An all-around, all cause violent radical

If you think about it, there are a lot of things to be angry about today. Whether it is social inequality, racism, the inadequate response to global climate change, ‘collateral damage’ or just your everyday unfairness there are more than enough causes to get behind.  For those who go beyond talk, i.e. activists, most  are content with specialising in one or two and dedicating their time and energy to drawing attention, support and, if you are successful, a commitment to address the issue and right the wrong. Then again there are those seem keen to throw themselves into whatever call to action happens to be on their plate that day.  Sometimes that action is violent in nature. Before I go any further  I must note that  I have long been fascinated with mercenaries, aka guns for hire. I am no expert on this phenomenon but I seem to recall reading that these ‘professional’ soldiers have been around for a very long time. Some see them I suppose as necessary backup troops, or in some cases actual primary actors, while I am sure that others see them as unwanted ‘Rambos’ who just make everything muddier and more complicated. Meet Jarrett William Smith, a US soldier who has been arrested by the FBI and charged with making plans to bomb a major American news network and even perhaps target Democrat presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke. So far this looks like yet another domestic violent individual and hopeful soldier for hire. But here is where it gets interesting. Mr. Smith allegedly joined the US army only after expressing a desire to go fight in Ukraine with a far right group called the Azov Batallion, a bunch of soldiers who, while carrying most of the heavy lifting in Ukraine’s fight with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of that country, also have serious neo-Nazi leanings. Some members are also, not surprisingly, into Holocaust denial. In other words a nasty cohort who espouse all the usual far right dumb ideas.  Whether Smith could actually find Ukraine on a map is probably not relevant. He also entered into contact with another far right supporter named Craig Lang who had actually fought in Ukraine with yet another group known as Right Sector which is also neo-Nazi. Mr. Lang supposedly served as a mentor for Mr. Smith and the latter discussed bombmaking with his online friend. For his part Mr. Lang has a long violent criminal record and tried to travel to Sudan (via Kenya) to fight the Islamist extremist group Al Shabaab and later raised money to go to Venezuela to fight the Maduro government. What does all this mean? I think it suggests that some people are not too picky when it comes to where to engage in armed conflict, or even terrorism. Nor are they too worried about having a solid understanding of the parties to that conflict or what the consequences of their actions may be. I guess they are just individuals who like to kill. To my mind there is little doubt that Messrs. Smith and Lang were radicalised to violence, the particular form of violence in this case being the far right. I also believe that men like this are far more numerous than we may think, especially in the US.  That plus the ubiquity of serious firepower should frighten Americans who have been laser-focused on Islamist extremists – and for good reason since 9/11 – but who need to look at violent extremism in all its forms. Kudos to the FBI for launching an effective investigation and getting this guy before he put his plans into action.  I cannot imagine the damage he would have done.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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