The same forces at play in the United States Capitol are already threatening Canadian democracy
If Canadians believe that the surreal scenes of fascist mobs in Washington, DC could never happen in a polite and orderly country like Canada, then Canadians are not paying close enough attention.
On Wednesday, a mob of fascist insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol in a failed bid to stop the certification of the 2020 Presidential election results, an event that Washington, DC’s mayor condemned as an “act of domestic terrorism and sedition.”
The chaos left four dead and produced surreal images of neo-Nazis and far-right YouTubers celebrating in the abandoned office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and declaring victory on the floor of the US Senate.
Photo of Senate right now. ‘Where’s Pence, show yourself!’ protester shouts pic.twitter.com/xGVKMnsf3T
— Steven Nelson (@stevennelson10) January 6, 2021
Btw “Q shaman” has a Valknut, an Yggdrasil, and a Mjolnir tattoo- Nordic pagan symbols frequently appropriated by far right racists and Neo-Nazis. Other folks in this shot are from the TWP. These are literally Neo-Nazis. It’s not an exaggeration or rhetoric- it’s who they are. pic.twitter.com/hR1WI9UkuT
— DREW DANIEL (@DDDrewDaniel) January 7, 2021
One of the more visible members of the fascist mob who took over the US Senate, Jake Angeli, wears the skull of a horned animal on his head and is better known online by the name “Q Shaman.”
Angeli is an influential figure within QAnon, a delusional online community that believes the world is secretly run by Satan-worshipping pedophiles.
My personal video of the year: the Q shaman attempts to cleanse the Arrowhead Mall in Glendale, Arizona of satanic child traffickers. pic.twitter.com/RN9D0BKfaJ
— Italien Feeld 🕳 (@julianfeeld) September 9, 2020
Canadians may feel tempted to think the events in Washington, DC are a product of the United States’ broken political system and polarizing media ecosystem.
But Elizabeth Simons, deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says Canada is actually a major player in the global far-right ecosystem that is fueling the fascist insurrection in Washington, DC.
“Canada has exported some of the biggest names in far-right propaganda, including (Proud Boys founder) Gavin McInnes,” Simons told PressProgress.
Our own history is mired in racism,” Simons noted. “If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s not just that we aren’t immune, but that we are an active player in the rise of hate across the world.”
According to a recent study, Canadians are active on 6,600 online channels linked to hateful content and make up 6% of all users on a 4chan board that is one of the Internet’s biggest clearing houses for far-right extremist content.
Not only are many of the same groups active and growing in Canada, they have already been involved in a number of well-documented incidents:
Followers of QAnon, a delusional online community that believes Donald Trump is waging a heroic battle against a secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles, had a highly visible presence at the US Capitol and related events in recent months.
Plenty of QAnon supporters amid chaos at Congress. The rabbit denotes QAnon slogan “follow the white rabbit.” pic.twitter.com/KeVQ3gmkdF
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) January 6, 2021
In Canada, QAnon followers have had a visible presence at anti-lockdown protests and other events opposing public health measures during the pandemic — QAnon followers were among the first attendees at early rallies in April.
The pandemic has helped QAnon move from fringe corners of the Internet to the footstep of the political mainstream — in October, a candidate for Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party resigned after PressProgress revealed they had a history of interacting with QAnon content online.
In July, an armed man rammed a pick-up truck through the gates of Rideau Hall and wandered the grounds in search of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. According to Vice News, the man had an apparent history of posting QAnon content.
— CTV Ottawa (@ctvottawa) July 3, 2020
The Proud Boys are built to provoke violence during street protests. They have been a fixture at events associated with far-right culture wars for several years.
— Raw Story (@RawStory) September 8, 2020
In the weeks following the US presidential elections, the Proud Boys have held large demonstrations in the streets of Washington, DC that have repeatedly devolved into violence against anti-fascist counterprotesters and police.
Proud Boys lead the March. Multiple people in this part of the crowd flash white supremacist signs for the cameras. There’s a sign that says “Kyle Rittenhouse did nothing wrong”. pic.twitter.com/aHXuyr7QkX
— Katie Simpson (@CBCKatie) November 14, 2020
The Proud Boys were founded by Gavin McInnes, a far-right media figure who was raised in suburban Ottawa and co-founded Vice Magazine, before becoming a personality on Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media and other far-right platforms.
The group made national headlines in Canada after five Proud Boys, who also served in the Canadian Navy, disrupted an Indigenous ceremony in Halifax in 2017 — they were later allowed to return to service without disciplinary action.
The Proud Boys have been very active in Southern Ontario and an anti-Muslim event in 2019 attended by Proud Boys and other allied groups led to a violent brawl in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, like those seen in cities around America.
In other parts of the United States, Trump loyalists are also rioting.
— Anonymous 👥 (@YourAnonCentral) January 6, 2021
Canadian media has too, at times, struggled to take the threat posed by the group seriously. Following the Halifax incident, CBC News faced heavy criticism for inviting McInnes onto CBC’s Power and Politics to defend the group’s disruption of an Indigenous event.
— Hannah Thibedeau (@HannahThibedeau) July 5, 2017
Other extremists who have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic
The storming of the Capitol was also led by an assortment of online conspiracy groups, many of whom have come together in a ragtag coalition during the pandemic in opposition to public health measures.
In Canada, these groups have included everyone from anti-vaccine activists and flat-earthers to neo-Nazis and so-called sovereign citizens who largely self-organize in private Facebook groups.
These signs from today’s anti-lockdown protest at Queen’s Park tell you everything you need to know about the main concerns of these protesters: pic.twitter.com/aOB1CHGyB1
— Luke LeBrun (@_llebrun) May 16, 2020
In 2018, Facebook made changes to its algorithms in response to criticism over fake news and low-quality content on the platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested the pivot to groups would promote “meaningful engagement.”
An unintended consequence of that change has been to give fringe groups a tool to connect, organize and egg each other on, leading to to bizarre and frightening consequences when those groups organize IRL meet-ups.
In May, a group of anti-lockdown protesters carrying signs claiming COVID-19 was a hoax perpetrated by an evil Satanic cabal blocked an ambulance bay at a Vancouver hospital and booed frontline health workers.
Other individuals linked to anti-lockdown protests and COVID-19 conspiracies have barged into Canadian hospitals with cameras attempting to prove the pandemic is a hoax or to performatively challenge public health measures.
Following an event in Ottawa, which saw a group of anti-vaccine activists, QAnon followers and the far-right march to the US Embassy and demand Donald Trump arrest Justin Trudeau, a group of far-right protesters established a sprawling camp at the National War Memorial.
From this base, the group launched a number of failed attempts to place Trudeau under citizen’s arrest while livestreaming their activities on Facebook.
Wandering the streets of Ottawa, one man made headlines after attempting to place NDP leader Jagmeet Singh under citizen’s arrest — as Singh walked away, the man also promised “next time I see you, we’re gonna have a dance.”
Jagmeet Singh was followed down Wellington Street today by that guy who tried to do a “citizen’s arrest” on a Radio-Canada journalist. “Want me to arrest you?” he asks the NDP leader.
The video ends with him telling Singh: “Next time I see you, we’re gonna have a dance.” pic.twitter.com/43wCY28o6x
— Luke LeBrun (@_llebrun) September 25, 2020
The encounter with Singh came only one day after the same man attempted to place a Radio-Canada journalist Daniel Thibeault under “citizen’s arrest,” mistaking the reporter for a Bloc Quebecois MP.
A man connected to a far-right group that’s been camped out at the War Memorial followed a Radio-Canada journalist down Sparks Street today and physically attempted to place him under “citizen’s arrest” as he tried to enter the CBC Ottawa building. pic.twitter.com/oQ5oNok77V
— Luke LeBrun (@_llebrun) September 25, 2020