Writing recently, columnist Jonathan Kay argued that there aren’t Nazis in Canada.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
I study the new-far right movements, including Canada’s alt-right neo-Nazis. I listen to their podcasts and read their forums. I watch them participate on the fringes of anti-Muslim and free speech demonstrations wearing their coded symbols. The hatred I see is very real. Downplaying the threat communities face, and the need to take steps to counter hate groups, is nothing short of dangerous.
By any common sense definition, Canada’s alt-right are neo-Nazis. They hate Jews, call for the deportation or extermination of non-whites, and glorify Hitler and the Nazi esthetic. When they address each other in their own spaces, they self-identify as fascists or neo-Nazis. Their goal is cultural change, to push their ideas into mainstream discourse so that they can be discussed with fewer social consequences. They have been responsible for over 43 murders and 60 injuries, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That number includes the victims of Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six Muslims at prayer in Quebec City last year, and the bodycount is rising.
Then there’s the anti-Muslim movement, separate from the alt-right but growing in the same direction, which holds rallies across Canada with attendance in the hundreds of people. Leaders and members of militant anti-Muslim groups, like the Northern Guard, post pictures of themselves in front of KKK and Nazi flags and/or otherwise reveal themselves almost as if it’s a compulsion. These neo-Nazis may go largely under the radar in the Jewish community because they are primarily concerned with hating Muslims today. But make no mistake, the anti-Muslim movement is harbouring virulent anti-Semitism.
Kay argues that defining these people as “literal Nazis” is incorrect because they don’t control the state and they aren’t running concentration camps. We shouldn’t label groups like the National Socialist Labour Revival Party as “Nazis,” he contends, just because that’s their “preferred marketing term.” In fact, the opposite is true for the alt-right: they want people to call them “nationalists” or “identitarians,” or even “alt-right” — anything but neo-Nazis. The rationale is simple – they recognize that the “Nazi” label, which is accurate, would exclude them from broader public conversations. When Kay and others argue that calling them Nazis is a stretch, they give them the veneer of respectability they need to spread their message effectively.
(He also references “Godwin’s Law,” which states that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches [100 per cent].” But he fails to mention that after the events in Charlottesville last August, Godwin responded on social media, writing: “By all means, compare these s–theads [the alt-right] to Nazis. Again and again. I’m with you.”)
Today, there are more active members of the alt-right neo-Nazis than the Heritage Front and it’s ilk could ever claim, and the anti-Muslim movement is bringing out larger crowds than the hate rock concerts of the 90s. Last year, CIJA’s Vancouver office and the Winchevsky Centre in Toronto found posters of Nazi stormtroopers on their walls directing people to a now-defunct, openly fascist, alt-right forum which advocates for violence and tells newly joined teenagers to get their firearms license and, in one case, take “a permanent solution” to “stop the leftists at your school.”
It’s time for Canada’s civil society to stand up and expose, contain and dismantle the alt-right neo-Nazis just like they wore down and defeated the Heritage Front in the 1990s. We’ve let it go too far already, and ignoring this threat puts all Canadians at risk.
Evan Balgord is a freelance journalist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter: @ebalgord