VANCOUVER—As police in northern Manitoba conduct house-to-house, ground and air searches looking for any sign of two young men charged with second-degree murder and suspected in two more killings in British Columbia, experts caution not to ascribe political motives to the pair.
Media reports have connected photos showing Bryer Schmegelsky in military fatigues, and another of Nazi memorabilia he is said to own, to their involvement in the alt-right or neo-Nazism. But criminologist at the University of Western Ontario and author Michael Arntfield said the possession of such artifacts doesn’t mean much.
“The methodology to the alleged murders and the fact that it just seems to be lumped in with other accoutrement of war and history suggests, actually, a fixation on violence rather than on a specific National Socialist ideology,” Arntfield said. “I’m not even sure that they would know what that was.”
RCMP have been looking for Schmegelsky, 18, and his childhood friend, Kam McLeod, 19, in thick wilderness and swamps near Gillam, Man., not far from the edge of Hudson Bay. Initially, the two were thought to be missing and their safety was a concern.
But Tuesday morning, the men from Port Alberni, B.C., were labelled as suspects in the roadside killings of 24-year-old American Chynna Deese and her Australian partner, 23-year-old Lucas Fowler, on the Alaska Highway near Liard, B.C.
The next day, Schmegelsky and McLeod were charged with second-degree murder in the death of 64-year-old Leonard Dyck. The Vancouver man’s body was found 500 kilometres away from Liard, south of Dease Lake, near the burnt wreckage of the pickup truck belonging to the two.
Another vehicle connected to the men was found burning near Gillam Monday night, sparking a massive police search of the area the next day.
Over the last week, details of Schmegelsky’s life have come to light through photos displaying Nazi paraphernalia, including a swastika armband reportedly belonging to him, which has prompted some media to suggest he may be a member of the alt-right or a neo-Nazi.
Schmegelsky’s own father, Alan Schmegelsky, told CBC News his son is not actually a neo-Nazi and he just though the memorabilia was “cool.”
Arntfield said he isn’t convinced the boys have any political motives and, though the fixation may be “unhealthy,” it doesn’t suggest either is a card-carrying neo-Nazi.
“Typically, genuine neo-Nazis have far more conspicuous references to the iconography, unless we are only seeing a modicum of what one or both of them have,” he said. “As seen in other cases, disordered minds are drawn to totems of violence, whether it be a swastika or the imagery of previous killers.”
The men were also reportedly fans of violent video games and airsoft sports, a war simulation activity where participants use airsoft rifles to fire projectiles at opponents. Arntfield said Nazi memorabilia pops up often in both realms.
But labelling the men Nazis could have dangerous consequences said Sasha Reid, a psychologist and serial killer expert. Reid said it’s too early to definitively say what the motivation of Schmegelsky and McLeod may be and it’s dangerous to speculate.
“It’s also something that helps to embolden people who might actually have sympathies towards neo-Nazis or the alt-right,” Reid said. “We need to really not do that.”
If the men are killed in a confrontation with police, she said, it could make matters worse because they could be seen as martyrs by the alt-right or neo-Nazis. In turn, the attention could inspire others who feel marginalized and embrace such ideologies to act out, Reid said.
With files from Cherise Seucharan, Jesse Winter and Alex McKeen
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Jeremy Nuttall is the lead investigative reporter for Star Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports