If you were paying even the smallest amount of attention, the terrifying, tragic events last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., were inevitable.
For years, online forums and far-right media have been incubating racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant lies and conspiracy theories. Then, in Donald Trump, the far right found a sympathetic and high-profile political candidate, an amoral opportunist with a long history of anti-Black racism, a vocal supporter of Birtherism, and a man who announced his run for office with talk of Mexican rapists and immigrants stealing American jobs.
Not only did Trump refuse to denounce the support of people like the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke, he filled his inner circle with fascists, racists and white nationalist sympathizers. Once elected, he promptly called for a Muslim travel ban.
Where else was this headed if not a violent, deadly rally of hundreds of white supremacists armed to the teeth and chanting Nazi slogans? Trump’s connection to these groups and these ideas were never a secret. On the contrary, he embraced them.
In response to last weekend’s events, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his sympathy to Americans and noted that Canada “isn’t immune to racist violence and hate.” He’s correct. Not only are we not immune, we’ve long been seriously infected. And as we absorb the news from the U.S., it bears looking at the current growth in white supremacist activity here.
Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens, experts on far-right extremism in Canada, have said that white supremacists, right-wing conspiracy theorists and radical anti-government activists are “more extensive and more active” than most people think. There are at least 100 active groups and more on the rise. A far-right rally is set to happen this weekend in Vancouver. And in a Facebook post, the Canadian Nationalist Party says it will host an event in Toronto in September to “discuss the nationalist movement in Canada and the future of our country.”
Chapters of anti-immigration groups like the Soldiers of Odin have been launched here and anti-Muslim views flourish on Quebec’s right-wing “radio poubelle” talk shows. Hate crimes against Muslims jumped by 60 percent between 2014 and 2015. In 2016, when a white farmer in Saskatchewan named Gerald Stanley was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Colten Boushie, an unarmed Indigenous man seeking help for a flat tire, supporters rallied around Stanley raising money for his legal defence and spewed a stream of racist invective against Indigenous people. Earlier this year, Alexandre Bissonnette killed six congregants at Quebec City mosque.
When it comes to preventing terror attacks, to date these far-right extremists haven’t been taken very seriously. Police forces and intelligence agencies are largely focused on Islamist groups like ISIS.
The mainstream media hasn’t taken the threat of these groups and views seriously enough either. As Ira Wells argues in The Walrus, “far-right pundits are routinely welcomed by Canadian media.” And far-right media has found an audience in Canada. Rebel Media, a right-wing Canadian news and opinion outlet, has featured contributors Faith Goldy warning about white genocide, and Gavin McInnes posting a video entitled “10 Things I Hate About Jews.” Goldy was on the scene in Charlottesville and appeared to be rooting for the white supremacists just before a car driven by one of them drove into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen others.
The Brown Shirts-inspired display last weekend has forced some who’ve stood by to reconsider their complicity. As Trump continues to blame “both sides” for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, and continues to equate those protesting racism with those who support it, political leaders have condemned him and business leaders have resigned from a White House advisory council. Here in Canada, contributors and conservative politicians are defecting from Rebel Media.
The far right needs to stop being fed with attention and given credibility. Charlottesville was not a one-off. These groups are more emboldened than ever. But we can all help stop their hateful views from spreading further.
All of us — and I’m speaking mainly to my fellow white people, here — must be more vocal in condemning hate and bigotry. We must recognize that eruptions like Charlottesville, while tragic, occur alongside even more destructive systemic racial injustices, like the dismal lack of investment in infrastructure, health care and education in First Nations communities; the harassment of Black people by police forces across the country; and the mass incarceration of Indigenous people and people of colour.
Racism doesn’t always announce itself with Confederate flags and Nazi slogans. It also exists in a hospital that makes an Indigenous man wait for hours to be treated for a bladder infection, until he dies of septic shock, because the staff assumes he’s just a drunk sleeping it off. And it exists when a white police officer and his brother beat a Black teenager (damaging his eye so severely that it needed to be removed) and then have the young man arrested and the assault covered up.
Change starts with listening and learning, with investigating and owning up to your own biases and ignorance. If you don’t know what Black Lives Matter is all about, go to its American and Toronto chapter’s websites. Read news stories and opinion pieces on issues of race and racism by people of colour, immigrants and people from religious minority groups. Study Canada’s history of residential schools, slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps.
Have conversations with your family about racism. Confront and challenge racist jokes and slurs. Report hateful content on Twitter and Facebook.
Real life organizing is important, too. Donate to a civil rights organization. Call your MLA, MP and city councillor. Vote for candidates who support racial justice. Show up for people in your community, like the congregants of an Ottawa synagogue, mosque and church who came together after a series of acts of vandalism on their buildings in 2016.
So many terrible images emerged from Charlottesville last weekend: heavily armed racist thugs in riot gear, anti-racism protestors running away from a speeding car in terror. These images have shocked many out of their complacency. Moving forward, there are other images to keep in mind, too: the images of resistance and solidarity. Images of all those students, community organizers, activists, volunteer medics and support workers, teachers, business owners, politicians and religious leaders and who courageously showed up and stood arm-in-arm in defiance of violence and hate.
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