This blog article is the first known publication in Canada related to Firearms, Gangs and Extremists that specifically comments on the intersections of gangs, extremism, firearms law and Internet in Canada.
This article is written with knowledge (of the author) that national security teams across Canada have failed to address the alarming fact that para military extremist training camps have emerged all over western Canada in the last two years. These training camps use both firearms and improvised explosives.
Also, gang units and national security teams are aware of the connections between gangs and extremist groups throughout Canada but choose to not address the interplay between gangs and extremists.
This article is written with the intention to contribute to a momentum of ideas for addressing a real problem: Firearms, Gangs, Extremists and the Internet.
In Canada there are stringent licensing requirements for issuing firearms licenses and buying firearms. Canadian governments (federal, provincial and municipal) started a national discussion on banning all handguns, along with other changes to existing firearms laws.
In recent years, extremism and terrorism has become a concerning reality in Canada. There have been numerous attacks, and depending upon who you talk to there have been more attacks than we are able to count and track. Some extremist and terrorist attacks in Canada have included firearms, however, I have yet to see any data on whether these firearms were legally owned or not.
Gangs have also wreaked havoc with gun violence in communities across Canada for decades. There is little data, to my knowledge, that evidences legal firearms are used in these attacks, rather, it appears that the majority of gang gun violence is perpetrated with illegal firearms. That being said, there seems to be a growing trend that somehow active gang members and extremists are able to acquire gun licenses; none of the proposed changes to firearms law address this matter.
Recent Media Coverage
Vice media has recently covered a story of Vernon resident Kaz Nowlin who has been a member of several right wing extremist organizations, including Soldiers of Odin (“SOO”) and III% (“3%”). Kaz and others openly advertise online that they are legal firearms owners and demand that their membership engages in training to protect Canada from, primarily, Muslim terrorists. Kaz and his crew have been engaging in combat training, while attempting to deceive media into believing they only use ‘air soft’ guns. SOO and 3% are not the only ones engaged in para military training in western Canada; and there are groups that are even more concerning (this will be saved for another day).
The SOO have garnered fame within media as being debated as a community interest group. The first Canadian SOO President was an employee of the Manitoba Provincial-Government who was publicly known to be connected to the Hells Angels. SOO is a right wing extremist group that has gained permissions to fly gang colors by the Hells Angels. Other members of SOO are known to have close affiliations with Hells Angels as well.
Journalists have contributed to recruitment campaigns of the SOO and similar groups. Since then, SOO has experienced a high turnover in members. Many SOO members have defected and became 3% members in western Canada. The 3% is an American right wing militia group that now intends to stand as a vanguard against Islam; both SOO and 3% are groups rooted within a movement that targets and promotes hate against an ethnic and religious minority in Canada.
Extremist groups and gangs now recruit and advertise online. The Internet is the primary tool to access mouldable minds, and is often an effective recruitment tool for dangerous people. Social media platformsare riddled with pictures of gangs and extremists in Canada who brandish their illegal firearms (aka weapons) without fear of reprisal.
While Vice has highlighted an issue with para military training, the article is only meant as a spring board for further enquiry. There are many things that the article does not address, nor expose. It merely ricochets off the target.
There is much to say about firearms law, and this article is not intended to dive into this murky and often nonsensical area of law and regulation.
It is important to highlight that Canadian Governments are intending and hoping to make Canadians safer by decreasing the amount of legal firearms, which in effect does not achieve the governments stated goals. Rather than approach the issue by speaking to real experts in the areas of gangs, extremism and firearms law to determine how to best prevent further gun violence and attacks, the governments are targeting legal firearms owners. This is wholly unfair and seems to be motivated by the political aspiration of optics, to make it appear that the government of the day is sufficiently upholding public safety.
There are more effective methods to approach gang gun violence, extremism and terrorist attacks than by taking measures against law abiding firearms owners.
Across Canada, both federal and provincial governments have sanctioned the legitimization of gangs and extremists by allowing them to take forms byway of incorporated companies and societies. Several of these legitimized criminal and extremist groups are known to be engaged with gun violence or para military training, yet authorities do not act on this. Some examples of government sanctioned gangs include groups mentioned herein: Hells Angels and Soldiers Of Odin.
Governments should be addressing the root of gun violence and extremist/terrorist attacks by responding more diligently to the behaviors of those responsible for much of the gun violence: gangs, extremists and terrorists. Legal firearms owners are not the root of the gun violence.
There are accessible, tangible and practical methods to curbing gun violence in Canada. This includes but is not limited to the following:
- Regulation and Rules may be established to prevent and revoke registration of federal and provincial incorporated companies and societies that are gang and extremist affiliated. Governments need to cease the sanctioning and legitimizing criminal and extremist organizations.
- Deny or revoke licenses to anyone who engages in any para military training with extremist groups (whether right wing, left wing or religious) for activities contrary to Canadian social policy including human and civil rights.
- Create Firearms Act Regulation that prohibit intimidation, threats or appearance of taking arms, or engaging gun violence, against any other citizen, group or nation; apply this to both community and cyber spaces.
- Create an effective reporting system for the Chief Firearms Office (“CFO”) and RCMP online that allows users to provide links and photo uploads of identifiable extremists and gangs who are brandishing weapons online; if not an online system, one that is more effective than the mere telephone system operated by CFO, as it is too logistically complicated to report online activity via telephone.
- Empower communities to effectively and legally respond to gangs and extremists. Create Canadian Internet Regulations that will deter gangs and extremists from using cyber spaces as recruitment and promotion because these groups pose dangers to our communities. Provide citizens, communities and incorporated non-government organizations with legal mechanisms to pursue injunctions and torts where gangs and extremists are brandishing firearms and other threatening behavior online.
- Develop checks and balance system to report police and authorities who refuse to investigate or take action when credible reports of gang or extremist activity are not acted upon. This can include tort liability, or any other mechanisms available to legislators.
If the root of the gun violence problem in Canada are criminals, gangs, extremists or terrorists, we should not be taking punitive measures against legal firearms owners, we ought to be focussing on those who are the problem.
I am one of a few people in Canada who have collected a small database of known extremists and gang members who do advertise para military training and brandish weapons online. To date, interest of authorities related to firearms brandished online by gangs and extremists is nil. This needs to change.
If the governments are serious about tackling gun violence they ought to address the roots of the problem.
It has been brought to my attention that Right Wing Extremist group, namely Soldiers of Odin (“SOO”), have been gaining publicity in Dawson Creek, BC.
Some community members are bothered by this, while it seems that local media, at least one non-profit agency and local RCMP appear to be responding in a way that exhibits their ignorance on right wing extremist groups, or even worse that they may support SOO. There are many reasons that the RCMP and the community ought to be concerned about right wing extremist groups that are recruiting new members.
I was born in Spirit River, Alberta, and lived in Rycroft as a young child. I spent much of my life at Moberly Lake and Chetwynd, BC. In fact, I began my academic career at the Dawson Creek Northern Lights College campus. I now hold a Masters in Social Work and Juris Doctor (Law) Degree. I am a registered professional with both the BC College of Social Work and the Law Society of BC (Decision).
I care about the communities in the Peace River District, which is my home. Members of the Peace River District communities helped me crawl out of a personal hell related to addictions, gangs and violent extremism. I understand hate groups and their strategies very well, as I have been there.
For those who do not know, I have been doing work for many years countering hate groups and white supremacist groups. In recent years, this has including contending with right wing extremist groups that claim they are not extremists and tout themselves as community interest groups, and more specifically the SOO. Anyone, including the RCMP, who state there is no reason to be concerned about this group has obviously not inquired into the activities of the groups members. The SOO have been linked to, and gained permissions from, the Hells Angels.
My sources report that the Hells Angels in BC, Manitoba and Ontario have established a network of affiliations with right wing extremists; this of course is not new information as the Hells Angels themselves have historically touted neo-nazi views and symbols. In recent years, it has become known that the Hells Angels are refortifying their links and granting permissions to right wing extremist groups and gangs to wear gang patches within the Hells Angels’ claimed territories (turfs); this is because these groups are often involved in drug dealing and their violent tendencies, which is good for biker business.
My academic research was centred on right wing extremist groups in western Canada, which has been cited by world leading scholars. Additionally, I have been consultant for media, governments around the world, law enforcement, academics and experts who work in the field of counter terrorism and counter violent extremism work. My work has been presented around the world to communities and world leaders.
Most recently, I was commissioned by the Canadian federal government to publish a paper for UNESCO about issues related to right wing extremists groups. In this paper written for policy makers, I address the increase of hate group activities, which include SOO. I address issues such as media being duped into essentially promoting groups like the SOO as community interest groups, rather than what they actually are. Also, how community professionals and agencies are also mislead about the nature of these groups who rely upon media for information.
Groups like the SOO utilize a recruitment strategy that garners controversial media discussions and then the group’s representatives tactically present themselves through rhetoric and what they call evidence of their good will. These tactics for recruitment are not foreign to right wing extremist groups. In fact fascist governments and hate groups have relied upon this sort of public image for a long time, This is what we call propaganda.
UNESCO has stated (in this report), and reiterated in my paper for UNESCO and others, media plays a role in perpetuating speaking platforms for hate groups, extremists and terrorists [also this report and this one have relevant materials too].
For those who do believe that Soldiers of Odin are inherently a ‘good will’ organization, I suggest you take the time to read this analysis of the group that I have provided and in this one (here). Experts have labelled SOO as a hate group (including Dr. Ryan Scrivens, Dr. Barbara Perry and myself). In spite of SOO’s statements that they are not a hate or extremist group, the origins and the banner of this group is inherently hateful. Additionally, SOO as an organization and it’s individual members have been at the very least affiliated with organized crime groups and do engage in harassment and intimidation campaigns. All of this plus they are actively promoting and disseminating hateful messages about immigrants, Muslims in particular.
I am very disappointed in the Community of Dawson Creek that includes non-profits, RCMP and local media for the public statements that present as supportive of this right wing extremist group.
I believe the citizens of Dawson Creek, and in the Peace River District, ought to take note that this group is not as it claims it is. It is possible that members of the community have joined the group with good intentions, however this group has been engaged in para military training and has been known to hold war preparation training camps based upon the paranoid view that Canada is under attack of a Muslim invasion.
The Soldiers of Odin are a hate group in the opinion of leading experts, including myself.
**For those who are interested in learning strategies of how to effectively respond these types of organizations, you may contact me for further information and support.**
Here is a list of all the articles from the Dawson Creek newspaper The Mirror (note that not one of these articles offers an in-depth analysis that provides a balanced enquiry of the criticisms of the Soldiers of Odin). For whatever reason The Mirror seems to be providing the extremist group with a recruiting platform.
This blog post is dedicated to Garry Gottfriedson who has taught me how to amplify my voice. Garry is a Secwepemc writer from the interior of BC. Garry spent a lot of time teaching me through experiential learning of how to edit and construct my writing. He led me to exploring my own voice. The gift he has given me, is deeply appreciated.
The story of Garry and I met can be found in this story: Spirit of the Knife.
I have been invited by Garry, and retired indigenous lawyer/writer Michelle Good, to read at Garry’s book launch for his book: Deaf Heaven.
I was recently interviewed about the Soldiers of Odin taking foot in BC. I see this as very problematic, in spite of the groups desire to claim they have no ties, nor intention, similar to that of the group they claim to be a part of. This, of course, is illogical; and in my opinion demonstrates how full of shit these guys are.
I decided to write this first letter to my fellow Canadians, and the latter to Soldiers of Odin as a whole.
Daniel Gallant is a registered Social Worker who studies law, and has been acknowledged as a leader on topics pertaining to right wing extremism in Canada. Daniel spent nearly ten years trapped within the white supremacist movement in western Canada, and has since dedicated his life to undoing violence, racism and hatred. His work has been presented to, acknowledged by and referenced by world leaders, governments, leadings scholars, global organizations, and law enforcement.
Dear Fellow Canadian Citizens,
Don’t believe the hype.
Soldiers of Odin (S.O.O.) are not here to protect you, nor your communities. This group claims, and may even believe, they are working for the greater good. But, this is clearly not true. I would like to tell you a few things about their organization.
First, S.O.O. is the by-product of the European white supremacist network. The group was designed in Northern Europe by hate mongers that aim to ‘cleanse’ neighborhoods from ‘immigrant hordes’. The group’s primary purpose is to engage in war and instill terror into its enemies, as that is a nature of war; for furthering context Soldiers of Odin were formed to target immigrants, Muslims and Islam. However, the Canadian leaders of this group want us to believe they have nothing to do with, nor are they alike or kin to, the hate group that birthed their organization, a little over one year ago.
Basically the Soldiers of Odin will do whatever it takes to hide behind every mask they can. Plainly speaking, if the group has no kinship with its white supremacist roots, then why did they join under the flag, and trademark, of the Soldiers of Odin. There does not appear to be any logical and rationale that could make this a plausible truth.
Soldiers of Odin began in Europe, formed by white supremacists, about a year ago. Now under that same flag, Chapters of the organization have spread throughout Europe and North America; all hailing anti-immigration sentiments and embracing right wing rhetoric. But, the Canadian chapter wants the citizens of Canada to be permissible and complicit in their inherently racist organization. This way they can both hide and fulfill their organization’s purpose. Hiding in plain sight.
WHAT IS IN A ‘NAME’
Soldiers of Odin are making claims that do not hold up to even the most basic logic testing.
For instance, let’s for a minute consider the name of the organization, “Soldiers Of Odin”, in itself demonstrates what the group is, and sets out to do. Odin is the god of war that honors those who die in battle to protect their race and soil. This is the odinist way. Anyone who claims otherwise, either is lying or does not understand the narrative they are supporting, which in itself demonstrates inconsistent messaging of this organization, or perhaps lies. These tactics are only utilized by those who have something to mask and hide.
Additionally, the term “odinism” was the construct of WWII era theorists, who were Nazis. The Nazis developed and branded odinism out of an ancient Nordic Pre-Christian Religion. The ancient pagan ‘religion’ was not called “odinism”, it is Asatru (and other variations of the like).
The Nazis created a new branch of neo-paganism, odinism, that had erupted into a real threat all over the world in the 1980s, which disguises itself as a cultural heritage ideology. Yet, just another way for extremist racists to hide their true ‘color’ (pardon the pun).
In our era of contemporary right wing politics and global issues pertaining to extremism and terrorism, these sorts of groups are emerging everywhere. And without a doubt, they are a threat to those that fall into identifiable categories. By this dynamic alone, is kin to the same way that racism plays out in our communities; it is schismatic in nature.
The main difference between Astatru and odinism, in a very rudimentary explanation, is that odinists worship the Nordic god of war. Odin is set out to protect soil and bloodlines. By this logic alone, Soldiers of Odin are there to protect their own race and land. This alone should be understood as racist in two ways:
- a) Soldiers of Odin was created as an anti-immigration organization to fight against the Muslim community, and
- b) which seeks to protect its (O.O.) own kind, and the S.O.O. membership is primarily ‘white’ people.
There is another discussion to be had about Soldiers of Odin and their impact upon indigenous peoples as well. But that is a more complex area of discussion to have in the future. But let me assure you, this is also an area where this group demonstrates pure ignorance and inconsistent messages. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many people the S.O.O. will disguise itself, and it’s true purpose, function and structure by convincing members of the public otherwise.
SKINHEADS AND RACISTS
Soldiers Of Odin’s leaders claim they have purged out the racists from their organization. This is, flatly, a lie.
I was a part of the white supremacist movement in Canada for ten years. I have been engaged with online monitoring of white supremacist organizations now for nearly 12 years. I assure you that there is evidence that proves the S.O.O. are soo full of poop, on this point alone. This is actually a ridiculous claim. They are flatly denying the presence of racists in their midst to the Canadian Public, while on the other hand have embraced white supremacists within their ranks; and remember that they were also founded by white supremacists.
White supremacists and racists have been praying to odin before beating and killing people on our streets, for decades. Some of you may even remember David Bowie’s 1987 album Tin Machine warning us about racist odinists in his song entitled: Under the God. This is not a new issue.
Not only do the Soldiers of Odin have white supremacists in their ranks, but the leadership does engage in many forms of rhetoric that synthesizes the nature and conduct of, and is derived from, white supremacist groups.
S.O.O. has engaged in social media attacks against those who oppose or critique their organization; and this is why I have chosen to speak out.
Community leader and long-time anti-racist Alan Dutton has been interviewed about his opinion of Soldiers of Odin Chapter that was recently started in Vancouver. Soldiers of Odin members and leadership has began referring to the opposition as enemies and then referring to their critiques as “antifa”.
This is precisely what fascist, nazi and white supremacists do. In fact, the rhetoric and dynamic of attempting to discredit someone, by labelling them as antifa, is birthed out of the white power movement.
Antifa are people who are anti-fascist. Already, Soldiers of Odin have launched social media attacks against those they label as antifa, which surely they will label me. This is very problematic for a couple of reasons:
First, when did we as a society begin to say that Anti-Fascists are a bad thing?
Second, did Canada not take a formal position against the fascist Nazi Regime in WWII?
How can Soldiers of Odin claim to be upholding Canadian law and values when they are attacking those who stand up against racism and fascism. It seems that Soldiers of Odin are working contrary to our legal system.
The fact that S.O.O. is attacking antifa online, is indicative of the similar conversations found on white supremacist websites. This is a core contradictory element of their organizations discourse. This does demonstrate the ideological lineage of Soldiers of Odin’s members. I do not think, nor expect, most Canadians can easily identify these issues. But, I can, as I spent nearly a decade immersed in that lifestyle; and more than a decade of unlearning the doctrine.
My years within the white supremacist movement in western Canada, to my profound social change, and now my current role as an educator, researcher, advocate, Social Worker and future career as a lawyer, compel me to express to you that this group, in my opinion, are a threat to safety of ALL Canadians. Especially to minority groups and vulnerable persons.
It has been demonstrated to me, through my research on the Soldiers of Odin that there is a grave concern that emerges in the influx of their membership, and the fact that many people who are not attracted to white supremacy, are being duped into this new organization.
I will support any group that keeps our streets safe for ALL Canadians. However, not only are the Soldiers of Odin unsafe because they are inherently racist and war-minded as an organization (as is demonstrated by evidence found in their organizations founder and group name), they have also proven to be comprised of liars, racists, extremists and bullies who belittle immigrants and anti-racists. This alone should raise flags about who and what the Soldiers of Odin are.
Canadians should be concerned with this group that is reminiscent of the Heritage Front.
Daniel Gallant (MSW, RSW)
Juris Doctor Candidate – 2017
Dear Soldiers of Odin,
It has come to my attention that you have now ‘set up shop’ in Canada, by rapidly expanding Chapters of your ‘organization’ across Canada. Let’s not waste time, nor mince words.
Your organization has already demonstrated dishonesty, incongruence and hatred against your fellow citizens. Your politics are divisive and the evidence is found in your online campaign, organizational conduct, onslaught of misinformation and the fact that you have members who are members of various Canadian hate groups (both past and present). Heck, even your organization’s name speaks to the violent nature of your organization’s intent: war for the sake of ‘blood, soil and honor’.
There are several things I would like to hash out with Soldiers OF Odin and air publicly, some of which is in this letter, and more in my letter to all Canadians. We will surely engage more discourse as time moves forward, as I have a wealth of knowledge, insight, education and stamina.
Your ‘respective’ leader (Joel Angott) indicated (in Metro News article) that you all uphold Canadian law, and our collective Constitutional Rights. Obviously your organization does not understand what a Constitutional Right is. There are only a few ways in how S.O.O. could possibly frame the façade that you all uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution. However, we both know this is complete bull-pucky.
If you had any clue what a Constitutional Right was, then you would not be attempting to claim your neighbourhood patrols protect Constitutional Rights in Canada. Let me explain further.
Canadian Constitutional Rights, are guarantees, in law, that Canadians receive to empower us as citizens. Guarantees that protect us of from the conduct and actions of government, police and authorities of certain variety. Moreover, Constitutional Rights are engaged as a legal protection that are sorted out through the legal system, not by walking through neighborhoods creating an environment of fear and intimidation.
I am sorry to inform you that you do not, in fact, nor law, protect Canadians’ Constitutional Rights. You are a group of self-appointed, not democratically elected, thugs who ‘patrol’ streets against our own citizens. These actions, even if righteous, are in no way connected to upholding our Constitutional Rights.
If S.O.O. were in fact upholding our Constitutional Rights you all would be working within legal strategies against the government and authorities, where there were Constitutional failings and pitfalls. You would not be involving yourself in right wing extremism and organized crime circles.
I do want to acknowledge, however, that we do agree on some matters. Our laws do not protect citizens well enough from pedophiles, rapists and other social ailments. But to be frank, I do not believe you are our solution to these matters. In fact, quite the contrary. This is where I find your organization very similar to white supremacist groups. Your group appeals to those people who are rightfully angered about the abuses and grievances they and their loved ones may have suffered. Soldiers of Odin capitalizes upon these vulnerabilities, and exploits citizens by doing so, while fooling un-suspecting people into your ranks. However, this mere tactic to garner public attention and community support is bound to fail because it is not transparent and congruent; rather it is coercive and manipulative.
Fortunately, there are those of us who have a deeper understanding through personal experience, education and formal research of how organizations like yours get started; and then move onto becoming a threat to Canadian public safety.
I hope that you take this input, how it is intended. My intention is to show you that your organization is publicly speaking out of line, on matters it knows not; and that the rhetoric you are attempting to sell is exposed for what it is: abusive.
Additionally, I do hope you become aware that there are those in our communities who care about sustainable public safety. Organizations like S.O.O., albeit believe they are righteous, are actually creating more divisiveness in our communities and are spreading hatred and fear in the very communities you claim to protect. The very fact that organizations of minorities are expressing concern, and your leaderships response is defensiveness and offensive rhetoric, both demonstrate and exemplifies your organizations nature; the intent of the Soldiers of Odin, hence, your organization’s name that pays homage to the god of war.
Let us, in summary, cut to the chase.
Soldiers of Odin membership includes racists, white supremacists, criminals and liars. S.O.O. was created to instil fear and conduct acts of violence in a war, that odin would adore. It is unfortunate that your predecessor, odin himself, would probably be very disappointed in your tactics and dishonesty.
Perhaps the next time you want to sell the Canadian public a stench ridden pile of steaming crap, you may want to consider a re-brand that does not overtly emulate the true nature of your group’s purpose: abuse, war & racism.
Daniel Gallant (MSW, RSW)
Juris Doctor Candidate – 2017
Reflections of ourselves in those we love.
Physical mirrors remind us that we are present, but the reflections of our strengths and struggles found in the healing of meaningful relationships are much deeper. Teachings found in the stories of people around us, offered by their being; the teachings we offer others from our state of being.
This story was published in my masters thesis and is one of the concluding chapters in my autobiography soon to be released. The autobiography will be complete once I finish edits in relation to my most recent troubling and difficult experiences while studying at TRU Law school.
But until then, I offer this story that represents the best of life. The stories that live inside of me as a result of the healing nature of so many meaningful relationships can be found throughout my blog, but for now my experience at law school is barren so I must always remember the healing that has occurred only made possible through the people in my life. Law school is filled with a different kind of people, a different culture, a professional and ‘upper-class’ culture fraught with an ancient history of abuse, denial and oppression; a culture that needs more change.
When I remember the stories that brought me to where I am today, is where I find my true purpose and strength. For me the law is but a tool, a tool to bring voice to people like myself, friends and family (nehiyaw). I believe we can reshape tools to make them better, but only if we hold others accountable for their actions while also being accountable for our own actions. Thus, I must press on best I can and remember the spirit of my family and friends, and the spirit of knife.
Throughout my university career, which I started at age twenty-six, with a grade seven education, my interest in watching and listening to storytellers led me to the Weaving Words Aboriginal Writing Festival. I attended the event two years in a row. Maintaining an anonymous presence at the festival was the most natural engagement for me. Sitting quietly in the sidelines. Listening to others’ stories, connecting and relating to them, while on my own. Previous to attending the University of Northern British Columbia, where this writing festival takes place annually, I had attended the University of Alberta.
While at the U of A, an invitation from my cousin led me to a reading by First Nations writer Richard Van Camp. While listening to Richard I felt compelled to talk with him, but did not do so. Afterwards my cousin Zach and I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of The Lesser Blessed. I enjoyed the book. Years later at the Weaving Words festival at UNBC Richard Van Camp was one of the annual readers. I found him funny and entertaining. He engaged my spirit in a way I had never known before.
During one of my courses at UNBC, in the First Nations Studies program, we had a guest speaker in class. This was on the first day of the Weaving Words Aboriginal Story Telling Festival. Garry Gottfriedson, a renowned Secwepemc poet, came and read some of his poetry to our class. It was intimate and raw. It was about the streets of East Van. I could smell, see, taste and touch the words and phrases he read out about some corners and alleys in the lower east side. Lower is such a good way to describe that area of Vancouver. It is hard for me to know and remember that as a child I was alone on the streets on the lower east side. It was like I was back on the streets of East Van when I listened to Garry read. It took everything in me to not break down with shattered tears in class. Immediately after Garry was done reading, my feet carried me to retreat in the washroom. Tears streamed down my face. Finally someone in the university spoke my language. I was compelled to talk to Garry, but did not do so. Instead my introverted retreat sewed my lips shut. My fear crippled me. I had no idea what the fear was about. It was apparent that it was simply overwhelmingly a response of fear to Garry’s words. Perhaps the fear of returning there to the streets, or the fear that other children, will endure similar experiences.
The following year both Garry and Richard were reading again at the festival. I was excited. After one of the readings the crowd converged to a local campus coffee shop. As we all stood in line Richard was standing there with several of his peers. He looked at me and smiled. I gave him a responsive forced half smile. He looked down towards my crotch. My first thought was “what the fuck are you staring at?”
Then he looked in my eyes while pointing at my pocket, “Hey, that’s a nice knife you got going on there.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
“Can I take a look at’er?”
I pulled the fold up blade out of my pocket. I handed it to him. “Whoa, look guys!”
He showed the knife to his friends. “It’s a camo knife. ohhh, so cool!,” he said with utter excitement. I could not tell if he was fucking with me or if he was being genuinely nice. “Can I open it?,” he asked.
“Ya man knock yerself out.”
Richard slowly pulled the blade of the knife open, with a huge energetic smile. You could feel his enthusiasm illuminate the room. “Whoa! Man! That’s the coolest thing ever! Look guys! The blade is camo even. Awesome knife man! Are you a hunter? My uncle is a hunter even. Whoa! This is so awesome!”
My heart was pounding. I was building up to an uncontrollable desire to punch him in the face. My heart felt like it was trying to jump out of my chest with every beat in order to reach out and smack him in his lips. He folded the knife up and handed it back to me. “That’s a wicked cool knife man. I want one like that someday. It would make a great gift for my uncle.”
I had never felt so patronized as I did in that moment. It felt like he knew about me. That he identified my knife in public to teach me a lesson. “Why the hell was I packing a knife at school for, anyways. What the hell was I afraid of. Was it necessary? Why the fuck was this son-of-a-bitch bugging me.”
Him and all his friends ordered their drinks and left to the large table nearby. I was so relieved when they walked away. They were all laughing and joking at the table. I felt like they were laughing at me. Everybody knew. They all knew Daniel was crazy. He packs a knife at the university, does he think he is tough or something. I got my tea and left. I split like lightening. I got about thirty paces down the hall. I stopped dead in my tracks. A voice spoke inside my head: “You have to stop packing knives Daniel. You need to look at your fear son.”
I took a deep breath in, and released all my pent up energy in a single exhale. My fight was gone. It felt like I was going to cry. I knew my fear had to be relieved through letting go.
Letting go is not an easy task. Usually it comes with a lot of tears and intrusive self-destructive thoughts. I feared in that moment that someone would try to hurt me if I put my knife away. Besides what’s the point in owning a knife unless you carry it with you. The voice of knife spoke again. “Give it away to Richard. He is the one who just called you on your bullshit. You’re in university and your life is different now. Why the hell are you carrying the streets with you here in these hallways. Let it go. Give it away. That’s the Cree way. Face your fears son.”
I marched over to Richard while he sat at the table, they were all laughing and joking around. I slammed the knife down in front of him. It felt like the sound travelled through all the halls in the university. The entire school went quiet and glared at me. They all had seen me. Everyone knew. I felt busted. “This is for you,” I said.
I spun around immediately, and stepped away one foot in front of the other before Richard could respond.
“Hey! Hey man, thanks, but what is this for?”
I side-stepped and spun around while walking backwards. “It’s for you man. It’s my gift to you. It’s yours now” Then I saluted him and walked away.
“Whoa guys look! This knife is so awesome! Look!”
I could hear his bullshit as I walked away. Reluctantly that night I slipped into another one of Richard’s readings. I had to. The guy pissed me off so bad and got under my skin that there was no choice but to face the demons inside me. The festival ended that night.
A year later, I attended the festival again. Both Richard and Garry were there. The opening event was a number of First Nations poets from all over Canada. Garry was reading that day. I needed to attend this one for sure. Garry’s readings brought me to places I did not want to go. But I knew those places needed to be re-visited again. Being haunted by the streets every day of my life is a curse, intrusive memories and grotesque recalls are continuously summoned. But during Garry’s picturesque poetic description of the real world seemed like a healing time to visit those horrible spaces.
As I walked in and sat down, Garry glanced over at me. Immediately he jumped up from his seat in the auditorium and quickly came over to where I was sitting. He plopped down beside me. “Hey, I want to talk to you. I been trying to get to you for two years in a row now. So after the reading make sure you don’t run off like you usually do immediately after. Ok?”
I smiled, “Ya, you bet. I will stay in my seat till you’re not busy afterwards. Just don’t forget about me waiting”
“I won’t. k. I gotta go talk to those people over there before my reading”
I sat there in tears. Finally someone had seen me. It was a relief. It had been several years since someone seen me, and made the action to approach me. The last time that had happened was with Gary Moostoos and Jerry Goodswimmer, in Edmonton (Gallant, 2012a). I felt validated in my existence from the one simple fact, Garry saw me and had articulated that he wanted to talk to me.
We hung out and chatted for several hours. Then he asked for a ride to his hotel room. As we drove down the university boulevard, a hill that is stretched over four kilometers of a sloping downward grade, our conversation got deeper and deeper. Soon our conversation shifted to our histories of childhood abuse. We were in to some pretty dark details. Then Garry talked about the healing properties of writing. I knew what he was talking about.
We talked about how our writing helped us and why we initially started to write in our lives. We talked about how later in life the red road led us to further healing, and helping others. He was shocked to hear that Cree culture influenced my life. Then he asked, “Do you got any of your writing with you?”
“Ya, of course I do. I write everyday in class. Otherwise I could not sit in class if I did not write poetry. I couldn’t process the social work bullshit without my poetry,” Garry smiled. “OK! Grab your bag. Come up to my room and read me a few pieces. Then I will give you some feedback”
I had my backpack on and ready to go. We went up to his hotel room. My heart pumped fear because I had never read my work out to anyone before. We were in his room. He dimmed the lights. Set me up at the table. He laid on the bed, on his back. His hands were clasped together, his fingers on top of his chest. His eyes were closed and he said, “Read the first one.”
I recited my poem: A Letter to Matthew.
“Ok. Good! Read the next one.”
I read my poems about prostitutes and one of the serial killer’s in BC.
I read my poem about gossip.
“Ok. Good. Now read the first one again”
I recited it one more time. I was feeling anxious to hear his feedback. Intuitively I knew it was going to be good feedback, but my fear and self-talk screamed that he would not like my writing. I had never read my poetry out to anyone before. I had been writing since my first psych ward stay when I was fourteen. Now thirty-six-years-old and reading poems out loud for the first time.
“You have an important voice. Here is what we are going to do. At Christmas time you are going to come stay with me. You will spend the holidays with me for three weeks. We will edit your writing and build you a manuscript”
I was smiling ear to ear. I was found. I was seen. I was heard. My whole life was spent trying to be heard, and now, it was coming. I was going to have a loud voice. We agreed that we would both commit to this offer. “There is one stipulation,” he said. “You have to call me every week until Christmas time. Otherwise I know you will not come”
I smiled. I knew in that moment he saw me. All of me. He understood me.
The writing festival continued the next day. Garry went home. Then on the last day of the festival I attended the last event, alone. Richard Van Camp was going to be reading at the wrap-up for the festival. I was pumped. As soon as the reading was over I rushed off to the washroom. When exiting the restroom Richard said, “Hey! I wanted to talk to you. But you keep vanishing every time I turn around. You’re like a ghost ‘ir sumthin.”
I laughed, “My friends on the rez used to sing a Stompin’ Tom Connors’ song every time I would walk in out of the blue: I am the wind.” Richard and I cracked up. Our bellies laughed. It was like standing there with one of my Cree cousins from the rez when I was a kid. Relaxed and real. I felt at home with Richard.
“Hey I wanted to thank you. Hold on, I brought something for you.”
He ran over to his bag and a group of people surrounded him. “Hold on a few minutes. I just gotta talk to this guy before he disappears on me again.”
Funny enough, it was about three seconds before my feet were gonna high tail it outta there. He came and sat with me. He handed me a folded cloth. It was dark blue. Then he pulled it away from me when I went to grab it.
“This is spiritual tobacco. It was a gift given to me from the six nations. It was grown by my friend. She honored me. Now I am honoring you. You gave me a gift. Now I am giving you a gift. That’s our way.”
I interrupted him. “Richard. Can I tell you something first?”
His eyes looked into my curiously, “Yes, of course. Go ahead”
I continued, “You know last year when I gave you that knife. I was mad at you. Real mad.”
Richard’s pupils dilated huge, “Whoa. What? Why? What did I do?!!”
Then I explained to him what had happened for me. “I have to tell you the story. You made me look at myself by being yourself. You are genuine. So was I. It was an internal clash for me. That day I learned something from you. You helped me. By simply being your beautiful self. I did not understand till awhile later. You gave me a gift and that’s why I gifted you your knife. You helped changed my life.” I was choking back the tears. But my eyes could not hold them back. My right eye poured out tears down the outside of my cheek. I looked in Richard’s eyes, “Thank you” I said.
Richard’s eyes were welled up and he softly said, “Thank you. That is some real powerful stuff.” His eyes then pushed the tears to the edge of his eyelids. The only thing holding back the waterfall of cry was the upward curve of his eye lashes, “That’s beautiful. Mussi-cho”
He handed me the tobacco. Then his shoulders flung back, his backbone instantly straightened, his eyes wide open and then his open hands moved upward in excitement. Then he went on to say, “Now I gotta tell you what I was going to say to you when I brought you these sacred seeds. The knife you gave me. It’s in a sacred place now. I had the knife in my pocket. I carried it everywhere because I knew it was looking for it’s home. Did you know? Knife has a spirit eh? I have even heard stories that there are knife people.” His eyes were smiling.
“This is so cool. What you told me really fits. This is so important. Knife has a spirit. Everything does. And that’s why we are here. That is why you are important to me. Now I got to tell you. Your knife. My knife. She is with medicines now. I was with my friend and he was looking for his knife. He was so upset. No one ever goes into his medicine bag. But somehow his knife went missing. No one ever touches his things. He even lives alone. So no one touches his stuff. Ever! Weird eh?”
Some things just happen for reasons beyond our understanding. People are put on our paths. Richard continued, “So I pulled the knife out of my pocket. My friend said “ahhh cool. But the knife has to be sharp. My medicines are tough.” So I opened the knife. I stroked the knife on my thumb to see if it was sharp. And holy man! It was ever sharp. We nearly became blood brothers. You know! Like in the old indian movies. So my friend said: “perfect!” Richard smiled.
“So that’s where your knife is. With the medicines. So now I understand why that knife is where it is. But I need to know something. Where did you get the knife?,” Richard asked.
I told him I was teaching a young First Nations guy to hunt. “I met him in school. He was in a heavy metal band and they played a lot of concerts in Canada and all over the continent. Their band, Giybaaw, always came into contact with white supremacists because of the type of heavy metal fans that went to the shows. And some of the bands were Nazis. So they asked me for help cuz I know about that stuff, eh? Then the next thing I know we became such good friends. I took him up north to teach him how to hunt. I realized I needed a pocket-knife. So we stopped at an old gas station in the middle of nowhere and I picked that knife. It had a perfect edge and beautiful tip.”
Richard smiled and stood up. He put is hands out to the sides and waved me in for a hug.
“I thank you Daniel. You’ve honored me with your story. Mussi-cho nechi”
I hugged him and quietly said, “hiy-hiy. You honored me today too.”
I continued on with my day. I was so grateful. Life was going where it was supposed to be going. The spirit of the knife told me this. Three and a half months later I went to Garry’s. We hit the work hard. We edited over a hundred poems in nine days, while we developed the manuscript. I also wrote many new poems. It was beautiful. Ten to sixteen hour days for nine days straight. We even did eight hours of work on Christmas day. After we were done we talked about the experience together. De-briefing all of our emotions and spiritual gratitude for having our paths intersect. I told him how much the Weaving Words festival meant to me that year, and why. I told him about the story with Richard and I.
Garry’s eyes filled with tears. He shook his head as his neck shivered,
“You know what?!”
I looked at him confused.
“Your knife is with my medicines.”
We looked at each other in shock. We both knew in that moment, these paths of the red road were healing trails. This was the spirit of the knife at work. This is what medicine means. Knife has a healing spirit, with an edge.
I have written many blog articles, academic pieces and many declarative poetic narratives about my time in the white supremacist movement. I have also read and watched the work of others related to their experience with the white power networks around the world. I have not ever been so profoundly moved by an artistic piece as I have, to date, by the play written by David Gow called Cherry Docs.
(Photo by Jenifer Norwell CBC)
The Director of the play in Kamloops, Glen Cairns, featured Nigel Beardwood who played Michael Downy, a neo-nazi skinhead on trial for racially motivated murder. Todd Sullivan played Beardwood’s Jewish lawyer. Glen Cairns, the Director, is a survivor of a violent hate crime in Toronto back in the 1990s. The beating so severe his face had to be reconstructed. We were brought together by suggestion of a mutual friend, to whom I am grateful.
The play was moving. It was delivered with a vulnerable emotional connection, by a production and acting team that is passionate about life and the real social issues we face in society. This play is worth seeing.
Albeit, my boots are not Cherry Docs they are Oxblood Gripfast (used to be gettagrips) Rangers, which were one of the two main choices of boots selected by nazi skinheads since the 1980s. Both pairs are symbolically linked and represent the same thing, while also acknowledging there do exist some branding and functional differences. I will not discuss these distinguishments as I do not want to contribute to a promotion of the reasons why I selected these boots, but I will say that I always had a pair of Docs for one violent purpose and this style of boot for another violent purpose.
I could write a very long article on what I experienced but instead I encourage you to see the play that runs until Jan. 24 2016 in Kamloops. I also encourage you to read this article by CBC and listen to this interview with Glen, Nigel and Myself as we discuss our intersection, Cherry Docs (boots), in the theatre of life.
(Photo by Jenifer Norwell CBC: Right to left: Nigel Beardwood, Daniel Gallant, Glen Cairns)
The only sad part about this experience is that in response to the CBC’s article (as seen here) is riddled by comments by white supremacists. One particular individual, who is a member of a specific skinhead organization and is responsible for cowardice beatings of our community members and was charged with a hate crime, took to the internet to express his rejection of the healing nature of our collective cathartic experiences.
It is a good reminder for me to know that there are still people who are lost and cling on to the grips of power-over others through violence/intimidation, while riddled with denial and false consciousness about our shared humanness (as I once was)…there is still much work to be done…but at the very least even those who are where I once was are now discussing and engaging on the forefront (or at least periphery) with the work of deconstructing hatred in our communities.
I challenge any and all persons who believe in the things I once did to reach out and have civil dialogue in order for us to grow collectively, rather than holding onto to abusive ways that defeat the thing that we all similarly strive for: survival and a better life. I do not condemn those for believing what they do, but I do openly challenge the not-always-so-apparent logical fallacies and conspirators perceptions of those who dedicate themselves to a movement fuelled by hatred, fear and denial.
There is a better way to live.
Recently I participated in the Extreme-Dialogue project that provides a counter-extremist-narrative as an open source for people to use. However, these sorts of videos are not a ‘new approach’ to countering extremism. Alan Dutton began providing similar resources at Stop Racism.
These films were made with vulnerable exposure of emotions. I know some people will do there best to poke at me as a result, but for those people I say this: “Do not mistake my vulnerability as weakness.” I expect threats and backlash by people who are bothered by this work.
This version of the film is my personal favourite. I believe this was one of the first cuts by Duck Rabbit. This one truly speaks for itself i believe.
Interview Prep Session
I enjoyed most of the process of the production of this film, but their interview methods seemed a little concerning at first. On day one the forced me to sit down as they administered what they called a ‘pre-programming exercise.’
After they gave me my shock treatment they then moved to the Director, Pete. He never did seem the same afterwards but then again I realized much later that he is a member of a secret British society that makes people wear ties. So likely he was always kind of ‘off’ to begin with.
It seemed that DuckRabbit master of programming, Benjamin, grossly enjoyed administering the pre-interview prep upon the camera man Rajibul. The strength and resistance of this Bengali warrior did result in repeated sessions of shock therapy in order to get him in the proper state. It took hours for Benjamin to be satisfied at the result.
It was simply disturbing to watch Rajibul then get even with the man who birthed DuckRabbit out of his brainchild. Benjamin must have really made Rajibul angry to instigate such an intensive shock treatment.
Now it was time for the interview…
It took a bit of time to adjust to their interview process. I have been waiting a long time to expose DuckRabbit, but it seems they exposed themselves.
Shortly after making the video I was having second thoughts, until…
…the pressure was applied.
I discuss how and why I was recruited into the white power movement. Explanations of the doctrine and belief structure within white supremacist literature. Identifying the core elements of beliefs that there is a zionist conspiracy running the world and to blame for all societies problems. I also discuss the fact that the white supremacist movement includes ‘non-white’ people and some social dynamics of the violent extremist social networks. I also discuss some of the perspectives my white power mentor had guided me with. Lastly, the process of effectiveness and purpose of recruiting youth is summarized.
Second Interview Clip
This clip explores my healing process and revisiting past crimes including hostage taking and beatings. I talk about some of my connections to Cree culture (First Nations Culture). I talk about my kohkum (grandmother in Cree) and her impact on me. This video emphasizes the importance of compassion and love from others, the thing I was lacking throughout my life.
Third Interview Clip
In this video I talk about my exit from white supremacy and the threats I received after leaving. I also discuss issues of possible intervention strategies and issues around counter-extremism work. I also discuss the necessity of effective counsellors who are educated to the degree that they can unravel intensive right wing doctrine and systems of belief. This issues with finding these resources is that it appears that I am the only counsellor able to effectively unwind intensive far right wing belief structures who is doing ‘exit work,’ but there are others who have been doing similar work in context of critical race analysis and race relations; this information is compressively explored in my thesis or here.
Full length Video
The final product.
Since the launch of these films in Calgary, I learned that my story was discussed in a WhiteHouse meeting. Within hours President Obama published this Op-Ed in the LA Times. Obama said that he thinks it is important to include testimonies of former extremists to counter extremist messages.
I am honoured and I feel my work has been duly validated.