Meet the former neo-Nazi who now helps young people turn away from hatred
When Maxime Fiset was a teenager, he had a large swastika flag on his bedroom wall.
He told his mother he was just interested in history, but by 18, he was a founding and active member of a neo-Nazi group, the Fédération des Québécois de souche, or "old-stock Quebecers."
What drove him was the belief "that financial elites were against Quebec sovereignty, and that immigrants were being imported en masse to prevent this from happening."
"[I felt that] our identity was attacked by external forces and shadow agents… It really felt like it was something I had to defend my people from," he told Duncan McCue at The Current's town hall event in Montreal.
The group began as an online message board in 2007, with about 200 members, 50 of whom were active.
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Their initial aim was to provide the splintered far-right with a united front, and increase their legitimacy through media training and a softening of public discourse.
"We had to teach all these guys, who were still clinging to their KKK insignias, or skinhead mythology… to stop using openly violent discourses," he said.
"Although we would reserve these discourses for private places, in public we had to tone down our violent desires."
Despite the restraint he preached, Fiset was arrested for hate speech and owning an illegal weapon, and charged in 2008. He lost his job, and many of his friends and family members stopped speaking to him.
This only fuelled his radicalization.
"Nobody joins a far-right group because they're happy," he said.
"Because radicalizing is kind of painful, you know, it's not something that you say: 'Oh I'm going to radicalize, I'm bored today.'"
"It really is something that you do because you feel some unease about the world."
This alienation from a complicated world fed his own extremist beliefs, but he says it was the "need to fill [his] fridge" that started him on a different path.
He got a job, where he met people from different walks of life. He also started a relationship, which resulted in the birth of his daughter.
These events changed how he saw the world, and how he wanted the world to see him.
He now works as a consultant for the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, fighting to help young people turn away from hatred.
According to research from Barbara Perry, an expert on hate crimes and professor at University of Ontario Institute of Technology, there are 20 to 25 far-right groups operating in the province of Quebec alone.
Faced with those numbers, Fiset described the work as "trying to mine diamonds with a pencil.
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Every single case is individual he said, adding that "we all select the type of radicalization that fits into our narrative."
"We cannot force someone to accept our help," he said, but when people begin to question the extremist beliefs, his organization is there to provide help.
"We cannot deradicalize them, we can only help them to do it, and it begins with engagement."
For anyone who may be involved in an extremist group of any kind, Fiset said he and the centre are just a phone call away.
"I would say: if you feel it does not make sense, it doesn't mean that there's no sense," he said. "It might just mean that you're wrong."
"The question you need to ask yourself is: 'What if I was wrong?'"
"Asking yourself this question doesn't cost you anything."
Listen to the full conversation above, where Fiset described his history with the far-right group, and the work he now does to help others. You can share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
Written by Padraig Moran. The Montreal town hall event on race relations in Canada was produced by The Current's Yamri Taddese, Pacinthe Mattar and Ruby Buiza.
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