Canadian VTRA Trained Professionals: Implications from Unrest in America

Canadian VTRA Trained Professionals: Implications from Unrest in America
Tyler Merbler

As the predictable escalation in Washington D.C. is currently playing out, we want to remind VTRA-trained professionals and teams that this American experience that we are observing is also an international experience, to which we are also subject.

Rather than being on the defensive and hoping that we do not see these risks increase in Canada, it is clearly indicated that VTRA teams consider any “Person of Concern” who has in the past identified with the aggressors in the movement that justified the storming of the US Capitol. VTRA teams should also be convening to consider those who may have a proclivity to identify with any of the diverse personalities involved.

The current crisis is a mix of individuals who can be seen along a continuum—from peaceful protesters who genuinely feel the US election was “stolen”—to the more dangerous perpetrators that include anti-establishment and racism-motivated sentiments.

Anti-Social POC’s – (Influenced by the moment and less organized) Individuals who have violence potential and are looking for a cause (excuse) to be violent. They are not really passionate about the cause, as evidenced by how quickly they will search for a new justification for violence when the current conflict has run its course. (Acute Violence Potential).

Anti-Establishment POC’s – (Influenced by ideology and more organized) Individuals who may have anti-social personality traits and characteristics but have been married to a consistent perspective that suggests their individual rights far exceed the rights of the people as established by democracies. (Chronic Violence Potential).

White Supremacist POC’s – (Often multigenerationally transmitted symptoms of superiority) Individuals who are highly justified in targeting individuals who are from the “out” group. They tend to be diverse, in that some are non-violently passionate about their beliefs but would not cross the line into violent acting out, and others whose risk is escalated due to a combination of anti-social and anti-establishment characteristics. The concern during the current crisis is that the typically non-violent individuals can become acutely elevated. (Chronic Violence Potential for Some combined with Externally Primed and Acutely Elevated Violence Potential for Others).

Peaceful but Angry POC’s – These individuals are not normally violent but some can get caught-up in the group contagion, especially the “fight-flight-freeze” response where emotion and fear cause them to lash out.

VTRA teams can hold remote meetings to quickly triage, based on the above definitions, who you may need to reach out to. This is an example of “matching resources to risk” as noted in our earlier guidelines, where the right person with the best connection to the POC makes skillful contact to just check in and see how they are doing. One meaningful conversation can serve as a powerful intervention.

The “empty vessel” dynamic is especially important at this time. Remember that we have POC’s who have personal struggles but are not empty vessels because they are still connected enough to healthy and mature adult supports. Of them, we say they are more influenced by micro-dynamics (personal stresses, family matters, relationship dynamics, etc.). However, the empty vessels are different. Because they are truly disconnected from healthy and mature adult supports, they are far more influenced by macro-dynamics such as worldwide events and media and social-media generated violence and trauma, of which the current crisis is an example.

The first few days of this critical period should be focused on assessing and intervening with our more pure-version empty vessels.

Anti-establishment and white supremacist movements have been intensified in Canada over the past five years, “Proud Boys” among them. Do not be deceived that we are free from these dynamics. As noted, the biggest problem we deal with in violence prevention is under-reaction. We are privileged to have VTRA protocols, let’s put them to good use.

J. Kevin Cameron, Executive Director
North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response