Homegrown Terrorism and Gangsterism:
Recognizing the Parallels

Homegrown Terrorism and Gangsterism:
Recognizing the Parallels

Canada's parliament building
The recent and tragic deaths of our soldiers in Quebec and on Parliament Hill make little sense to most of us. Have we been vigilant enough in protecting our most vulnerable? In an attempt to understand, I draw some comparisons between gang recruitment of our youth and the growth of radical messaging.

Gangsters and terrorists provide a “family”

Gang recruiters socialize their victims by presenting the gang as the “community” and “family”

Historically, gangs have focused their recruitment efforts in the streets, schools, and prisons with the intent to socialize their victims by presenting the gang as the”community” and “family”. Typically, a gang would target youth in crisis, disenfranchised or alienated from society.  The “socialization” and “community” provided the new gang member with purpose and identity that rivaled conventional family and society’s supportive infrastructure.

We learned some hard lessons back then and began to focus our efforts on prevention, education and intervention. We found that if we could understand the warning signs and what triggers our youth to join a gang, we would be in a much better position to intervene. We owned the problem and worked together to solve it. Gang awareness strategies are now commonplace throughout North America.

…these people are sitting ducks for illicit, illegal or terrorist groups

The capabilities and opportunities provided by the Internet and in particular social media platforms have transformed many legitimate and illegal activities, augmenting speed, ease and range with which these activities may be conducted. Gangsters have equally capitalized on these opportunities along with others who focus their radicalized messaging towards vulnerable people throughout the world.

Unfortunately, there are many vulnerable people in society, both young and old, that do not have the critical thinking skills to properly assess these radicalized messages. These people are sitting ducks for illicit, illegal or terrorist groups who can send thousands of messages to their recipients from a computer anywhere in the world.

Terrorist, or mentally ill man vulnerable to terrorist ideology?

From my reading of the events on Parliament Hill, it appears that the individual responsible for the murder of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was deeply troubled and not initially identified as a serious threat. Was this really a terrorist attack or simply a person with severe mental problems that was rejected by the system?  Hypothetically, and at the time of the shooting, had he shouted out  “in the name of Jesus Christ” would he still be a terrorist? This is by no means an excuse for this behaviour but a reflection on society’s weaknesses in preventing future attacks from mentally disturbed people.

The Internet contains deep and dark places that can reflect much of the bad and evil that exists within this world. We are now facing an enemy that can strike “virtually”, converting some of our vulnerable citizens to their cause wherever they may be.

How do we combat radicalization?

We’ve learned over time that combatting the growth of “gangsterism” is not the exclusive responsibility of the school, police or family, but that of society. Social media may have complicated the problem, but as a community, we still own it.

We must take care of our most vulnerable citizens who are more susceptible to the grooming tactics of terrorists

National security has become a “big ticket” item today and for the foreseeable future and I can assure you that law enforcement cannot combat this problem alone. Being part of the “silent majority” on this one, won’t help.

So in the end, we need to own the problem collectively.

There will be those who wish to preach hatred and teach extremist ideologies to our citizens. As a society, we need to educate young and old about the warning signs of suspicious behaviour and challenge our institutions, private sector, and government to integrate support services and intervention programs. We must also become more diligent, more aware of our surroundings, and take care of our most vulnerable citizens who are more susceptible to the grooming tactics of terrorists. Understand that ignoring the problem, leaving it for someone else to solve won’t work. Collectively, we’ve addressed other complex social issues…we’ll do it again.

About the Author

Pat Fogarty is a former organized crime investigator now leading Internet research and investigations at Fathom Research Group. Read more about Pat.