Publicly, the president of the Quebec chapter of far-right group Soldiers of Odin called a terror attack against a Quebec City mosque “unacceptable.” However Facebook posts, obtained by VICE News from their private Facebook group, show a different story: The president of the chapter wrote a post insinuating there are aspects of the shooting that members might be “celebrating” as other members blatantly cheered on the massacre.
“What we’re seeing is just the start. The people are opening their eyes. That’s the part we should be celebrating … The people who are waking up are using violence instead of resisting intelligently. What the [Soldiers of Odin] want isn’t violence but intelligence,” reads a Facebook post in French from Katy Latulippe, president of the Quebec chapter of Soldiers of Odin. The posts, to the closed group, were dated the morning after the shooting that left six people dead and many others wounded.
Soldiers of Odin are part of an international movement with ties to neo-Nazism in Finland, and numerous chapters have popped up across North America. The mission statement of the Canadian group claims they seek “to protect the innocent women, children and elderly within our communities…regardless of race, colour or creed.” Members of the group, however, have called for a ban on refugees and immigrants, and perceive Canadian values as under threat from radical Islam. The group has never been tied directly to any hate crimes in Canada.
Latulippe’s post begins with saying she doesn’t approve of violence, although it’s unclear how that is consistent with the rest of her message.
“Gang, I can understand that you’re in a certain way happy to see this kind of thing. Murder and violence are always unfortunate and I don’t approve of this kind of behaviour,” the post begins. “It will be VERY important from now on for you all to be careful about the way you express yourselves on these pages.”
“Of course, as an individual, it’s possible to see this as a predictable consequence. They’re getting what they deserve!!! But this is a war in which innocent people will be harmed. A war started by a cretin who can’t properly govern a country,” the post goes on. It’s unclear whether Latulippe earnestly meant that the victims were “getting what they deserve,” or whether she was saying it in jest.
Others in the Quebec Soldiers of Odin Facebook group appeared to explicitly praise the mosque attack, with one person posting Sunday evening: “Super good news that it’s starting to move!” to which others replied: “finally!!!” and “yes!!!!!!”
“I hate the Islamics (sic) and, as far as I’m concerned, those who did this deserve a medal of honor,” posted another member.
Soldiers of Odin, and others who espouse radically anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric, have been accused of contributing to a political climate that may have given rise to recent acts of hatred and violence, such as the mosque shooting.
Latulippe’s private messages seem to contradict her public statements she made throughout the week denouncing the shootings. And the violent messages from others suggest that the group does attract people who espouse anti-Muslim views.
“I hate the Islamics (sic) and, as far as I’m concerned, those who did this deserve a medal of honor”
“These are murders. It’s unacceptable. Were the people in the mosque armed? No. Those people weren’t doing anything,” Latulippe told VICE News in an interview in Quebec City the day after the attack.
“There are people who say ‘oh you’re against Muslims so you want that.’ We’re far from being against Muslims, that’s why we’re here. Have to show we’re in solidarity with them,” she continued.
When asked by VICE News for comment on the Facebook remarks, Latulippe initially responded in a text message: “I don’t know from where you take this info” and “I wouldent WASTE my Time saiing in front of the camera one thing and then Say another thing !!!.”
But shortly after VICE News sent her the screenshot of her comment, she removed a VICE News reporter from the secret Facebook group and later said in a phone interview that she was paraphrasing others’ statements and not speaking for herself when she said the victims were “getting what they deserve.”
“I’ve been doing media interviews every single night and I haven’t had time to take care of the page. And there are a lot of new people lately,” Latulippe continued. “There are no doubt some negative comments, but I haven’t had a chance to take care of it.”
She also claimed to have misspoken.
“Either you misinterpreted what I wrote or I didn’t choose my words properly, but that wasn’t my objective. My objective was to say that some people might see it that way, but they’re wrong,” she said.
The tension between the Soldiers of Odin’s public denunciation and their private celebration comes in the aftermath of one of the worst mass-shootings in Canadian history. On Sunday, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette is accused of walking into a Quebec City mosque and opening fire, killing six. He has been charged with six counts of murder and five counts of attempted murder in the incident, which the provincial and federal government has classified as a terrorist attack.
According to those who knew Bissonnette, he sympathized with anti-refugee and anti-Islamic ideology, and was inspired by far-right French leader Marine Le Pen after she visited Quebec City last summer. Police sources told La Presse that “what’s happening, politically, in the United States for some time seemed to have an influence” on Bissonnette.
But other comments on the closed Soldiers of Odin Facebook group reveal an internal struggle within the group about the level of violence they will tolerate, underscoring a division over just how far they will go to promote their worldview.
“I was shocked to learn about this yesterday. I’m totally against violence and I would absolutely never engage in it. I see nothing to celebrate in what happened. I hope they hang them by their balls,” posted one dissenter.
Members of other organizations with far-right sympathies also publicly denounced the atrocity at the mosque. Like the Soldiers of Odin, they attempted to rebuff any accusations that they were somehow responsible for fueling an environment that could give rise to this type of violence.
Since the mosque shooting, police in Montreal say they have received more than 28 reports of hate speech and hate incidents. The force has been beefing up their response to hate speech and several people have been arrested over the last few days for their online activities. A spokesperson told VICE News on Wednesday that more arrests could be coming.
“Our worst fear is realized of what the impact of this rhetoric would be and it’s not coincidence [the mosque attack] happened on the same weekend that [Trump] invoked that executive order. It was a message that clearly said there are people who don’t belong in this country,” Ryan Scrivens told VICE earlier this week. He is the co-author of a study on right-wing extremism in Canada, and found that Quebec has the highest concentration of such groups compared to the rest of the country.
Atalante, a right-wing Quebec nationalist group that even Quebec’s most hardcore far-right organizations consider to be extreme, was quick to distance itself from the attack, after it was revealed that the suspect, Bissonnette, is a white man from Quebec. Atalante is known to be friendly with the Soldiers of Odin, and offer them support at public demonstrations.
On their public Facebook group, Atalante members accused the media of assuming they had something to do with it before the facts were confirmed.
“These unfounded allegations even brought certain members of our family to believe that our members were perhaps involved,” the group wrote in French. “Unlike bloodthirsty jihadists, Atalante’s members use a positive approach which celebrates life and promotes a revolution of spirit.”
Atalante — whose members held a banner at a protest last month outside the Quebec legislature that declared “Death to terrorists, Islam Out” — also endorsed a statement put out in the wake of the attack by the Federation des Quebecois de Souche (FQS), a group founded in 2007 to unite the province’s skinheads and was influenced by American neo-Nazis in its early days.
“Although the history and the facts have not been revealed, we wish, on the one hand, to claim that person is deeply disturbed to commit such an act, and on the other hand, strongly denounce them. Violence is not our solution,” the FQS wrote on Facebook.
A number of disturbing comments were also posted on other extremist Facebook groups, according to Anti-Racist Canada (ARC) a group that surveils right-wing extremist groups and individuals, and writes about it on their blog.
“As long as they kill each other I don’t mind.”
Many of the screen grabs they took were of comments made while little was known about massacre, and it was widely reported that one alleged perpetrator was a Muslim man, something that turned out to be false.
“As long as they kill each other I don’t mind,” one person wrote on the Facebook group for “III% Canada,” a group that’s been described as an extremist violent gang also referred to as the “three percenters”. “They missed 35 of the bastards! Someone needs to work on their aim,” wrote another.
As for the Quebec Soldiers of Odin, Latulippe claims their goal is to “help the Muslim community, not to destroy it.”
“Tomorrow [Saturday] night, we’ll be on patrol near the mosque to demonstrate to people that we support them.”
With files from Philippe Gohier