"If you're into the political stuff, get yourself a flag," said Hank, a guest on a white nationalist podcast from December 2017. "Because normies don't know what that flag means, the Rhodesian flag."
Hank had appeared on the podcast to talk about his company, Fireforce Ventures. Describing itself as an online military surplus store, the Calgary-based outfit sells reproduced gear from various militaries across the world, everything from flags to reproduced army uniforms to weapon holsters. But its primary focus is the white-minority-rule state of Rhodesia, and its flagship product is a reproduction of the Rhodesian brushstroke, a camouflage pattern developed during Rhodesia's dirty war against indigenous Africans.
Fireforce personnel use pseudonyms when engaging in company affairs, but a Ricochet investigation has revealed ties to both the Canadian military and the far right.
By tracing social media accounts, cross-checking internet usernames and photos, and conducting a corporate registry search, Ricochet has uncovered the names of the people behind the company.
Founders Henry Lung, Ryan Jorgensen, and Kyle Porter are all active members of the military, according to the Canadian Forces. Private Lung and Corporal Jorgensen are reservists, and Corporal Porter is a full-time soldier. All are stationed in Alberta and listed as the company owners in the provincial corporate registry. Jorgensen is a military police officer, giving him a position of authority over other soldiers. Lung's Fireforce alias is "Hank," Jorgensen's is "Jorgy," and Porter's is "Kurt Pollock" or "KP."
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They are joined by civilian Adam Strashok, who uses the alias "Alexei," along with another individual, "Willy," who has not been identified but is said to also be a serving military member. [Editors' note: Ricochet has identified "Willy" as Wesley Taylor, a corporal in the military reserves, following publication of this article.]
The company's verified social media accounts use Pepe memes (a cartoon frog appropriated by the alt-right), celebrate the era of white minority rule in Rhodesia, and use racial slurs and Rhodesian slang to glorify the killing of Black Africans. Ricochet's investigation has also uncovered Fireforce personnel appearing on a white nationalist podcast, justifying white minority rule through appeals to debunked race science, and using an anti-Semitic slur in a white supremacist chatroom.
The Canadian Forces has come under increasing scrutiny of late for right-wing extremism within its ranks. In the past few years, several cases of soldiers associated with far-right groups have been exposed. When asked for comment on the activities of Fireforce, the Canadian Forces initially stated that "the Chain of Command is aware of the website" and "there is no violation of the code of conduct."
When pressed further and provided a series of quotes from Lung's appearance on the white nationalist podcast and examples of social media posts by the company, head of media relations Daniel Le Bouthillier responded that the Forces "will look into this issue further."
The myth of Rhodesia
Rhodesia is the name of a formerly existing state on the territory now known as Zimbabwe.
It was governed by the British under the name Southern Rhodesia until 1965, when white colonizers unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom, which had been pressuring the colony to hold open elections like much of the rapidly decolonizing continent. The explicit goal of Rhodesian independence was to maintain white minority rule and the system of violent racial segregation.
The Rhodesian state was short-lived. From the time that independence was declared, anti-colonial revolutionaries fought a protracted campaign of guerrilla war against the segregationist state, which the Rhodesian government responded to with a brutal counterinsurgency. Known as the Bush War, the conflict culminated with the collapse of Rhodesia and the creation of Zimbabwe in 1980.
For Henry Lung — a serving soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces — the Bush War was a heroic demonstration of the military power of white colonizers in Africa. On the podcast, he glowingly references the "Vietnam-style kill counts" where the Rhodesian army "absolutely slaughtered" indigenous African insurgents.
His company takes its name from the fireforce military tactic developed by the Rhodesian forces.
A wink and a nod
Fireforce's site includes a disclaimer that the company reserves the right to refuse sales to individuals known to be members of hate groups, claiming that it is simply about historical preservation, not politics. Based on available archives, the disclaimer appears to have been added as a response to controversy over the company earlier this year. In March, Paypal suspended Fireforce's account, citing violation of its Acceptable Use Policy. Then in April, the company was briefly mentioned in a New York Times article that examined the resurgence of Rhodesian nostalgia among white nationalists.
Despite the disclaimer, the company's social media presence makes a series of dog-whistles to the far right.
Fireforce personnel use #MakeZimbabweRhodesiaAgain on Instagram (the hashtag was recently made unsearchable by the site), share memes about how they wish they were alive during the Bush War so they could have fought as international volunteers, use Pepe memes, and post about "slotting floppies" and "making Rhodesia great again," even giving themselves a satirical 2016 award titled "Floppy Slotters of the Year."
"Floppy" is a racial slur used by white Rhodesians against indigenous African insurgents, and "slot" was Rhodesian slang for "shoot."
At Fireforce, "we seek to bolster the politically incorrect Operator [special forces] society, whether you're a traditionalist bush warrior or a modern day door-kicker," says the LinkedIn profile of founder Ryan Jorgensen, whose employment history consists of security and military positions.
More than just a vision of white minority rule over a majority Black population held to be inferior, the fantasy of Rhodesia also plays into desires for male dominance.
Among Fireforce's merchandise are posters featuring the image of a soldier and the phrase "Be a Man Among Men,” used by the Rhodesian military in its recruitment propaganda. The poster and slogan are now used by the alt-right to promote the reclaiming of a "traditional" masculinity, where white men are dominant and physically protect white women and communities. In the white nationalist view, feminists and other groups have twisted masculinity into something negative.
On a pseudonymous Facebook profile earlier this year, Lung posted about male suicide: "It is the product of our degenerate society that is toxic to any masculine virtues. It is the product of successive waves of generational brainwashing that have told men that they are pigs, cheaters, fools, drunks, cowards and finally in recent years, racists…. This is the war our generation, and this generation of men must fight."
More ties to the far right
The young people behind Fireforce weren't alive during Rhodesia's short existence. "Michelle," a Fireforce staffer whom Ricochet is not naming because she is not a member of the Canadian Forces and a connection to white supremacist circles was not found, is a student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and Henry Lung and Adam Strashok recently attended the University of Calgary.
In 2013, Lung and Strashok started a gun club at the university. According to Strashok's LinkedIn profile, he was also on the executive of two political organizations on campus supporting the provincial and federal Conservatives and the Wildrose party. He later worked on Jason Kenney's campaign for leader of Alberta's United Conservative Party and was present at the recent Conservative Party of Canada convention in Halifax.
An avid retweeter of Maxime Bernier, Strashok has sided with the Quebec MP in the rift dividing the country's electoral right wing. Bernier left the Conservatives in August to start a new party after issuing a series of tweets railing against diversity — which Strashok retweeted in full — that coincided with the first anniversary of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bernier has had the support of the Canadian alt-right since at least his run for leadership of the Conservative Party in 2017, when he narrowly lost to Andrew Scheer.
On Twitter, Strashok also follows Jonathan Boone, the former "intern" at the now-defunct white nationalist podcast This Hour Has 88 Minutes. The numerals 88 are a neo-Nazi code for "Heil Hitler," because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Strashok also follows the hosts of other U.S. white nationalist podcasts, as well as various Rhodesian nostalgia accounts.
A Facebook account linked to Fireforce that uses the name Alexei Kuznetsov, a pseudonym tied to Strashok, posted in support of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. That militia aided in the extermination of Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust before turning against the German occupying army. It also led a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Polish people in the Volhynia region, in which an estimated 100,000 Poles were killed.
"The Ukrainian Insurgent Army did nothing wrong!" says a post on the Kuznetsov page, with a stylized drawing of an armed soldier standing over the bloodied skulls of German and Soviet enemies.
Ricochet's investigation has also revealed that Strashok was a member of the "Vibrant Diversity" Discord server, a chat where hundreds of neo-Nazis, including many who had taken part in the mob violence in Charlottesville, talked privately. The contents of the server were leaked by American independent media collective Unicorn Riot. Strashok posted in the server only three times, but in that short space he managed to refer to Jewish people as k***s and use other anti-Semitic slurs. He used the same Discord account to access the "Vibrant Diversity" chat that he uses for Fireforce's publicly accessible Discord server.
Strashok's ties to the far right go beyond the internet. He was photographed attending a summer 2017 rally in Calgary held by the World Coalition Against Islam, a group whose leader has spoken favourably of white supremacist terror in Charlottesville and expressed a desire to replicate it in Canada. Strashok attended the WCAI demonstration with Jake Logan Findell, who was caught attempting to clandestinely poster the University of Calgary campus with propaganda advertising ID Canada (formerly known as Generation Identity), an identitarian white nationalist group with ties to violent neo-Nazis. Strashok's personal Facebook page included photographs of him with group members, but after Findell was exposed by the group Anti-Racist Canada, the photos were removed from Strashok's page.
Despite multiple attempts to reach them by phone and email, no representatives of Fireforce Ventures responded to Ricochet's requests for comment. After an initial email was sent, Lung posted on the company's public Discord chatroom that "commie reporters are lurking around" and warned everyone to be careful what they posted. After Ricochet followed up with a list of questions to the company, including queries about Strashok's involvement with WCAI and ID Canada, Strashok's Twitter and Instagram accounts were made private, and all posts on the associated Alexei Kuznetsov page on Facebook were removed from public view. The company also removed the #memes channel from its Discord server.
A militant understanding
Rhodesia's status as a symbol for white nationalists goes back decades, says Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against The Fascist Creep, a sweeping history of the fascist movement. "It's been a popular theme on the far right since the '60s," he says.
Rhodesia's declaration of independence from the United Kingdom as a way to maintain the internal racial hierarchy, even against the British Empire, further romanticized the segregationist state among the far right. "This was a place that Europe had abandoned and forsaken," Reid Ross says. "So it was really glamorized as behind enemy lines."
During the era of the Bush War, white supremacists from across the world traveled to Rhodesia to fight against decolonization and protect white minority rule. "Part of the legacy of Rhodesia — in the '70s, in the Bush War — was its place in the international map as a place for far-right mercenaries and activists to get trained and do training, generally to participate in what they viewed as the struggle for Western civilization and white supremacy."
American Harold Covington, founder of the white separatist organization Northwest Front, was one of those mercenaries — a term that Lung rejects. Speaking on the white nationalist podcast he appeared on in late 2017, Lung said that using the term "mercenary" is "very offensive to the guys that went over."
While Rhodesia has long served as a point of historical pride for the far right, Reid Ross says that it became more prominent around 2012, when the U.S. Tea Party wave began to recede and leftist movements began to take up more public space. "The white supremacist movement was basically dying, and there was [an attitude of] 'let's go back to a militant understanding of ourselves,'" he said.
"I think that the most important part about it probably is the militancy, the revolutionary militancy."
One far-right militant who looked to Rhodesia for inspiration was Dylann Roof, a white man who opened fire in a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Roof killed nine people in the attack, hoping that it would ignite a race war.
Roof published his manifesto on his website, The Last Rhodesian, writing that Black people had lower IQs compared to whites. He also wrote that he respected East Asians, who "are by nature very racist and could be great allies of the White race." His Facebook page included photographs of himself holding the Rhodesian and apartheid-era South African flags as well as wearing a jacket with a patch of the Rhodesian flag.
"It's kind of palpable that his wearing that flag means something to him," Reid Ross says. "It means that he is militant and that he wants to fight for a white nation where white people are absolutely dominant."
IQ fairy tales
Less than a year ago, Henry Lung, representing Fireforce as "Hank," was a guest on a white nationalist podcast. That show is part of a larger network of white supremacist podcasts that has as its logo a Wolfsangel, a symbol used by various divisions of the German army during the Nazi period.
While promoting his company on the podcast, Lung eulogizes Rhodesia as an "effective state with a high IQ population." Countries such as Rhodesia and South Africa, he says, show what happens "when we have civilizations with high IQ populations giving over the reins of power of the state apparatus to people with low IQ."
According to Lung, the idea that "race and IQ have nothing to do with one another — sorry, that DNA and IQ, genetics and IQ, have nothing to do with one another" is "complete bollocks."
The podcast host congratulates Rhodesia for its "racial realism," referring to the falsity that race and IQ are linked, and that the biological difference between people of different races is comparable to the difference between sub-species of non-human animals.
Lung prefers the term "racial realism" over "racism," claiming the latter was "invented by Marxists to allow us to basically accuse someone else of denigrating your race."
Racial realism is an extension of scientific racism and "largely comes out of the white nationalist community," says Matthew Hughey, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. "This is a white supremacist and white nationalist ideology and practice that tries to present a more civil, public face as if they are guided by science and not rhetoric or politics."
"This appeal to intelligence as though it is a static, fixed thing and is attributed to race," he says, "is just the biggest modern fairy tale I think we have today."
Two assumptions form the basis of race realism, according to Hughey. The first is racial essentialism, the idea that "race" is biologically real, which would allow the simple division of humans into clear racial groups. The second is biological determinism, the idea that people's biology — including, in this view, race — determine "behaviour and characteristics such as IQ."
The scientific existence of race "has been widely disproven by sociologists, psychologists, geneticists, genomicists, biologists," says Hughey.
"Race," he says, is something that "we socially and politically construct."
Given there are no biological races, they cannot determine outcomes such as IQ — which is not even a sound measure of intelligence, Hughey says.
Intelligence cannot be measured directly, so a variety of approaches are used, ranging from testing proficiency in mathematics to visual thinking to language. Tests and results vary "based on the language used, the cultural references used, the assumptions and underlying reference points." In other words, Hughey says, the idea that IQ is a reliable measure of raw intelligence is itself a myth.
"Race as a concept was birthed … out of the colonialist project as a way of rationalizing inequality and subjugating other people."
Until this colonial history is confronted, says Hughey, the myth of racial realism will persist.
The day after being featured in the New York Times article about Rhodesia nostalgia in April 2018, Fireforce posted an official statement on its Facebook page regarding "the controversy that our business has found ourselves involved in." It said the company was "comprised of a small but very diverse team of men and women from many different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds" and that it was not making "any political or racial statements with the products we list on our website."
In a less guarded moment on the white nationalist podcast, however, Lung explained that the era of white minority rule in Rhodesia "is what my company is trying to pay homage to."
As a Canadian of Chinese descent, Lung's involvement in far-right politics might be surprising. But it highlights a small yet significant trend.
Certain people "intuitively understand that by getting closer to whiteness, getting closer to Canada as a nation-state, you reap benefits from that," says Vincent Wong, an LL.M. Human Rights Fellow at Columbia Law School.
By disassociating from black and brown people, "you get closer to the status of … the exalted Canadian citizen," says Wong. "And then you can use the model minority myth further to build that connection, to get closer and to reap the benefits of whiteness."
The model minority myth has primarily been applied to East Asians, and the Chinese in particular, stereotyping them as studious and industrious, economically ascendent, and politically obedient. Thus, the argument goes, when other minority groups do not achieve the same success, it is a failure of their own making.
Wong points to recent protests against refugees by Chinese Canadians in Markham, Ontario, as an example of political overlap with the alt-right. He says the alt-right is now finding unexpected allies in these protesters.
"So you see the model minority myth play out in a lot of the dialogue, the conversations, and the links that are happening between, I guess you could call it more traditional alt-right groups and Chinese Canadian alt-right supporters," Wong says.
Some white nationalists highlight the strong performance of students of East Asian background for their own ends, says Hughey. "There's an interesting line of rhetoric that comes out of modern white nationalist thought, which is that different racial groups are inherently different and that white people aren't necessarily the smartest or the best or what have you, just that they're different."
"And they use that as a way to say, 'See we're not claiming that we're supremacists, we're just claiming that we're nationalists.'"
Those hearing that they are "better than white people" can find this line of thought "seductive," according to Hughey.
"Racism is not monopolized by white people," says Wong. "It can have different manifestations within a white supremacist framework."
The profits and politics of Rhodesia nostalgia
Two years after its founding, Fireforce announced that the company was expanding.
In a Facebook Live video, "Willy" stated there would be a new website and warehouse to accommodate a tripling of stock, including more Rhodesian brushstroke–themed products (which turned out to include yoga shorts). He also said that "Hank" and "Alexei" had travelled to Las Vegas to source more inventory at a military surplus exposition.
Before Strashok's personal Twitter account was made private, he tweeted about travelling to Las Vegas for a conference at the same time. He complains to Air Canada's official Twitter account about his flight being diverted, and asks the company to turn the seatbelt light off on his plane.
The company's new website, launched in September, initially had the same content as the old one. But recently there have been changes.
Where the old website emphasized that the company founders were serving members of the Canadian Forces, now it simply says the company was started by "a few guys in Canada." The old website included a glorified history of Rhodesia and stated, "As a company, we owe this little rogue state in Africa a debt of gratitude for being the spark that set us on this journey." That section has disappeared. Also gone is an acknowledgement of the meaning of the term "fireforce."
The disclaimer that the company is non-political and refuses service to hate groups remains on the website.
Fireforce has grown significantly over the two years of its existence, both promoting and benefitting from an uptick in Rhodesia nostalgia — a phenomenon that primarily exists on the far right. When Lung appeared on the white nationalist podcast and explained that "normies" don't know what a Rhodesian flag represents, that's the audience he was targeting.
Over that same time period, the far right that Fireforce dog-whistles to has become an increasing social threat, engaging in everything from hate speech online to terrorist attacks. The establishment of far-right networks in the Canadian Forces is also a growing concern, one the military claims to be taking seriously.
"Discriminatory conduct is not tolerated in the CAF. The CAF is committed to eliminating all forms of discrimination within the organization, and to ensuring that all current and potential members are treated with dignity and respect," said Le Bouthillier.
"It cannot be stressed enough that any action promoting hate or intolerance goes against our core beliefs and is not tolerated."
At publication time it was not known what action, if any, the Canadian Forces would take in response to these revelations.