Reservist suspected of neo-Nazi ties prompts questions about whether signals missed by military
Department of National Defence reviews allegations hate group recruitment by Manitoba master corporal
The military needs to be more proactive about weeding out white supremacists from its ranks in light of an Armed Forces reservist being investigated for alleged links to a neo-Nazi group, experts say.
"One would think that at this point in 2019 that the military would be able to act, or act more proactively, in terms of ferreting out these hate-mongers," said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a retired University of Winnipeg sociology professor and anti-fascism activist.
The RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces are investigating Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, a member of the Winnipeg-based 38 Canadian Brigade Group, for suspected ties to The Base, a group described as a "neo-Nazi death cult" that promotes violence and hate.
Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, said people with violent or racist views may be drawn to groups like The Base and the military because they're looking for training, camaraderie or an "adrenaline rush."
She said now is a good time to expand the Armed Forces' screening methods for detecting people with these views or in groups like The Base.
"This will be an incentive for developing more particular markers about right-wing extremism," she said.
"I think it's going to be very difficult to identify those who are very consciously, you know, attempting to hide their affiliations."
Defence department investigating
The allegations were first revealed by a Winnipeg Free Press reporter who went undercover disguised as someone wanting to join the group.
One aim of The Base is to get members into the military to receive training so they can share that knowledge with others in the group.
The Department of National Defence is reviewing claims that Mathews, an eight-year member of the 38 Canadian Brigade Group, was trying to recruit members in Winnipeg.
One of the key questions facing the military investigation at this stage is whether Mathews held sympathetic views toward neo-Nazi values before or after he joined as a reservist, said Christian Leuprecht, a national security expert and professor at Royal Military College.
"Were there mistakes made or were there signals missed?" said Leuprecht.
"Did he affiliate later and did we not run sufficiently good counter-intelligence to try to detect activity that bears substantial reputational risk for the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department of National Defence and the government of Canada?"
Onus on leadership
Dawn Dussault, a retired CAF captain and platoon officer, said it's the responsibility of Armed Forces leadership to get to know their soldiers "on a much deeper level" as another line of defence.
"They're going to be the ones who are identifying that there is an issue," she said.
"There is more of an emphasis that should be put on having integrity and being able to pick the actions that are necessary to be able to stop this type of hate from breaking through the ranks."
Watch Dussault talk racism in the military:
She said radicalization is a societal problem, and there are only a small number of people in the military with these views.
A report from the Military Police Criminal Intelligence Section suggests that is true.
The study tracked white supremacy and racism in the military from 2013 to 2018 and found less than one per cent of Armed Forces members could be tied to racist or hate activities. Seven administrative reviews were carried out related to extremism and racism, resulting in two members being released.
The report attributes a rise in visibility of right-wing extremism with social media allowing these communities a venue to build connections and grow through recruitment. Many such groups take on a "para-military" nature and conduct weapons exercises.
Who would have known about his political views?- Helmut-Harry Loewen, anti-fascist activist and retired sociology professor
"Current and former military members find that their skills are valued by these groups," reads the military police report. "They provide structure to these organizations."
The military confirmed Mathews held a "junior" position in the reserves but would have received leadership training and been in charge of a contingent of soldiers. He also had rudimentary explosives training, including a basic grasp on demolition, as a combat engineer.
Col. Gwen Bourque, commander of 38 Brigade where Mathews worked, told reporters Tuesday the Armed Forces won't tolerate members affiliated with groups that undermine the dignity of any group of people. She declined to answer any questions about Mathews' alleged link to The Base in particular and would not provide details about the internal investigation.
Loewen said the military appeared to "downplay the situation." He said the military needs to be more transparent and accountable.
"Who were his associates, his friends in the military and beyond the military?" Loewen said.
"Who would have known about his political views?"
It appears that it's a minor occurrence, this type of radicalization, and the military thankfully has got fairly good controls.- Michael Mitchell, who was in the Armed Forces for 18 years
Loewen echoed what other experts have said about "the Trump effect" playing a role in emboldening people with white supremacist views to be more out in the open.
But he said this isn't the first high-profile example of a military member recruiting for white supremacist groups, citing the case of Cpl. Matt McKay almost 30 years ago.
McKay was a "hardcore racist" who served in a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Loewen said, and in the 1990s in Winnipeg he recruited for the Ku Klux Klan and had connections to other neo-Nazi groups.
Challenges filtering hate
Michael Mitchell, who was in the Armed Forces for 18 years and served as a recruiter, said it's difficult to "fully comprehend" every motivating factor for someone hoping to enlist in the military.
"Also, once they're in the military, as this fellow had been for some eight years, sometimes their attitudes change during their tenure in the military," said Mitchell.
"Fortunately, it appears that it's a minor occurrence, this type of radicalization, and the military thankfully has got fairly good controls over monitoring that type of activity."
Last month, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan requested the military's ombudsman to investigate racism in the military.
Leuprecht said that's a sign the military is aware of a problem, and it's taking it seriously.
"I think that indicates sort of the priority that the senior military leader in the country gives this particular topic," said Leuprecht.
"[It] also asks broader questions implicitly about whether the right mechanisms are in place to screen, identify, detect both individuals and behaviour of this sort."
With files from Andrew Nichols, Laurie Hoogstraten