Warning: This story contains strong, offensive language.
After a series in the Toronto Star on the growing national threat of right-wing extremism—garnering an admission from the Canadian military that neo-Nazis are indeed in uniform—Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledged the department is taking the issue seriously.
“I trust in the Canadian Armed Forces leadership and the chain of command all the way through to make sure everybody does their part. That’s how the military functions,” he said.
Even in the midst of a recent VICE investigation exposing the alleged identity of a Canadian reservist as a member of the neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen Division, the government still has no concrete plan to tackle the issue of far-right radicals in its ranks, comprehensively.
The thinking is, at least according to General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s chief of defence staff, who told the Toronto Star that right-wing extremism is tough to spot: “it is not as visible, not as many complaints coming from inside the Forces about it. It’s quite easy to hide.”
But VICE has uncovered more evidence—gleaned from open sources accessible to the Canadian military—of neo-Nazis planning military infiltration to learn combat skills via the reserves.
For the record, internal documents coming out of CSIS (Canada’s national intelligence agency) once debated the significance of the threat from far right extremist groups, questioning the extensive reporting of VICE Canada in the process.
A trove of chat posts dating from 2015 to 2017, obtained from the now defunct IronMarch website—an online forum once boasting itself as a sort of fascist Facebook and main neo-Nazi chat site—gives key insights into Canadian members of the neo-Nazi haven and their view of the military.
In a 2015 post one user with the name “Nikolajević” (written in Serbian cyrillic), who brags about carrying knives to stab “commies” and advises others to track leftist protesters to their homes, claims to be a member of the Canadian military.
“Recently, I joined the military here,” he says.
“Ah, another fascist in the Canadian military,” replies AlbaNuadh, who VICE alleges is actually former Canadian army reservist Brandon Cameron.
Months later, in 2016, Nikolajević goes onto encourage other Canadian members of the site to join the reserves, “its fun, volunteer-only for deployments and they give you a solid 8K to get yourself educated.”
In between vile insults against LGBTQ people, Jews and people of colour, several members on the site openly discuss using the reserves to gain a necessary physical and military pedigree to serve their far-right ambitions.
“I have gone on runs recently, and am going to get a gym membership. I plan on joining the Army's reserves while I'm in college, so I can get some combat training under my belt,” says a site user calling themselves ‘The Anglicizer’ in his introductory post. Soon after he declares, “Jews are filthy vermin that must be removed by any means necessary, and faggotry is one of the greatest sins a man can commit against not only nature, but God himself.”
The same year, another member named ‘Chris’ from Saskatchewan who is a self-avowed fan of Naziism, says he’s “a student right now studying Comp sci,” but plans on “joining the reserves.”
Another user rejects joining the military because of his “shit eyesight” and the participation of the forces in “ZOG wars” (an anti-Semitic acronym meaning, ‘Zionist Occupied Government’ alleging a global Jewish conspiracy to promote American expansionism), but admits he really wants to learn how to “OPERATE.”
To “operate” is a military slang term thrown around on IronMarch with regularity, roughly meaning the ability to properly soldier and kill with weapons. It also has roots in the gaming community and on backwater sites like 4Chan.
The barrier for entry into the Canadian reserves is unsurprisingly low. By its own admission, members are only required to commit “one evening a week, one weekend a month” of service, which would involve basic weapons training. In fact, the Canadian Army Reserve plans on, “reducing the recruitment process to a matter of weeks” to build off of the already 18,500 current reservists, to the goal of over 21,000 by 2020. In essence, the reserves can provide an ambitious neo-Nazi with the basic soldiering skills they seek, but without the risk of being exposed as a far-right sympathizer given the short training stints on weekends and not the months to years long exposure to fellow soldiers you’d expect in the regular forces.
Ryan Scrivens, one of Canada’s leading scholars on the far-right, told VICE that right-wing extremists have historically joined the Canadian military and he believes they are currently in the ranks. It’s worth noting in the early 90s a former member of Canada’s now defunct Airborne Regiment gave secretive paramilitary tutorials to Heritage Front—a now defunct neo-Nazi organization—while others had credible accusations against them of being white supremacists. Soldiers from the same regiment tortured and executed a 16-year-old Somali teen named Shidane Abukar Arone during a peacekeeping operation in 1993.
“A number of Canadian former right-wing extremists who I’ve interviewed have noted that, within the Canadian military, there are distinct neo-Nazi and racist skinhead groups operating across the country and training for what they believe is a future race war,” Scrivens said.
“Oftentimes they hide in plain sight, behind a cloak of anonymity. The military offers them a façade of legitimacy. It offers them a place in which they can prepare for the race war.”
A current active-duty serviceman in the Canadian military, who was not authorized to speak to media, told VICE that while far-right views aren’t pervasive in the forces, they certainly exist.
“I wouldn’t say it’s at all pervasive, but I’ve seen those views espoused by some people. Higher ups go to great lengths to clamp down on it,” they said, indicating at least four individuals they’ve encountered in uniform who adhered to hardline, far-right politics.
“I think it would be extremely difficult to make it anywhere in the military and have militantly right wing views. Our chains of command are extremely sensitive to the optics and operational effects of military members espousing far right rhetoric and have worked hard to clamp down on even mainstream right wing views. We’re presented more progressive arguments than most civilians are, and can face consequences for failing to adhere to that line.”
In the US, the historical affiliation between white supremacy and the military is well pronounced both past and present. Besides the matter of the entire Confederate army during the Civil War, Timothy McVeigh—the infamous Oklahoma City bomber—was an infantryman who served in Operation Desert storm.
For its part, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) says it’s taking the issue seriously.
“Discriminatory conduct is not tolerated in the CAF,” said CAF spokesperson Dan Lebouthillier. “The CAF is committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination within the organization, and to ensuring that all current and potential members are treated with dignity and respect.”
“CAF members are forbidden from participating in groups or activities that promote hatred, violence and/or discrimination… It cannot be stressed enough that any action promoting hate or intolerance goes against our core beliefs and is not tolerated.”
While that cloak of secrecy hiding neo-Nazis in uniform seems to be known to the upper brass of the CAF, what they’re doing to directly deal with it remains to be seen.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.