Google Ideas Summit: Conflict in a Connected World: 2013
My name is Daniel Gallant, and I am a graduate student from the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). My discipline of study is First Nations Studies and Social Work. I have worked as a counselor, group home supervisor, researcher, educator, and have been published in university presses, literary journals/magazines, radio, and peer reviewed journal throughout Canada, USA, and Germany. In addition, my social justice advocacy and activism work has gained national attention through radio, television, print, and online media sources. My passion for transformative pedagogy can be identified in my role as a researcher, practitioner, educator, writer, and activist.
My graduate research identified themes of disengagement identified within autobiographic stories of former-violent right wing extremists. This research is as important as it is unique for several reasons. First, it is a qualitative thematic analysis of creative non-fiction stories, which was developed in order to fulfill a gap in an underdeveloped area of research as identified by global counter-terrorist scholars. This study does not only fulfill an undeveloped gap within scholarship, but is further unique due to the methodological analysis and my socio-cultural position as a researcher and former violent right wing extremist. The design of my research is an auto-ethno-graphic study that illustrates a theoretical lens and analysis based within my personal connection, as a researcher, to the group I am studying.
Each former-violent extremist in this study had successfully disengaged from violent right wing extremist action; disengagement being defined as stopping violent extremist behavior. However, each of the individuals experienced more than mere disengagement, each individual had also achieved a shift of cognitive paradigm and social transformation. Each individual in the study has worked with marginalized, oppressed, and/or persecuted minority groups. Each individual has been recognized to be, at minimum, an ally to marginalized/oppressed/colonized groups, identified as such by the said group(s). My research was funded by Public Safety Canada through the Kanishka Project, which is a memorial research fund for the Air India bombing.
I have identified a list of thematic commonalities amongst the former violent right wing extremists in my study. This list adds some insights into potential resources that I recommend to be developed into progressive social change for former right wing extremists and others. Through my critical lens I articulate that right wing extremist ideological threads are rooted within the collective social consciousness of Canada and the USA. I establish this through personal experience, social policy and scholarship. Moreover, I explicitly challenge the dominant ethno-centric-mono-culture of North American society to consider how and why right wing extremist ideology is perpetuated through our socio-political structures.
A lot of scholarship indicates that progressive social change can most effectively be actualized and/or transformed if we shift pedagogically. In a global society that is now connected through the Internet it worth considering factors beyond the scope of my research that focalizes upon the role of technology within contexts of social transformation and cultural progression. New social network are emerging and current social networks within society are acculturating through technological advancements. I believe that as researchers it our duty to not only maintain ethical locations in social research, but to also facilitate collective education that does consider our global unification in a manner that addresses hegemonic and schismatic designs of the institutions in which we are located; this includes the sometimes controversial counter-terrorist/extremist scholarship. Given that the terms terrorism and extremism are culturally relevant terms it is worthy of acknowledgement that critical socio-cultural/political discourse(s) do have their place within this field.
If we as researchers, educators, and scholars do not contribute to progressive social learning we may be doomed to repeat age old, and sometimes archaic, social patterns. One area that I address through my graduate research is with First Nations in Canada. There are potential pitfalls in counter terrorist/extremist research and scholarship that could emerge from delving into context of First Nations extremism, or what may constitute as extremism. Needless to say extremist ideology and action can occur in any cultural group, but we as Canadians understand that First Nations people have faced assimilation, colonization, genocide, and ethnocidal projects administered by the state, church, academy, and society at large as a dominant ethno-centric force that maintains, even today, apartheid over First Nations populations.
Two years ago Google Ideas, “think/do tank”, Director Jared Cohen brought former-violent extremists together with survivors of extremist violence. As a result of SAVE, Jared Cohen established the Against violent Extremism (AVE) network that connects survivors of extremist violence with former-extremists, NGOs and media. AVE is currently Directed by Ross Frenett, he also works with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). I was introduced to AVE and Google Ideas after SAVE. I then contacted Jared Cohen directly. He immediately put me in contact with Ross Frenett, and others within the AVE network.
Since my introduction to this social network I have learned that my experience as a former-violent extremist is not an isolated circumstamce. I now have ongoing social connections with others who have experienced similar things and face some parallel challenges, more importantly there is bridging and social healing transpiring in relationships between former-extremists, survivors of extremist violence, governments, and NGOs. Moreover, a collective voice to concerns that I, and we as a collective, have in regards to public safety concerns, policy directions, information/intelligence on active extremists, and resource development for formers and survivors alike.
I was invited to New York City to the 2013 by Google Ideas to a Summit they developed on Conflict in a Connected World (CICW) at the Conrad Hilton, as a member of the Against Violent Extremism (AVE) network I was asked to present at a working think/do lab group at the CICW Summit.
On day one of the Summit I was re-acquainted with another Terrorism, Security, and Society (TSAS) reserach affiliate, Mubin Shaikh; as AVE members both of us were excited to share some aspects of work with others from activists, government, military, media, and other think tanks from around the world. I was introduced to TSAS by means of using a Google search on counter-terrorism research. Both of us presented a combination of our graduate research, use of social media within our counter-messaging-narratives, and activist work. The outcomes of our think tank labs included directions for development of cyber tools that could assist in tracking and building a centralized extremist database to identify issues faced when responding to extremist-messages, and potential of establishing sustainable counter-narrative messages.
My presentation covered a number of topics under my activism based work as a former-violent right wing extremist. My presentation included:
1) Interventions I have facilitated in response to youth being radicalized and recruited by white supremacists online. I have facilitated these interventions through social media by building my databases and providing that information to authorities that have then intervened and has resulted in decreasing and ceasing social media interactions between youth and hate groups.
2) Exposing white supremacists through profiling their online extremist activity.
3) Exposing a globalizing extremist network, diversified right wing spectrum that has gone largely unnoticed, and pluralism of ethnic groups involved and working with white supremacists. This network of pluralism in the extremist spectrum includes white supremacists who convert as extremist Muslims and extremist Hindus; this is also seen in the inverse where visible minorities join white supremacist organizations. As absurd and ridiculous this seems to be on the surface there is an intentional function of this dynamic and an ideological thread that ties these extremist groups together. This is a somewhat confusing and discombobulating circumstance that most people would not understand. Thus, speaks particularly to the value of including former-violent extremists into the dialogue of social policy in order to offer a bearing and resource to policy makers, government, and law enforcement in order effectively respond to extremist narratives and violence.
4) Exposing alleged former-violent right wing extremists such as the Canadian Airborne Commando 2 former-Cpl. Matt Mckay. I explained that I had invited former-Cpl. Mckay to participate in an intervention I was facilitating. The intervention was seemingly successful. Afterwards former-Cpl. Matt Mckay then began changing his position and indicated to the youth that it felt to much like the ‘old-days’ and should go target and kill an identifiable minority. Former-Cpl. Mckay then linked the youth with an active white supremacist hate group in the following months.
5) I presented about a case of a youth I had recruited over fifteen years ago from Dawson Creek, BC who was attending the College of New Caledonia in Prince George had began implementing his bomb plots to start bombing First Nations communities. As a result of my intelligence this man was not only convicted one time, but twice for manufacturing explosive devices; the latter charge was in 2010, in Prince George.
6) Issues with reporting hate crimes to local authorities in Canada, particularly in both BC and Alberta. I presented several examples of cases and the responses to these particular issues. I also summarized my experience in the differences of working with municipal police, RCMP to National Security and Military Police. As a result of this case it was recognized by our think tank lab that this issue seemed to be a global trend. Thus, we have identified a potential experimental tool that will be developed in the coming months in order create a database that will be accessible to me and others within the AVE in order to pressure appropriate responses from policy makers, governments, and law enforcement.
7) In conjunction with issues relating to the resistance of local law enforcement in BC and AB to respond to hate crime activity effectively, I also provided a summarization of the futility of a local Prince George project entitled Anti-Racist Protocol. This was a multi-level initiative that was to be accessible to the community to respond to hate crime activity, but was a failed and inaccessible resource even though promised to be otherwise by municipal government, provincial government, RCMP, and a local NGO. Moreover, I brought this to the attention of municipal and federal leaders who then deferred me to the RCMP and to trust their judgment. The discussion around the CICW Summit in context to my presentation was that others in Canada, and abroad, also faced similar challenges. Thus, dialogue around government and law enforcement accountability were further discussed.
8) Lastly, I presented that former-extremists lack resources after disengaging. There are no disengagement/de-radicalization programs available, no appropriate social services, nor funding available to establish such entities.
- I being an emerging Social Worker and experienced counselor and social service manager can fill some of these gaps. Moreover, my intention to go to law school was encouraged in order to effect long term goals of an emerging cultural group of former-violent extremists in Canada and globally. With hundreds of members in the AVE network we see that this is a growing trend. Disengagement is identified as a stage of terrorism-extremism. Thus, we will see more formers emerge.
- I have identified a need to build a scholarship (or alternative-like option) fund for former-violent extremists, whether from the far right-left or gangs, in order to contribute a stronger presence that will influence social policy. Already in the AVE, there are two of us in Canada who are engaged in social policy activism on a national level, graduate research, scholarship, and grass roots activism. The collective force of the AVE has brought an amplified credibility that will not be silenced by the political rhetoric of uninformed law enforcement and politicians.
Some of the other presentations at the Google Ideas CICW Summit included cyber tools such as:
1) Role of Social Media: social media offers a wide range of uses to counter extremist ideological messages, promotion of violence, government and corporation corruption; many other forms of information/intelligence sharing, and activism.
- Statistics were presented on how often social media tools such as twitter are utilized to expose conflict in countries that are being censored. This shows how valuable the role of social media tools are within context of human rights around the world. Discussion on how the Internet should be a human right around the world in an intriguing debate and should be further discussed in developed countries.
- The role that alternative media has played in exposing truth about dynamics within conflict areas that effectively unravels propaganda campaigns of particular government, rebel groups, and totalitarian forces.
- Blogger Analytics: example were offered of how small scale bloggers can become essential to National Security threats and intelligence through innovate reporting, even by amateurs. Some very intriguing and insightful example was presented. Bloggers who were able to discover new weaponry being manufactured in the Middle East to unveiling government corruption.
- Online uses to counter cyber bullying and threats. Stories were shared of how activists, bloggers, journalists, and hackers are repressed, censored, and victimized:
i. A story of a blogger from the Middle East who was kidnapped and tortured for his blogs.
ii. A blogger from Thailand who utilizes blogging and alternative media to counter bullying in a socially repressive society.
iii. One gay activist from Iran discussed how society and policy force queer communities to live double lives and to remain in ‘hiding’.
iv. One hacker told a story about his heavily secured computer and home was broken into by thieves and stole his computer equipment. He ended up hacking into his own computer while thieves were using his computer. Once he identified the location of his computer he was able to get it back.
2) Internet software tools offered by Google and Google Ideas:
- DDOS Protection: a software tool that is offered by Google that will prevent a website from DDOS cyber attacks. This resource can assist and stop websites from being shutdown or tampered with by malicious cyber attacks.
- Investigative Dashboard: a tool for investigators, journalists, etc. that has accessible databases on organized crime networks around the world. With this tool tracking financial trails is possible from country to country. This tool can assist with exposing and whistleblowing on corruption with military, government, and corporations.
- Anonymity Tools: there are a number of software tools to assist and facilitate anonymous activity online. This can be helpful for those engaged with alternative media sources, investigating potentially sensitive and dangerous individuals and networks, and a wide host of other applications.
- Google Proxy Tool: This new tool will allow those in countries with Internet repressive policies to by-pass government censorship online. By means of an individual in a repressed nation can connect to someone’s computer in a country that does not censor Internet access. This can be extremely powerful tool for those involved in alternative media, whistleblowing and necessary human rights activism. Of course the applications offered by this accessible software built right into your web browser and can be connected by two simple clicks is only limited by the users themselves.
In addition to the wealth of resources that were introduced and presented at the CICW Summit, it was also an amazing experience to network and connect with others. I was able to network with individuals from the USA, Thailand, Canada, and the Middle East that I will surely be engaging with for future projects; most likely more unpaid, but extremely necessary work.
This experience also gave me insights into the importance on educating youth in my own community on how accessible the wider world actually is. It is very possible and even likely for any individual to select a passion they have and to follow that through as a developed skill set in order to contribute to online social movements.
The two most important statements from the CICW Summit that resonated with me. First was that the online world is “reality.” I have often heard that one of the troubles with cyber spaces are that people lie and pretend to be who ever they want to be. This reminds me of how many people I have met in real life who pretend or hide who they really are. The Internet is no different. The latter was that the private sector can respond much more quickly to extremism/terrorism than any law enforcement or government can. Private sector responses can include a number of responses like research, counter-narratives, intelligence, and development of tools.
Networking at Social Event
Google Ideas and the Gen Next Foundation who participated in the CICW Summit hosted an amazing social event. At this event I was able to make some amazing connections. The primary contact I want to speak to is a member from the US Department of State (US-DOS) who used to write for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) magazine. I have now been in contact and will continue to nurture a relationship with US-DOS and SPLC as much as possible. I have been compelled to continue my activism over the last half a decade by the inspiration I have gotten from the work of the SPLC; never in my life had I thought I would make a direct connection to the SPLC.
Other connections include other bloggers who have now inspired me to engage with a more professional, innovative, and sophisticated investigative process and delivery for my social media articles. I am truly inspired by the work of the world leading counter-extremist and whistleblower bloggers I have met.
Google Ideas and AVE Offer Me Gifts
I want to offer a quick story of how integral Google Ideas and the AVE have become a part of my life. First and foremost, these collectives offered me freedom from isolation both in real-life and virtual spaces within context to my research, activism, and writing (creative non-fiction, scholarship, and blogs). In regards to my research Google Ideas and AVE have connected me to the federal government and has resulted in receiving some research funding. Without this funding I would have had to drop out of graduate school. My social experience has been plagued with poverty and adversity. Without strong socially privileged connections it can be debilitating attempting to acquire funding for post-secondary education, university in North America is most accessible to those who are socially privileged.
More personally the CICW has allowed me to leave Canada for the first time legally. Not only was this travel experience rich as a cultural experience it also offered me new networks and even more importantly solidify old connections. I was also able to introduce a friend of mine who runs a youth alternative media source, Gen Why Media, to the CICW Summit. Fiona Rayher is engaged in very necessary projects. One project in particular she is working on is called Fractured Lands. This documentary is about a young lawyer and emerging First Nations leader, Caleb Behn, and how his traditional territory is being impacted by oil and gas industry.
Specifically this documentary educates about the process of frac-ing in northeastern BC, which is only one process of many that has been devastating the environment and people. I was honored to share the network and connections I have been gifted to another strong leader. I am grateful that Fiona Rayher joined the CICW Summit. Her presence is timely as the Summit focused on digital conflict, censorship, and extremism. With the events happening in New Brunswick where First Nations peoples are being threatened yet again by military action, much like the Oka Crisis, brings into context as what constitutes as being extremist-terrorist action and messages.
As a former-violent extremist who has had ties with two separate terrorists in Canada and as a researcher, activist, and writer I boldly proclaim that First Nations are NOT inherently extremist just because they oppose and counter the dominant societies collective efforts to exploit and pillage environment and humans in a colonial force. There are many examples of how Canada as a nation, even in my life time, have repeatedly systemically violated, abused, and murdered First Nations peoples so severely that I am often deeply disappointed and disturbed that I was born into a social class that persists to exploit environment and people for profit; and will go to extreme measures to do so. I am hopeful that there will be dialogue that differentiates First Nations legal right to protest over land claims etc, and not be targeted under counter-terrorist legislation.
Lastly, another gift I received from the Google Ideas CICW Summit was a re-introduction with some people who had deeply impacted my life as a youth. I had ran away from home at age twelve because of the traumatic environment I was raised in. I was physically and sexually victimized as a child. After I left home I survived and supported myself through criminality. As a result I ended up incarcerated for eighteen months. I was then forced into a foster home for six months. I was housed with an amazing family, Jill and Dave Thomas. I left at the end of those six months, never to talk or see the Thomas’ again.
Two years ago I did a facebook search for the Thomas family. I located and contacted Jill through facebook. She was ecstatic and very confused. She told me that years after I had moved out they always assumed I would die on the streets. Then one day the RCMP showed up at the dental office where she worked. When I lived with them she had me in for dental work. She said the RCMP then requested my dental records. She inquired if they had found a body. The RCMP refused to confirm or deny any events and demanded the records. She gave them the records and reconciled with the fact that their foster son had died. Needless to say the Thomas family was shocked when I sent them a facebook message nearly two decades later. We became facebook friends and in frequently talk online with an intention to meet up one day in the future.
Well the day came. I posted a facebook status about my attendance at the Conrad Hilton hotel in lower Manhattan in New York City for a Google Ideas CICW Summit. Jill and Dave Thomas just happened to be in New York City at the same time. After twenty years of not seeing on another, and nearly fifteen years of thinking I had died, we got to hug and drink coffee together at the Conrad Hilton. This gift I offered just speaks to the full circles my life continuously offers.
Through Google Ideas and AVE, as mentioned earlier, I was granted funding for my research. That funding has assisted me in completing my graduate degree but also gave me another gift. It provided me with an opportunity to pay for tattoo cover-ups. I have covered one swastika tattoo on my arm, and am now in process of covering a giant swastika on my stomach. The tattooist is Rene Botha at LiquidAmber Tattoos in Vancouver. Rene is a superbly talented artist, amazing musician, and a beautiful person. She has an inspiring story and vast experience both personally, professionally, and creatively in her anti-racist contributions. As a result of my tattoo cover-ups I was offered to begin filming a documentary on my social transformation and the work that I do as a former-extremist, researcher, writer, educator, and activist. We will possibly be seeking funding for this coming project in the near future. If it were not for Google Ideas this would not have been possible.
The reason this connection to Google Ideas and AVE is important for me as a northerner is that we do have active white supremacists both on our streets and in online spaces. These individuals have pushed back in response to being exposed and have tried to openly deny their violent ideological positions; however, they have continued with their online presence and promoting violent ideologies in our communities.
I have been told by Prince George Mayor Sherry Green, former Public Safety Canada Minister Vic Toews, provincial representatives from Embrace BC, and RCMP to trust local law enforcement. However, local law enforcement and the specialized hate crimes team has proven to me, and from the feedback I have heard, the community is not happy with the fact that law enforcement only responds when pressured by media, which has often been a result of my advocacy work. Yet, people are not surprised of this because of the tarnished reputation of the RCMP due to racism, excessive force, and gender discrimination.
In my academic perspective this seems to be structurally tied to a dominant socio-political worldview that results in subtle outcomes of hegemonic systems and marginalizing responses. If the city of Prince George, the Province of BC, and the federal Government of Canada whole heartedly believed in the directives they proclaim we would not see a sort of white-privilege” that seems to exist for ‘white’ terrorists and violent extremists. Actually the federal governments choice to repeal Section 13 from the Human Rights Code indicates that quite blatantly they believe that white supremacists right to free speech is more valuable than an effective piece of legislation, namely Section 13, that has had a 100% conviction rate for Lawyer Richard Warman.
For me as a Canadian citizen it reminds me that the same authorities who have dropped the ball on missing First Nations women are the same authorities that are effectively disregarding racist extremists. In a country founded on apartheid policies in order to control the ‘Indian-Problem’ we do not seem to have advanced all that far.
That being said I commend the government for acknowledging its role, The PM’s apology speech, in facilitating genocidal and assimilation programs against First Nations people. The fact that I can publicly say what I think does show how progressive our democracy has become in contrast to yester-year. This however does not in any way negate the very issues I am contending as a researcher/academic, advocate, writer, and educator. The responses from governments and law enforcement in the north are nearly indicators that we as a society have to do a lot more work. Extremist messages need appropriate responses to counter violent action and ideologies.
I am being identified as a leader in a global context to some of these issues. I am hopeful that local authorities will recognize this and begin to work with me rather than attempt to bully and intimidate me into acting in a manner as they see fit, which essentially downplays the threat of violent extremists who believe they are at war with our society. What people sometimes fail to realize is that our society is based upon white supremacist law and culture. A culture of dominance does breed violent demeaning worldviews towards those who are often ‘other-ed’ and marginalized.
Decidedly, I am considering application to study law rather than pursuing doctoral studies due to the apathetic response from law enforcement and governments in context to extremist action; and some of the concerns I have with the status quo within the academy. It seems that unless you are from Southeast Asia, Muslim or First Nations it is ok to commit acts of extremist violence. Perhaps it is systemic ignorance that leads to the ineffective and apathetic approach to investigations and prosecution of hate crime activity.
Furthermore, all of the recent hate crimes charges against extremist white supremacist group Blood & Honor in Vancouver, BC, which includes a Filipino man who was lit on fire, beating of an aboriginal woman, and a brutal assault on a black man were failed hate crimes; all hate crimes charges were dropped. This means less sentences if these people are in fact convicted.
I have followed and profiled each one of the individuals charged with these hate crimes and offered my data to RCMP. Moreover, one of the ex-partners of a racist skinhead charged with one of these mentioned hate crimes informed the hate crimes unit that I had more information for them, which could help substantiate the hate crimes charge. Of course the hate crimes team did not contact me and in fact have attempted to take an authoritarian stance in regards to my activism.
What they do not realize is that no matter how much they try to ignore me my work will continue and until authorities respond appropriately and honor they own stated proclamations in the media and advertised campaigns I will not stop. I am here for the long haul. I will complete law school and I will begin to advocate against the inherent racism and gender discriminatory culture deeply rooted within the RCMP. I will become a force that will affect international pressure upon them until they begin to respond to right wing extremism/terrorism in appropriate manners.
There are many solutions that can be implemented within the systems in order to understand the very things government and law enforcement are exemplifying that they do not actually understand. Acknowledgement of the structural issues needs to be acknowledged then addressed. Moreover, accountability of honoring their own words must be delivered especially in context of public safety and potentially national security.