Manitoba

No easy way to deradicalize hate group members, experts say

While people might wish for a magic pill or program, there is no easy way to guide someone away from hateful, racist ideologies, deradicalization experts say.

Every individual has personal reasons, motivations for joining far-right movement

Deradicalization is most successful if people can be reached before their racist or discriminatory views become hardened — before the hate has had time to really set, experts say. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

While people might wish for a magic pill or program, there is no easy way to guide someone away from hateful, racist ideologies, deradicalization experts say.

Michael Mitchell, a retired army major and former associate faculty member at Royal Roads University in B.C., says deradicalization is like treating a mental illness. Root causes of the trouble are complex and stem from a person's unique life experiences.

"There's no pill for this," said Mitchell, who studied radicalization in B.C. high schools.

"If you want to deradicalize someone, you have to get to the core of what is driving them to perform in a certain manner. Is it a personal identity crisis? Is it social isolation?"

The Canadian military is currently investigating whether one of its own, Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, is a member of a white nationalist group that promotes hate. On Monday evening, RCMP raided a home in Beausejour, Man., about 50 kilometres east of Winnipeg. A property record search by CBC News showed that home is registered to Mathews. 

The police said they seized weapons but did not lay charges.

Allegations of ties between a member of the CAF and a hate group did not surprise Vancouver's Brad Galloway.

The 39-year-old was a neo-Nazi in his late teens and 20s. Galloway now works with the Organization for the Prevention of Violence and Life After Hate, where he mentors people who are leaving white nationalist groups. Much of his work is done online.

Army reservist Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, shown here in a photo from 2015, is being investigated for potential links to the neo-Nazi group The Base. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

"There's always been a draw [to the military] within the far-right movement," Galloway said. "Perhaps it's the fact that they could get training. Perhaps it's seen as a masculine job by these guys."

Over the last three years, Galloway says, he has tried to help about 30 people involved in neo-Nazi groups.

'People can change'

"The first step I often use is asking if they have any troubles with addiction or behavioural issues, or if [they] think they require counselling for anything beyond just mentorship," he said.

Most of the time people say they need help with either drug or alcohol abuse or behaviour issues, like anger management. Galloway himself benefited from counselling after he chose to exit white nationalism. 

"I mean, people can change — this is the thing," Galloway said.

If Canada had more drug and alcohol treatment programs, along with more affordable mental health services, that could go a long way to helping people leave hate groups, he said.

Hussein Hamdani does similar mentorship work in Hamilton — only the people he works with are mostly newcomers and Muslim, like himself.

Hussein Hamdani, a Hamilton-based corporate and real estate lawyer, volunteers to help counsel young people away from extremist views. (Adam Carter/CBC)

"There's a surprising commonality between someone who goes and joins a white supremacist organization and one who may join a religiously based extremist group," said Hamdani.

"That is this feeling of victimhood. Somehow, in some way, they and their people are being oppressed or being denied their glory that they're entitled to."

Hamdani asks a lot of questions when he is working with a young person who may hold some extremist views. 

"[I try] to really understand where it is that they're coming from. What's their motivation? What in their life may have led them to think that this was the only way? Then [I] give practical solutions to their concerns."

For some people with, for example, anti-immigrant views motivated by economic concerns, Hamdani said offering solutions could be as simple as suggesting ways to adjust to new technology or a changing global economy.

"Maybe we can't get the same job that your dad or your grandpa had," he said. "But don't blame other people. We have to adapt and we have to look at strategies to deal with that."

Reach people before views harden

Deradicalization, the experts said, is most successful if mentors can reach people before their racist or discriminatory views become hardened — before the hate has had time to really set. 

"Once they pass a certain line, and they're into criminal behaviour, then I think the police need to step in," said Hamdani.

Michael Mitchell, a retired major in the Canadian Armed Forces and former associate faculty member at Royal Roads University, sees the fight against violent extremism as a fight every Canadian must be a part of. (Submitted by Linda Mackie)

Galloway mostly works with hate group members already looking for a way out.

"There has to be a will for them to want to leave that lifestyle behind," he said. "It's not approaching active members. That becomes a very hard and very unsafe and unethical process."

Unethical, because it can put the volunteer or counsellor in jeopardy of retaliation, said Galloway. Even though there's a low chance of success and there could be risks to his safety, he said he still tries to reach them.

"I've done some work speaking with active people online. Just saying to them, 'Hey, you know, if and when you feel like there's a change in your life that you want to make toward leaving those groups, you know we're here.'"

For Mitchell, he sees the fight against violent extremism as a fight every Canadian must be a part of. Ultimately, the best people who can reach a troubled person are their immediate family, friends, coworkers and classmates. 

"Engage with them, talk with them, and if you can't yourself, bring in someone else who can advise," he said. "The grassroots approach is always the best trying to prevent something like this and remediate before it gets out of hand."

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.