The Birth of Canada’s armed, anti-Islamic group

In front of Calgary City Hall, a couple dozen of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to make an unbreakable human wall. Each of them wore a uniform consisting of a black T-shirt emblazoned with a Roman helmet—a look that wouldn’t be out of place in a biker gang. It was a line filled with mostly men, and a few women, who you wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with in a bar. All of them were white.
Some of the III% (the “three percent,” as they call themselves) brought shock canes—a non-lethal weapon that can deliver up to a million volts to the person hit—while others had billy clubs or regular old canes. On many of the shirts was the III%’s credo, “NSA”—Never Standing Alone. Scattered throughout the rest of the square were small groups overseeing the proceedings from an elevated position, as well as III%er members dressed in plain clothes milling about the crowd gathering “intel” on what they considered to be the day’s enemy—Antifa, the anti-fascist group.
In front of the line their leader, Beau Welling, the president of the Alberta chapter and national vice-president of the III%, stood calling commands quietly into a mobile phone he held like a walkie talkie.
A few hours earlier, the group had swept the perimeter checking the potted plants that surround the municipal building for any improvised explosive device. They were concerned that ISIS might target the event or that Antifa may have planted weapons beforehand.
The group of III%ers was attending the rally as “security detail” for a controversial anti-Islam speaker named Sandra Solomon, who was involved in a dust up with anti-fascists in Winnipeg a few days prior. Welling had made it clear to the group beforehand that attendance was mandatory, citing the Winnipeg incident and partisan violence south of the border.
This was effectively the III% Alberta’s coming out party—a planned operation that they called “Operation Shock N Awe”—and a show of force by a far-right anti-Islamic organization that claims to be heavily armed and ready for “war” on Canadian soil.
An eight-month VICE Canada investigation into the inner workings of the group has found it to be a tight-knit openly anti-Islamic group that is unique in Canada’s far-right ecosystem—one that, as one expert puts it, seems to be a “wholesale lift of an American militia.” During VICE Canada’s investigation, the group’s rhetoric and tactics rapidly escalated from virulently anti-Islam online posturing to IRL monitoring of mosques, live fire paramilitary-style training, claiming to buy land, and plans for creating smoke and flash bombs.
Welling, a key figure in the group, told VICE that he suspects that the Canadian government considers them “domestic terrorists.”
“What we like to consider ourselves is Canada’s last line of defence from all enemies, both foreign and domestic,” Welling told VICE. “If the time would come and we would need to use force and take action, you know, we will do that.”
Insular groups like the III% are hard to nail down when it comes to sorting toxic online rhetoric from what has the potential to lead to real world actions. But experts told us it’s important not to underestimate the risks associated with a group playing with the potentially lethal cocktail of xenophobia and firepower.
When Dr. Barbara Perry, a leading researcher on far-right groups and hate crimes in Canada at the University of Ontario, was briefed on their activities she responded with a simple, “I’m scared of this.”
The III% (or “threepers” as they’re also known) take their name from an American paramilitary group that organized after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. They are a largely decentralized organization built around strong anti-government and pro-gun views. Numerous people linked to the III% in the US have been charged with crimes, including Allen “Lance” Scarsella, who shot five people at a Black Lives Matter protest, and a member was arrested in 2011 in a foiled plot to bomb federal buildings in Atlanta.
The Canadian origins of the III% began in late 2015, shortly after Justin Trudeau became prime minister. It started with a nationwide Facebook group called III% Canada, which quickly turned to setting up chapters across the country. It was during this time that I added my personal Facebook profile—which clearly states I’m a journalist—to the secret group, a move that was approved by Welling.
Over time, the group has been able to make that rare jump from angry online Facebook group to real-world activity. For almost a year now, the III% chapter in Alberta—which has the most active members in Canada—has been slowly forming itself into a militia-like organization. The chapter in wildrose country boasts about 150 to 200 active members and over 1,600 members online.
The people who populate the group are a rough coalition of ex-military members, preppers, conspiracy theorists, and people who are simply scared of what is “happening” to the country. They claim to be heavily armed, with many members posting photos of their numerous guns to their page. Welling said that majority of the group is blue collar shift workers or nine-to-fivers who have been hit hard by Alberta’s economic downturn and claimed the III%ers have loaned out thousands of dollars to their fellow members.
The Canadian III% is, in essence, a direct lift of an American militia that has been outfitted with a rough paint job to fit into a Canadian worldview—even the name III% comes from an American myth that it was three percent of the American population that fought against the British in the War of Independence. The group is hierarchical, similar to motorcycle clubs or the Soldiers of Odin, and to become a member you have to be patched in by showing loyalty and worth to your superiors.
The Albertan group claims to meet on a weekly basis to train with live ammunition and prepare themselves for when the “shit hits the fan.” The group’s attention shifts constantly, but it seemingly revolves around hating on Antifa, the influx of refugees crossing Canada’s borders and, most prominently, the possibility of a Islamic terrorist attack. Unlike the Soldiers of Odin, or other like-minded groups, the III%ers don’t seem to feel the need to play coy with their hatred of Islam.
Anti-Islam sentiment is the beating heart of III% Alberta. This worldview unites the group online and is/has been assuredly the driving force of recruitment. In the closed group, posts have been made about wiping all the Muslims off the earth, and there is frequent use of dehumanizing terms like “goat fucker” to describe the religious group. Wellings once posted that all Muslims are guilty by association and “fuck the moderate Muslims.” Another post by a member, referring to a debunked story about Syrian youths in a Red Deer high school, indicated that they should round up Syrian children “like animals.”
With each terror attack over the past two years—from the Brussels bombing, to the Nice attack, the Berlin truck attack, to Westminster—the group gets more extreme with both their rhetoric and their training. The anti-Islam rhetoric seemingly hit a high water mark recently following the suicide attack at a Manchester Ariana Grande concert, which killed 22 people, including children and teenagers. Following the bombing Welling declared war.

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