Why a far-right militia tried to set up addiction recovery homes in Edmonton

Last year, an anti-Muslim militia tried to open a chain of group homes for recovering addicts. Journalist Mack Lamoureux says that plan fits into a broader PR strategy among far-right groups.

'Those people are going to be very, very susceptible to recruitment.'

The III% Alberta Facebook group has roughly 3,000 members, though only a fraction of those are believed to be active. (Facebook)

Last fall, while investigating a Canadian hate group, journalist Mack Lamoureux got an unexpected call.

"What's shaking, man?" Beau Welling, one of Canada's most prominent far-right leaders, asked Lamoureux.

Welling is the head of the anti-Muslim militia Three Percent Alberta. The group claims to be "Canada's last line of defence from all enemies, foreign and domestic," and is known for spewing hate, directed mostly at immigrants and Muslims.

[Beau Welling] told me he believes there is essentially an Islamic invasion coming through immigration.- Mack Lamoureux

At rallies, Three Percenters are known to wear tactical gear and carry shock canes, usually used to stun cattle. 

But Welling wasn't calling Lamoureux to discuss immigration. Instead, he wanted to talk to the reporter about a group home system the Three Percenters were trying to set up for recovering addicts in Edmonton.

At a rally in Calgary, Three Percenters carried 'shock canes,' saying they were providing security. (Facebook)

The Three Percenters were serious about their plan, according to Lamoureux, with efforts underway to hire counsellors and rent out facilities.

While the group ultimately abandoned their efforts, Lamoureux says attempts to rebrand as a friendly neighbourhood community group have become a common practice among Canadian far-right groups looking to cleanse their public image — and recruit new members.

Mack Lamoureux recently wrote about Three Percent Alberta's failed attempt to open addiction recovery shelters for Vice, and discussed his reporting with Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

Brent Bambury: The Three Percenters are armed and you say they're anti-Muslim. Can you describe their rhetoric and what they talk about?

Mack Lamoureux: As you just pointed out they are extremely armed. They are made up primarily of blue-collar folks in Alberta, so you can imagine a lot of these people live kind of out on ranches and everything. They do have guns for whatever reason.

Their rhetoric is extremely, extremely anti-Muslim. Their leader — even though he said he was hacked — he's said the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim. They've talked about going on purges.

I've met and I've sat down with him for a previous story where he told me he believes there is essentially an Islamic invasion coming through immigration.

The mission statement of III% Alberta, taken from their Facebook site. (Facebook)

So, this is an extremist, racist, anti-Muslim militia. How do they get into the addiction recovery business?

It kind of goes back into a longstanding tradition of these groups that you can actually trace back to the 1960s of the KKK. Deep down at the heart of these groups you can't say there's not a philosophy of helping the common man. It's just they have a very particular set and description of who the common man is: essentially 'old stock' Canadians, if you want to call them that. White Canadians. The blue-collar Alberta folks.

And so they get into this kind of from this philosophy of trying to help their common man, help the people that are down and out. But there is a very, very set tradition, also, of using these charitable activities to cleanse their image. You can even trace it up to Soldiers of Odin doing their street clean-ups these days.

So it cleanses their image; but also, you're working with extremely vulnerable people who are getting off their feet from addiction. Those people are going to be very, very susceptible to implications that there's this invasion going on. They're going to be very susceptible to recruitment.

What was the Three Percenters' plan for a recovery house? Specifically what were they trying to do?

What they were trying to do is they were trying to get 43 homes in Alberta. Through these homes they were trying to run 60, 90 or 30-day programs.

Recovery homes aren't too well known; it's important to say they're not rehabs. These are just essentially places that are for shelter and counseling for people that are trying to re-enter into society after beating their addiction, or not beating their addiction.

Beau Welling, president of III% Alberta. (Mario De Ciccio/CBC)

But based on the documents that you saw how serious was this endeavor?

It was extremely serious. I got a three-page programming outline. I spoke to Beau [Welling] about projects that he was offering. They were offering survivalist training for the people that came in there.

They had prices all out. It was $500 to $1,200 to check in for either 30 days or 90 days. They had counselors they were recruiting. This was a very, very serious try and for whatever reason it dropped.

This was, essentially, a  rebranding  tool.- Mack Lamoureux

But they were still targeting a vulnerable segment of the population, so are there regulations around a recovery house like the ones that they were proposing?

That's one of the odd things in Canada is that, no, there's very, very lax regulations around it. We've seen that even in B.C., which is one of the epicenters for the opioid crisis. We don't even have the exact number of people that died from opioid overdoses in recovery homes in B.C. last year.

If you get into the charitable aspect of it, you're going to get more and more regulations there. But if you're running a for-profit one, it's completely lax.

Three Percenters take part in a Toronto rally against M103, the federal anti-Islamophobia bill. (CBC)

Let's go back to this idea that these organizations develop these strategies to look like they're doing something for the public good. How effective has that strategy been in Canada?

It's definitely been effective; it's not as effective any more. If you look back to 2016, 2017 when these groups were first starting, you would get stories all over the place, usually from a daily or local outlet, saying, like, 'The Soldiers of Odin are shovelling snow.' You have La Meute cleaning up needles. They once tried to get toys for kids that needed them.

So it's not working as much now, because people are much more aware. But for a long time, this was a gambit that paid off for these groups.

Do you expect Three Percent Alberta to come up with another strategy beyond this one?

Of course. This is part and parcel of the game. They're going to do stuff like this again and they might do it under a different name. A big thing that you see within these groups is they splinter and they rebrand themselves.

This was, essentially, a rebranding tool. They didn't call it 'The Three Percent.' It was called 'The Freedom House.'

So, yeah, you're going to expect to see way more of this by all groups of this nature.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

To hear our full interview with Mack Lamoureux, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.