Proud Boys Online Presence Didn’t Disappear Overnight After Terrorism Label

After Canada labelled white supremacy groups like Proud Boys a terrorist organization, some outlets seem surprised that their presence wasn’t erased instantly.

Yesterday, Canada took the lead and designated a couple of white supremacy groups like Proud Boys a terrorist organization. This after the January 6th terrorist attack that left 5 people dead including a police officer. Proud Boys, of course, had a presence at that attack and the repercussions of that involvement are cropping up to this day.

Obviously, there are a number of legal ramifications of this designation. This includes added criminal liability for facilitating or offering financial aid in any way to these organizations. Some of these ramifications theoretically extend online as well. This leaves some pretty open questions of what this means for platforms and even page or channel owners as well. During our report, we noted that how things go down will likely depend on action taken. Whether that action is taken by platform operators or law enforcement, it will take action of some sort.

What we probably should have pointed out is that this will all take time to sort out. This after a report on Global which seems to suggest that the outlet is surprised that Proud Boys Canadian chapters weren’t somehow magically erased overnight because of this designation. From the report:

A day after the Proud Boys were added to Canada’s list of terrorist organizations, social media accounts linked to the far-right group were still online.

The two main Telegram channels identified by a U.S. extremism research group as those of Canada’s Proud Boys remained active on Thursday.

Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.

“The channels have shared several posts about revolution and urged members to ‘rise up and assemble,’” the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) wrote in a report circulated to subscribers last week.

“Specific posts have called for the group to make a ‘cohesive plan of attack.’ The channels also predict that Canada will be a ‘major battleground’ in a ‘US vs China based 2nd Cold War.’

The channels have also advertised rallies.

“In Canada, the listing means that it’s now illegal to facilitate terrorist activity on behalf of the Proud Boys, which could include hosting Telegram channels,” said Jessica Davis, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst.

“This listing incentivized companies like Telegram to de-platform the group. However, what legal consequences they could face for failing to do so falls into relatively uncharted waters, given the company and its severs are mostly, if not exclusively, located outside of Canada.”

While this specific angle of international law may be uncharted territory for far right terrorist organizations, it might not be quite as uncharted as suggested in the quoted comments.

One example that comes to mind is Julian Assange, co-founder of Wikileaks. The United States has been trying to get him extradited to the United States for exposing a spectacular amount of government corruption. After years of pressuring multiple governments to act on America’s behalf, we more recently saw the judge deny the US’s efforts to have him extradited.

Another great candidate would be Swedish BitTorrent website, The Pirate Bay. The United States wanted to have the three founders arrested and charged for copyright infringement. The political and legal mess that became of it was not only dramatic, but also took quite a long time to resolve in some regards.

Then, there is the case against Kim Dotcom and MegaUpload. The New Zealand government carried out a high profile raid on his mansion trying to have him arrested. That case raised serious questions about sovereignty and how much influence another country can have on the legal system and police.

When you look at the cases of another country (typically the United States) trying to arrest and extradite an individual over their Internet activity, things get messy very quickly. One of the biggest factors working against the country trying to make an arrest is the fact that the laws might not work the same in other countries. Just because an action is illegal in your country doesn’t mean that it’s illegal in the other country.

Another factor is the question of sovereignty. All three examples feature sovereignty as a major part of the debate. If another country decides it wants to arrest one of your countries citizens, where is the line between the country overstepping its bounds and it being a reasonably justifiable arrest? Best case scenario for trying to, say, arrest someone, is that the action was illegal in both countries. Even in that scenario, a frequent question is whether or not it is more appropriate to try that individual in their home country. Additionally, if that suspect is found guilty and sent to jail, is it a form of double jeopardy when that country seeking that persons arrest wants that person to serve time in their jail as well?

There are, of course, other cases we can use when talking about another country wanting to arrest someone in another country that has nothing to do with copyright as well. There is the very high profile case of Meng Wanzhou, CEO of Huawei currently under house arrest in a massive mansion fighting extradition to the US from British Columbia (BC). Another example is the case of The Prince of Pot who is a BC resident wanted by the US.

With those two cases mentioned on top of it all, there is another aspect to such cases to consider: is the host country willing to follow through with an extradition request or not? It generally depends on the case in question and the country in question. Sometimes, the country is simply going to stand firm and say “no”. Other times, they might be more willing to let the court system handle the case.

The bottom line here is that extradition cases frequently involve politics as much as it involves international law. So, circling back to whether or not someone from another country would face consequences, it depends on the politics of the country, the laws of the country, and what kind of extradition treaty arrangement that country has with Canada.

Emails sent to several chapters did not garner any substantive responses, but earlier the Toronto chapter responded with a link to a website called Proud Boy Truths, which claimed there was “no evidence we are a terrorist group.”

Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio told the Associated Press the terrorist listing was “ridiculous.” He estimated there were 1,000 to 1,500 Proud Boys in Canada and that they had only attended rallies.

It’s probably not much of a surprise that such a group would deny their terrorist connections. Some people who participated in the January 6th attack are of the same opinion that their terrorist attack wasn’t a terrorist attack. This in spite of the fact that the attack pretty much fits in almost perfectly with what a terrorist attack is. A terrorist attack is meant to use violence to disrupt the general political process of another country. Whether it is through political, ideological, or religious means, the goals are generally to promote fear of another party. So, if you don’t want to be labelled a terrorist organization… maybe don’t perform or encourage terroristic activities?

What is bizarre about the article is the fact that it seems to suggest that it’s surprising that Telegram servers are still up. The problem with that thinking is that the decision by Canada was made yesterday. Declaring an organization a terrorist group isn’t going to automatically make them disappear like a light switch by any means. There are a lot of practicalities that goes in to whether action is taken on anyone’s part or not.

The first thing that comes to mind is what some of these members might be doing at this point in time. The news just hit. Best case scenario is that they are looking into who they can talk to for legal advice at this stage. If they do find legal counsel for advice, there are probably a host of reasonable questions that can be asked. Questions like, “What does the designation mean for me?”, “What do I need to do to not be labeled a terrorist?”, “Is it too late to disassociate myself from this group in the eyes of the law at this point?”, or “Should I worry about my activities now or should I wait for some kind of legal summons or warrant?”, “If I operate a chatroom with this group, what penalties, if any, could I face?”

Additionally, if an individual is outside the country, reasonable questions can include, “Could I get extradited to Canada for buying this groups merchandise or hosting a server?”, “What is the extradition treaty like between my country and Canada?”, “What are the odds that I actually get a request from Canada?”, etc. If you are not well versed with national and international law, questions like that are ones that may need answers for these people. Not all of these kinds of questions are going to be easy to answer either.

Of course, that is a best case scenario that some of these members are looking towards legal help. There is also the possibility that some members might look at this decision and say that it’s all political grandstanding by the Canadian government. There is the possibility that some might feel that there was nothing lawful about the designation and, therefore, it doesn’t actually apply to them (basically the freeman thinking). As a result, some might just ignore it all and just continue their activity anyway. At that point, the question them becomes more of what kind of action Canadian authorities actually end up taking in the first place.

At any rate, the idea that there is some sort of expectation that Canadian chapters of some of these groups would simply vanish overnight is simply ludicrously naive at how things actually work in the real world. Yes, there are very real legal consequences of this designation. Yes, there might very well be arrests based on terrorism law as a result of this designation. No, it doesn’t mean they all hit the lights immediately and call it the end of their hobby. Additionally, the fact that there are Telegram servers still up doesn’t mean the law is automatically ineffective.

Chances are, the effectiveness of these laws will probably be tested once some of these members are before the court. Even then, you never know for sure because, for all we know, an arrest and conviction could be based on another law not related to terrorism. That is also a possibility where prosecutors could consider a different law for pressing any kind of charges should they decide to do so. Is it outside the realm of possibility that a member could wind up being convicted for assault charges even though the initial push was for terrorism charges? Not really.

The thing is, we are in the very early stages of this story. So much could theoretically happen as a result of this decision. The decision to label these groups a terrorist organization isn’t the end of the story, it’s merely a chapter that still has many pages left to go. With the concept of appeals, long investigations, etc., we could be looking at this taking months, if not, years before we see anything major developing that even comes close to resembling some sort of conclusion. The gears are turning and plenty of stuff is no doubt happening behind the scenes, but who knows how enforcement of this designation is going to play out at this stage?

(mention talking to lawyers and questions possibly being raised)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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