Navy investigating reservist who encouraged fellow members of neo-Nazi web forum to enlist
Calgary reservist claims he no longer supports extremist ideology despite previous ties to hate groups
This story is part of Exposing Hate, an ongoing series examining the nature of hate in Canada: how it manifests, spreads and thrives and how Canadian institutions, law enforcement and individuals are dealing with it.
A reservist with a history of ties to hate groups and spreading racism is being investigated by the Royal Canadian Navy — nearly four years after enlisting.
Boris Mihajlovic, of Calgary, was one of the administrators of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a notorious neo-Nazi website that had more than 1,200 users. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.
"No one hates Canada and the Canadian military more than me, yet here I am," he wrote on Iron March in 2016, one of many posts encouraging other users to enlist in the armed forces.
"They pay you to teach you the methods you need to destroy them."
However, when reached by phone in Calgary last week, Mihajlovic told CBC News he realizes he was wrong and now rejects those views. He says he hasn't been involved with hate groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and has tried to turn his life around.
"I want people to know that I'm a very different person than I was," he said. "I just want people to know that the people in these groups really need mental help and therapy."
CBC identified Mihajlovic after an anonymous activist known as antifa-data leaked the full contents of the Iron March forum, including private messages between members, as well as their IP and email addresses.
Known as Moonlord, Mihajlovic was an administrator and among the forum's most prolific contributors, with nearly 2,500 posts in two years.
His rationale for serving in the military was to gain combat experience for an eventual "race war."
"If there was an opportunity to get trained to be more effective in the race war — and get paid for it, any normal fascist would take it. If I was old enough to join [the military] earlier I would have," he responded in 2016 to another member who was unsure whether joining the military was a good idea.
In private messages, Mihajlovic claimed to have joined the Calgary chapter of Blood & Honour in 2012, after three members were charged in the beating of two Sikh men in Edmonton.
In 2015, he registered a website for the group using his real name and home address.
Mihajlovic was nevertheless able to join the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve in early 2016.
Capt. Alan Offer, commanding officer of the naval reserve, told CBC that the navy was only made aware of Mihajlovic's past three weeks ago and an investigation is underway.
But in a private message sent to another user on the forum in June 2016, Mihajlovic wrote that at least one of his superiors was made aware of his past shortly after he joined the reserves, and advised him to leave Blood & Honour.
"I was already planning to, so it was an easy decision," he wrote.
"I wasn't accused or threatened but I got the message. They could have just discharged me immediately."
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Mihajlovic left Blood & Honour soon after, according to a private exchange with a member of the group's Edmonton branch, but he became even more active on Iron March.
He was promoted to the rank of leading seaman in April 2018 and today works as a supply technician for HMCS Tecumseh, a naval establishment in Calgary.
Capt. Alan Offer said based on the outcome of the navy's investigation, Mihajlovic "may be retained if he has been rehabilitated, or could be subject to administrative actions up to and including release."
"Anyone who holds hateful and degrading views of others is not welcome in a Canadian Armed Forces uniform," he said.
Mihajlovic has never been involved in any operational deployment.
A violent ideology online
As an administrator of Iron March, Mihajlovic, who was in his early twenties at the time, welcomed new users and ordered them to read several books as a condition of joining.
The list included a terror handbook that advocates bringing down the state with targeted attacks in order to replace it with a racially pure fascist state.
Iron March was the birthplace of Atomwaffen Division, a terror group whose members have been charged in five homicides in the U.S. Mihajlovic said he was never a member of that group.
The leaked private messages, sent between September 2015 and November 2017, show that new users would often come to him for advice and insight on fascist ideology.
I really felt isolated at the time I became involved in those groups.- Boris Mihajlovic
Mihajlovic praised neo-Nazi mass murderers and terrorists. He also lambasted other members who thought school shootings were immoral because the victims were children.
"I'm not encouraging people to shoot up schools, there are way better targets," he wrote in a post. "I'm encouraging people to stop feeling sorry for lemmings being slaughtered. There isn't any good reason to feel that way."
'I realized I was wrong'
When reached by CBC News last week, Mihajlovic said he was drawn to the extreme right for many of the same reasons that lure other young people, including social isolation and a desire to be part of something bigger.
"I really felt isolated at the time I became involved in those groups. My only friends were really in those groups."
He said his military experience, as well as a course he took at the University of Calgary in 2017, made him question his radical beliefs.
"During my time in the military, I met people from different races and cultures and realized I was wrong," he said. "I realized I was hating people without any reason. I believed in a really elitist world view."
On the forum, however, Mihajlovic described a completely different outlook. When a member claimed he was worried that military "indoctrination" would shape his political views, Mihajlovic said that wasn't the case for him.
"Did my views change from attending a system indoctrination centre? No, I became more radical," he wrote in a post in April 2017, at least a year after having joined the navy.
Nevertheless, Mihajlovic insists he has changed.
"Over half the period of my service has been within the period I have been rehabilitating," he wrote in an email.
He shared some of his correspondence with Life After Hate, a support group for people seeking to deradicalize. He has been communicating with one of the organization's volunteers since June.
The Canadian co-founder of Life After Hate, Tony McAleer, could not confirm that Mihajlovic contacted them, since the service is confidential.
Mihajlovic also shared evidence that he has been volunteering with an organization that helps new immigrants settle in Calgary.
On Nov. 26, while trying to reach Mihajlovic through one of the email addresses he had used on the forum, CBC received a response from someone claiming to be an antifascist activist. The person explained that Antifa intercepted the email because it had hacked the account.
A day later, Mihajlovic's identity was revealed publicly by U.S. website Unicorn Riot, which described him as a neo-Nazi arms dealer in the navy. Unicorn Riot did not respond to a request for comment.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which collaborated with activists to expose Mihajlovic, said renouncing one's racist past is part of the process of redemption, but it's not enough.
"The harm he did isn't erased because he's going through deradicalization," said executive director Evan Balgord, when told by CBC of Mihajlovic's emails with Life After Hate.
Balgord said there have been cases where neo-Nazis who were exposed publicly claimed to have deradicalized but later relapsed. He did not mention specifics.
"They have to genuinely show that they're deradicalized. Nothing can happen until they demonstrate that they're genuinely making amends and taking responsibility."
That can include acts such as offering a public apology and providing information to law enforcement about other dangerous extremists, he said.
Discussions of an arms deal
In private messages with an Iron March member from France, Mihajlovic, who claims to hold Canadian and Serbian citizenship, appeared to try to organize a trip to Bosnia with fellow members in 2017.
He also assured the member that he could arrange for him to obtain illegal firearms, including assault rifles and grenades. Mihajlovic even listed his contacts' prices for certain weapons, including 250 euros for a pistol, 500 euros for an AK-47 assault rifle and 2,500 euros for a rocket-propelled grenade.
He told the French member that he would arrange for the weapons to be smuggled into the European Union through Croatia.
"We will help you conceal everything, you 100% will not have a problem at the border," he wrote.
Three months later, after the French member became unhappy because Mihajlovic's contacts had raised their prices unexpectedly, Mihajlovic replied: "I am risking jail as well and making no money on this."
There's no evidence that this visit ever happened, or that weapons were sold, since Mihajlovic asked the French member to move the conversation to a more secure communications app. However, private messages with a forum member living in Croatia suggest Mihajlovic was in Zagreb in June 2017, around the time the weapons deal was supposed to take place. In the messages, he was planning to meet up with the Croatian contact and described a youth hostel that CBC was able to determine exists.
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Mihajlovic denies the deal took place or that he knows arms dealers in Europe. He told CBC he was trying to impress other members of the forum.
"I thought I would look cooler and gain reputation on the forum if people knew me as someone who had these connections. But I didn't have any."
CBC found 10 other Canadians in the Iron March leaks who claimed to be in the military or were thinking of joining.
The naval reserve would not provide any details on the investigation into Mihajlovic's online activities, saying the matter is ongoing.
Mihajlovic told CBC he already had plans to leave the service "for personal reasons."
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How the CBC tracked down "Moonlord"
CBC analyzed a trove of leaked data from the defunct Iron March forum that was published online in early November. CBC was able to trace 87 users to Canada based on IP addresses. One of them went by the username Moonlord, whose IP address was located in Calgary.
In private messages, Moonlord told another user that he had created a website for Calgary's chapter of the neo-Nazi group Blood & Honour, but that the website had since been taken down.
Using analytics tool DomainTools, CBC was able to look at historical registration data for the website. It shows Boris Mihajlovic registered the site in September 2015 with the same email address he used to sign up for Iron March.
More crucially, he had used his real name, phone number and home address in Calgary when registering the website.
When CBC contacted his phone, Mihajlovic provided email exchanges between himself and Life After Hate. CBC was able to verify the emails by authenticating their DKIM and ARC signatures, which are digital fingerprints that prove an email's sender and contents haven't been tampered with.
- The original version of this story described Unicorn Riot as an activist website. Unicorn Riot describes itself as a non-profit educational media organization.Dec 05, 2019 6:57 AM MT