Anti-hate experts are raising concerns after a picture of weapons, ammunition and body armour seized at the border protest at Coutts, Alta. showed patches belonging to a neo-nazi group in Canada.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network tweeted on Monday that gear seized by police at Coutts includes a plate carrier with Diagolon patches. According to the network, Diagolon is an accelerationist movement that believes a revolution is inevitable and necessary to collapse the current government system. It wants to build its ideal nation-state, which runs diagonally from Alaska through the western provinces down to Florida.
It is also a neo-fascist militia with a sizeable support base across the country, said the network.
“A lot of them claim to be ex-military members and a lot of them claim to have some kind of military training. There’s very much a militia kind of vibe within the network and there have been lots of talks of weapons,” said Elizabeth Simons, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network’s deputy director.
The tweet comes after Alberta RCMP arrested 13 people and seized weapons and ammunition near the Coutts border blockade on Monday.
The RCMP said they recently became aware of a small organized group within those involved in the larger Coutts border protest. It’s believed the group arrived within days of the initial group of protestors arriving at the border.
“The group was said to have a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade,” RCMP said in a news release on Monday.
“This resulted in an immediate and complex investigation to determine the extent of the threat and criminal organization.”
Diagolon’s potential involvement in the Coutts border protest should be taken seriously, said Simons. Its de facto leader Jeremy MacKenzie was arrested in Nova Scotia on firearms charges on Feb. 3.
“There is certainly a history of concerning behaviour, escalating behaviour, as well as hate. This is a very anti-Semitic group. It’s rife with neo-Nazis,” said Simons.
“This is a network of people with strong organizational skills. The inclination to meet offline is always concerning and a precursor to any kind of action.”
Others are also sounding the alarm. Kelly Sundberg, an associate professor at Mount Royal University’s economics and justice department, said the seizure of firearms and weapons at the Coutts border crossing should be a red flag for every politician in the country.
“I have no doubt that they would have been used. I have no doubt that we would have seen bloodshed if the RCMP and law enforcement did not intervene,” he said.
Sundberg pointed to the rise of alt-right extremism in Canada, saying hate symbols such as swastikas are becoming a regular occurrence at protests across the country.
“The narratives that are common in the United States’ political sphere have now transcended and moved across the borders into Canada. We’re seeing a lot of misinformation, crazy conspiracy theories and politicking coming into play,” said Sundberg.
Sundberg also said divisive politics are to blame, referencing the way the Liberal Party and Conservative Party point fingers at each other in Parliament and have politicized the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Sundberg, both parties are contributing to a “toxic political environment”, creating two major echo chambers with no room for compromise.
“There’s the instant default to reject or counter the other side’s thoughts and ideas, even if they’re good ideas… It’s like little kids fighting. It’s really embarrassing,” said Sundberg.
“It’s time for politicians to act like adults and to understand that they need to have everyone’s interests at hand.”
When asked if Canadians should be more concerned about the anti-mandate protests, Sundberg agreed. He said conspiracy theories and alt-right extremism are eroding democracy in the U.S. and Canada.
“If we allow the loud, obnoxious, aggressive behaviour to overtake democracy, then we’re in trouble. It’s very terrifying. I’m very worried,” said Sundberg.
But those involved in the Coutts border protest maintain that the movement is peaceful.
On Tuesday morning, protestors made the decision to leave the Coutts border crossing, saying they wanted the protest to be peaceful and wanted to distance themselves from any groups with links to potential violence.
“We made the decision to peacefully leave on our terms after the events that came to light with some of the participants of this protest having firearms and protective equipment stored in another location in this community,” said protest organizer Marco Van Huigenbos.
“Our message has been one of peace, peaceful protest and to keep that message strong we felt the best decision was to move out.”
Tuesday evening RCMP Chief Supt. Trevor Daroux, Officer-in-Charge of the Southern Alberta District, said investigations into the group arrested on weapons and conspiracy to murder charges as well as the rest of the protesters are ongoing.
Any connections to extremist groups were part of that investigation, he said.
“These are all avenues that we will be looking at and looking at them from several angles.”
“We know that there are certain groups who will try and infiltrate other protests or demonstrations in order to further their cause in a situation like that isn’t uncommon,” Daroux said. “Where this becomes concerning is the serious public safety issues that this presented.”
He said that faction of the protest became known to the RCMP “a few days into the demonstration protest.”
–with files from Heather Yourex-West, Lauren Pullen and Adam Toy, Global News