Blue Line

Extremism in Canada

September 2, 2014  By Rick Parent

US Homeland Security and FBI reports have noted a national resurgence in extremism over the last decade. Adherents have adopted concerns over immigration as a call to action following the economic downturn. Similar European groups have also emerged based on anti-Islamic sentiment.

Right-wing extremism encompasses a large, loose, heterogeneous collection of groups and individuals espousing a wide range of grievances and positions, including: anti-government/individual sovereignty; racism; fascism; white supremacy/white nationalism; anti-Semitism; nativism/anti-immigration; anti-globalization/anti-free trade; anti-abortion; homophobia; anti-taxation; and pro-militia/pro-gun rights stances.

Extremists may reach these stances from either religious interpretation or secular reasoning and there is often conflict amongst various groups within this sphere. The similarities in targets and modus operandi suggest that these actors are best evaluated as a highly complex yet interconnected community. There are several distinct types, including:

1) General white supremacists (e.g., Aryan Brotherhood, Ku Klux Klan);
2) Single Issue terrorists fixated with one particular ideological issue, such as taxes or abortion;
3) Neo-Nazis who maintain an anti-Semitic, racist, nationalist and homophobic ideology;
4) Militia and patriot movement members skeptical of the centralized government;
5) Christian Identity adherents that believe Whites are the true “chosen people;” and
6) Sovereign citizens who hold that the federal government is currently illegitimate.

Some extremists overlap these types and any description of the constellation of groups is merely a snapshot, as there is a constant flux in the membership and fortunes of any given group. It can be difficult to appreciate the scale and complexity in any given country. An extremist may be a member of several different groups simultaneously or in rapid succession and may opt to act in accordance with a group’s agenda or independently. Examples of Canadian groups include:

  • Ku Klux Klan (KKK): The oldest right-wing extremist group active in Canada. The KKK crossed into Canada from the United States in the 1920s, with Klan groups appearing in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec under various names, such as the Kanadian Ku Klux Klan, the Ku Klux Klan of Canada and the Ku Klux Klan of the British Empire.

The Klan has thrived on racist, nativist and anti-Semitic sentiments that have appeared both explicitly and implicitly within the fabric of Canadian history, society and institutions over time. A fiercely Protestant organization, it seeks to defend Western Christian civilization by repatriating or eliminating Jews, visible minorities, homosexuals, Communists and Catholics.

Skinheads: Emerged from the British punk music scene and adopted their fashion from Nazism to maximize shock value. The skinhead movement began in East London in the 1960s, then coalesced with the punk scene in the 1970s and became associated with groups like the UK’s National Front by the 1980s.

Skinheads came to Canada in the 1980s and internationally number in the tens of thousands with members in more than 30 different countries, comprising vast transnational networks. According to a previous survey of worldwide Neo-Nazi Skinheads by the Anti-Defamation League, Canada was ranked 11 in terms of skinhead activity. Canadian skins have been labelled anti-American, anti-immigrant, anti-free trade and anti-homosexual. Some individuals have belonged to the cadet corps or military reserve.

{United States}

Like Canada, the US has a long history of racism, xenophobia, nativism and hate crimes. There are 150 hate crimes reported in the United States every week. According to the Extremis Crime Database (ECDB), there were some 540 financial schemes perpetrated by far right groups and individuals from 1990-2010, including tax avoidance. They also committed more than 370 homicides over the same 20 year period, claiming more than 600 lives.

US right-wing extremists are fragmented and heavily influenced by religion, particularly Christian fundamentalism. Examples of violent encounters and shoot-outs with law enforcement personnel include: the North Dakota tax protestor Gordon Kahl; The Order’s Robert Mathews (killed on Whidbey Island, Washington); and Randy Weaver’s armed standoff in Northern Idaho at Ruby Ridge, where three were killed. The Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas were held as martyrs by Timothy McVeigh, gun rights advocates, anti-government militia groups and others.

American right-wing extremists have been very active in abortion related-attacks since the 1980s. Anti-abortion terrorists have resorted to arsons, shootings and bombings, often killing case workers, doctors and others. In the 1990s, tactics changed to include targeting individual workers.

The 9/11 attacks inspired resurgence in white supremacist, anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiments. There was a spike in anti-minority hate crimes in both the US and Canada. Leaders used the attacks to criticize pro-Israel US foreign policy and to highlight the dangers of immigration and diversity as an attack on white culture.

Noteworthy is that there has been a national resurgence over the last decade, with groups adopting concerns over immigration as a call to action, fuelled by the economic downturn. The FBI has identified them as the first category of serious domestic terrorist threats and investigations have targeted groups like the KKK, COTC, Aryan Nations, National Alliance and Christian Identity followers.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identified the election of an African American president and the deep recession, with its credit squeeze, home foreclosures and high unemployment, as unique drivers for radicalization. DHS noted similarities between the current economic and political climate with those in the 1990s, which spurred the growth of the right-wing extremist movement.

Research has also shown a clear trend of recruitment of active military personnel and veterans. This occurs at both the leadership and foot soldier levels. Indeed, groups are more likely to attract recruits with a history of military service than any other type of US domestic terrorist organization over the last 25 years.

Also significant is that convicted right-wing extremists disproportionately possess military experience. One study showed that nearly half of newly minted extremists had negative experiences during their military service.

One powerful recent example is Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who had well-documented misgivings about his military service in the first Gulf War. While military service does not breed extremism, the link between soldiers and right-wing violence should not be surprising given the history and make-up of many of these organizations.

{Lone wolves and small cells}

Lone wolf attacks are chiefly linked with white supremacists, Christian Identity adherents, tax protestors, survivalists, sovereign citizens and anti-government activists in the US. The threat has been consistent over the last two decades and represents a significant proportion of attacks. DHS assessed that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years,” and that “(W)hite supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy — separate from any formalized group — which hampers warning efforts.”

Part of this concern relates to the threat from lone wolves armed with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

Lone wolves and small cells have demonstrated the capability to acquire and use CBRN weapons, as shown by Bruce Ivins in his anthrax letter campaign in 2001 that killed five and sickened 17 others while disrupting postal and government facilities. In 1993, Thomas Lavy was caught trying to enter Canada with 130 grams of 7 per cent pure ricin.

Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb near the prime minister’s office in Oslo, Norway July 22, 2011, killing eight and injuring 30. He then went on a 90-minute shooting spree at a youth Labour Party political conference on Utøya Island, killing 69 people and injuring dozens more, including more than 60 teenagers. Breivik’s writings were meant to inspire other lone wolves and suggested that CBRN weapons could be useful in follow-up attacks. He indicated that his attacks were a reaction to Norway’s multicultural society.

The son of a Norwegian diplomat, Breivik was a fundamentalist Christian, belonged to an anti-immigrant/anti-Islamic party and called for civil war. He used his criminal trial as a soapbox to promote his radical beliefs. Breivik rationalized his attacks, stating “The attacks on the government headquarters were preventive attacks on traitors to the nation, people committing or planning to commit cultural destruction, including destruction of Norwegian culture and Norwegian ethnicity.”

Recent incidents and arrests in the United States include:

Oct. 22, 2008, Alamo, TN,
Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, two neo-Nazi skinheads, were arrested in Crockett County for planning to assassinate then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

May 31, 2009, Wichita, KS,
Anti-abortionist extremist Scott Philip Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller during a Sunday morning service at his church.

Feb. 18, 2010, Austin, TX,
Andrew Joseph Stack III, a 53-year-old software engineer, flew his plane into the Internal Revenue Service building, killing himself and Vernon Hunter and injuring 13 people. He blamed the agency for his financial troubles and espoused anti-government views.

Jan. 18, 2011, Spokane, WA
Kevin Harpham, a white supremacist, placed a Swiss Army backpack bomb along the route of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade. The device contained shrapnel and a chemical found in rat poison.

Aug. 5, 2012, Oak Creek, WI
Wade Michael Page killed six and injured three at a Sikh Temple before killing himself. He had been a dedicated white supremacist for over a decade and became attracted to neo-Nazism during his six years in the military.

Apr. 13, 2014, Overland Park, KS
Frazier Glenn Miller, a former KKK Grand Dragon, was arrested for killing three outside a Jewish Community Center and a senior living community the day before Passover. None of the victims were Jewish. A former Green Beret in Vietnam, Miller had been forced to leave the military over his racist views.

In Canada, Tyler Sturrup, a founding member of a Calgary white supremacist group, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the beating death of Mark Mariani. Mariani, who was savagely kicked and stomped on Oct. 3, 2010. The 47-year-old Mariani was frail with Crohn’s Disease and unable to defend himself. Sturrup, 28, helped found the Western European Bloodline supremacist group. He was arrested seven months later.

photos in word doc

Tyler Sturrup, 28, pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder in the beating death of Mark Mariani.
Calgary – Oct 3, 2010.


Canada has been historically home to a collection of surprisingly influential extremists in the global movements associated with white supremacy — Neo-Nazism, Identity Christianity, Creativity, skinheads, anti-abortionists, tax protesters, sovereign citizens and others. Based on historically strong connections and exchanges between Canadian extremists and those abroad, it would be wise to presume that Canada is not immune to the rising trends in the US. Europe and beyond.

The Canadian KKK, Skinheads and many other groups have kept right-wing extremism an ever-present threat within the Canadian context. There is also a growing concern that violence will also erupt from the Freeman on the Land movement and sovereign citizens, who declare themselves to be beyond the Canadian government’s jurisdiction. Though certainly active, Canadian groups have so far been less effective in carrying out physical attacks than their brethren south of the border.

Future extremism and terrorism in Canada will likely be perpetrated by individuals or small groups of like-minded people. These smaller groups can harbour more extreme and aberrant ideologies than those of larger organizations and may be more willing to inflict mass casualties. Amateur terrorists have no organization or sponsor to protect, see no reason to limit their violence, fear no backlash and, like McVeigh, feel they need a body count to attract attention and promote their cause.

Beginning with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, Canada has restructured its legal framework and security apparatus, enhancing national security. Given the rapid rate of immigration into Canada, it is plausible that right-wing extremist violence could flare up along the lines of similarly motivated attacks in the US and Europe.

With a better understanding of this phenomenon, Canadian law enforcement agencies can develop effective, evidence-based policies and procedures for preventing future violence and terrorism, including acts aimed at undermining the integration of immigrants within Canadian society.

{Authors’ Note:}

Article is based upon a TSAS (Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society) Working Paper, Series 14-03: “Right-Wing Extremism in Canada.” Available on line.


Dr. Rick Parent is Associate Professor, Police Studies Program, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University and was a Vancouver police officer for more than 25 years. His research and expertise focuses upon police use of lethal force, including the phenomena of suicide by cop. Contact:

James O Ellis III, MA, is Senior Fellow, Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, which is funded by the DHS, and a former Fulbright scholar at the University of St Andrews. Contact:

The authors are researchers for the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS), funded by Public Safety Canada.

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