What Is At Stake?
The Far Right Is Larger and More Dangerous
Systemic and even overt racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry are entrenched in this country’s economic, political, social and cultural structures of power. One might say they are “features of the system, not bugs”.
However, even as we battle the chronic disease that is “patriarchal capitalism” we cannot ignore the “acute” threat posed by extreme far-right forces. This danger is currently manifesting in the so-called “Anti-mask/Anti-lockdown” movement and starkly displayed in the violent occupation of downtown Ottawa.
But before anyone had heard of COVID 19 there was an escalation in racist, Islamophobic and anti-immigrant organizing in Canada that closely mirrored - and had links to – similar violent hate groups in the United States and Europe. The neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville Virginia in August 2017 that culminated with the murder of Heather Heyer, and the massacres of Muslims attending mosque in Christchurch New Zealand and Quebec City are just three examples of this escalating violence that is a global phenomenon. More recently we have viewed with alarm the reign of terror inflicted on residents of Ottawa by the so-called “Truckers convoy”.
As you can see in the “Profiles in Extremism” section the leaders and key influencers of the Anti-mask/Anti-lockdown movement promote a broad and varied collection of bizarre conspiracy beliefs and paranoid delusions although they each have their particular idiosyncrasies and preferred targets for their hate and threats. Many have long histories of extremism including overt fascism; others have more recently jumped on the bandwagon, what they call being “red-pilled”.
Sooner or later – hopefully fairly soon – the pandemic will end. The fear and frustration it engendered will fade and some of the new converts and hangers on will drop away. But the public health crisis over the past year has provided an opportunity for these grifters and wannabe fuhrers to expand their influence and number of followers by orders of magnitude.
Adherents of this movement have threatened, harassed and even assaulted healthcare and retail workers - and others. Prominent leaders have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers on various social media channels. They are actively promoting right-wing radicalization of a large segment of the population, breeding the kind of scapegoating that has led to a huge increase in hate crimes – especially against members of the Asian community. They have also targeted Indigenous people and other racialized communities.
Over the last two years of the pandemic responsible people have been understandably, and correctly, hesitant to directly confront these far right forces. However, we know that people without any underlying health conditions, who are double or triple vaxxed, masked and outdoors are at virtually no risk of serious health consequences.
The time has come to learn, to educate, to communicate and most importantly to organize to confront the very real danger of the much larger and re-invigorated far-right – greater than we have seen since the previous rise of fascism in the1930’s.
Mainstream” Conservatives Are Shifting Farther Right
In the aftermath of the January 6 attempted coup in the US it does not seem outrageous to describe the Republican Party as having gone “full Nazi”. An April 2021 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 60% of Republicans believe the 2020 Presidential election was stolen. A sizable proportion of the American population (mostly white) has become invested in the sort of manufactured fantasy of victimization and betrayal that is the precursor and hallmark of fascism.
Unfortunately, in Canada we are seeing similar developments. A significant number of Tory MP’s have voiced and openly demonstrated their support for the far-right mobilization in Ottawa. According to a February 3, 2022 report in the Globe & Mail: “The Conservative Party’s newly elected interim leader, Candice Bergen, advocated in internal discussions against asking the protesters occupying Ottawa to go home, according to an e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“I don’t think we should be asking them to go home,” reads an e-mail from Ms. Bergen to then-leader Erin O’Toole’s senior caucus team on Monday.”
Canada has the highest social media footprint of right-wing extremism according to this 2020 study in the UK, the presence of hate groups in Canada tripled in recent years, and is higher than the US and UK: isdglobal.org/wp-content/upl A May 2020 Leger poll found that over 30% of Conservative voters would prefer Donald Trump to Justin Trudeau as leader of Canada.
Whatever you think of Trudeau and the Liberals this is a worrying indication of just how far-right a large segment of the population has gone. They may not be out in the streets but their bigotry and extremist views have an impact both in politics and in their day-to-day interactions.
This may actually underestimate the growing extremism within this broad swathe of the population. At its March 2021 national convention Conservative delegates at the party's policy convention voted to reject adding green-friendly statements to the policy book — including a line that would have stated the party believes "climate change is real" and is "willing to act." In doing so they rejected the urgings of the party leader to adopt an electorally reasonable approach. Now that leader who tried who tried to square the circle of pandering to the far right while attempting to reach out to mainstream voters has been unceremoniously shown the door!
It was in 2017 that avowed Libertarian and anti-immigrant demagogue Maxime Bernier came within a whisker (49.05%) of winning the leadership of the Conservative Party, one of Canada’s two major federal parties. This is a man who slid seamlessly into alliance with infamous white supremacists and neo-Nazis in his newly formed “People’s Party” and has openly courted the Anti-Mask movement through social media and personal appearances.
In Alberta, the heartland of the Conservative Party in Canada, one quarter of Jason Kenney’s caucus revolted in August 2021 against his pandemic policies. Not because of his inconsistencies and outright failures to take prudent and timely action to protect public health – but because they opposed the restrictions he finally and reluctantly imposed in the face of disastrous numbers of COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Not perhaps a surprising development in a party whose leader’s political staff follow and share openly racist social media memes.
We Need To Fight On Both Fronts
It would be a fatal mistake to allow a single-minded focus on taking on the fringe extremists – as essential as that is – to obscure the necessity of simultaneously engaging in a broad, united, multi-faceted political and public relations effort to weaken and defeat the more powerful forces of reaction that are deeply embedded in “mainstream” society. We need to do both at the same time.