Fredericton: Why did an Islamophobic Extremist Have a Gun?

On Friday August 10, Matthew Vincent Raymond a 58 year old from Fredericton, New Brunswick killed four people, including two police officers with a long rifle. As of this writing, no motive has been formally acknowledged by the police, though several reports have suggested that the precipitating incident was domestic in nature. It has been reported by people who knew him that Raymond had a great affinity for cycling and military video games. He was also known locally for expressing extremist political views and had been banned from local businesses for his outspoken anti-Muslim tirades.

The stats are clear: 98% of mass killings worldwide are perpetrated by men. In North America, the vast majority of perpetrators in these cases of extreme, externalized violence are white men. Fully one-third of mass killers had a record of domestic abuse, violence or sexual harassment.

Extremisms — including hatred, xenophobia, racism, sexism, religious and cultural supremacism are not isolated conditions. It is not unfair to say that domestic violence is frequently co-morbid with political extremism. In a civil society which prioritizes evidence-based policy making, support or advocacy for political extremism ought to be considered heavily when evaluating the mental state of a person who is or who seeks to be in possession of weapons of any sort.

Over the past two years, Canada has witnessed the rise of a political extremist movement which exists at the margins of mainstream political conservatism. This movement pushes an aggressive ethno-nationalist xenophobia which at present has found its animus in the targeting of Muslim Canadians. Of course, this bigotry affects other communities as well. Jewish, Indigenous and South Asian communities are also frequently targeted, though only Muslims have been targeted specifically within the realm of acceptable political discourse. Refugees and Muslims are a common topic for discussion across the breadth of Conservative media and within the Conservative Party itself.

Islamophobia has been a political problem for years in this country, since well before September 11, 2001. However, public conversations in 2015 around the niqab ban in Quebec and the “Barbaric Cultural Practices Tipline” proposed by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, ignited the national debate. There was also a corresponding uptick in islamophobic sentiment following the election of United States president Donald Trump, the introduction of a federal Motion to condemn Islamophobia (M-103) and more recently, following the election of Doug Ford, a staunchly anti-refugee populist premier in Ontario.

This rising extremism has been demonstrably hand-fed by mainstream conservative politicians pandering to populism or private interests. That same uptick in extremism has also been undeniably inflamed by conservative and far-right media, some of whom have received international funding from wealthy Israel-linked financial backers. In fact, senior figures within Canadian mainstream conservative media are themselves closely linked to senior figures in foreign governments, including the President of the United States. From a national security perspective, foreign-funding for political movements or foreign interference in print and broadcast media with the intent of pushing a political agenda or fostering social division ought to be regarded as at best, a direct threat to sovereignty and at worst, espionage.

In 2017 Public Safety Canada identified far-right extremism as a “growing Concern”, a suggestion which was criticized by CSIS, but was ultimately included in a joint report on terror threats. The RCMP suggested delineating a distinction between “terrorism” and “ideological violence” in the report. While it is apparently unpopular for security agencies to acknowledge this fact, far-right groups and their supporters pose a far greater statistical risk to Canadians than any international terror group. That their body-count is higher is undeniable.

In 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, carried out a shooting attack at a mosque in a suburb of Quebec City, killing 6 worshipers. Bissonnette was well known to members of the Quebec City anti-racist community and was a member of the far-right who expressed provocative opinions online and consumed a wide range of far-right media sources. Despite this, no law enforcement investigation had been previously launched into his activities, nor was there any review of his legal gun ownership.

In mid-2017 a US-based militia group called the three-percent (III%) Militia expanded into Canada. The group openly endorses Trumpism, the political philosophy of U.S. President Donald Trump, and has openly called for the overthrow of Canada’s prime-minister. The group has posted photos and videos which imply they are stockpiling weapons for political purposes. As with foreign funding of information campaigns in Canadian far-right media, the presence of armed-militias, operating cross-border and pledging loyalty to another state’s leader, ruling party or governing ideology bears all the hallmarks of more traditional espionage activities. The presence of fringe political groups, backed from within the US and conducting covert or paramilitary operations and capacity-building in Canada dates back to the Fenian raids and before that, the Knights of the Golden Circle during the American Civil War.

In May 2018, a member of the extremist ‘incel’ movement plowed a van into a crowd in Toronto killing 10 persons. The Incel (or, involuntarily celibate) community has coalesced around a shared hatred of women, is inherently misogynistic, supportive of domestic violence and overlaps at the periphery with several different far-right movements, including the so-called “Alt-Right”. These groups spread misogyny and similar hateful content in online forums.

Incels use recruiting and communications patterns which share common design elements to those used by the alt-Right. In their online communities they engage in secretive and coded ideological brinkmanship, espousing increasingly extreme and anti-social perspectives, particularly in the confines of private or closed communities. Incels and the Alt-Right both use a pseudo-dark web organizing and recruiting model which owes a debt-in-design to that used by the terror group Daesh and its Cyber Caliphate.

This is more than just the case of radicalization to violence — it’s preparation for it.

In late July 2018, Medicine Hat Police executed a search warrant in connection with threatening messages stamped on Canadian currency. The messages stamped on currency referenced “Jewish White Genocide”. The investigation lead police to arrest and charge Loki Hulgaard, 35. Hulgaard’s home was also found to contain two high-powered rifles with serial numbers removed, thousands of rounds of ammunition and illegal high capacity magazines. It’s undeniable that this individual posed a public safety risk and perhaps, a risk to the people around them.

Also in August, Destine Spiller and Raycine Chaisson were charged for calling for the shootings of Indigenous peoples on social media. At least one of the two women in Flin Flon, Manitoba had images in her social media profiles which implied access to, or ownership of firearms. Harassment of “Aboriginal” communities was identified as a potential symptom of right-wing extremism including neo-Nazism and white nationalism in a declassified 2012 report on extremist threats.

You’d think by now that security experts might have established that people who subscribe to extreme ideologies possess both attack vectors and a willingness or capability to kill civilians, law enforcers and members of protected groups. What is being done about it? Well, less than you’d hope.

A 2018 article addressing far-right threats was published in popular police blog Blueline.ca was co-authored by Corey Clarysse, an analyst at iBRABO, a private intelligence research firm and Kristen Little, an open source analyst with the Hate Crime and Extremism Investigative Team (HCEIT). Their piece makes a disturbing equivocation.

While the far-right’s body-count racks up, the “brightest minds” in Canadian law enforcement are advocating for the investment of resources to tackle their own political opponents.

It is important to note that with the increased focus on right-wing extremism comes an equal obligation to focus on left-wing groups that have mobilized in response to the right. While it is easy to become fixated on the polarizing ideologies of the right, it is also imperative to remember the long history of dangerous tactics rooted in far-left ideals, which are complex, secretive and have historically perceived any type of law enforcement as an abusive power.”

In short, Little and Clarysse suggest that despite overwhelming evidence that far-right groups and subscribers to far-right ideologies are willing to use lethal violence against civilians, minority groups and law enforcers, they should be treated the same as their opponents on the left, because those groups are complex, secretive and have political opinions about policing. This is the paradox of Canadian security, which is more often than not informed by the ideology of the law enforcers than it is by any evidence-based assessment or coherent national policy. The left may have its ideological problems with policing as an institution, but it is undeniable that an Islamophobic extremist just shot and killed two police officers for personal reasons. While the far-right’s body-count racks up, the “brightest minds” in Canadian law enforcement are advocating for the investment of resources to tackle their own political opponents. It beggars belief.

In Quebec, the province with the highest body-count for hate-groups, the far-right is solidifying power. The anti-immigrant nationalist group Storm Alliance, or SA (not to be confused with the SA or Sturmabteilung of Nazi Germany which sent operatives to disrupt rival political events), has been sending operatives to disrupt rival political events. Groups like La Meute and Atalante have been building massive populist mobilizations around the combined issues of opposing immigration and promoting Quebecois nationalism. The resurgence of this nationalism amidst the already violent, armed far-right, in a part of the country which has previously weathered separatist violence, ought to be of the highest concern to the agencies and individuals tasked with keeping Canada safe.

Extreme views, including extreme misogyny, racism and anti-government conspiracies are staples of the far right. Each of these are recognizable warning signs that an individual has been or is being radicalized to violence. When Matthew Raymond appeared outside a Fredericton government building holding a placard about ‘Sharia law’ and calling for the expulsion of Syrian refugees from Canada, there was a failure to associate his extreme politics with his possession of legally owned firearms. It wasn’t difficult to determine that he posed a risk to the people around him. That failure had catastrophic consequences for the community and fatal consequences for two civilians and two peace officers. Canada must do better.

So now the legal argument: Canada’s charter guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and expression, and so it should. There’s a guaranteed right in this country to be a reprehensible bigot, and so long as you’re not crossing the line into hate speech or violence, the government will more or less leave you alone. There is however, no legal guarantee that an individual has the right to arm themselves for war while expressing views which advocate against protected groups, call for their elimination, expulsion or any other such disruption of the civil norms of Canadian society.

This isn’t an argument against the ownership, sale or production of guns for home defence, hunting or recreational shooting. Those arguments are being made by the people qualified to make them, or with a vested interest in the outcome. This is an argument against the ownership of guns by individuals and groups who openly espouse and promote hateful rhetoric. More to the point, given the shared messaging between mainstream conservative rhetoric and advocacy by individuals on the far-right, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that this heralds the creation of what is ostensibly an armed wing of a federal political party. Any attempts to influence the democratic process through the threat or use of lethal force is in total opposition to the fundamental principles of a pluralistic, inclusive and open society.

What Canada does not need is an increased regime of surveillance or domestic spying. Privacy and the right to dissent must be protected. This isn’t a call to monitor far-right groups physically or electronically while their members continue to be radicalized to violence. The ideology can be addressed in time, through good policy and civil discourse, but access to attack vectors must be removed. This is an explicit call to aggressively and immediately disarm these groups by seizing registered weapons from their members. This of course would be the best option for a state which is honestly invested in protecting all of its citizens from harm, be it domestic extremism or domestic violence. Failure to do so, or to take seriously the risks of growing violent extremism will place the responsibility for the next Fredericton squarely on the shoulders of this government.

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