Why I joined — and left — Canada’s organized hate group movementI was the skinny kid of the bunch and was never the toughest, but I was seeking a group that would accept me no matter what.
I was the skinny kid of the bunch and was never the toughest, but I was seeking a group that would accept me no matter what.
There is a troubling myth that gangs and extremist groups are made up of poor, disenfranchised kids from broken homes. My life is proof that the membership in these groups is made up of many more types of people: rich, poor, angry or people simply looking for somewhere to belong.
I am not poor, or from a broken home. I like to think I grew up with great privilege and had parental figures who were very involved with my upbringing. I feel like I did it all as a kid: fishing, hockey, skateboarding, music.
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The one thing that was missing, though, was that I felt I did not belong. I spent my teenage life seeking a place to belong. I tried raves, drugs, fighting, crime — you see a trend here. Everything I was trying to attach to was negative, my peer groups were into unsavoury activities from drug sales to car theft.
I was the skinny kid of the bunch and was never the toughest, but I was seeking a group that would accept me no matter what. So, in my late teens, I encountered a friend from my early criminal days who said he was a white power skinhead. That is when my life changed forever.
I would spend the next 13 years in Canada’s organized hate movement. My involvement started in Toronto and after four long years, I moved to Vancouver. Toronto was a violent, alcohol-fueled haze, where I almost died and saw several others meet their fate, whether it was jail or death. So many young lives wasted. The violence was tiring and I had the chance to move out west, so I was off to greener pastures. Or so I thought.
The move West only entailed more violence, drawing me in deeper, and inspiring me to rebuild the mostly-dead hate movement in BC. While I tried a few groups out, a group based in Portland, Oregon was where I found my place, with an already-established group of skinheads. In time, the negativity became exhausting and I wanted out. But it wasn’t that simple.
When I realized that group was not really a brotherhood, but a collection of egomaniacs seeking their own goals, I left seeking a better life for myself and my family.
There was infighting and more friends died. Eventually, the daily hatred became too much. Hate was as exhausting for my family, as it was for me, and realistically I knew I couldn’t teach my child to hate someone else. I initially identified with some of the rhetoric, of course, but it was belonging to a group that meant the most to me.
When I realized that group was not really a brotherhood, but a collection of egomaniacs seeking their own goals, I left seeking a better life for myself and my family. I found myself moving on, attaching myself to school and family — essentially, positivity. Today, I feel better, free from the binds of hatred, like a human being who respects other human beings.
Now, I work with community partners and law enforcement to give back to the community. I mentor post-secondary students across North America who are studying terrorism and violent extremism. I speak all over Canada and in England about the dangers of extremism, specifically far-right groups. I study criminology and am working on master’s level papers on radicalization and youth extremist recruitment. I also volunteer at Life after Hate helping others leave extremist movements.