Dealing With Its Own Extremism Scandals, Canadian Military Trolls Proud Boys

Some critics say the Canadian Armed Forces have been too lenient on members holding far-right views.
Manisha Krishnan
Toronto, Canada
October 6, 2020, 3:25pm
Proud Boys Canadian Armed Forces
The Canadian Armed Forces participated in the #ProudBoys hashtag takeover. Screenshot via Twitter

The Canadian military got in on trolling the far-right group the Proud Boys this weekend, by reappropriating the hashtag #ProudBoys with sentiments about gay love.

On October 4, @CAFinUS (the Canadian Armed Forces in the U.S.) tweeted a photo of two male members kissing with the hashtag #ProudBoys.

“If you wear our uniform, know what it means. If you’re thinking about wearing our uniform, know what it means. Love is love. Know what we mean?” the account said.

The tweet comes as the Canadian military is attempting to weed out far-right extremists in its own ranks, via new policies and research.

“The CAF and DND (Department of National Defence) take great pride in supporting the LGBTQ2+ community, and are happy to take part in the ongoing #ProudBoys hashtag takeover on social media. Furthermore, let us reiterate that there is no place for hateful conduct and extremism in the Canadian Armed Forces,” said a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence in an email to VICE News.

The Proud Boys trolling movement was started by George Takei, a gay actor and activist, who tweeted on October 1, “What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys. I bet it would mess them up real bad.”

His suggestion came in light of the first presidential debate, during which President Donald Trump was asked to denounce white supremacists and militia groups. Eventually, he said,  “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

(Gavin McInnes founded the Proud Boys in 2016. He was also a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then.)

As previously reported by VICE News, the group celebrated Trump’s comments, using his “stand back, stand by” phrasing in newly designed merchandise.

Over the weekend, the hashtag #proudboys was overwhelmed with photos of gay men making out, getting married, and generally celebrating their love.

The CAF’s tweets come in light of the military’s issues with far-right extremism within its ranks. VICE has previously reported on members being linked to far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, the Base, and Atomwaffen.

A 2018 report by the Military Police Criminal Intelligence Section said 16 CAF members had been tied to six hate groups since 2013. The Proud Boys has denied it is a hate group, but refers to itself as a “western chauvinist” organization.

In July, the CAF released an updated policy on hateful conduct, which they defined as “an act or conduct, including the display or communication of words, symbols or images, by a CAF member, that they knew or ought reasonably to have known would constitute, encourage, justify or promote violence or hatred against a person or persons of an identifiable group, based on their national or ethnic origin, race, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, or disability.”

The policy said CAF members who commit hateful conduct may face administrative or disciplinary action.

“Senior Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces leadership have made clear their commitment to rooting out racism, harassment, and discrimination towards Black Canadians, people of colour, and Indigenous peoples, recognizing that more has to be done by the DND/CAF to address these situations,” the DND spokesperson said.

“We will continue to take institutional action, strengthen our policies, and reinforce that any such conduct will not be tolerated.”

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, is leading a program to help examine the scope of far-right influence among former and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The program is being funded by the Department of National Defence over the next three years.

Perry told VICE News the CAF’s Proud Boy tweets are likely an attempt to “rebrand around issues of right-wing extremism and what they call hateful conduct.”

Perry described the Twitter thread as “dramatic, especially if you think it wasn’t that long ago when we were still having debates about whether gays should be allowed to serve in the military.”

The DND spokesperson said for many years LGBTQ Canadians served in the military despite knowing they could be persecuted.

“We didn’t recognize it and we didn’t defend them. We acknowledge them and our past injustices. We are committed to ensuring this dark chapter in our history will never happen again,” the spokesperson said.

Perry said the military has only recently begun to release policies to address sexual harassment and abuse and racism. The next steps are to unpack what those policies might mean in terms of enforcement, training, recruitment, and discharges.

Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the new policies “are a really good step.”

However, he said the organization is concerned that there’s too much discretion when it comes to disciplining members who are found to hold far-right views.

“We feel that the default should be to fire them,” Balgord said.

For example, one Canadian sailor who was suspended after he was linked to a well-known hate forum was reinstated earlier this summer. After public controversy, the Navy said it was reviewing the case.

Perry said some far-right groups including the Three Percenters and La Meute “would say that they’re just full of former and active military personnel. They’ve been quite proud of that.”

The advantage of having former or current members of the military within their ranks include defence training, credibility, leadership skills, and access to arms, “which is obviously appealing to those who have a more violent bent,” Perry added.

She said the military is in part motivated to deal with racism and sexual harassment because it wants to diversify its membership.

“There are a lot of barriers, apparent barriers and perceptual barriers, to people wanting to come to the military and this just adds another layer,” she said.

The DND said as of September 2020, about 9 percent of members of the Regular Force and the Primary Reserves identified as visible minorities and about 3 percent identified as Indigenous Peoples. Nationally, 22.3 percent of Canadians identified as visible minorities in the 2016 census; about five percent of the national population identified as Indigenous peoples.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.