Nov 22, 2016

Confessions of a former neo-Nazi: 'I would have killed people'

November 22, 2016

Maxime Fiset was well on his way to becoming a neo-Nazi when he was arrested for inciting hatred.

Fellow skinheads had shaved his head for him, he had a Nazi flag in his room, draped over his copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and books on how to make a bomb, and he had founded the first organization and website in Quebec to bring all the right-wing extremists together — the Fédération des québécois de souche.   

But it wasn’t until his arrest at school in Quebec City, with brass knuckles in his pocket, that he truly became radicalized, he says — and planned to inflict maximum damage. 

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette the week after Donald Trump was elected, as swastikas appeared across the U.S. and in Canada, Fiset, looked back on how he joined the neo-Nazi movement — and how he got out. 

Looking for answers

At 17, Fiset was in a loving home, was good at school, and had everything he needed. 

But he was looking for answers. He had a particularly influential, nationalist high school teacher, and learned about 20th century history, Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazi party.

He was also very much pro-independence and frustrated by what he perceived as the “weakening of Quebec culture” and the obstacles to independence — non-francophones and immigrants voting no. 

“I was naive, and searching for answers to questions pretty much everyone asks themselves at some point in their lives — about politics and democracy,” said Fiset.

“I thought the Nazi party answered those questions. It was simple, black and white, and that was seductive … I stumbled into it and got stuck.”

At the end of the school year, Fiset, already an imposing young man, got a job working security for the city, guarding Roland-Beaudin Park in Quebec City. One night he approached a group of skinheads to tell them to leave, but instead began talking to them. They were friendly, he said — and they introduced him to Stormfront.

Self-described as “a community of racial realists and idealists,” the Stormfront website features a weekly radio show hosted by white supremacists Paul Fromm and David Duke, as well as discussion threads on everything from “which religions are acceptable” to the vandalism at a mosque in Sept-Îles. (There is a Quebec Stormfront forum, as well as one specifically targeted to youth).

Though many of the other skinheads were mostly interested in “booze, women and (skinhead music) shows,” Fiset was lured in by the politics.

Though he said he wasn’t violent himself, the movement, by definition, was.

“You reject others, so it is violent, and there were always these talks about armed revolution. They will never admit it, but everyone had books about how to make bombs, and they were planning a training camp north of Quebec City, wanting to get in shape “in case of the revolution” with a paintball team and boxing classes and ju-jitsu. They got into fights with (anti-racist groups) and they’d come back bleeding but happy — they got kicked but they kicked more.”

While the others were getting drunk, Fiset founded the FSQ in 2007. After an exposé on the group on television, membership skyrocketed overnight from about 60 to 200, and postings on the website included calls to kill immigrants, Fiset said. As the founder and administrator, he was held responsible.

In the following days, Fiset was summoned by the school director and arrested by Sûreté du Québec officers. He handed over his brass knuckles, was handcuffed and brought to the SQ station while a SWAT team searched his house for weapons and hate literature.

That’s when the “downward spiral” of his life began, he says, and he truly became radicalized.

“When I got arrested, I felt I lost everything and had nothing else to lose.”

Incitement of hatred

Fiset was formally charged with incitement of hatred in January 2008. He promptly lost his job with Garda. His non-skinhead friends would no longer speak to him, nor would some of his family. He was forbidden by the court to use the Internet while he awaited trial.

“Being without the Internet when you’ve been raised on the web, you can barely survive,” Fiset said. “My family didn’t want to talk to me, I was shit poor, completely depressed and at that point I faced the gap in which I could have fallen. Had I gone ahead, I would have killed people.”

As his trial approached, Fiset became more and more isolated and angry. He pleaded guilty in March 2009, and was sentenced to 150 hours of community work.

But with his guilty plea he also regained access to the Internet and was back on Stormfront a week later. With his new-found notoriety he was offered a job as a moderator on the Stormfront site in 2010. He became more and more immersed in white-supremacist ideology.

He says he designed a detonator, to use with nail guns, and began to consider suicide, and “taking other lives with me.”

Looking back, he says there are lessons to be learned for dealing with extremists of all persuasions.

Those who become radicalized, including those who have left to join ISIS in Syria, are not stupid, he says — “it’s the smart ones who care about the answers that you have to worry about.”

If you take away the Internet, they will find a way to use it anonymously, at Internet cafés, for instance.

And feelings of rejection feed their extremism.

Every path to radicalization is completely unique but there are similarities. When I read the report on the students at Collège de Maisonneuve, I thought they’d read my mind. Replace ISIS with neo-Nazis and (Islamist ideology) with nationalism and it was me.”

The press also has some introspection to do, Fiset said more than once.

When discussing with some of the students who were stopped at the airport on their way to Syria, the names of certain columnists kept coming up as those “throwing rocks at Muslims” and amplifying their feelings of exclusion. Radicalized youth need counselling and jobs, Fiset said, not to be further isolated. 

Fiset said he reached a point where his anger was making him so unhappy, he had to change. Anything that didn’t fit into his ideology was like a “knife in the gut”.

 At the same time, Stormfront, which preaches hatred toward homosexuals, was pressuring him to quit his job as a bouncer at a gay bar, his only source of income. He refused. 

“When I was kicked out of Stormfront (in 2010) it was food for thought. I started to think about it. They say immigrants are taking your jobs, but it was Nazis who wanted to take away my job.”

Fiset continued for three years to work at the gay bar, where he eventually met his girlfriend in 2011. Having stopped taking any active role in far-right groups, his mentality continued to change with the birth of his daughter four years ago, and when he sided with the student protests during the Maple Spring of 2012 — unlike the supremacists. Fiset looked for new answers and is now doing a degree at Université Laval in political science. 

The FQS in the era of Trump

Visits to the Stormfront website reached a peak of 52,450 on Nov. 9 — the day after the U.S. election. The KKK announced it would hold a “victory parade” Dec. 3.

Trump’s election is bolstering the neo-Nazis and giving them a path to legitimacy, he says.

On Saturday, a young offender was arrested in Ottawa after swastikas and other racist graffiti were found at a number of sites there.

And on Sunday, New York City’s police commissioner confirmed that there has been an uptick in racist incidents since the election, as tends to happen after a terrorist attack.

“Maybe they’ve grown their hair out and they say they only want to talk about immigration, but these are the same people,” Fiset says of neo-Nazis in Quebec, adding he’s burnt crosses and raised the Nazi salute with them.

Naming six groups, including the FQS, he said “they all communicate together and exchange members. But they are all the same and they are still using the troubles with reasonable accommodations to push their extreme-right agenda.”

Fiset, who now acts as a consultant for Montreal’s Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, says he’s speaking out to make amends for the harm he’s done, and stop others from repeating his mistakes. 

“If I did nothing against my old comrades, I would be helping them,” he says, urging schools to teach critical thinking and how to reject the logical fallacies that feed into Jewish conspiracy theories and equate Muslims with terrorists.

“I was among the first in the province who started doing Islamophobic and racist stuff — I know it would have happened anyway, but I did it and I’m sure I’ve hurt people.”


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