VANCOUVER – The recruitment process into hate groups is more sophisticated today than it’s ever been, a racism researcher warns police, educators and youth counsellors.
While the days of mass rallies organized by white supremacists might be gone, hate gangs have never stopped actively recruiting, often targeting boys between the ages of 14 to 24, says Alan Dutton, a researcher with the Canadian Anti-Racism and Education Research Society.
“The movement right now is much more subtle,” said Dutton. “We don’t see the organized racist concerts that we used to see with people parading with swastikas down the street – we haven’t seen that for a number of years fortunately. But still we have organized hate groups that are still recruiting. They post messages on bulletin boards and try to get people to get to their meetings.”
Dutton was speaking at a conference in Richmond, B.C., attended by educators, police and community service providers who shared ideas on how to create safer communities.
Dutton said the biggest myth about hate gangs is that they’re all a bunch of lunatics.
“Groups that don’t appear to be hateful can morph into a hate group very, very quickly,” he said. “Often when we talk about hate groups we dismiss them entirely – we think of them as idiotic, Charles Manson-type people who can’t be helped.”
But, many of the teens who end up in hate gangs often come from normal, middle-class backgrounds and are simply looking for a place to fit in, says Dutton.
The recruitment process can be slow, sometimes taking months before any racist beliefs are even raised. By then, a certain degree of trust has been gained, making youths more susceptible.
In a DVD Dutton created to raise awareness, a young Toronto woman, Elisabeth Moore, says she ended up in a white supremacy group in high school because it was difficult to find her place as a teen who didn’t drink or smoke.
Another young woman described how she ended up hanging out with a hate gang because her parents warned her not to – which only made her more curious.
A Vancouver police officer attending the session said he was struck by how similar the stories were to those he hears when dealing with young girls in the sex-trade.
Dutton says there appears to have been a lull in overt hatemongering, due in part to the fact that police have put more resources into investigating hate crimes in the past several years.
Still, getting a conviction does not come easy.
In January, a Montreal neo-Nazi was given a six-month prison sentence for wilfully promoting hatred towards blacks and Jews on his website – it was only the third such case ever heard in Canada.