The policy response to right-wing extremism is complex, but the first step to fighting Canada’s hate groups is to acknowledge they exist.

Violence from the far right has generally received less media coverage than jihadist attacks, but things unfolded differently after the white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. With President Trump’s statement that there was blame “on many sides” and white supremacist websites celebrating Trump’s unwillingness to condemn the radical right, there was wall-to-wall coverage for the rest of the week on American news networks. It was refreshing to see the issue of right-wing extremism, brewing quietly for decades, given the public attention it deserves.

In Canada, the ripple effects of the Charlottesville violence centred most immediately on far-right media personalities. Rebel Media’s Faith Goldy, for example, travelled to Charlottesville to report on the “Unite the Right” rally and ended up inadvertently capturing one of the clearest videos of the deadly car attack that killed a counterprotester. Goldy then made a guest appearance on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer podcast, where she argued that counterprotesters were much less peaceful than the media had reported. After the podcast was published, Rebel Media head Ezra Levant said he felt that he had no choice but to fire her.

In the coming days, Goldy addressed her critics, arguing that she was not a white supremacist but that she believed the rally had “grounds upon which to engage in conversation” with the alt-right. The “promotion of identity politics combined with the decline in the white supermajority has led to a new movement,” she argued. “I’m not endorsing it, but only pointing out the fact that it exists.”

So what does this “new” movement look like in Canada? Our research estimates there are more than 100 organized groups espousing beliefs ranging from anti-immigrant sentiments to Zionist Occupational Government conspiracy theories. Some of these groups overlap with each other in ideology, while others diverge quite drastically. National and international events — such as the election of Donald Trump and ISIS attacks in Europe and North America, as well as the Syrian migrant crisis — have now galvanized these groups and allowed them to converge, to some extent, around shared causes and concerns. Maintaining “traditional” white culture and heritage is one of the principal causes.

In the wake of these events, Canada also witnessed countless instances of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-multicultural rhetoric and attacks, ranging from the vandalism of mosques and synagogues to the massacre of six Muslims in Quebec.

The results of a three-year national study published last year — involving interviews with Canadian law enforcement officials, community activists and current and former right-wing adherents, triangulated with analyses of open source intelligence — suggested that the foundations of hatred are complex and multifaceted, grounded in both individual and social conditions that strengthen and weaken the movement. Understanding these conditions, from a policy perspective, will provide us with a starting point to counter right-wing extremism in Canada.

In many respects, it is Canada’s national political and social climate that enables bigotry and hatred to exist in the country, a climate that provides right-wing extremists with a backdrop against which they can recruit new members and spread their radical beliefs.

Some of the factors that strengthen the hate movement include: Canada’s history of racism; a political climate of intolerance that arises from time to time (for example, during Quebec’s Charter of Values debate); media (mis)representations of particular minority groups (for example, Muslims depicted as terrorists after 9/11); and a weak law enforcement response to hate groups. In many respects, it is Canada’s national political and social climate that enables bigotry and hatred to exist in the country, a climate that provides right-wing extremists with a backdrop against which they can recruit new members and spread their radical beliefs.

On the other hand, factors that weaken or destabilize this already unstable movement include a general lack of ideological commitment in hate groups and infighting and transiency within them, as well as strong and visible law enforcement response in certain localities, resilient communities and the presence of an antiracist movement. In other words, hate groups in Canada are generally unorganized and lack the ability to strategize and sustain themselves, and law enforcement officials who put pressure on these groups are generally successful at dismantling them. This is particularly the case when antiracist movements and communities work closely with law enforcement and share intelligence on hate groups or their adherents.

It is difficult to know exactly what the policy response in Canada should be to right-wing extremism, but, in general terms, we need to acknowledge that hate groups do exist in Canada and that they do pose a threat to the safety and security of our communities. Coming to terms with this is a first step in developing policy initiatives to resist the radical right. Discussions about counterterrorism or counterextremism policy cannot focus solely on jihadism. The Trump administration has rightly come under criticism for its decision to cut federal funding for organizations that are fighting right-wing violence, such as Life After Hate.

Second, we must directly exploit the strengths and weaknesses that are inherent in hate groups and their environments in order to disrupt their growth and sustainability, through an approach that includes individuals from different sectors of society. In other words, policy initiatives must include the voices of key stakeholders who have unique insight into right-wing extremism, including law enforcement officials, community activists and former right-wing extremists.

Information about Canadian hate groups is fragmented. Law enforcement officials, for example, may have one important piece of information about a particular hate group while community activists or former extremists may have another. Policy initiatives must bring these stakeholders together to develop effective responses to the threat from the radical right in Canada. We mustn’t look at the violence in Europe and the United States and complacently conclude that we are somehow immune. We are not.

Photo: A police line holds back white supremacist during a white power rally in downtown Calgary in 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal


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