Jordan: Nobody who is paying attention doubts that white supremacy is on the rise. That fact is backed up by reports from law enforcement and National Security Agencies. It’s backed up by warnings about online recruitment efforts, and by extensive journalistic exposes. You can find all the anecdotal evidence you might want just by wandering down some dark social media corridors, and, of course, the worst manifestations of it now play out in public.
News Clip: New Zealand is a nation stricken tonight. A self declared white supremacist gunned down Muslims at prayer today. A horrific scene in Charlottesville, Virginia, a white nationalist rally that descended into deadly violence and chaos. Alexandre Bissonette was given an unprecedented sentence for an unprecedented crime, he killed six men and wounded several others in a shooting spree during prayers at a mosque in Quebec City.
Jordan: It’s one thing to accept all that as fact and another to walk into a world where the hate on social media is seen as too much talk and not enough action. A world where even right wing politicians aren’t going nearly far enough. A world where small cells of white supremacists want to hold hate camps to train new members for direct action in a race war, and when you wind up in that world by following a path from a poster on a street in your city and you end up inside a terror group with active military personnel on the roster that is recruiting new members in Canada right now, then it starts to feel a little more urgent, a little more like the matter of life and death that it easily could be.
Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Ryan Thorpe is a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press. He infiltrated his terror group. Hi Ryan.
Ryan: Hey, how’s it going?
Jordan: It’s going well, though slightly disturbing after reading your feature and follow up.
Ryan: Yeah, certainly. It’s a story that continues to develop at the moment, and, you know, a lot of folks have been reaching out to say that they think the reporting so far has been pretty chilling.
Jordan: Yeah, well, tell me, I mean, for people who are just catching up on this now, um, or have seen sort of some of the reports that have come since your story. Tell me how it all started, how you decided to do this investigation?
Ryan: Sure. So this would’ve began about a month ago for me. We got a news tip uh, at the Winnipeg Free Press about, um, some white nationalists recruitment fliers that have popped up in the St James area of our city. I did some online research into the group that was putting them up, and actually, I should throw a shoutout to Ben Macaw and Mac Glamour of Vice News. I came across an expose that they did on this group in 2018 which really laid the groundwork for what I’ve done since then, but it quickly became apparent that this group was very serious. I subsequently had people say that when it comes to the extremist right, this group is essentially the most violent, radical fringes of the far right hate movement. So it became apparent to us that, you know, this was a very serious concern in our community, and we realized there was kind of two ways we could go about approaching this. One was I could, you know, put together a report outlining the fact these flyers had popped up, I could talk to some far right extremist experts. I’ve done that kind of story before, I’m probably gonna do it again if later on in my career. But it is somewhat limited in terms of how much information you’re gonna get. The second option was I could pose as a white nationalist and reach out to this group, you know, pretending to be interested in joining and we ultimately decided to go with that second route.
Jordan: So tell me what happened when you did that? What was that process like? What’d you do?
Ryan: So it started with some email exchanges between myself and this organization’s founder. The group is called the Base, and they were founded in the U.S. in 2018 by a man who currently goes by the pseudonym of Roman Wolfe. We exchanged emails back and forth for quite a while, he was essentially interviewing me. Throughout this process, I kind of had to do some quick online research to, you know, look into these types of ideologies so that I could pair it back. White nationalist talking points. He asked me if I had read the book Siege by James Mason, which is kind of like a handbook for these people, and it’s just an absolutely bizarre text. Um, he asked me if I had military background, if I had, you know, a background in chemistry or engineering and he asked me, you know, whether or not I’d be committed to taking my views into the real world because that’s what this group is about. You know, they’re not content to be keyboard warriors, they want to get out and get active in real life and organize these paramilitary training events to prepare for the race war that they see coming.
Jordan: What happened; Um, I guess you passed that test, and the process kept going?
Ryan: That’s right. So that was kind of the first hurdle was the email exchanges, eventually they invited me to download the encrypted messaging app wire that was the platform that this group is communicating on. Although I don’t know this for certain, but I’m almost, you know, almost certainly that they have jumped off that platform onto another since our articles have broken. At that point, I was invited to do a voice call with what I thought was gonna be the group’s founder and then, like, two minutes before it was set to begin, uh, one night they told me there’s gonna be, like eight members listening in who may be, you know, interviewing me as well. But it turned out to just primarily be the group’s founder, interviewing me, asking me questions and then towards the end of the call, he also allowed me the opportunity to ask some questions about the group, and then they said, you know, we’ll be in touch with you 24 hours. We’ll discuss, you know, how you did, and the following day I got a message from him saying, you know, you did good last night, the last thing you need to do is meet our Winnipeg member, and if that goes well, you’ll be invited to join.
Jordan: Wow, so you did. You agreed to meet him.
Ryan: I did. Yeah. That was the only way I was going to be able to get access to the group’s kind of centralized chat room, which would hopefully give us some sense of, you know, what is the scope of their activities in Canada and across North America and Europe as well. So I set up a meeting with this guy for 8 PM at Whittier Park here in Winnipeg. I had to kind of provide a description of myself so he’d be able to pick me out of the crowd on I went there and an individual approached me and, you know, revealed himself to be the Winnipeg member of the base.
Jordan: So explain to me maybe a little bit more, because you’ve alluded to it a couple times, what the base is, and how big are they? And what do we know about their presence in Canada?
Ryan: So the base is a highly secretive Neo Nazi paramilitary group that believes a race war is on the horizon, is attempting to prepare for it and also believes in a theory called acceleration-ism which is the notion that these, you know, neo nazi radicals should do what they can to ferment the race war and to exacerbate the contradictions of the system in order to bring about its demise as quick as possible, and what’s implicit in that is essentially a call for terror attacks. This is a very serious organization, these people idolize mass killers and serial killers, they call these people the saints. They talk openly about their firearms, they’re actively organizing paramilitary training events in secluded areas across North America and likely Europe as well. In terms of what we know about their activities in Canada, obviously, I’ve now exposed this individual here in Winnipeg. There has been evidence there’s a recruitment drive going on in Saskatchewan. I was told by a member of the base there was a cell active on the East Coast, although I’m not sure what the size that cell is, and the other thing worth noting is the base has a sister organization called the Adam Often Division. While they’re two separate entities, most extremists, experts say they can largely be seen as part of the same phenomena and Adam Often militants have been found in BC and Ontario, so you know there’s not a ton of these people but as we’ve consistently seen, it only takes one lone actor, so they shouldn’t be dismissed or taken lightly and this group and its sister organization is active in, you know, multiple Canadian provinces.
Jordan: So tell me about the person you met in the park in Winnipeg. Who was he? What was that meeting like?
Ryan: Well, I mean, it was quite scary going into it, I really didn’t know what to expect. But very quickly after I met this individual, he offered to drop his online pseudonyms and, you know, at that point, I started to feel a little bit better about what I was doing, and I agreed. So I told him my first name was Ryan, and he told me his first name was Patrick, and throughout the proceeding, you know, an hour and 1/2 I tried to elicit as many biographical details about him, as well as information about the bases’ activities in Canada as I could without outright interviewing him so I didn’t blow my cover. That night I got the following information from him, first name Patrick, age 26, he also claimed to be a member of the Canadian Armed Forces trained as a combat engineer, which was, obviously, you know, incredibly concerning because you would think someone with that background in the military, perhaps has the skill set to perpetrate these, you know, really horrendous acts that this group promotes and celebrates. He told me that he had grown up in the country at some point, lived in Winnipeg, but now lives in Bo-jojour.
Jordan: And while that side of the conversation is going on, what’s he trying to get from you? Are you still undergoing vetting at this point or is this your acceptance or what’s happening?
Ryan: So I mean, I was supposed to be undergoing vetting, but the sense I got from this individual was that he trusted me right away. So he clearly thought that their vetting process up until that point, had worked, or perhaps I’d been convincing enough throughout that process that he wasn’t too suspicious of me. It was essentially just a meet up to establish contact, he, you know, clearly indicated that he wanted to begin paramilitary training and said that we would need to make plans for that and also during the meeting, one of the most concerning moments was there’s a rail line that runs kind of parallel to the park and kind of pointed it out and said, oh, you know, that offers opportunities and the direct quote was like, even if you don’t want to make that go boom, and then he proceeded to explain how he would go about derailing a train.
Jordan: And you’re sitting there trying to figure out who this guy is and how serious he is.
Ryan: Certainly. Yeah, it was definitely; I can say, without a doubt, it was the most unique and interesting experience of my life as a journalist, that’s for sure.
Jordan: What does the general public need to understand that maybe we don’t yet about groups like this? Because I know that until I had read some of your reporting and some of the reporting you mentioned as well from Vice, there’s perhaps a tendency to, uh, talk about the all right as a monolith, if that makes sense and maybe that’s not correct.
Ryan: Yeah, I would say that isn’t correct from what I’ve learned so far. This group seems to reject the altar, right? They don’t view the alt right is radical enough. You know, folks like, say, Richard Spencer, um, who helped organize the Unite the right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, these people would say he’s not serious enough. So,h I think that’s perhaps helpful in terms of trying to get the general public to wrap their head around where these people are coming from. You know, it’s such a bizarre, conspiratorial ideology these people promote. I mentioned the book Siege by James Mason before, which is kind of their Bible, and it’s like this…. It’s this weird blend of the world views of like Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson. These people aren’t just interested in Neo Nazi ideology, they also celebrate, you know, serial killers and they’re incredibly dangerous would be the other thing I should say, and they are actively pushing their members into the armed forces or seeking to recruit people with military backgrounds so that those folks can become trainers who disseminate that skill set out into the wider network. So these people aren’t messing around, and I think since the story broke, the reaction has been overwhelming, and it’s certainly got more attention than anything else I’ve written in my career but I would think if I had written a story that revealed that there had been an Isis militant, for example, in the Canadian Armed Forces, people would have lost their minds, and I think we should start to view the far right, you know, extremists of this sort, you know, as being on the same level as we would you know, an Islamist militant.
Jordan: So what happened after the meeting you had with the man who called himself Patrick? You head back to the newsroom and try to figure out who he is?
Ryan: Well, it was so late at night I went back home but the following day I was in the newsroom and I got a message from the group’s founder to say Dave, which was his online pseudonym, but this is the same person is Patrick said the meeting had gone well and that if you still want to join, you know you’re in kind of thing. And so I told him yes, and then within an hour or two, I was added to their centralized chat room. Now all these messages are encrypted and one of the features of Wire, which is this app they were communicating on, is that the messages self destruct within 24 hours of being posted. So I had to keep a constant eye on this group chat, which was kind of like popping off, you know, all day, every day, as people from around North America and Europe were communicating with one another, and essentially I was just screenshotting everything. I was documenting what they were talking about because I recognized, you know, I’d gained insight into this group, I was kind of, you know, behind the scenes with them and this was a very unique opportunity, and I kind of had to milk it for, you know, whatever I could.
Jordan: What was that chat like? I mean, I already have a suspicion, but…
Ryan: it was disturbing, you know, some of it was actually; So some of it was very banal, people talking about their jobs. One guy posted a photo of a newborn baby and said his sister, you know, had given birth overnight. So there was, like, this very normal stuff like that, but then there was also a lot of talk about the race war, about murdering minorities, about murdering journalists, you know, and there was a discussion of tactics and they were sharing news articles that, you know, they felt, um, you know, indicated that there was, you know, this collapse or race war on the horizon. The anti semitism was off the charts. You know, it was very disturbing and kind of being immersed in that milieu I just consistently felt like I wanted to, like, wash my brain somehow of what I was, you know, seeing spoken about.
Jordan: I’m more curious now than anything but there’s been a ton written over the last month or two about the language used by President Trump inciting the kind of violence that these groups perpetrate. Did you see any references to current politicians in there?
Ryan: The individual in Winnipeg who I had met with, and who I was communicating with had referenced Maxine Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada. There was some references to Trump, but I think it should be, you know, made very clear that these folks explicitly say there is no political solution to the current social crisis; What they view as the current social crisis. So they’re not interested in any politicians. When I met this individual he went off on this rant towards the end where he, you know, essentially said, I want the liberals to get five terms in office. I want them to push multiculturalism down people’s throat, I want black lives matter in every white neighborhood. I want things to get so bad that white people start picking up guns. So this fits in with their theory of acceleration-ism which is; It’s kind of counter-intuitive, considering they’re such on the extreme right, you think they would support right wing politicians, but on the contrary, they almost want, you know, like leftists to be in office because they think this will help lead to the collapse and in the crisis that they see coming.
Jordan: So did you eventually figure out who Patrick was?
Ryan: I have confirmed who Patrick is. My first report, which was quite a long feature article, it went online on the Free Press website last Friday, and then it was published in Saturday’s paper. I wasn’t able to confirm a full ID for that article, but I knew; I put all the information I had into it, and I I figured that there was enough bread crumbs that people were gonna start coming to me because I I knew folks were gonna read this and that someone who knew this guy was gonna be able to ID him, and that’s exactly what happened, I had someone reach out to me over Twitter, sent me a photo and said, is this the guy? And immediately I knew it was, and I’ve developed a source in the Canadian Armed Forces that confirmed to me that this guy’s name is Patrick Matthews. He is a master corporal in the Canadian Army Reserve, and he is indeed trained as a combat engineer, which is concerning because from what I’ve been told, combat engineers are explosives experts.
Jordan: What happened after you exposed Patrick in the paper?
Ryan: So I mean, the reaction to the story has been, you know, overwhelming. And that that has been really great to see, especially considering after, you know, everything I had to put myself through to get this, but I got; I was sitting in bed it was like, close to midnight, and I gotta tip over Twitter from someone who lives in Bojojour, which is where Patrick lives, saying there’s a SWAT team surrounding a home right now and then like 30 seconds later, I got a text message from a source saying, you know, RCMP SWAT team Bojojour. So immediately, I kind of jumped into reporter mode, I was able to track down a person online who had taken a video of this and get the address. You know, no official word is in yet although we are going to be hearing from the RCMP later in the day. But there seems to be some indication that Patrick Matthews was taken into custody.
Jordan: Has the RCMP maybe even before this raid, have they made any public comment about his identity, about what they would do about this?
Ryan: The RCMP hasn’t been making comments. No, and they’re standing policy is, you know, we do not confirm the existence of investigations until such a time as they potentially lead to the laying of criminal charges. The military has also been fairly tight lipped, they’ve been sticking to written statements, although they have confirmed, you know, we have a Patrick Matthews and they provided some details about his time in the military. But actually the military is finally putting someone up for an interview with the press, so hopefully we should get some more answers then about you know how this was allowed to happen, and what are they going to be doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Jordan: Has reporting all this stuff changed your perception of hate and racism and these groups in Canada?
Ryan: Certainly. One of the things that is perhaps most concerning about all of this is the extent to which you know, members of hate groups or people who uphold hateful ideologies are active in the Canadian Armed Forces, which is something I was previously unaware of. I feel like I should preface these comments by saying this does not reflect on the vast, vast majority of members of the Canadian military. I’ve spoken to some and you know, they have said, look, we have minorities in our ranks, these are my brothers in arms and I would lay my life on the line for these people, so I don’t want to, you know, paint them all with the same brush. That said, there was a Canadian Armed Forces report issued in November 2018 that said that there was 53 individuals linked to hate ideology or hate groups in the past four years. Now the military takes the stance that this is, you know, a fairly small number effectively, statistically insignificant but these are just the people that we know about. As we just saw in Winnipeg there are folks that are flying under the radar, and from what I’ve been told, it doesn’t seem the military’s, like proactively trying to find these people within their ranks. So the reality is we don’t know the extent to which, you know, far right extremists are in the Canadian Armed Forces, which is concerning because, as I mentioned earlier, you know they want to join the Army, get trained by them, and then take those skill sets and give them to other violent Neo Nazis.
Jordan: Do we know what happens next beyond Patrick Matthews, and if there’s an overall plan, or at least an effort by police in the RCMP to look into these two groups that you mentioned specifically.
Ryan: You know, I’m not sure. I did reach out to Seasus for my initial story on this and Seasus has given indication that in recent years they’ve taken a shift to taking Farhad extremism far more seriously than it appears that they used to. So Seasus seems committed to looking into these people, and I suspect that, you know, they probably have files on them, although, you know, obviously I can’t say that for certain but last week Canada’s federal defense minister did commission a report advising the CAF to look into the extent that extremists are within its ranks. So I think that that’s, um you know, certainly promising, and from people I’ve been speaking to, you know, they seem hopeful that this report will really dig into the issue, and will maybe lead to some changes where the Canadian armed forces begin taking a more proactive approach towards reading these people out and also training their leadership to recognize the signs of, you know, far right extremist radicalization because certainly what we’ve seen with Patrick once we got access to his personal Facebook account was you look through the pages that he likes, and it was, you know, very clear what this guy’s views are, so they need folks in place that can recognize the signs.
Jordan: Thanks Ryan.
Ryan: Thanks so much for having me.
Jordan: Ryan Thorpe is a reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press. After we recorded this interview, three RCMP confirmed that the house was raided last night, several firearms seized and a person taken into custody, but they would not identify that person, he is no longer in custody, they reported. Canadian forces, meanwhile, identified Matthews as a class A hard time soldier. They said he remains an active member and the military’s investigation is ongoing. They also said Matthew’s explosives training was quote rudimentary and that he has no access to military weapons. That was The Big Story. For more from us visit us at thebigstorypodcast.ca, or find us and chat on Twitter @thebigstoryfpn, or if you’ve had enough of us, head over to frequencypodcastnetwork.com, and find a whole bunch of shows that have nothing to do with depressing news. You can listen to him and this one wherever you get podcasts on Apple, on Google, on Stitcher or on Spotify. Please rate and review and subscribe and tell your friends and all that good stuff. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. Thanks for listening, we’ll talk tomorrow.
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