On Nov. 14, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) published a review which found that white nationalists are active within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), to the extent that NSIRA considers their presence a “counter-intelligence threat”. Furthermore, a key finding of the report was that the Canadian Forces National Counter-Intelligence Unit (CFNCIU), which is responsible for the handling of such issues, lacks both the resources and the comprehensive policy to address the presence of the far right. This is not surprising. The findings of this report, and the history of the armed forces, show that the military has no interest in dealing with right-wing extremists within its ranks.
In recent times there have been several instances of far-right and neo-Nazi organization members discovered in the military. In 2020, Ryan Thorpe, a journalist with the Winnipeg Free Press, went undercover as a white nationalist and joined The Base, a neo-Nazi group. During his investigation he exposed a soldier, Patrik Mathews, who was a part of this organization. As part of The Base’s activities, Mathews would pass on his military training to other members in the group. According to an internal report from 2018, he was not the only member of the armed forces active in far-right organizations. More than 50 people have been identified who “are either full-fledged members of hate groups or had expressed extremist sympathies or hateful worldviews.” One would think this would be a matter of some concern to the armed forces. However, only two people have been relieved of their duties as a result of their involvement with the far right. Even in these cases, getting rid of the extremists in question was not a quick matter. In the case of Erik Myggland, president of the B.C./Yukon Three Percenters and a supporter of the Sons of Odin, it took three years from the time when counter-intelligence was tipped off about his activities to the time he was released. There is evidence that he was active with these organizations for years prior..
In light of their recent history, the NSIRA review is just the latest piece of evidence that the CAF don’t view the far right as a threat. Historically the CAF’s attitude towards even the most reactionary elements has been very passive.
One of the most significant examples of far-right presence in the military is the 1993 Somalia affair. During the civil war in Somalia, the CAF deployed a force consisting mostly of the Canadian Airborne Regiment (CAR) on a peacekeeping mission to Belet Huen. This regiment contained white supremacist and neo-Nazi elements within it. On assignment, under the pretext of protecting their food supplies, CAR soldiers would capture, abuse, and then pose with locals who would come to the compound in search of food, in the midst of the ongoing famine in the country. Members of the CAR killed several locals during their time in Somalia, including 16-year-old Shidane Arone, who is the most recognized victim in this scandal. He was beaten and tortured for hours before dying. After these events were exposed, surely one would think that those who were responsible would be held accountable for their actions and an investigation would be launched in order to dispose of the neo-Nazi elements? Quite the opposite. The consequences were very lax with only one person court-martialed and most others acquitted. Despite video evidence of an avowed neo-Nazi being present in the regiment and many others exhibiting racist behaviour, none were reprimanded in any significant way.
On a larger scale, the Canadian state and military outright collaborate with far-right paramilitary groups like the Azov Battalion. This battalion has a history of being avowedly pro-Nazi and to this day contains neo-Nazi elements; has been accused of war crimes and torture; and its members have been known to attack marginalized people such as the LGBT community and Roma people. This hasn’t stopped the Canadian military from sending a delegation to meet with its leaders, and there is some evidence to suggest that the CAF has trained its members. Not only that, but Canadian officials have posed for photos with Azov members, who then used those photos in their propaganda. Far from denouncing the Azov Battalion, the Canadian state is more than willing to collaborate with the unit as it suits their interests. While putting on a progressive veneer at home, the biggest concern of army officials when offering support to far-right organizations is the danger of bad publicity. It is clear that the Canadian Armed Forces hold no principled opposition to the far right.
In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels explain that “the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” As the armed wing of the state, the military (along with the police) is used to enforce the interests of the capitalists, rather than those of the public—whether by defending the interests of capital abroad, or suppressing militants at home. When taking this into account, it becomes clear why reactionaries in the military are not treated very seriously: the far right simply does not threaten the interests of the ruling class. In times of acute class struggle, the far right can be relied upon to be the most rabid defenders of capitalism. At times there are moments when the far right is unpredictable and causes chaos, like the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots in the United States and the so-called “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa. But even then, they are treated with kid gloves, as their demands align with capitalist interests. Unlike Marxists, they do not call for a workers’ state and the abolition of private property, or any fundamental overturn of capitalism.
The state cannot be trusted to deal with the far right. While the far right does not threaten the capitalists, they do pose a threat to oppressed minorities and the working class in general. Thus, the job of fighting the far right rests on the shoulders of the workers. Methods of class struggle, such as demonstrations of solidarity with marginalized communities and counter-protests against reactionary organizations, have historically been used to shut down the far right . We saw the potential for this when Ottawa residents began spontaneously organizing to defend their communities against the “Freedom Convoy” this past February. It was only to prevent such action from spreading that the state took action against the convoy at all.
It is important to remember that the far right is a byproduct of capitalism. As the system descends into crisis, this causes polarization both to the left and right as people lose faith in the status quo. In the absence of a strong left wing, people looking for answers can fall prey to right-wing populist explanations of the crisis. It suits the interests of the capitalists when workers blame each other for unemployment, poverty, and declining standards of living, rather than capitalism itself. It is by building a class-independent, socialist organization that we can fight the far right, both ideologically and in the streets.