It’s easy to laugh at the United States. It’s necessary, even, as it’s a defence mechanism that wards off terror and despair.
Never has this kind of grim laughter been more necessary than during last week’s “Save America March,” which began with President Donald Trump rambling about being shadowbanned and directing his followers to head to the Capitol to intimidate Republican lawmakers into reversing the election results, and ended with a shirtless man in a viking hat known as the “Q Shaman” becoming the new Senate Majority Leader for a few minutes.
It was equal parts bizarre and horrifying, and while we’ve established that laughter was an appropriate response, if you found yourself directing your chuckling toward the Damn Yankees and assuring yourself that such a thing could never occur here in Canada, you may want to think again.
Canada is absolutely rife with insurrectionary right wing extremism, and the only real difference is that so far none of our political leaders have unlocked the formula to mobilize its adherents into the kind of targeted violence we saw unfold in Washington.
From the way the media, big tech and the political establishment reacted to the events at the Capitol, it would be easy to assume they were the first time Trump’s rhetoric had helped lead to real world violence. But it was fewer than 10 days after Trump’s inauguration, during the chaotic protests kicked off by the infamous “Muslim ban,” that a Trump fan, as well as voracious consumer of the same online far-right sources that helped escalate the Washington rally into what it became, walked into a mosque in Quebec City and murdered six people.
This wasn’t the first Canadian connection to the far-right movement that Trump has become the figurehead of, and many more have since appeared.
There was a Quebec contingent in the fascist 2017 “Unite The Right” rally that ended in a neo-Nazi killing a young woman and injuring several others.
There were Canadians present at the “Save America March” last week, and some possibly made it inside the Capitol building itself.
Canadian far-right influencers such as Gavin McInnes, Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern and Faith Goldy have also played an integral role in laying the intellectual foundation for the alt-right movement that helped Trump get elected in the first place. Though McInnes has been forced for legal reasons to disassociate himself from the Proud Boys, the street gang he founded is still a driver of right-wing violence, and has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Canada has also become one of the primary homes for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which played a major role in the Stop the Steal meme that led to the “Save America March” and the Capital Riot. Q flags have been prevalent at many anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests across Canada. A Quebec QAnon conspiracist was also one of the larger and more influential accounts targeted in a recent social media crackdown.
And just last year, a rifle-wielding QAnon advocate crashed his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall in an attempt to harm Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This was followed by several months of like-minded extremists camping out across from the prime minister’s offices, and trying on several occasions to perform citizen’s arrests on Trudeau and other elected officials, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
People rightfully celebrated when Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, failed miserably in the 2019 federal election after he tried openly courting these types of far-right conspiracy theorists. Yet his failure shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the growing movement can’t constitute an electoral force, but rather that the Conservative Party was able to successfully fold these people into their coalition instead. It shouldn’t be forgotten that in 2017, Bernier was incredibly close to becoming the Conservative Party leader, garnering 49.05 per cent of votes in the final round.
In the wake of the events at the U.S. Capitol, new Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has been attempting to distance himself from the far right element that Tories have been pandering to for years. Yet after hiring the creator of Ontario Proud to run his digital strategy, running with the slogan “Take Back Canada” in his leadership campaign and recently claiming via the Conservative Party website that Trudeau and the Liberals are attempting to rig the next election (until they deleted it when everyone got mad at them), he doesn’t have a ton of credibility here.
Previous Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, on his way out the door, instructed party members to get their news from The Post Millennial, home to provocateur Andy Ngo who has made a career out slandering antifascist activists under the guise of “journalism.” Yesterday, former Conservative MP Derek Sloan claimed that an infamous neo-Nazi applied to be, and was accepted as, a Conservative Party member. Other than all this, though, the Conservatives are, as O’Toole puts it, “a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party […] that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics.”
Even if O’Toole and mainstream Conservatives are serious about severing their ties with Canada’s far-right, the seeds of a new crop of more unhinged extremists have been planted throughout this pandemic. We’ve seen them in increasing numbers protesting mask mandates or lockdown measures, and they’re not exclusively directing their ire toward Trudeau and the Liberals. They’ve also attacked arch-conservative, pro-business premiers such as Doug Ford, Jason Kenney and Brian Pallister.
It may be possible for now to dismiss Greater Toronto Area anti-mask real estate scion party boy Chris Saccoccia, or pretend-working class Adamson Barbecue martyr Adam Skelly, as harmless headline-grabbing weirdos, but it’s not going to be so easy if they end up becoming members of parliament with actual political power.
It might be comforting to pretend this movement will fade away without Trump, or that Canadian society is somehow immune to the vast right wing misinformation machine, but none of these people, or the toxic, hateful ideology they espouse, are going anywhere.
We ignore this at our peril, because it’s only a matter of time before a Canadian political leader begins successfully mobilizing this community. And when that day comes, it’s not going to be a laughing matter.