Canadians Are Ignoring the Rising Threat of Fascism

Canada's fascist movement is well-funded, growing steadily and encroaching into mainstream politics and media.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted September 07, 2022 in Blog (Last Updated September 07, 2022)

There are some difficult, dangerous truths that Canadians need to come to terms with and figure out how to confront:

We need to acknowledge clearly, explicitly and publicly that there is a serious organized violent, fascist, white supremacist movement in Canada.

This movement is highly effective at propaganda and has been steadily radicalizing and indoctrinating people from all areas of the country and all walks of life for several years. They have succeeded in turning social media platforms into recruitment funnels.

This movement is being normalized, amplified and promoted by a broad spectrum of right-wing media organizations, including major print media, which systematically launder extremist ideology into the general public discourse.

This movement is also being normalized, amplified and promoted by prominent right-wing politicians and political parties that are all too willing and even eager to engage the energy and funding of this increasingly radical base to further their own political aims.

The anti-vaccine, anti-science "freedom convoy" that emerged this year out of the "yellow vest" phenomenon is absolutely part of this violent, extremist, white supremacist movement.

This is particularly true of its leaders, organizers and loudest promoters, who have been quite open about their fascist, white supremacist beliefs and goals.

The steadily-escalating pattern of harassment, threats and abuse targeting politicians and journalists and especially those who are women, Black, Indigenous, racialized and queer is a core component of this movement's fascist strategy.

The mainstream media's struggle to report the incidents of this movement's escalating violence in the context of the larger strategy also serves to downplay, minimize and normalize fascism precisely as it grows bolder and more dangerous.

Violent white supremacist fascists don't need to be that popular. They can seize power by forming a core faction of a right-wing party, desensitizing more moderate factions to their ideas, and suppressing voting rates generally.

Canada's first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system can give near-absolute political power to a party that wins a shockingly small plurality of support. (For example, in Ontario, Doug Ford recently won a majority with just 18 percent of eligible voters choosing his party.)

Fascist ideology is calibrated to maximize its influence in a system like FPTP: attacking the idea of common solidarity, pitting identity groups against each other, and provoking cynicism toward politics in general to suppress voter turnout.

Right-wing politicians keep thinking they can pander to the extremist fringe for votes with impunity. Their pandering grants the fascists a claim to legitimacy that they use to shelter within conservatism.

That emboldens the far-right fringe while incrementally desensitizing more moderate conservatives to their extremist ideology. So mainstream conservatives accommodate virulent anti-vaxxers while piling on with outrageous attacks against public health agencies.

The extremists, in turn, get to claim that criticism of their violent ideology amounts to an attack on conservatives as a whole. This mutual framing is a core part of the right-wing media strategy to normalize fascism.

The mainstream media do a generally poor job of explaining and framing these fascist tactics for what they are. Instead, we get the same false "balance" and bothesidesing that legitimized bad-faith climate science denialism for decades.

So you see bizarre normalizing like a recent debate over whether a white supremacist screaming racist conspiracy theories at Chrystia Freeland was "an expression of a healthy democracy".

Meanwhile, on the right, the conservative press pushes forward shamelessly with carefully choreographed messaging that consistently reinforces a fascist framing that projects all malfeasance onto the so-called 'liberal establishment'.

So fascists simultaneously manipulate the mainstream media into introducing their ideas while also slandering the media as 'enemies of the people' and fomenting abuse and violence against journalists.

Harassment, abuse and violence are core tactics of fascists, which they use to threaten and intimidate anyone they consider an enemy - especially women, Black, Indigenous, racialized and queer folks, whom the fascists demonize and dehumanize as a threat to 'real' citizens.

All of these things are happening in Canada today. And it's getting steadily worse as the fascists and their right-wing media promoters and political panderers grow bolder and less restrained.

You don't have to like the Prime Minister and the governing Liberal Party to recognize that the rage-filled "F*ck Trudeau" campaign heartily endorsed by the Conservative Party is an astonishing departure from normal political messaging.

And yet it is the right who shamelessly affect a stance of persecution and victimization over feigned violations of their sense of entitlement, combined with racist conspiracy theories about nefarious globalist agencies infiltrating and corrupting the nation.

These extremist ideas have already penetrated far into the mainstream, as politicians and pundits with large platforms talk openly about the "replacement" of white people and "groomers" and use terms like "treason" to describe political opponents.

It's even worse in the United States, of course, but American politics inevitably bleed across the border as our media and institutions are saturated with American propaganda.

The organizational infrastructure of fascist and fascist-friendly operations is extensively funded by the fossil fuel industry, which has an enormous vested interest in sabotaging the capacity of liberal democracies to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Their campaign to disrupt responsible governance is then amplified by malicious state actors, like the Russian information war apparatus, to extend its reach and sow discord and division among citizens.

Or as Trump advisor Steve Bannon infamously put it, the propaganda strategy is to "flood the zone with shit" to make it impossible for people to converge on a shared sense of reality.

To recap: we have a fascist movement, it is well funded and organized, it is growing in size and influence, it is being promoted by major media and politicians, it is being legitimized and normalized in media coverage, and it is becoming steadily more violent.

And there is an alarming level of sympathy for the fascist movement among law enforcement agencies. During the "freedom convoy" siege of Ottawa this year, several police officers happily posed for photos with the extremist occupiers.

The convoy organizers were able to become so entrenched in part because of the operational advice they received from supportive police and military strategy experts.

Likewise, the RCMP was genuinely worried that sympathetic Mounties would leak operational plans to the convoy organizers.

So what do we do about it? I don't have any easy answers, but a few things seem clear:

Fascists chip away at the legitimacy of targeted out-groups in ugly increments, eroding the idea of a shared, inclusive humanity. We need to push back against this by affirming and strengthening justice and equity for the equity-seeking communities fascists target.

People who are women, Black, Indigenous, racialized, 2SLGBTQIA+, who are refugees or immigrants, who practice Judaism or Islam - all are targeted by fascists with demonizing and dehumanizing propaganda, harassment, abuse, threats, violent attacks, and rollbacks of legal recognition and protection.

Martin Niemoller was right: we all need to stand together against fascism or else the fascists will peel us apart, group by group. This is what, for example, is meant by the phrase: trans rights are human rights.

The anti-fascist movement needs to become much larger, broader and more comprehensive. The parties of the centre and centre-left need to become more explicitly, more assertively anti-fascist in their language and especially their policy.

Fascists attack the basic concepts of liberal democracy: universal rights, social justice, rule of law, and agreement on observable, measurable facts. Instead of trying to split the difference or, worse, cowering from these principles, we need to assert and defend them forcefully and fearlessly.

We need to recommit to strengthening the civic and democratic institutions that protect and empower people from marginalization, abuse and exploitation. It's much easier to argue that our systems are corrupt when they are failing the most vulnerable.

The news media need to learn to adapt more quickly to the ever-shifting information war tactics that fascists use to normalize and promote their ideology and agenda. Incidents need to be put in context to be understood properly as the threats they are.

Social media organizations have been profoundly negligent and even complicit in allowing and indeed encouraging extremism on their platforms. Governments need to step in with sensible regulations that balance free speech with other human rights and stop illegal hate speech.

But above all, we need to take the threat of fascism seriously. We have been far too complacent, and people living comfortable, privileged lives have for too long ignored or downplayed the warnings and urgent calls for justice from equity-seeking communities.