn’t in the room, I casually asked them their thoughts and opinions,” he wrote.
The children, he continued, generally saw the Holocaust as “really bad,” but one of them asked why it had happened. Dank asked the young girl, “What was the point of the train cars and the deportations if it was just to kill them all?” He then encouraged the students to look into it on their own if they were curious.
When I was in my placement in a small school back in the fall, the kids were given a book of holocaust fiction to read
in a moment where the actual teacher wasn't in the room, i casually asked them their thoughts and opinions
there was a lot of casual 'it seemed really bad' kinda comments but with no real emotion to it, but one girl asked the "why" question and that apparently the book didnt explain it good enough
i just told her it was a really complicated issue that would 'take hours of lecture' to explain, but i asked her "what was the point of the train cars and the deportations if it was just to kill them all?"
she fucking froze in place and admitted she had no idea
but I gave a pretty basic "my guess is because of the forced labor for the war effort, since they were working in the camps, but I encourage you to look into it on your own if you're curious"
that way I'm delegating research to her and not telling her anything
Dank told the online group that he hoped his charges would stumble upon the same sources that he did in his formative years. When he was in high school, he said, he had a history teacher who “always spoke about ‘the Jews’ and used a funny voice referencing them.” Such actions had persuaded Dank to research the Holocaust himself, which ultimately led him down a rabbit hole of Nazi-sympathetic websites.
He also said he made sure to use a discussion of Indigenous identity to explain to the children that they were white and European. One girl asked if that was racist.
“She didn’t react negatively when I told her you are European and white and there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” he wrote.
“I told one kid of what Toronto is like … sometimes, not only are you the only English speaker, but you’re also the only white person,” Dank wrote.
He was adamant that the far-right movement required a presence in the teaching profession, because, as he put it: “we absolutely need to have our guys in the institutions.” He said he thought he had a good chance of remaining undercover, although he was worried about getting too close to any colleagues, lest they betray him.
“l’ll play their game and recite what they want to hear,” he said, adding that he was “acing the diversity class because I know all their narratives.”
He implored his peers: “We can’t just give over education to the people who hate us.”
RUSTY WITHIN THE RANKS
Although the Canadian Super Players forum was populated mainly by fairly young men, a handful of older participants were influential in defining its goals and strategies.
One man, who went by the online handle Rusty and who described himself as an experienced member of the Canadian Armed Forces, was seen by other members as a leader and his advice on training, weapons and tactics was sought after.
Rusty told his friends in the Canadian Super Players group chat that he had joined the Forces in 2007 and trained as a field troop engineer. At the time of his 2017 postings, he said that he and his wife were living in Nova Scotia and gearing up for the arrival of triplets. He was planning to leave the army and start a new life, raising his children in an “ethnically pure” area near his family home in British Columbia.
Rusty described his time in the Forces with fondness, but also with evident disgust at what the army, in his eyes, had become: “We spend more time taking classes about how to not offend special snowflakes than we spend time training, shooting, in the field or on deployment.”
He encouraged group members to join the reserves in order to benefit from training in firearms and strategy. Several members of the group posted messages indicating they had either done so or were considering it.
A number of current and former Forces members have been tied to the far right in recent years. In 2017, Forces members who also belonged to the anti-feminist, all-male group Proud Boys disrupted an Indigenous-led protest in Halifax. Among the founders of La Meute, the largest far-right group in Quebec, are military veterans. In media interviews, Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance has admitted that extremism is present in the Forces – and has said he is determined to stamp it out.
The perils of sending racist members of the Forces into the field was starkly driven home by the scandal that led to the dismantling of the Canadian Airborne Regiment following the racist killing of a Somali man by Canadian soldiers during Canada’s deployment to Somalia in the 1990s. Rusty described his own foreign deployment in a way that suggests he was part of the disaster response in Nepal following the earthquakes there in 2015. He described the locals as “shitskins” and said he used the clothes of the dead as toilet paper.
He also described an incident in Canada in which a Jewish military colleague complained that Rusty and other soldiers were being anti-Semitic. Rusty said he responded by arranging several handguns in the shape of a swastika on the Jewish soldier’s desk.
Women could also be his target. While discussing his relationship with his wife, Rusty declared that women should have a say only in what’s served for dinner and what’s planted in the garden.
He also described how he and fellow soldiers punished a female colleague for having the temerity to join the Forces: “We eventually started putting tons of pure salt in her boots. Rotted the skin off her feet. She properly became unable to walk and had to be carried everywhere.”
Whether those incidents occurred or not and whether his behaviour was ever discovered by military authorities, is, in the absence of a surname, difficult to verify using official records. The Globe spoke to several military members in Nova Scotia and was unable to corroborate his account.
But the views Rusty expressed online clearly had an influence on the younger members of the chat group, many of whom seemed frustrated or insecure about their relationships with women. Both they and older members, some of whom were married, appeared to see women’s larger purpose as helping to fulfill “the 14 words,” a far-right phrase calling for the protection of the ostensibly threatened future of the white race. The slogan was coined by American white supremacist David Lane, a member of the terrorist group The Order.
Like the others in the chat room, Rusty yearned for a Canadian white ethnostate. He and the others talked eagerly about RaHoWa, or the Racial Holy War, the day when whites would rise up and take back what was, in their view, rightfully theirs from non-whites and feminists in Canada. When members asked which guns to buy in preparation, Rusty – who described owning seven firearms of his own – pointed them to sturdy, reliable weapons that could be used for hunting as well as defence. It was the deer hunters, he said, who would survive a societal collapse.
In an e-mail response to questions from The Globe and Mail about radical elements in the ranks of the Forces, spokesman Derek Abma said that the organization takes a strong stance against hate.
He said recruiters are trained to spot and flag applicants whose suitability is questionable, and that when complaints are made about the conduct of serving members, such complaints are investigated. “Hateful ideology threatens operational integrity and undermines the unwavering trust and cohesion required between our members,” he said.
Mr. Abma added that, since January, 2017, there has been one administrative review related to extremism and that it led to a member of the Forces being expelled; there were also five reviews related to accusations of racism and, in one of those cases, as well, a member was expelled.
EXPLORING CONSERVATIVE PARTY INROADS
In early 2017, members of the Canadian Super Players chat group set out to make their mark on mainstream politics. Their vehicle for doing so: the leadership race of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The first candidate they rallied behind was Kellie Leitch, who was proposing screening immigrants for cultural values. When her leadership campaign stalled, they moved en masse to support Maxime Bernier.
One person in the chat room, who went by the name of Cyrus online and who described himself as a law student, said he attended a Bernier event in March, 2017, and described the politician “dog whistling pretty hard. He mentioned western values and western civilization a lot.” But Cyrus was less persuaded by Mr. Bernier’s libertarian policies and was unhappy that he did not take a stronger stance against asylum seekers crossing the border on foot.
A few other chat-room participants praised Andrew Scheer, but the consensus was that Mr. Bernier was the better bet. Dank, the student teacher, even expressed dismay that he couldn’t cast more than one ballot for Mr. Bernier.
After Mr. Bernier was defeated by Mr. Scheer in May, many in the group expressed their frustration with a broader political process that delivered no candidate worthy of far-right voters. One chat-room member, a high-school student in B.C., used a slur to describe Mr. Bernier as a puppet “designed to make Conservatives complacent over the destruction of our country by giving us a few virtue signals here and there.”
And yet, there remained a recognition that turning their backs on mainstream politics was not an option. One member wrote that “Bernier had perks, but I don’t think he was going to save us either. We have to work inside the party and change people one way or another.” Another member put it this way: “We need to dedicate our movement to gaining power through party politics.”
Their first aim was to shift the Overton window, a term used to describe the ever-changing limits of what is considered acceptable public debate. They reasoned that if they could pry open that window further – and push those limits to the right – their own views might not so easily be dismissed as reprehensible.
The record of their discussions ends before Mr. Bernier announced the launch of his breakaway People’s Party of Canada in September of 2018. (Neither the party nor a representative of Mr. Bernier responded to requests for comment.)
Before that, however, members of the group had targeted Conservative Party events to try to recruit young white men into their online group. Members especially encouraged each other to attend the Hamilton Conservative Christmas Formal in December, 2017, for “recruitment purposes.”
A few days after the function, new users introduced themselves as having been invited to join the Canadian Super Players chat room while they were at the formal.
A VOLUNTEER WITH A DOUBLE LIFE
In the fall of 2017, Adam Strashok was working for Jason Kenney.
Alberta’s Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties had recently merged, and their leaders – Mr. Kenney and Brian Jean, respectively – were competing to see who would lead the new United Conservative Party, and, eventually, the province itself. Mr. Strashok was running Mr. Kenney’s call centre and its team of volunteers.
And keeping busy with other matters, too. On Oct. 28, the very day Mr. Kenney was elected party leader, Mr. Strashok posted anti-Semitic and anti-migrant messages in the online chat room.
The previous July, Mr. Strashok had derided Mr. Kenney himself. Under the pseudonym GuyNumber7, he called the politician “such a cuck” – a favourite alt-right slur for men deemed to lack backbone – because he had criticized Canadian neo-Nazi Paul Fromm on Twitter. Mr. Strashok also encouraged the others in the chat room to attack Mr. Kenney’s tweet.
A month after that, and shortly before he joined the Kenney leadership-campaign team, Mr. Strashok applauded the actions of a man who had killed a woman by driving his car into a crowd of counterprotestors during the Unite the Right white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
In the chats obtained by The Globe, GuyNumber7 also made himself out to be an important figure in the neo-Nazi movement in Calgary: He described his work “vetting” individuals who wished to join the ranks of the city’s alt-right and wrote about how he had hosted alt-right activists from elsewhere in Canada. He claimed, as well, to have started a “big catch-all Canadian alt-right [Facebook] group.”
Somehow, despite all that, Mr. Strashok managed to keep his public and private identities separate. He maintained an alias-free blog site where he posted about Canadian military procurements; and he was a part of the Conservative Club, and the student-run firearms club, at the University of Calgary. By all appearances, he was a fairly run-of-the-mill conservative.
That façade began to crumble in the fall of 2018, when an investigation by Ricochet Media revealed that Mr. Strashok was helping to manage Fireforce Ventures, an online store that sold coded white-supremacist symbols in the form of military-surplus gear.
That revelation, in turn, led to the unmasking of his involvement in various pseudonymous online accounts. Mr. Kenney said he was shocked and disturbed by the reports of what he called Mr. Strashok’s “hateful and extreme” online activity. He cancelled Mr. Strashok’s party membership and said he had asked the party board to develop a screening process for those seeking to join.
All of Mr. Strashok’s known social-media profiles have disappeared since his identity was revealed. The Globe was unable to reach him for comment.
A MEETING IN THE WOODS
Even as they shared prejudices, gripes, conspiracy theories and dark strategies, most of the chat-group members had never met in person. But in the spring and summer of 2017, they were ready to take things face-to-face.
Renting a cottage near Algonquin Park in Ontario, they planned to spend a few days in July together in the woods. They called the gathering “Leafensraum” – an amalgam of leafs (their slang for “Canadians”) and lebensraum (the Nazi policy of territorial expansion).
Leafensraum was taking place at a significant time. Donald Trump had been in office for a few months by then and had energized the group. The alt-right was, however tentatively, moving from an online subculture to what it envisioned as a more street-fighting, real-world movement. In the United States, demonstrations were taking place in such liberal strongholds as Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore. This was the alt-right’s moment, members of the chat group surmised and they wanted to capitalize on the momentum, in Canada.
Nearly 40 members showed up at the event, according to a podcast that was recorded on site. They came from all over the country, with the biggest contingent arriving from Montreal.
Some of the organizing was done by a member who went by the online handle LateofDies – and whom watchdog group Anti-Racist Canada has identified as Athan Zafirov – and by Gabriel Sohier Chaput, a neo-Nazi known online as Zeiger. (Mr. Zafirov could not be reached for comment.)
They brought plenty of food and booze, sparred with one another and made big breakfasts after long nights of drinking. They made speeches, too, filled with hate for their perceived enemies and engaged in long conversations that by all accounts only radicalized them further. When one of the podcast hosts yelled to his audience that the weekend was a “huge deal,” one audience member shouted back: “Sieg Heil!”
As their recorded podcast wore on, members became increasingly intoxicated, drinking moonshine supplied by Rusty, the Canadian soldier, and slurring their words. They talked about the Quebec City mosque shooting, referring to it as the “holomosque.”
As their sojourn in the woods ended, the administrators and leaders of the group promoted everyone present to important roles in the Canadian Super Players chat room.
IN THE WAKE OF CHARLOTTESVILLE
The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, 2017, marked a turning point of sorts for the online group, some members of which attended the two-day event. On the first of those days, some hailed the event itself, and the images of a torch-lit march of white nationalists, as a huge success.
But the mood shifted on day two, after James Alex Fields Jr., who had previously espoused white-supremacist and neo-Nazi beliefs, drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and prompting police to shut the protest down. Talk online turned to failure, against a backdrop of a broader collapse in the far right’s street-level activities.
A week after Charlottesville, SLUG2, one of the founding members of the chat room and a host of the white-nationalist podcast This Hour Has 88 Minutes, announced a change in tactics. “I personally want to ask everyone not to use swastikas or other obvious National Socialist imagery [publicly],” he wrote to the group. “We are not changing any of our beliefs or opinions, just how we present publicly. Sorry.”
We want to do a minor re-brand of the alt-right. I personally want to ask @everyone not to use swastikas or other obvious National Socialist imagery (publicly). We are trying to become more mainstream of an ideology, and in the eyes of the normie, Natsoc imagery is pure evil. While the vast majority of the alt right disagrees with what the average normie believes, we need to keep in mind that we are nothing without numbers. We are not changing any of out beliefs or opinions, just how we present publicly. Sorry.
He was not alone in his call for circumspection. Many felt that the group, and the broader far-right movement, needed to appear less extreme if they were to gain widespread acceptance.
Dr. Perry, of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, describes the shift as typical of that segment of the far right that dubs itself the alt-right – and which presents itself as closer to the mainstream than it really is, avoiding, in particular, racially charged language.
But however segmented the movement may be – and, historically, the far-right in Canada has been fractured – members of the online chat group appeared to be building ties with far-right organizations across the country.
One member seemed to be organizing with the Calgary chapter of Blood & Honour, a neo-Nazi group with a history of violence. Mr. Zafirov, the co-organizer of Leafensraum, claimed to be a high-ranking member of real-world “identitarian” formations, including the white-nationalist group ID Canada (formerly Generation Identity). Identitarian groups have been in the spotlight recently because the accused shooter in the Christchurch mosque killings had made a donation to a European wing of Generation Identity, which has led authorities in Europe to open investigations into their activities.
A few months after the Charlottesville rally, Mr. Zafirov described a shift, not unlike that advocated by SLUG2, in the strategy of Generation Identity (as it was then still called), saying it would become less “edgy” in order to appeal to a more mainstream Canadian demographic. He told the Canadian Super Players group that Andrew Anglin, the creator of The Daily Stormer – the largest neo-Nazi website in the world – was also moving in this direction. “We are on a crusade against bad optics,” Mr. Zafirov wrote. “Think of it as the clean image wing of the movement, we believe there’s some value and historical success behind the strategy.”
But not everyone agreed with the more sanitized approach: Many in the online group said they were suspicious, in general, about less extremist branches of the Canadian far right. They disliked the Proud Boys, for instance, for being too friendly with Jews. Some also castigated La Meute due to its ties with the Jewish Defence League. (One member, though, who went by the username FriendlyFash and who was identified by the Montreal Gazette as Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald, claimed he worked as La Meute’s anglophone recruiter.)
Although members berated far-right individuals whose public persona was less extreme than their politics, they occasionally made an exception for people who had a large following. Ms. Goldy was among those exceptions.
Ms. Goldy is a Canadian media commentator who was fired from Rebel Media for speaking on a Daily Stormer podcast at the Charlottesville rally. She ran for mayor in Toronto in 2018, and received 25,000 votes. This month, she was banned by Facebook for promoting hatred. Members shared her tweets and discussed her value to their movement, lauding her for speaking “the 14 words.” In their eyes, Ms. Goldy knew her “place” as a woman in society and could be held up as an example.
When contacted by The Globe, Ms. Goldy said she is not a white nationalist or neo-Nazi; nor, she said, does she associate with them.
The chat-group members extended a similar détente to University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, a famous and outspoken critic of academic orthodoxy, the use of gender-neutral pronouns and incursions on free speech.
One member wrote of the professor: “He’s not 1488 but his ideas are valuable for the movement.” (The term 1488 refers to “the 14 words” and to the HH of Heil Hitler, H being the eighth letter of the alphabet.)
Canadian Super Players members also spoke of using the professor’s events as venues for recruiting. Mr. Zafirov posted a link in the chat room to a Peterson event at the Manning Centre in Ottawa, saying, “This might be worth attending for recruitment and networking purposes.”
Another online member, who went by the name Orwelliandoublethink, wrote that he was at a panel discussion on the topic of free speech at which Prof. Peterson was appearing. Ms. Goldy was initially on the panel, but was excluded after her appearance on a far-right podcast.
Orwelliandoublethink, who was messaging the group during the event, said he was about to ask the panel why Ms. Goldy was removed. He later shared a link to a video of the exchange, in which Prof. Peterson and the other panelists say Ms. Goldy had become too controversial and could detract from the discussion.
In the chat, Orwelliandoublethink referred to the video as, “My question to Peterson that made the Daily Stormer yesterday.” The neo-Nazi website had posted the exchange.
Two people who spoke with The Globe identified the young man asking the question in the video as Jesse Sanderson, whom they had known from his high-school years in Toronto. Mr. Sanderson did not respond to several attempts to contact him.
RADICALIZED FOR THE REAL WORLD
The chat room and its conversations exist in a digital world one step removed from reality, which can make it difficult to assess the threat they represent. But the participants were also taking concrete steps in their communities to advance their political aims; the chat room emboldened and encouraged them, and gave them a place to report their progress and be held to account.
There have been several examples of online radicalization leading to lone-wolf attacks in recent years. The gunman in the New Zealand massacre posted a 74-page manifesto on social-media platforms and in an online forum, outlining his hatred of Muslim immigrants in Europe, and his admiration of American white-supremacist movements. U.S. prosecutors said that Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people at a South Carolina church in 2015, was self-radicalized online. The man accused of killing 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year had posted dozens of anti-Semitic messages on social media before delivering a final post that read, “Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
In the Canadian Super Players chat group, it was often the younger participants who were most eager to take some kind of real-world action. The outward signs could be mild – a student who criticizes political correctness or who puts up posters that defend Western civilization. But the discussions behind those actions reveal a troubling, insidious process of radicalization.
In the fall of 2017, a spate of postering campaigns around the University of Toronto campus attracted attention on social media and the student press. The posters carried a simple but provocative slogan: “It’s Okay To Be White.” The thinking behind that slogan was articulated in a post that appeared on 4chan, the image-based internet forum, which called for followers to distribute such posters as part of a co-ordinated North America-wide effort to spread white-nationalist propaganda.
“5 words. Simple, elegant, effective. The plan is working. Stick to the plan. There is no phase 2,” the 4chan post read. “Work at night. Work with hoodies and sunglasses. Work quickly and move on.”
On Nov. 1, Orwelliandoublethink wrote, “We hit a good amount of the U of T campus on St. George,” referring to a main thoroughfare that runs through the university. He shared several photographs of the posters. (That same week, a small group of young men were photographed by anti-racist activists at the U of T campus. One of the men in the photographs was identified by anti-racist activists and bloggers as Mr. Sanderson.)
Orwelliandoublethink said had been active in the free-speech movement while he was a student at the University of Toronto. When someone in the chat forum asked why there were so many racists at the university, he replied, “U of T is where white men go to have their dreams crushed by a Marxist professor who is likely Jewish.”
After the postering foray, members of the chat room discussed how they hoped that some people who saw the posters, and who would otherwise be averse to a white-supremacist message, might regard the five-word slogan as reasonable. They talked, as well, about how they hoped the media would inadvertently spread their message.
Similar posters were plastered on campuses across the country, including at the University of Alberta, the University of Regina and the University of Victoria. Soon after, the group shared links to articles in newspapers and on Reddit threads that discussed their handiwork. Participants were excited by how their dog-whistle campaign had gained such coverage: “Bigger and bigger papers are publishing. Like dominoes. Hopefully we’re just getting started.”
It was not only on university campuses that the chat group found, and encouraged, student members.
In the fall of 2016, shortly after Mr. Trump won the U.S. presidential election, a student at a Vancouver high school wore a Donald Trump mask to school. Mr. Trump’s victory troubled many students and teachers at the school, and the student wanted to provoke them.
Going by the pseudonym National Traditionalist, he told fellow members on the Canadian Super Players chat group that he “hated” his high school and most of his peers, using epithets to describe gay people, trans people, immigrants and refugees in his classes. He said he resented living in a multicultural society. He blamed “Jewish lobbyists” for the decision to open Canadian immigration to “non-whites.” Perversely, he claimed to enjoy reading about Indigenous people who had gone missing in places such as Winnipeg.
Over the course of the year-long group chat, he also revealed a lot about his life. He came from a “normie liberal household” in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano, a place known for progressive politics. He claimed that his process of radicalization had started early. In elementary school, he said, he wrote a fairy tale that mocked the idea of “the Big Bad White Man.” By the eighth grade, he said, he was questioning everything his teachers and parents had taught him. “My parents were lefties, everyone I knew [were] lefties, but I felt something was wrong,” he wrote.
Then he found the far right online. At age 16, he contacted The Daily Stormer website, and inquired about their meetings. He put together white-supremacist videos for his YouTube channel and alt-right Instagram accounts. Beyond his video-editing efforts, he used social media to propagate his views, including running a white-nationalist Facebook group that ultimately boasted over 4,000 followers.
He even posted to the Canadian Super Players chat room while sitting in his high-school classroom, giving a live description of his heckling of a presentation given by a trans person. He also spread the word the analogue way, printing fascist posters in the school’s computer lab and putting them up in the hallways.
In early 2018, among the final alt-right chats obtained by The Globe, the young man shared a picture with his fellow fascists. In it, 10 young men and one woman pose in front of a large, white house. He himself stands in the middle, holding a company flag which is similar in design to the red ensign. The red ensign was Canada’s flag until 1965 and for many on the far right, a symbol of a time when the country’s population was whiter than it is now.
Beneath the photo, he wrote of how he and some “friends from school went to the [Daily Stormer’s] first Vancouver meeting. Over time I started to organize the book club group” (a reference to face-to-face meet-ups of local Daily Stormer online-forum dwellers). He added that, later on, he “started assimilating other white nationalist groups into it. … We are a strong community called the Northern Order.”
According to Vice Canada, Northern Order is affiliated with the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group that has been classified as a terrorist organization in the United States and been linked to five race-based murders there since 2017.
This past November, the young man posted a picture illustrating his deepening involvement as a volunteer for a B.C. political party. He has also been outspoken on at least one local issue, opposing a measure related to reconciliation with First Nations peoples.
The Globe has chosen not to name the former student, who is now 19, because he was a minor at the time he wrote many of the messages contained in the chat room.
He says he is now a member of the Canadian Forces – there is, in fact, a photo of his swearing-in ceremony on his Instagram account – and is training to be a carpenter.
He denied being the person behind the National Traditionalist account, and described himself as a “Canadian patriot who wore a Trump mask as a joke. It is unbelievable you would accuse me of these things. I am not a racist or extremist.”
He added, “If you want to know, I joined the Army to serve.”
Shannon Carranco is a freelance journalist whose work on the far right has appeared in the Montreal Gazette and the National Post.
Jon Milton is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Montreal Gazette, the National Post, Ricochet, Rabble and the Media Co-op.
Editor’s note: (April 29, 2019) An earlier version of this article incorrectly said a young man was holding the red ensign. In fact, he was holding a company flag which is similar in design to the red ensign.