After Quebec City, Make Racists Afraid Again

  • Graphic: Nico Holzmann

It couldn’t happen here.

That’s something that we say to ourselves a lot in Canada. We say it when mass shootings happen in the States. We watch as a xenophobic tyrant takes power south of the border. We say it to ourselves as we watch Nazis gain ground in Europe, and as the so-called alt-right sieg heils its way to the mainstream.

But it is happening here.

On Jan. 29, a young white man in Quebec City entered a mosque with a gun during prayers, killed six people, and injured 19 others. The day before the attack, the (alleged) shooter told a friend that he only wanted white people to immigrate to Quebec, that he was afraid that non-whites would marginalize white dominance.

In other words, this person was an extreme-right wing white nationalist. While some media have focused on his individual mental issues—notably anxiety and alcoholism—the racism which led to the attack is a social pathology.

Racism in Quebec, and Islamophobia in particular, are increasingly normalized. Much of the blame for this normalization can be laid on the media. At the provincial level, the worst culprit is the Quebecor empire, which owns TVA and LCN, as well as the Journal de Montréal. They also own the Journal de Québec and many local papers. Quebecor was also the owner of the now-defunct Sun News Network, a cable news network that attempted to become Canada’s Fox News.

On the pages of Quebecor newspapers, authors such as Richard Martineau and Mathieu Bock-Côté regularly write columns that demonize Muslims, anti-racists, feminists and leftists in general as being an existential threat to Quebec.

Martineau also had his own show on LCN, where he once wore a burqa during a debate over the Charter of Quebec Values. Bock-Côté—whose Facebook profile was the only personal page followed by the Quebec City shooter—recently wrote a piece about how right-wing nationalists and fascists aren’t real, or at least not a threat, in Quebec.

Bock-Côté advocates for Quebec nationalism to become “identitarian,” wherein one prioritizes the preservation of the supposedly threatened Quebec culture. This pseudo-academic argument is a common dog-whistle for white nationalists who believe that multiculturalism is a form of “white genocide.”

In Quebec City, popular talk radio shows—notably on Radio X—spend hours railing against the imagined enemy of Sharia Law. Hosts like Jeff Fillion and Eric Duhaime, stars of two of the station’s most listened-to shows, are open Islamophobes.

Fillion said recently that he is not bothered by being labeled extreme-right, and argued that “Islamic immigration” should be entirely stopped. When a pig’s head was left in front of the Quebec City mosque a few months ago, Duhaime disingenuously asked whether it was really evidence of hate.

Richard Martineau also has a talk show on Radio X and less than a week after the shooting, one of his guests described how “moderate Islam does not exist.”

Muslims have been saying that they face a growing tide of racism and Islamophobia, but most of us white people and non-Muslims have refused to clean house.

This context, where mass media has enabled a growing racist hysteria against migrants, particularly Muslims, has coincided with a massive uptick in racist and fascist organizing. This mostly takes place online through social networks like Facebook, but is increasingly manifesting into a street-level presence.

La Meute is a Facebook group with tens of thousands of members. Founded by a former Canadian Forces soldier named Eric Corvus, the closed Facebook group is filled with conspiracy theories about “Islamo-leftist” plots to impose Sharia law on the West. Outlandish narratives like this serve to radicalize right-wingers.

Beyond the Internet, Quebec City far-right street gangs engage in “community watch” patrols. The Soldiers of Odin—a group originally started by neo-Nazis in Finland—wear matching biker vests and patrol the streets in groups. They describe themselves as a community organization, but a quick look at the history and actions of the Soldiers worldwide show that the group is, in fact, a far-right nationalist vigilante organization.

After the mosque attack, members of The Soldiers of Odin cheered in private conversations obtained by Vice. The group is planning on ramping up their “patrols” around the mosque in the future.

Atalante Québec is another street-level fascist organization in Quebec City, which is considered extremist even by the standards of the far-right. This group engages in torch-lit patrols in immigrant neighborhoods as an intimidation tactic, and attempts to gain legitimacy with whites by distributing food to the poor—but only the poor of “neo-French” origins.

Atalante organizes itself through the Nazi-skinhead subculture, and its logo regularly flies at concerts by Légitime Violence, a Nazi metal band. The group has also brought in fascist theoreticians from Europe for public conferences.

This is the Quebec we live in today. For a long time, Muslims have been saying that they face a growing tide of racism and Islamophobia, but most of us white people and non-Muslims have refused to clean house. It’s high time we change that, and begin organizing a serious mass anti-racist movement capable of shutting down white supremacy.

Because racism and Islamophobia are fueled by a wide array of systemic factors, the destruction of white supremacy will require a diversity of tactics and strategies. Different people can engage in the struggle in ways that are appropriate to their ability, and target different pillars of systemic racism.

One low-risk way to engage is to target media outlets that propagate racism and raise the cost of hate. In the United States, grassroots pressure has led to 818 advertisers abandoning Breitbart, a website which describes itself as the platform for the white nationalist alt-right movement.

In Quebec, the Sortons les Poubelles campaign is attempting to organize a similar campaign against the trash talk radio stations that give a platform to racism and Islamophobia.

Online-based groups like La Meute can be brought down by a different set of tactics and strategies. In the US, the past months have seen a series of internal collapses within online hate communities. Each of these collapses has been triggered by doxxing, or the revealing of personal information on anonymous online racists.

When a leader’s information is revealed, they are subject to pressure—anti-racists can call the racist’s boss and pressure them to be fired, for example. This can also be seen as raising the cost of hate, on an individual level.

Groups like the Soldiers of Odin and Atalante, on the other hand, gain their power through street-level presence—so the best way to lower their organizing capacity is to deny them access to the streets. Organized, militant direct action has and must continue to shut down fascist organizing.

Racists and fascists cannot have a platform to spread hate. This is not a game, it’s not some theoretical argument about free speech. As we saw in Quebec City, people’s lives are on the line.

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