Editorial: Time to Act on Online Hate, Radicalization

Nov. 19, 2020

With the defeat of Donald Trump, one hopes that along with him, lies, the incessant daily drama, and most of all, the wild conspiracy theorists, will go with him.

Trump has changed the face of facts, and it could be that there’s no going back. However, this does not mean we are powerless in the face of conspiratorial lies that have led to angry, hostile and racist words, dangerous targeted assaults, and even murder.

Here in Canada, online conspiracy theories, white supremacist-led hate and groups advocating violence have been identified by national security services in this country and the United States as the single most dangerous domestic threat in North America.

Here at home, since 2018, 18 Canadians have been murdered as a result of individuals radicalized online to far-right philosophies.

The extremists include Alek Minassian, currently on trial for the murder of 10 people in a van ramming rampage in 2018. Minassian identifies as an “Incel,” or an “involuntary celibate.”

“Incels” are boys and young men who blame their barren sex lives on women. Their rage has been institutionalized online, mostly on far-right extremist websites. When they find each other in the dark recesses of social media, murder of women is the topic of choice.

Minassian is not the only “incel” in Canada to have been charged with murder. In May 2020, a 17-year-old Toronto juvenile was charged in the machete murder of a young woman. It is believed that he was radicalized online to incel philosophy.

In February 2019, Alexandre Bissonnette was found guilty of the murder of six Canadian Muslims at prayer in a mosque near Quebec City two years earlier. During sentencing, the judge ruled the murders were motivated by “visceral hatred toward Muslims.”

According to evidence at his trial, just prior to the mosque attack, Bissonnette was online 819 times, clicking on posts related to Trump’s travel ban against Muslim-majority countries, and white nationalists sites with similar themes.

Only a few months ago Guilherme (William) Von Neutegem was charged in the murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a Canadian Muslim outside his mosque in Toronto. Research has revealed that Von Neutegem may have been involved with the “Order of the 9 Angels,” which has been described as a neo-Nazi death cult whose mission is to “cull humans.”

It’s well past time for action on the use of social media as a tool for racists to plan murder, mayhem and insurrection. In a welcome development, the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism hosted its first meeting this month, with leading Jewish organizations from Canada, Australia, and the United States providing recommendations for what actions legislators should take to address the issue.

While they do that, our fear is that more young people looking for answers will find them, as have others who have been manipulated into murderous racist rages that go beyond anti-Semitism to Islamophobia and misogyny.

We have much work to do, not the least of which is to begin recognizing the problem and developing strategies to halt the spread of online radicalization before more carnage occurs. Governments tell us that help and change is on the way. It cannot happen soon enough.