Edmonton

Social media fuelling rise of 'new generation of extremism' in Alberta, report says

Hundreds of Albertans linked to extremist movements in the province are using social media to connect and promote their views, according to a new report.

Fringe members of groups are the most at-risk of committing violence, study finds

A study by the Organization for the Prevention of Violence looked at extremist movements in Alberta. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Hundreds of Albertans linked to extremist movements in the province are using social media to connect and promote their views, according to a new report.

The study, conducted through the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV) —  a non-government organization that works to "prevent radicalization and challenge extremist world views" through public awareness and research — looked at several extreme movements in Alberta, and quantified their rise or decline. 

"There is a diversity of types of ideologies that can produce violence, extremism, and hate in Alberta," said OPV executive director John McCoy.

Alberta appears to attract many extreme groups, McCoy said.

"We can see pretty clearly that Alberta is producing a disproportionate number of extremists."

Active movements include anti-authority extremists, left-wing extremists, patriot and militia groups, white supremacy groups, and Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups.

The report, Extremism and Hate Motivated Violence in Alberta, is based on hundreds of interviews with law enforcement members, community members, service providers and former extremists.

In January, the OPV received a grant of $1.29 million from the federal government for the three-year study.

It will be released to the public next month. McCoy provided a draft copy to CBC News.

'New generation of extremism'

Ideologies are easily disseminated online, making social media a hotbed of recruitment, said McCoy, who also teaches terrorism studies at the University of Alberta. 

"It's been a game-changer," he said. "This is a new generation of extremism, and those communities are more accessible than ever."

Fringe members of groups — those who operate mostly online and lack a physical connection to the group they identify with — are the most at-risk of committing violence, McCoy said.

"We believe that most of the potential threats of violence are coming from the margins of these movements, and hypothetically, they could come from any ideological group."

Law enforcement agencies struggle to keep up and track their activities online, he said.

"It becomes very difficult to investigate and to identify when they are planning and getting ready to execute a violent attack."

Group and individual movements

Patriot and militia groups, such as the Three Percenters, Soldiers of Odin and Canadian Infidels, have strong bases in Alberta, McCoy said. 

"We have a number of large patriot, militia groups that have popped up in the province and grown in short order in a way that I think would surprise many."

Membership to these groups peaked around 700 in 2017. Between 300 and 500 members are still active today, the report says.

 

However, despite the numbers, the report noted that the activity level of each movement was "rising", except for Al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, which were considered "static".  

Collectively, the groups share anti-Islamic sentiments, and view politicians as complicit in the degradation of Canadian values, said the report. But the groups lack clear leadership and mandates. 

The report also notes that patriot and militia groups have not been associated with violence in the province, but that the potential for "lone actor" attacks remains. 

Incels — or involuntary celibates — form another, more individualistic movement that poses a growing threat to Canadian society, said McCoy. 

Members of these groups often use online forums to espouse misogynistic views and celebrate mass killings by incels.

"There's a diversity of movements that can produce this kind of violence now," McCoy said.

"There's a number that are building communities and online forums and are promoting the use of terrorism and mass casualty terrorism, using tools that are accessible to everyone, whether that's a van or a knife."

Clarifications

  • The story has been amended to provide more detail about the Organization for the Prevention of Violence and to contextualize the rise of extremist groups in Alberta.
    May 24, 2019 1:31 PM MT