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Facebook / Raf Stomper

La Phalange: The rise of a fascist fight club in Canada

Karim Zidan looks at the “identity boxing club” in Quebec that was founded by a radical right-wing movement. 

Quebec City, a UNESCO World Heritage treasure trove, is home to breathtaking landscapes, historical sites, and a wide selection of mouthwatering cuisine. From the Old Capital lined with cobblestone streets to the waterfall on the Route de la Nouvelle-France, the French province is a masterpiece of cultural beauty. It is also home to the country’s first publicly known “identity boxing club” founded by radical far-right movement, Atalante Quebec.

The secret gym is hidden in plain sight, accessible only to the group’s members. Those who step through its doors are greeted by the framed pictures of Friedrich Nietzsche, Julius Evola, and Dominique Venner — 19th and 20th century scholars now embraced by the far-right nationalists. The gym’s logo, a colosseum with protruding spears, was emblazoned on the opposite wall with the words La Phalange - Club De Boxe Identitaire (The Boxing Identity Club).

The gym was founded in June 2017, when Atalante Quebec gave a candid interview to a Serbian online media outlet announcing plans to start a “boxing identity club” for its members in Quebec City. The announcement caught the attention of French-Canadian media outlets, who raised concerns about the organization’s lack of transparency, and its newfound potential for spreading hateful ideologies while also training groups of young ultra-nationalists for violent combat.

The La Phalange gym’s name refers to the far-right Spanish political party that integrated the use of fascism following the Spanish civil war. This suggests that the group’s intentions will be to promote ideals stemming from their namesake, which was later confirmed during the interview Atalante Quebec gave the Serbian outlet.

“We believe that democracy is the worst regime the world has ever known, a regime built and lead by the bourgeoisie that have only served the establishment and their interests. So what make us different? We are active on the streets and we have made some controversial acts to get the attention of the media…We are very active in sports like martial arts.”

Atalante Quebec’s decision to integrate martial arts into their movement raises various concerns about the proliferation of well-trained radicals capable of targeting marginalized minorities such as impoverished migrants, as well as Black, Muslim and Jewish immigrants who do not fit their European identity.

What is it about martial arts that makes it such an effective outlet for radical right-wing groups? Understanding the relationship between fascism and fighting begins by analyzing the rise of such fight clubs across Europe and North America over the past decade.

Proliferation of Radical Fight Clubs

Several months before La Phalange opened its doors in June 2017, L’Agogé, another private gym operated by a radical right-wing group, held its grand opening in France. The Lyon-based martial arts gym was founded by Generation Identity, an extreme right-wing movement that labeled the gym as a place for “patriots and identity in Lyon.” The gym offered martial arts, strength training, and boxing classes to its members.

The below video showed one of the group’s representatives explaining that “Agogé was the name of the education given to young Spartan warriors in Greek antiquity.” He explained “that a significant part of this education consisted in learning the art of war to the young men of the City “” to defend their family, their city and their people.” The video also invited young French citizens to join the movement to defend the values of their country and civilization. (h/t Le Journal)

Once Atalante Quebec announced its plans to formulate a similar gym, reports emerged that it was inspired by the L’Agogé gym in Lyon, despite the two fight clubs being represented by separate entities. This highlighted the growing trend of extreme right-wing movements forming fight clubs that could potentially act as recruitment centres and training bases for their youth.

“Atalante Canada has strong ties to Fédération des Québécois de Souche, which was founded by a former neo-Nazi who, at the time, wanted to carry out terrorist attacks and was ultimately found guilty of inciting hatred,” said Evan Balgord, a journalist and researcher studying the rise of the new far-right in Canada (Note: Evan Balgord is a personal friend of the author). “They recruited on the infamous neo-Nazi forum Stormfront. Atalante also associates with openly fascist groups like Casapound and violent neo-Nazi groups in Europe.”

Generation Identity, a pan-European right wing movement rooted in anti-immigration beliefs, is known for staging protests for the shock factor. In 2010, they distributed pork and wine in an area known for its Muslim migrants and took over a mosque in Poitiers to demand a referendum on immigration and the building of Islamic religious sites for prayer.

For the past six years, Generation Identity has hosted a training camp for Europeans in France. Promotional videos showcased hundreds of young men and women jogging and working out wearing t-shirts with the Generation Identity logo as well as slogans such as “Defend Europe.”

While Generation Identity is primarily known as a pan-European youth movement, it is reportedly attempting to grow its presence in Canada. Promotional pamphlets with slogans such as “DEFEND YOUR IDENTITY” or “DEFEND YOUR FREEDOM” were plastered along various Canadian campuses along with a link to the group’s Canadian website. According to reports, the Canadian faction of Generation Identity already existed but has now been strengthened with new leadership, and has been compared to other radical groups like Atalante Quebec.

For the past two years, Atalante Quebec has filled the streets with anti-immigration banners, distributed hate-filled flyers on Quebec campuses, and organized anti-immigration rallies in Quebec City. The group has even distributed food to homeless people in shelters in order to gain some traction with their “remigration” movement which promotes the expulsion of immigrants — a movement that is popular with France’s Generation Identity group.

Atalante Quebec members distributing food to the homeless
Facebook

“We wanted to create something that was tailored by us for our specific geopolitical reality as well as our unique history and identity,” A spokesperson for Atalante explained in an interview with Serbian media. “ Essentially we do what we want - what we love - and sometimes we take some ideas from Europe but always apply it to our context and reality. So, our inspirations come from our history, our heroes and our unique culture.”

One of the main leaders of the Atalante Quebec group is Raphael Lévesque (aka Raf Stomper), a 33-year-old known for his controversial music career. He is the vocalist for the group Légitime Violence, and sang about extreme right vengeance in his concerts. He was arrested in 2015 with 250 tablets of methamphetamines, 600 grams of cannabis, and appeared in court on two counts of drug trafficking, two counts of possession for trafficking, and one count of conspiracy to smuggle.

It was Levesque who announced that the La Phalange - Club De Boxe Identitaire had officially opened in June 2017.

When the news that an “identity boxing club” had been founded in Quebec City, journalists reached out to the City of Quebec police department to determine whether law enforcement planned to intervene or monitor the secret boxing club.

“There is no problem connected directly to the centre,” Cindy Paré, a spokesperson for the police force, said. “Currently, there are no complaints. Then, there is no patrol increased in the area.”

Atalante Quebec didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Canadian Fascism and Martial Arts

Given the rise of such radical anti-Islam movements in Europe and North America, many experts are concerned about these radical movements’ pivot towards martial arts training. The gyms offer recruitment opportunities, training facilities, and weightlifting programs for young men and women who share their radical views.

The gyms are even believed to be a well designed as instruments of propaganda. “Such a boxing club is used to recruit new members, funding, and it’s advertising,” said Maxime Fiset, an ex-skinhead now employed at the Centre for Radicalization Prevention (h/t TVA Nouvelles) “if the club is successful profits will used to finance propaganda tools, the best material, and even buy advertising.”

L’Agogé Fight Club in Lyon
L’Agogé Facebook

Others have suggested that groups like Atalante Quebec could use martial arts gyms as training camps to prepare for violent street clashes with anti-fascist activists.

“The alt-right and the analogous identitarian movement are encouraging their members to get off the computer and network in real life,” said Evan Balgord. “They want their members to take real world actions. Ultimately, they want to establish a white ethnostate by any means necessary. In the case of Atalante, they probably view opening a martial arts school as a way to prepare for street clashes with anti-fascist activists or actions they believe are necessary to bring about a white ethnostate.”

While alt-right and radical fight clubs and martial arts gyms has gradually gained prominence over the past few years in places like Russia, the United States, and Western Europe, few expected Canada to follow suit. While the French-Canadian province of Quebec has cultivated increasingly xenophobic identity-based ideologies over the past decade, the problem extends far beyond the province’s borders.

“Quebec may play host to the most so-called alt-right, and fascist, neo-Nazi activists - but groups and members are networking across Canada and going to events that are outside of their province. These groups are in a capacity building stage, trying to recruit and radicalize, and encourage their members to take real world action. If they have their way, their banner drops and poster campaigns are just the beginning.”

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