Islamaphobia is more to be feared than neo-Nazis, says former white supremacist


Instructor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Langara College



Tony McAleer  Photo submitted  
Tony McAleer
Photo submitted

ALTHOUGH some say that neo-Nazis are thriving, Tony McAleer, former organizer for the White Aryan Resistance and Executive Director of the organization “Life After Hate,” told me: “What is more to be feared is the mainstream intolerance that is going to come our way in the form of Islamaphobia.”

McAleer pointed out: “If you look at the tensions rising in Europe, it is an early warning. We see mosques being fired-bombed in Sweden, France and Germany and we are starting to see more and more mainstream people addressing views which would have been considered extremist a few years ago.”

I met with McAleer last week in the wake of the horrendous massacre at the office of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and the killings at a kosher grocery store in Porte de Vincennes, France, by three Muslim gunmen in protest against cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.


Here is the rest of my interview:


PRAHST: Do you think this Islamaphobic climate can attract youth to being recruited into Neo-Nazi groups or incite violence among such members?


MCALEER: I think so, if I were to go back to who I was in my former lifetime as an organizer of white supremacy movements, we would be picking our jobs at the opportunities that are presenting themselves today. … A handful of extremists in Paris and the ISIS media coverage has shifted the conversation far more to the right than it was several weeks ago. And we would be doing the exact same thing. We would be taking advantage of those events to draw people closer to the extreme. … And by redefining what the outer end of extremism is we move the centre. … So in that context, I think that is the greatest danger- people  shifting to a more intolerant viewpoint.


PRAHST: What evidence is there to support this view? Did this come out at the conferences in Europe on extremism you recently attended?


Tony McAleer at a seminar at Vancouver’s Langara College.  Photo by Indira Prahst
Tony McAleer at a seminar at Vancouver’s Langara College.
Photo by Indira Prahst

MCALEER: I was at a few high level conferences that were addressing the issue of the far right in Europe and one that was sponsored by the Swedish ministry of justice.  How is it manifested?  You have the National Front in France now as a major political party, an anti-immigrant party. We are now seeing intolerance moving from coffee shops to ballot boxes. So we are concerned about where it’s heading. The extreme events of Paris and Charlie Hebdo are significant. If you listen to interviews with ordinary citizens last month alone that shift towards more intolerance has been made. Groups that are at the fringe now don’t seem so much on the fringe when they are about 20 per cent of the voter choice.  And if they are more mainstream, then you have a level of extremism coming behind them taking the vacuum that they have left. Where does this momentum end? That is what we should be concerned about.


PRAHST: How does this get played out in Canada and how does recruitment into such groups occur?


MCALEER: If you look at the two extremists [Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau] that committed [the recent terrorist attacks in Canada in which Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, was killed after being hit by a car in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, on October 20, and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, was killed in the October 22 shooting attack on Parliament Hill in Ottawa], you look at the three in France who committed these acts – they are all born in the country in which they committed these acts. In the case in Ottawa, here one of the men was not born into Islam. It is an interesting phenomenon [conversion to Islam] and happens at a surprising rate. There are a number of converts going to Syria. I looked at the biography of one who was a white Christian with tattoos. If he were around in the 1980s, he would have been recruited into the white supremacist skinhead groups here in Canada. He was looking for a sense of meaning and belonging and an outlet for his rage.


PRAHST: How does this link to ideology and violence?


MCALEER: What I mean is that the ideology of ISIS and white power groups, neo-Nazi’s ideology of radical politics of the 70s, they are not the people that create extremism. I know – I was one of them. There are a number of things that happened in my life to get me to the point where in the end, I chose an ideology that gave me a sense of belonging and power that gave me permission to express my rage and anger in a violent way towards other humans. The ideology justified it and is the last piece to go on. The root causes are the same which I found to be true when I attended the summit against violent extremism in Dublin where I met 50 former violent extremists from around the world – IRA {Irish Republican Army], FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], Bloods [African American street gang founded in Los Angeles], MS13 [Mara Salvatrucha 13 formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s], Mujahedeen, Tamil Tigers, to name a few.


PRAHST: People are concerned about the local scene. In Surrey you opened the Canadian Liberty Net. So what is the scene in the Lower Mainland?


MCALEER: From skinhead’s to neo-Nazis that were around the 1990s, it seems that in the USA a lot of them got involved in the criminal and prison [scene]. So those people have gone into a different direction which is less focussed on the political aspect of the movements such as white supremacy, and white power which at the time [in Canada] was more about identity. It’s best not to look at the resurgence of what existed in the 1990s but those people that are still looking for an opportunity to breathe new life [into it]. It will show up in a new form here.


PRAHST: Visible minorities, in particular Muslims and Sikhs, are feeling vulnerable that this hatred may be projected onto them in the current geo-political climate. Any thoughts on that?


MCALEER: The climate is definitely ripe for something to happen, so we need to look at the warning signs. … The Nirmal Singh Gill murder incident in Surrey [in 1998 at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara parking lot] was fuelled by racism, ideology and alcohol.  Those incidents can arise as the tensions rise but I would look for the mastermind piece to show up somewhere else. … If one wanted to capitalize on the [anti-]Islamic sentiment today, and launch something forward, it would not be in the form that neo-Nazism may grow, but as a by-product of it. It will be something that comes more into the mainstream, more acceptable views and more acts of violence – mainstream ideology going further to the right.


PRAHST: You made an interesting point earlier about the nature of violence today. Can you expand on this?


MCALEER: Are neo- Nazis carrying guns here? In the Lower Mainland, neo-Nazis are not carrying guns, but in the USA as part of criminal gangs, it would not surprise me. There was a case in Florida where a guy … got a short sentence for organizing paramilitary training.


Indira Prahst Photo by Chandra Bodalia
Indira Prahst
Photo by Chandra Bodalia

PRAHST: What about the enjoyment and brutality of the violence we are seeing today?


MCALEER: Violence for them is exciting. You get an adrenalin rush; its power, it’s like bungee jumping. … I was never a tough kid growing up. … I was far from from being a good fighter. I had to learn that. When I got involved, it was an adrenalin high for me.  For half an hour it felt good, like scoring a goal in soccer. You see, there are a number of things that come into play.  Looking at the more extreme elements of violence, nobody goes straight there.  It’s an acclimatization and desensitization process. Each act of violence we commit is just like any addiction and there is an element to it that is very addictive. There is a neuro-chemical cascade of excitement and each step forward makes us capable of going further to the next step.


PRASHST: How does this violence factor into recruitment?


MCALEER: Someone who has taken a thousand steps [towards violence], it does not take much to go further.  To be capable of doing those kinds of things we are seeing, you have to be completely disconnected from your own humanity and yourself. So leaders know when a person is disconnected.  In any extremist group you get those people that are the go-to people for murders. … I don’t think the leaders need to be consciously aware of the psychology behind it; they are intuitively aware of it. … They know who they are going to send.



PRAHST: How can you relate to this when you were involved?


MCALEER: I came out feeling powerless because I was bullied and I gravitated towards a lifestyle and subculture that made me feel powerful. Violence is about power; it’s an expression of power.  … In the current climate we have to be vigilant with youth who are vulnerable. I think over the last 20 years, there is a huge desensitization to violence – the meaning of people dying. There is such a culture of violence. It’s not only videogames, but also how nations interact with their foreign policy, how leaders of those countries have interacted with other nations, etc.


PRAHST: What is a recent strategy in your group that you are employing to help youth steer clear of getting recruited into neo-Nazi groups?


MCALEER: The mission of ‘life after hate’ is engaged in education about racism and intolerance, and we work to assist those trying to get out of extremist groups. But foremost is to inspire people to a place of compassion and forgiveness.  The belief is that the more compassion I develop for myself, the more I diminish the capacity to harm another.