The Canadian military has reinstated a sailor who was previously active on a well-known hate forum.
As first reported by Unicorn Riot, an online investigative news outlet, Boris Mihajlovic was reinstated at the HMCS Tecumseh Naval Reserve base in Calgary he had previously been suspended from. Mihajlovic was initially suspended by the Navy when Unicorn Riot and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported he, under the name Moon Man, was an administrator and frequent poster on Iron March between 2015 and 2017.
Iron March is a now-defunct extreme-right forum that’s infamous for giving rise to Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi terror cell connected to several murders.
Last week, Unicorn Riot reported on a video leaked to it showing Tecumseh Commanding Officer Joseph Banke addressing officers’ concerns with Mihajlovic’s return. The source who leaked the video told Unicorn Riot they were “extremely disappointed” with the Navy’s decision to reinstate Mihajlovic.
The Canadian Armed Forces told VICE they reinstated Mihajlovic, who works as a technician, on June 12 and he resumed his duties a month later on July 13. In an emailed statement, Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, the commander of the Canadian navy, confirmed that Mihajlovic had been reinstated. In it, McDonald said the CAF is reviewing their decision to reinstate Mihajlovic.
“To that end, we are undertaking a command-level review to ensure that we have handled this matter appropriately and in accordance with the latest Departmental guidance on hateful conduct, which was recently released and provides key additional direction and guidance regarding DND/CAF response to hateful conduct,” reads McDonald’s statement. “An update on this case will immediately follow this review.”
“The Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Armed Forces take issues of hateful conduct extremely seriously, and are committed to ensuring that we offer an inclusive and safe workplace for all our members.”
The CBC, who dug deep into Mihajlovic’s postings, found that he posted extreme and hateful vitriol, was active on the site when he first joined the navy, claimed to be connected to Blood and Honour (a group recently added to Canada’s terror watch list), and encouraged his fellow racists to join the military as it provides ample training for a “race war.”
Unicorn Riot initially connected Mihajlovic to the site in an investigation from December 2019 using a massive data dump of all of Iron March's files that was uploaded online. In a follow-up story, Mihajlovic told the CBC that by the time he was outed he had already exited the movement and was working with Life After Hate, a group that helps individuals leave extremist movements.
Mihajlovic told the CBC that he felt “extremely isolated” when he was posting on the forum and that the military brought him into contact with people from multiple races. This, he says, caused him to realize he “was wrong.”
“I realized I was hating people without any reason,” Mihajlovic told the CBC. “I believed in a really elitist world view.”
In the video, Banke says he placed Mihajlovic on “restricted duties” as a “means of finding a way and navigating through these turbulent waters” and of “supporting” Mihajlovic. Banke doesn’t address Mihajlovic by name in the video.
Also in the video, Banke says he understands that some people feel victimized by Mihajlovic’s reinstatement but emphasizes the need for “rehabilitation over retribution.
"We cannot counter hate with more hate,” he says. “We need to build forward, together. We need to rehabilitate, together. We're going to support this member, together.”
In an extensive story by the CBC, four additional sailors, all of which requested anonymity, said they felt Navy brass handled the event poorly and lacked transparency. They told the national broadcaster the reinstatement caused a “stir” in the unit. One even said that they were going to leave the Armed Forces if nothing was done about the reinstatement.
“I think that's great (that he says he has turned his life around). I hope he has, and I want to believe he has, because it would be horrible if he had to live his life with such anger and hate in his heart,” one sailor told the CBC. “Unfortunately, though I think he deserves a second chance at life, I don’t believe he should put on the uniform.”
Anti-hate groups reacting to the news of the reinstatement said that while Mihajlovic denounced his views, he never made amends. The Canadian Anti-Hate Network tweeted it would like a “public apology in order to earn some measure of trust from the wider public.” In a statement on its website, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it has written Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to demand “an urgent investigation and that Mihajlovic be held to account.”
“He has never publicly divulged the full extent of his neo-Nazi involvement, he has never issued a full public apology for his actions, and we have not seen him make amends for the harm he has done,” wrote Rabbi Meyer H. May, the group’s executive director. “‘Rehabilitation’ cannot be a guise for simply giving a person like this a pass.”
The Canadian military has been under the microscope in recent years for the existence of extremists in their midst. In 2018, a VICE investigation found that a Nova Scotia reservist was a member of Atomwaffen. Last year a Winnipeg Free Press investigation outed Armed Forces reservist Patrik Mathews as a recruiter for the neo-Nazi terror cell the Base. Following the investigation, Mathews went on the run from authorities, hopped the border, and fled to Maryland with the help of his fellow neo-Nazis. He was eventually arrested in the U.S. and charged with a myriad of crimes.
Recently, in mid-July, the Canadian Armed Forces implemented a “hateful conduct” policy they hope will help to root out extremists. Prior to this, the CAF had no hard definition of “hateful conduct.”
This story has been updated with comment from Vice-Admiral Art McDonald.
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