Two years after Proud Boys terrorist designation, over 300 right-wing groups identified in Canada

By CityNews Staff

As the trial for members of the group, the Proud Boys, charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues, new research shows the number of right-wing groups has increased threefold in Canada since 2015.

It comes nearly two years after the Proud Boys was named a terrorist entity in Canada.

David Hoffman, associate professor of sociology at the University of New Brunswick, tells CityNews he’ll be watching the trial closely.

“The far-right climate here in Canada is very much tied to the American context and the results of what happens with the American judicial system, with the Proud Boys, is likely going to have ramifications here in Canada. What those ramifications are, I’m not sure, but myself and my colleagues always keep an ear out to this type of chatter.”

Prosecutors have alleged that members of the Proud Boys carried out a coordinated attack on the Capitol in a desperate attempt to keep Trump in power.

It is expected to be one of the most consequential cases to emerge from the U.S. Justice Department’s sprawling Jan. 6 investigation.

The Proud Boys was started in the U.S. by co-founder of Vice News and Canadian Gavin McInnis in 2016. The group gained even more notoriety following the “Unite the Right” riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

“They are a dimension of alt-right agitators who embrace toxic masculinity, white supremacist, and far right extremists’ views,” explained Hoffman.

The group became known in Canada after a number of self-identified Proud Boys, who were also members of the Royal Canadian Navy, disrupted an Indigenous Protest in Halifax in 2017.

“The Canadian connection is fairly amorphous and loose in the sense that they’re ideologically inspired by the Proud Boys, they like to think they’re connected … Like many far-right movements, they liked what they heard in the United States or began to mimic what they saw in the United States,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman has been studying the actions of far-right groups in Canada for the last three years as a part of a project for Public Safety Canada.

Since the Proud Boy’s terrorist designation in 2021, Hoffman said they technically don’t exist on paper in Canada, having officially dissolved in May of the same year. The designation made it illegal to support a terrorist group materially or financially and gives the government power to freeze and seize assets.

“What essentially means is it hobbles their ability to raise funds and their ability to connect with others that may believe the same thing as they do,” Hoffman explained.

He said those who were “hard-core members” of the group have splintered off and joined some of the smaller alt-right groups.

According to Hoffman’s findings, the number of right-wing groups in Canada have increased from between 80 and 100 groups in 2015 to 313 unique terrorist groups in 2021.

They also identified roughly 700 incidents over that five-year period associated with right-wing extremist activities, including a threefold increase between 2016 and 2017 alone.

“What we’re seeing here in Canada is a function of what’s happening globally with a remarkable increase in a right-wing extremist energy in organization and overall activity. And again, in Canada, we’re just not immune to it. It’s quite alarming,” added Hoffman.

While not all 300 groups would meet the same “terrorism threshold” as the Proud Boys, according to Hoffman, these are groups that have a “highly committed adherence to right wing ideologies, who espouse white supremacist, ethnonationalist, racist, and xenophobic points of view that are counter to Canadian values.”

The terrorism threshold, according to Hoffman, is the difference between individuals and groups who are truly a threat to Canadian society and to public safety from those people who “talk the talk and don’t walk the walk.”

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous in this because they still are, think of it as kind of the petri dish from which violent extremism emerges,” added Hoffman. “So, they’re dangerous in the sense that they are incubators for this type of violence.”

The million-dollar question, Hoffman said, is still how these groups are continuing to gain momentum.

“The way the winds are going in terms of academic consensus is that the climate has become more permissive, particularly post-2016, but this has been a slow creep over decades …. these types of fringe voices have become more mainstream.”

Hearing former President Donald Trump referring to white supremacists in the aftermath of the Charlottesville incident as “good people,” sent an “absolute wave of far-right energy,” through Canada, according to Hoffman.

“When you have the leader of the free world saying, to white supremacists ‘I’m on your side’ or that’s how they interpreted, it makes people feel less inhibited about sharing their reprehensible points of view.”

Hoffman’s research is expected to be submitted to Public Safety Canada soon at which point it will be made public.

If the accused are convicted in the U.S. trial, the Proud Boys members will be looking at significant time behind bars. A seditious conspiracy charge alone comes with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

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