A lot of people are very worried about the rise of the far right these days in light of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia on the weekend, at least based on the number of articles and op-ed pieces that I have come across in my news scanning as well as the number of media interviews I am being asked to give. By the way I do these interviews slightly hesitantly as I am not an expert on the far right, but since I am seen as a ‘terrorism expert’ I have decided to weigh in (while at the same time scrambling to educate myself more on this phenomenon).
One of the elements of this concern is the angst over whether our security apparatuses are devoting enough resources to monitor and neutralise this threat and just how much danger we are in. Firstly, there is absolutely no question, at least not in my mind, that there is a right-wing extremist threat in Canada, whether that threat emanates from neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-immigrationists or what have you. There are groups and individuals in our country that espouse not just hateful but violent views and we would be daft to think there wasn’t. In this light we must not ignore this danger and our national security folks (CSIS, the RCMP and other police forces) have to have this on their ‘to-do’ list.
The bigger, and to my mind far more important, question then becomes: how many resources do we dedicate to this phenomenon? Do we take resources away from other national security priorities, of which there are many? And my answer to this is a resounding No. No, the level of threat does not warrant now, and may or may not in the near to medium future, having our protectors deflect attention from much more serious investigations.
I am a facts kinda guy. I spent 30 years in intelligence and the sine qua non of intelligence work is information and the accuracy of that information. You do not make security decisions based on conjecture or emotion or in a knee-jerked way in response to what is happening elsewhere (this is why, as I have tried to explain, the terrorist threat level in Canada does not rise after an attack in Paris/Brussels/London/Manchester/Boston). Decisions are made based on what we know and what we think it means, nothing more and nothing less. And with that as a fundamental principle I do not hesitate to say that, as of August 2017, the terrorist/national security threat from RW elements is nowhere near that from Islamist extremists. Not even close.
Here are some facts. If we take the post 9/11 era as our starting point, there have been at least nine attacks (successful or planned and thankfully thwarted thanks to CSIS and the RCMP) that we can lay at the feet of homegrown violently radicalised Canadian Muslims and two deaths (there would have been a lot more if, for instance, the Toronto 18 had not been stopped). In that same timeframe, there have been, to the best of my knowledge, precisely zero terrorist attacks planned by the far right. And no, I am NOT ignoring either the killing of the three RCMP officers in Moncton by Justin Bourque in 2014 or the January 2017 murder of Quebec City mosque goers by Alexandre Bissonnette, but it you know that these were both acts of terrorism executed by ideologically motivated RW terrorists then you know a hell of lot more than I do, or than the police do for that matter. These acts were clearly serious incidents of violence and maybe even hate crimes, but the jury is still out (both literally and figuratively in the case of Quebec City) on whether they constitute terrorism.
Therefore, the terrorist threat from the far right in Canada is at this time potential, not actual. You may say that it would be a good idea to nip it in the bud before it manifests itself in attacks and deaths, and you may be right. But, the decision to put resources on this file means taking them from other files (since no more resources are likely to be granted) and, to name but one part of the largest Islamist extremist threat, we have close to 200 Canadians who joined terrorist groups like ISIS who may decide to return home in the wake of the terrorist group’s decline. Would you advise ignoring the possibility of Brussels-style attacks by ex foreign fighters to follow a bunch of low-level RW criminals? I wouldn’t.
Of course things can change. It is usually a dumb idea to never alter your analysis or operational plans: these are in constant flux as new facts come in. We know that far right groups in Canada occasionally take their inspiration from their US cousins and we know that the terrorist threat from the violent RW in our southern neighbour is not only orders of magnitude bigger than it is here but is orders of magnitude bigger than the jihadi threat. So yes it is possible that things may get worse. There are certainly enough boilerplate issues that get the far right going: immigration, refugees, the ‘loss of white privilege’, etc. Then again, the threat may continue to be no more than a low level criminal one that law enforcement should deal with. I broke my crystal ball last week so my view of the future is on hold.
In the end we need to look at the violent RW issue dispassionately, especially when it comes to national security priorities. So if you want to engage in counter extremist protest marches, please do so, but don’t tell the professionals how to do their jobs. I can ensure you that they are engaged and looking at this menace and they will dedicate the energy it requires.