The Canadian Forces says it is investigating allegations that active members of the military are running an online army-surplus company that caters to white supremacists by selling clothing and other items glorifying the short-lived and white-ruled African state of Rhodesia.
“With regard to the members involved in FireForce Ventures, we have recently received new information and are looking into it further,” the military said in an e-mail on Monday.
Ricochet, an online media organization that says its mandate is to promote cultural diversity and investigative journalism, published a story earlier in the day that says Calgary-based FireForce Ventures is run by two reservists, Henry Lung and Ryan Jorgenson, and one full-time member of the military, Kyle Porter. All are stationed in Alberta.
When Ricochet initially approached the Canadian Forces about the possibility that soldiers were involved in selling racist materials, it says it received a response saying the chain of command is aware of the website and “there is no violation of the code of conduct.”
But the military apparently determined subsequently that there is a need to investigate further.
“Any improper action, objectionable act or comment that demeans, belittles or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment is considered a failure to adhere to the standards of professional military conduct and may result in administrative and/or disciplinary action,” said the e-mail to The Globe and Mail. “This can include removal from the Canadian Armed Forces.”
FireForce Ventures did not respond to a request for comment.
The site offers a wide range of military apparel from many countries – Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria to name a few.
But it says it was “founded by a few guys in Canada who initially just wanted to get their hands on some Rhodesian brushstroke camouflage.” And Rhodesian apparel, flags and other paraphernalia feature prominently among the merchandise it offers.
Rhodesia, which has been Zimbabwe since 1980, declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965 in an effort to preserve rule by the white minority. Fireforce was a military tactic used by the Rhodesian security forces during the Rhodesian Bush Wars in which the government tried to suppress black-led militias and maintain a segregationist state.
In recent years, Rhodesia has become a symbol of the white-supremacist movement in the United States.
Dylann Roof, who killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, wrote a manifesto called “The Last Rhodesian.” And slogans including “Make Zimbabwe Rhodesia again” and “Be a man among men”, which was a recruiting pitch of the Rhodesian army, have become rallying cries for hate groups.
Instagram has blocked the hashtag #makezimbabwegreatagain saying it violates its rules against hate speech.
FireForce Ventures has posted a disclaimer on its website saying it does not attempt to make any political or racial statements with its product.
“FireForce Ventures is comprised of a diverse team from many different races, religions, political and sexual orientations,” it says. “We reserve the right to refuse service and sales to customers for any reason, including being the member of an identifiable hate group.”
But one of the operators who calls himself Hank, and who is among those identified by Ricochet as being a Canadian reservist, has written “agreed” over a posting that says “Make Zimbabwe Rhodesia again”. And one of the site’s offerings is a “Be a man among men” poster.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he was asking for more information about the online store.
Any racist behaviour “diminishes the ability for the Canadian Armed Forces to function,” said Mr. Sajjan, “and I’m very happy that the Chief of Defence Staff takes this extremely seriously because we are conducting more operations around the world. And Canadians expect anybody in the Canadian Armed Forces to put their uniform on to uphold the values that we hold so dear in Canada.”