In light of the recent violent right wing extremist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the mosque attack in Quebec City, people are now asking why these events are happening, what threats are posed by right wing extremists, and what we can do about it.
Some of the responses to these questions lack the girth of a sufficient analysis. It is my opinion that Canada, if not all of North America, needs to engage in a conversation that includes a bird’s eye view of what is actually happening.
There are three main contributing factors that often get left out of the conversation about right wing extremism. In my view, these elements are essential to consider. Until Canada engages with this sort of conversation, we will be unable to reconcile with the core reasons why right wing extremist violence is on the rise; and as a result there will surely be more fatalities.
MEDIA — The first contributing factor that is often missed, which touches on how and why right wing extremism is growing, is media. Traditional media sources, as well as social media.
In recent years the news media has often reported on extremism and terrorism. Often media reports are scathed with inaccurate and unrefined analysis that leaves much to realize. A couple of months back, UNESCO published a paper I wrote that discussed how media had bolstered the recruitment campaign of a particular right wing extremist organization by labelling them as a ‘community group’.
Media outlets across the country essentially offered this organization a recruitment advertisement campaign. Journalists did not have a sufficient skillset to report on matters so complex. It could be said that the media was duped by an extremist group, which was led by an employee of the Manitoba Government.
This group has now splintered into several other factions. One of the splinter groups, has been engaged in paramilitary training that includes hand-to-hand combat and firearms training; from my observations it appears the majority of the members are legal firearm owners. Firearm ownership legislation is an identified gap in combatting extremism. Hopefully, at some point in the future the media airs on the side of caution before offering platforms that bolster recruitment and radicalization into the right wing.
It is noteworthy to mention in recent months UNESCO has offered journalists a handbook of responsible reporting on extremism and terrorism. Thank goodness.
SOCIAL MEDIA — One does not need to look too far online to see the abhorrent and violent messaging of the extreme right. On this point, the web is an essential component of radicalization into the right wing.
As pointed out by Dr. Jesse Daniels, Don Black and David Duke started one of the first public websites online. This website, stormfront, became a centralized hub for violent extremists around the world and is a mainstay for networking into the world of white supremacy. Groups in Canada like Blood & Honour (a.k.a. Club 28) have become renowned for their violence and paramilitary training. We can thank David Duke, who was present at the rally in Charlottesville, for the virtual white power immersion program.
We now live in a time and space where people are radicalized in the confines of their own home through the internet, sometimes unbeknownst to themselves and others. Southern Poverty Law Center has mapped out how Dylan Roof became radicalized through a simple Google search that led him to White Nationalist doctrine, where he was then radicalized; which later resulted in tragedy. More research and advocacy will be done on holding Google, and others, accountable.
In the last week alone, I have been contacted by two friends concerning their family members who have become radicalized into the alt-right vis-à-vis the Internet. I recently moved into a new town in Northern B.C. where I work at a law firm, and my new next door neighbour disclosed in a casual conversation that he is a supporter of the very group that is engaging in paramilitary training in Western Canada. He states, rather explicitly, that those who are anti-fascist are terrorists, which makes no sense in context to Canadian society. This attitude and perspective is everywhere, and if we do not crackdown immediately, we are headed for tragedy. Since when has opposing fascism and racism become a form of extremism?
For more on social media, I will refer you to Anti-Racist Canada’s blog, which highlights right wing extremist profiles of people, groups and their behaviours; my blog can be found at scholarsfromtheunderground.com. These websites outline the right wing extremist online activity.
Media’s role in assisting and bolstering the recruitment and radicalization of right wing extremists, is not the only source of normalization. I regret to add that I have started declining media interviews because my analysis on government, law enforcement and media gets edited out, along with my expressions that there is a white privilege that exists for white terrorists; which is only made possible by a society that offers a pass for those that perpetuate white supremacist doctrine and culture.
LAW — Our laws in Canada still harbour inherent racist and white supremacist architecture and functions. The most obvious example, the Indian Act. This legal apartheid document is not only racist, paternalistic and patriarchal, but also definitively sexist. Moreover, the Indian Act interacts with most other federal and provincial legislation in Canada and becomes the culprit of much discrimination. This is evidenced by: the McIvor case, both before and after the case where women are discriminated against in regards to their Indian Status; Cindy Blackstock’s Human Rights victory related to discriminative child welfare law, policy and conduct; and the ongoing contentious issue of Jordan’s Principle that is purposefully circumnavigated by our governments; and many more examples.
I should also mention that the federal government repealed section 13 of the Human Rights Act that effectively countered hate speech; essentially the Canadian government gave white supremacists more free speech to hate speech. This was done so through the justification of freedom of expression; this is a faulty unfounded legal analysis as the Supreme Court of Canada has explicitly stated that Section 13 was a Constitutionally sound limitation to freedom of expression in Canada. This is just another example of a government that offers advantages to white supremacists. Needless to say, this was facilitated by a government who was led by a man with direct historic intersections with right wing extremists: Harper. In my work it has become apparent that the turning point that led to heightened right wing extremist activity, was post-repeal of Section 13.
Additionally, as discussed in a UNESCO report by European Lawyer Daniel Sheffet, regulation of the Internet, hate speech and radicalization need to be considered. In my own research, jurisprudence clearly identifies and articulates that there is a Constitutional limit to free expression, and that both direct and adverse forms of discrimination are of the same effect. Furthermore, I think the governments of Canada is in need of some form of attitude adjustment when it comes to right wing extremists.
It is a fact that there is legislation in Canada, still, that is racist and white supremacist. Perhaps a more palatable way to frame this, rather than saying explicitly “white supremacism”, is what Dr. Derald Wing Sue refers to as ethno-centric-mono-culture; I prefer calling it what it is.
We do not need to inquire deeply to realize that systemic racism occurs in governance, law and enforcement. The historic and contemporary conduct of Canadian police has been mired with sexism and racism. Additionally, I have seen first-hand the conduct of police, national security, Public Safety (Ministry) and government that desires to focus primarily on the threat of the ‘Jihadis’. Secondary, are those who get in the way of progress, such as those ‘pesky environmental terrorists’ (or should I say Indigenous activists and their allies, whom I stand in solidarity with). The tertiary focus is upon those that are deemed as anti-government, which is prescribed by the authorities as often being left wing.
As I had identified in my UNESCO paper, if Canada continues to ignore the real threats from right wing extremists, we will create an environment that will birth extremist responses to counter-right-wing-violence; and in my view, if the government and law enforcement continue to refuse to articulate appropriate responses then communities will need to resolve the issues themselves.
More on this point, I have repeatedly witnessed and been told directly by police and government that right wing extremism is not a real threat in Canada. Moreover, Minister Ralph Goodale wrote to me in a letter dated August 10, 2017:
“…the most meaningful and effective preventative responses to radicalization to violence originate from communities.”
This comment was in direct response to my expression of frustration that law enforcement was not offering an appropriate measure of response to right wing extremist para-military training camps taking place in western Canada. Whereas, had the paramilitary training camps reported have been either ‘Jihadis’ or Indigenous Warrior Societies, we know that the response would be met with the full force of the Crown. Again, there is a white privilege that exists, even in context of extremism and terrorism. Nonetheless, I interpret this letter from Minister Ralph Goodale to essentially say that the police are perfect, and the rest of the burden lays with communities to take matters into their own hands; of course this is problematic. How can communities combat violent racist thugs effectively, especially when police forces are not doing enough. This is non-sensical.
It is clear to me, that Canada is mishandling right wing extremists. Right wing extremists are terrorist. There are Constitutionally sound limitations to free expression. Full Stop!
Someone needs to teach Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson that right wing extremists do not necessarily have a right to free expression where they are already proving to be discriminative in their groups purpose and messaging. Minister Goodale and the police need to learn how to responsibly and effectively deal with right wing extremists; rather than sweeping this under the carpet. If the rally in Vancouver was held by ISIS supporters, would it be allowed to continue?
NORMALIZATION — Unfortunately, this sort of response is not an isolated event. In the last several months, I have written letters to two Provincial Ministers on right wing extremist activity. One in relation to child protection issues, which went un-responded; the other was in relation to a government employee who was the leader of a right wing extremist organization and tied to organized crime, which is supported by documentation. In my view and experience, there is a structural apathy that exists when it comes to right wing extremism and white supremacist activity.
It is indisputable that the normalization of white supremacist doctrine and culture was at the root of the colonial projects that employed programs such as the Indian Residential School system that continued into 1990s. There are countless ways that white supremacy has devastated Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Unfortunately, that does not look like it is about to change anytime soon. All while, Canada is apathetic to the realities of the threats posed by violent right wing extremists.
SOLUTIONS — The good news is there are solutions. The bad news is you have to include the people who know what to do, in the solutions.
My work includes a tangible solution focussed approach. Here is a list of the work that I am engaged, all of which remains unfunded:
- Development of a 12-point law reform package to counter right wing extremism.
- Prevention, intervention and counselling services for those exiting extremism and gangs.
- Supporting family, friends and communities affected by extremist activity.
- Advocacy for people who report hate crimes with non-responsiveness from law enforcement.
- Consultations for media, law enforcement and government.
- Public education on right wing extremism.
- Assisting students and community members assert their Human Rights in cases of discrimination e.g. racism, disabilities, etc.
- Free legal information related discrimination, hate speech and abuse.
- Drafting manuscripts for public education on white supremacy in Canada.
- Public education presentations and public speaking events in schools, professionals, institutions and communities.
CREATIVE EXPRESSION — I grew up white, and I heard all the daily racist speak.
I had lived on the rez as a kid and witnessed what has happened to my family and friends, I know what actual oppression looks like.
My adolescence and adult life was mired in gangs and extremism on the streets, I became a hate monger; I know intimately what white supremacy looks like and the threats posed.
I came out of the mirk, healed with the help of my family and friends within healing circles and ceremony; I know what recovery looks like.
I became a voice for my community, and as a result have been targeted by conservatives in positions of power within academic institutions, law enforcement, government and law; I know what being shut down by the powers that be looks like.