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Monday, September 02, 2019

Skyler François: A Case Study in Extremist Radicalization

I think this is going to end up being a different article than readers might be used to. So before I start I'm going to include some links. If you think someone you love is or is at risk of being radicalized by extremist propaganda or you yourself have fallen down an alt-right (or any other form of extremism) rabbit hole and are looking to get out, please look to the following for help (I'll add more links as I become aware of them):
I also contacted Mubin Shaikh about this article. He wrote this:
Actual deradicalization programs are still lacking but the best folks who do this stuff are former NeoNazis. One guy who is super awesome is Arno Michaelis who teamed up with Pardeep Kaleka after the latter's father was killed in a NeoNazi attack on their Sikh Temple. 
Some others out there by name who I think should be mentioned are:
In covering radicalization that applies to any and all groups:
*    *    *

The last few weeks have been very busy personally, professionally, and in terms of keeping up with what actions of the groups and individuals ARC keeps an eye on. In fact I haven't even had time to personally focus on some of the more events that occurred this month such as the Pegida Canada rally that took place in Toronto on Saturday (there wasn't much to it) or the rally in Estevan, SK attended by Yellow Vesters, Northern Guard members, and Canadian Combat Coalition members, though our friends YVCE has that covered on their Twitter account and very kindly covered this and other stories on the blog (read the entire thread):


As I sit here in my basement (which I stress once again is in a home I own and which has a library, a fireplace, and a bar and is awesome) beer in hand though, I find myself with time to think and have been reflecting on the topic of radicalization and the path that people take towards extremism.

Yeah, not exactly a cheery subject, eh?

As of the writing of this article Patrik Mathews, the Base recruiter who was profiled by journalist Ryan Thorpe, has gone missing after his dismissal from the military. Despite being part of a hate group planning a race war in which non-whites, Jews, and Muslims would be exterminated, Tim "Braying Jackass" Kelly of the Proud Boys knows who the real victim is:


We also learned this week that the Canadian Nationalist Party led by Travis Patron who is as an overt antisemite apparently now has the signatures needed to be registered as an official party and while we certainly don't expect them to win anything we do see the danger of normalizing racist, anti-LGBTQ, antisemitic, and Islamophobic rhetoric in the political sphere.... which if we're going to be honest is a market many PPC candidates already seemed to be trying to corner themselves:


Finally ID Canada is still promoting itself and looking to recruit young people as well as a suspicion they may be behind posters that where found in a Toronto neighborhood promoting the PPC based on their presence in the area and similarities with another one of their efforts few months back :


These three seemingly dissimilar cases (other than the fact they all involve racist groups) are interesting to me right now since they actually demonstrate a path for radicalization where a person moves from extremism to even greater extremism. A person this blog has been aware of but who I suspect is following a similar path of online radicalization by far-right extremist propaganda will be used as a bit of a case study:


The person pictured here is named Skyler François who lives in either Vancouver or Burnaby based on information found on his two LinkedIn profiles, one of which has him claiming to be a professional gamer:



Long time readers will no doubt recognize the flag behind François:


It is the same flag he is holding on his current Twitter profile:



Before I continue I need to explain that François' use @strobe88 on Twitter is relatively recent as he had been using @skyler_francois prior to at least May 2019:


I'm guessing Str0be is his gamer tag.

As such readers will notice both @skyler_francois and @strobe88 thought this article though the Str0be handle will be more common as most of the screen shots were taken after the change had occurred.

François has been on Twitter since 2013 when he would have been around Grade 10. Looking at what he posts on Twitter now one wouldn't be surprised to see that he would be someone whom ARC might take an interest in:



April 17, 2013 - August 23, 2014: Left of Center and Typical Teen Interests

However this wouldn't have been the case as recently as January 1, 2018. Prior to 2018 most of his tweets were related to video games, finding school boring, girls, and getting high with very few that were political in nature, however those few tweets that were political in nature suggest that François held very different views than he does now:


Based on other content and previous posts François would be in high school at this time (Grades 10 and 11).

August 24, 2014 - January 1, 2018: Gaming

Between August 2014 and January 1, 2018, almost every tweet and retweet made was completely apolitical in nature focusing primarily on gaming. The only exception I was able to find was a single tweet in November 2016 concerning the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent protests that took place which perhaps indicates a shift in François' views might have started as a result of the Trump presidential campaign and victory, though this is very much conjecture:


If a shift had started it wasn't apparent as the remainder of 2016 and 2017 was devoted to tweets and retweets about gaming pretty much exclusively:



That would all change almost immediately after ushering in 2018

January 2, 2018 - May 14, 2019: Falling Down the Alt-Right Rabbit Hole and ID Canada

The contrast is quite jarring, so much so that one would be excused for believing a completely different person took over François Twitter account on January 2, 2018.


While gaming seemed to be the most significant aspect of his social media identity prior to January 2, 2018, François hasn't tweeted or retweeted a single gaming related item since January 1, 2018. His Twitter feed became exclusively devoted to far-right political discourse; Lauren Southern, "InfoWars'" Paul Joseph Watson, Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone, "Breitbart", Faith Goldy, and other groups and individuals. He also began engaging with detractors and arguing in favor of white nationalism:



There was absolutely no indication or hint that this was going to happen based on his earlier social media activity. Since January 2, 2018, François' tweets have become increasingly extreme.

François first came to my attention through his association with ID Canada, a hate group that he started to promote himself as early as February 2018:



ID Canada was formerly Generation Identity Canada prior to rebranding. ARC has already published numerous articles about the group whose suspected leader (though there are questions regarding his involvement now) Tyler Hover was an active member of Stormfront and the branch in Montreal was a front for Alt-Right Montreal. The hate group was also actively involved in Faith Goldy's mayoral campaign (I've included a few relevant links):

It is this promotion of ID Canada that brought François to ARC's attention (before I promptly forgot about him again):


He also began to vigorously advocate for and promote the group when engaging with others on Twitter:

I'm not sure what François thinks he means by ID Canada as being "recognized by the government"?
Does he mean a charity? An NGO? Having a registered trademark? None of that is true. Maybe he
thinks that because ID Canada has been in the news (regarding their stickers at least) that constitutes
being "recognized" by the government? In any case I'll chalk it up to talking a big game.

Here François posts the usual line we've heard from identitarians. They aren't racists and they respect all cultures but they want to protect and preserve "white" culture which means limiting immigration however those POC who are here already are fine.

This line is expressed in even greater detail in another lengthy exchange in August 2018:






I don't think François needs to worry about anything especially profound
within ID Canada.... and yes I know he is guilty of a malapropism.
François is adamant here that neither he nor ID Canada is racist (despite his reference to the 14 words coined by convicted terrorist and white supremacist David Lane). He writes that he isn't a white supremacist, that he would never "kick anyone out", and that ID C Canada bans Nazi sympathizers or anyone holding (I'm guessing the work he means is "extremist") language.

Keep these statements in mind.

June 3, 2018 - August 7, 2018: Gab and Canadian Nationalist Party

During this time François also created a profile on Gab:


Gab is a social networking site established in 2016 that claims it supports nearly unrestricted free speech. In practice it has attracted extremists who have been kicked off other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter among others. The demographics are primarily male, white, and far-right politically. Members include alt-right founder Richard Spencer, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, former BNP leader Nick Griffin, Blair Cottrell, and Christopher Cantwell among others. One of the more infamous members was the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who murdered 11 people; he wrote on Gab shortly before engaging in the massacre"HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."


François was active on Gab very briefly between June and August 2018, however he spent his time there promoting both ID Canada and Travis Patron's Canadian Nationalist Party:




I'm not sure that the profile picture was the one he originally chose for his Gab account, but it provides another example of a shift towards an even more extremist position.


By May 2019, François had come to embrace National Socialism and created what he believes is a political party:

May 15, 2019 - Present: Canadian Union of Fascists


However he would later change the name to that of a political party that existed briefly in Canada in the 1930s:


Despite what François believes, the Canadian Union of Fascists hasn't been recognized as an official party in this country since it was dissolved at the beginning of World War II and even at the time it existed it never attracted a significant membership or, as far as I'm aware, ran a candidate in a Canadian election under the CUF banner (Adrien Arcand's Parti National Social Chrétien was a much more significant movement during this period). Just because he claims the name doesn't mean that François is the automatic leader of a fringe political party dating to roughly 1933 which then ceased to exist around 1939. This is indicative of his lack of actual political insight and sophistication.

Since this time François has been retweeting his own CUF tweets as well as those of the PPC and overt racists like Donald Trump and Stefan Molyneux as well as a BC identitarian group Northern Identity, a group that I find very interesting in part because they blocked the ARC Twitter account moments after I followed them because OBVIOUSLY ARC is comprised of snowflakes.... I guess?


This marks a further escalation in the level of extremist rhetoric. Where once he suggested he wasn't a white supremacist and that Nazi sympathizers would be banned from membership in ID Canada he is now openly advocating for National Socialism in which the belief in racial superiority and antisemitism is at the core of the ideology:

I'll let the readers comment on the irony of a National Socialist
supporter claiming common cause with Slavic peoples.

And where he once claimed that non-white peoples were free to remain in Canada....


.... he now supports forcible deportation.

What's the next step beyond deportation? History sadly provides us with that answer.

And finally there is the issue of François advocating for and celebrating violence:


This is the part of looking at Skyler François that is the most concerning. Much of the imagery he's posting echos that which Patrik Mathews and members of the Base as well at Atomwaffen Division have disseminated. François also posted this video in which an individual is brutally assaulted which also mirrors the aesthetic:


Rather than see this for what it is, an unjustified assault, François and a few of the people following his CUF Twitter profile celebrate:


That's where we are now.

Conclusions?

So why bother looking at Skyler François at all? ARC's critics will rightfully argue that he isn't a significant figure on the Canadian far-right; he is fringe even amongst the fringe. There's no concern that he and his "political party" the Canadian Union of Fascists will be registered by Elections Canada, run a single candidate, or win even a tiny fraction of a single percentage of any vote. This is just yet another of ARC's long winded posts (hey, it's a wise man who knows himself and I KNOW that I can beat a dead horse into the ground).

In truth, that's exactly why I wrote this article.

François isn't special, but it is because he is completely nondescript that is why we need to pay attention to him and people like him. Through 2013 and 2017 there was no indication at all that he would have been radicalized. So what the hell happened to him and why did it seem like the flipping of a switch?

Was he radicalized through gaming? The election of Trump? Events offline and reinforced by online propaganda?

I honestly don't know.

Now me not knowing might not be a big deal. I'm not a psychologist and it isn't my job to know these things. However I fear that people whose job is to figure this out are not doing so. That might not be their fault as resources aren't likely being devoted to figuring out which young, white, male will be the next to turn to far-right extremism as much as they should be.

A brown male named Ali, Fahad, Imran, or Muhammad? Well that's an entirely different story. Those guys will be watched like hawks the moment they order a falafel rather than a ham sandwich in a diner.

No, François isn't special, but neither is he alone. I think it is in society's interest to figure out how he and others like him have turned out as they have if we want to prevent the violence this particular demographic has shown itself to be capable of.

The following video is one individual's story of how he was radicalized and his eventual rejection of the alt-right ideologies.

Credit: Faisal Kutty (professor at Valparaiso University and Osgoode Hall Law School)

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