Guardians of Alberta's split from Soldiers of Odin shows a lack of cohesion on the alt-right front

Guardians of Alberta's split from Soldiers of Odin shows a lack of cohesion on the alt-right front

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2017-02-11

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Despite seeming like a united front, cracks in right-wing nationalist groups begin to show, and show more frequently in Canada than in the United States or Europe.

Two months before last Christmas, Alberta’s chapter of the Soldiers of Odin saw a splinter group form from its ranks. The Guardians of Alberta splintered from the internationally-organized anti-refugee group, citing the racist overtones in the latter group’s upper echelons and its ties to neo-Nazi organizations.

“No matter how good a job you do, there’s no way you can shake that,” said David Troute, the founder of the GoA, which, he said, has between 30 and 50 members. Troute, also a quadriplegic, claims to have black and indigenous ancestry, which he said irked the SoO’s upper ranks. He also claims to be a Buddhist.

This split isn’t rare in Canadian versions of these groups. Ryan Dean, leader of the GoA’s Edmonton chapter, noted that another group, titled the Canadian Sentinels, split from the SoO not long before his group, for example.

A 2016 article titled Uneasy Alliances: A Look at the Right Wing Extremist Movement in Canada, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, by Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens, adds some insight into this phenomenon.

“Such undying fealty to RWE creeds is not the norm among the Canadian movement. Many members seem to be ‘trying on different coats,’ according to one officer. They are typically youths looking for a place to belong, and seeking explanations for their lot in life,” the article said.

Dr. Laurie Adkin, professor of political science at the University of Alberta has studied right-wing populist groups in Europe for more than 20 years. She can only speculate as to why European and American groups have longer staying power than their Canadian counterparts, and suggests that it’s the political backdrop of Canada, a country which hasn’t seen many hard-line populist political parties like Europe which hosts dozens of nationalistic “people’s parties.”

“They are still very fringe and isolated. Maybe that doesn’t give them a prospect of electoral involvement in Canada,” Adkin said.

Similarly, the seemingly-subtle differences in ideologies might factor in. Adkin noted that some groups and individuals are anti-semetic, while others see Israel as an ally and also the Christian holy land. Moreover, while some of these groups might be vehemently anti-immigrant, the GoA say they are fine with it as long as there is integration.

The iconography of the GoA lacks the overtly Nordic, Viking-esque whiteness of the SoO, though maintains some of the sensibilities. Their emblem is a winged crusader, still a charged image, given the context of the group.

This image was chosen because “one of the first people to North America were the Knights Templar,” said Troute, who says he’s a history buff.

By the words of its leaders, though, the GoA doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a right wing extremist group.

According to Troute and Dean, while other groups like the SoO patrol streets, the GoA hope to be a philanthropic organization, donating their time to raising funds for charitable organizations. Similarly, Troute said, members can’t be involved in other groups, like the SoO, or any illegal gangs.

“A lot of us were involved to do good and help out the less fortunate,” said Dean.

“A lot of us, we’re not in it for that reason.”

However, Dean said, the group still hopes to maintain ties with other groups, like the SoO, and help out with their events in the future.

A formal response to this split from the SoO sent to the Examiner via text message denied any ties, past or present, with the GoA.

Adkin, however, is sceptical and said as much outright.

Groups like this have learned to be media savvy, she said. They’ve shifted to coded language to avoid the negative associations with their aims. These groups have shifted the debate, she said: they say that, in order to preserve what makes each country’s culture special, they need to be kept separate.

“(They say) ‘We want to protect cultural diversity by keeping immigrants out of our country who cannot assimilate to our culture.’ They’re vehemently opposed to multiculturalism,” she said.

“There’s all this coded language that people who are following their social media already get what it is they mean.”

Julia Lipscombe, co-founder of Edmonton’s Make it Awkward campaign is similarly sceptical, particularly of the group’s philanthropic efforts.

“If any groups wants to do philanthropic activities, that’s fine, but if they’re doing that while they’re promoting falsehoods about our immigrant communities, then that’s not fine.”

The GoA, by the admission of their leaders and their recruitment materials, seem to disagree with the idea of Canada as a cultural mosaic.

A recruitment post Dean made on the Edmonton Examiner’s website uses some particularly charged language and terms like “giving (illegal aliens) the right to vote and drive,” and “accepting refugees from countries that hate us.” However, the tone of the conversation was tempered when Dean spoke in-person.

“We’re pro-Canadian right? We’re all immigrants. What we don’t like seeing is people coming into our country and abusing our system,” he said.

“They come here and they don’t want to pitch in.”

Despite these somewhat kinder words, and that the GoA say they split from a harder-line group, Lipscombe is unconvinced that they aren’t racist.

“I’m glad that they say they’re not racist, but I would say they have a long, long, long, long way to go, based on what I’m reading in this recruitment post, which completely demonizes and vilifies people not of European descent.”

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