Jan 6, 2017

La Meute: The Illusions and Delusions of Quebec's 'Largest' Right-Wing Group

VICE
BRIGITTE NOËL
January 6 2017

The organization, known as "The Wolf Pack" in English, was founded by anti-Islam ex-military members and has thousands of supporters.

La Meute purportedly boasts a membership of more than 40,000 people, all carefully screened disciples of the group's anti-Islam stance. Yet despite its apparent scope and its very public reputation in Quebec, the organization is notoriously secretive. Its Facebook group is closed, sections of its website are "members only," and leaders are often skittish with media.

Several reports have branded it Quebec's biggest, most rapidly growing right-wing group, an operation striving for political influence. But ex-members who spoke to VICE say the group's operations are deeply problematic, and that La Meute's numbers and seemingly increasing influence is mostly smoke and mirrors and skillful marketing.

A spokesperson for La Meute denied most of the allegations and said these claims likely came from people who were kicked out of the group and now have a chip on their shoulder.

All but one of the defectors who spoke to VICE did so on condition of anonymity, for fear of being harassed by current members.

Who is La Meute?

La Meute (French for "The Wolf Pack") was founded in October 2015 by Canadian Forces veterans Eric Venne (who goes by the alias "Eric Corvus") and Patrick Beaudry, who say their principal goal is to rally people against radical Islam and sharia law.

Yet how they are going about doing this remains unclear. The group appears to exist mostly online, within a tentacular network of Facebook groups that manage the organisations' various subgroups, which are devoted to things like security and politics.

As xenophobic groups began gaining ground in Quebec last year, La Meute's slick branding and menacing approach brought it to the forefront of the province's nativist organizations. The group's mere existence has generated quite a bit of press, but while other anti-Islam organisations like PEGIDA Quebec and Soldiers of Odin have taken their cause to the streets, La Meute has yet to really go public.

Organization

According to former members, adherents are organized by rank: the top brass are the Silver Paws, the Red Paws are the "gate keepers", who supervise the members (and decide who to kick out) and the regular members are the Black Paws and White Paws.

Suzanne Tessier told VICE that when she left the group in June, the six highest-ranked members were all ex-military. This heavily influenced the way the group was run. "They accepted no controversy, no contradiction," she said. According to the 72-year-old retiree, those who stepped out of line or asked too many questions were reprimanded or flat out exiled from the group.

The women VICE spoke to claimed the group's culture was also deeply macho, with a tendency towards misogyny. One defector said women were often excluded from decision-making processes and seldom given leadership roles, and that male members occasionally posted demeaning content on their Facebook pages.

VICE requested an interview with La Meute's leaders but were instead contacted by the group's media relations officer, a person using the pseudonym "Sylvain Maikan." He claimed couldn't reveal his true identity because his family doesn't share his views on Islam.

Maikan claimed the group's military-style hierarchy meant women weren't treated any differently than men. "Some perceived this as insensitivity or misogyny at first," he said, adding the group has since softened its approach and that 12 of the 35 group leaders were currently women.

Tessier also expressed concern over the organization's imposed shroud of secrecy. "They really didn't want us to know what was going on, they operate exactly like a cult," Tessier said, echoing a term used by several other ex-members.

The group's website gives insight into Corvus' leadership approach. One section, called "Les Mots de Corvus" (Corvus' Words) features three apocalyptic screeds.

"We're the last generation before the great upheaval caused by the rise of radical Islam and sharia law," he writes in French. "We have to find a way to unite and prevent society's collapse. We won't let them control us, we are not sheep, we are LA MEUTE."

Members are encouraged to recruit others and the site offers a printable pamphlet people can hand out in their communities. To further prove their allegiance, La Meute disciples are also invited to get the group's logo permanently inked on their bodies (and can receive a 10 per cent discount at select tattoo shops!).

According to an infiltrator who published his findings in a series of blog posts, the group uses its platform to spread fear of a looming "Muslim invasion" and overarching government surveillance. "Page administrators often warn their members to keep an eye on their posts, claiming the group was being spied on by authorities (the RCMP, CSIS, etc)," the author notes.
Membership Myths

Defectors also say the 43,000+ membership number—which is based on the Facebook page's followers—is inflated. They claim the page is full of duplicate accounts and people who don't even know they're in the group.

"I think there are probably only 4,000 or 5,000 real members," one woman told VICE. "There are people signed up who aren't really active, there are fake accounts, there are members who have been kicked out of the group but created two or three fake accounts to get back in and keep an eye on what's going on."

VICE was told those who attempted to implement an official registration system with paid membership cards were exiled from the group. One man said he believes this was due to the fact that such a system would reveal the real, much lower number of active members.

While these allegations are difficult to verify, several metrics provide insight into the group's actual size. The first is the relatively small turnout at the group's events. Attendance typically maxes out at about 125-150 people, former members say.

On La Meute's website, a ticker at the bottom of the page counted just over 15,000 total views at press time.

Yet Maikan maintains the 43,000 figure is accurate and says each member's Facebook profile is carefully screened by a large group of volunteers. As for the membership cards, he said La Meute doesn't yet have the manpower to develop such a system.

Money Woes

Tessier says her main reason for "revolting" against the group was the lack of transparency around finances. This concern was also raised by every single former member VICE spoke to.

La Meute was registered as a non-profit organization with the Quebec government in April 2016, with Eric Venne, Patrick Beaudry and a third man named Stéphane Roch identified as administrators. While the group has been active in its fundraising efforts, leaders have yet to reveal how much they've raised or where the funds have been spent.

On the site, a rotating banner invites visitors to donate, with the option to give a monthly gift.

"There are many people who gave regular donations, $30 or $40, up to $100 a month," one former member says, estimating that thousands of dollars have been collected in this fashion. He says the group has also organized four or five $25-a-plate fundraising dinners, though attendance was never more than 125 people.

La Meute confirms that one anonymous donor has given the group nearly $9,000.



Then there is the sale of branded merchandise —a 24 item catalog of claw-emblazoned toques, sweatshirts and a $50 travel mug— produced by a company called PTRK Design. According to the Régistre des entreprises, PTRK Design is owned by La Meute co-founder Patrick Beaudry.

Several ex-members told VICE this seemed like a conflict of interest. "What do they do with the money from the sale of these items?" Tessier wonders. "They're not accountable."

Questions pertaining to the group's finances raised the ire of La Meute's leaders, former members said. On the website, a tab called "Where the Money Goes" delivers a vague, bitterly-worded explanation.

"Well, I don't know the commitment level of the person asking this question, but it's obvious they have never really invested any time, energy or especially their own money in any sort of cause," Beaudry writes in reaction to financial inquiries, adding that he is "frustrated." He then offers a point-form, number-less list of expenditures necessary to foster the "growing" group, such as "travel," "communication," and "administration." The need to eventually pay for legal defense is also listed as a financial concern.

According to Maikan, La Meute's finances are all above board and will be used to purchase equipment such as a truck trailer and AV gear for La Meute TV, a new media they intend to launch. And though he refused to communicate with us outside of Facebook chat, Maikan stated "meetings with media" as another main expense.

He claimed the group had only organized two dinners, as opposed to the "four or five" claimed by one ex-member, but have since abandoned the idea because it wasn't sufficiently profitable. As for La Meute's business relationship with PTRK Design, Maikan said it's simply a temporary measure until the group can properly finance the inventory (which, he added, is very popular). He went on to explain that the group's founders put thousands of dollars into developing the group and that in an ideal world, they would eventually get some of this money back.

"If members doubt the leaders' honesty or worry about how the money is being spent, we encourage them to not make donations," he said "Keep your money, it's that simple."


Political Goals

Many of those who left La Meute complained the group was "not active enough," or that its leaders lacked direction. All of the ex-members VICE spoke to had since gone on to join other anti-Islam groups they considered more action-driven. "La Meute doesn't do anything except organize dinners and sell gear," Tessier complained.

She also says potential plans the group put forth were often misdirected. "There was one guy in Saguenay who wanted us to go into grocery stores to put stickers on halal food," she says. "He wanted to do things that were against the law, and there was no one there to really talk them out of it."

"I'm not convinced they won't eventually start a militia"

In the last few months, there have been some reports of La Meute handing out threatening pamphlets and one blog claims a member in Granby assaulted a niqab-clad Muslim woman.

Maikan told VICE the group was currently working on creating cells in the province's 17 administrative regions. These clans, as he called them, will be in charge of organizing meetings with elected officials "in order to sensitize them to the danger Islam represents for the future of our nation."

He acknowledged that a member of the group's executive committee was indeed involved in the Granby incident, and said the member had simply "lost it" when she saw a woman "wearing a burqa." Maikan said La Meute does not tolerate this type of behaviour and that the woman—who was recently reinstated—had been temporarily suspended from the group.

Tessier says she is relieved to have left La Meute, and warns others not to be naive.

"I'm not convinced they won't eventually start a militia," she says. "If their plans continue to amount to nothing, that's a possibility that bothers me a little."

https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/la-meute-the-illusions-and-delusions-of-quebecs-largest-right-wing-group

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