Canada’s ‘nationwide insurrection’ is bringing together an unlikely and alarming alliance


Canada’s ‘nationwide insurrection’ is bringing together an unlikely and alarming alliance

Around the world, far right activists are watching what’s happening in Canada with fantasies of similar resistance in their own countries.

Cynthia Miller – Idriss, MSNBC Opinion Columnist – February 9, 2022

Image: People waving the Canadian flag in protest as a truck passes by.

People gather in protest against Covid mandates and restrictions taking place in Ottawa, in Edmonton, Alberta, Feb. 5.Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via AP

The mayor of Ottawa, Ontario, declared a state of emergency this week, describing the spiraling chaos of protests by the so-called Freedom Convoy truckers against a vaccine mandate as “completely out of control.” The 12-day siege has overwhelmed police and frustrated city residents, with dozens of big-rig trucks blocking roads and honking horns and thousands of other protesters blaring air sirens, setting off fireworks and harassing mask-wearing pedestrians. The Ottawa police described it as a “nationwide insurrection.

About 90 percent of Canadian truckers are already vaccinated, which means these protests are less about vaccinations than the concept of mandates themselves.

We should expect more of this in the years to come — in North America and across the world, where the protests have already galvanized the far right.

It has been nearly two weeks since the truckers descended on the Ottawa neighborhood surrounding the Canadian Parliament. But in the days since, the protests themselves have ballooned into broader anti-government opposition, with a reported 5,000 protesters in the streets, including some who allegedly are promoting vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories and engaging in criminal activity. Some protesters reportedly carried swastika flags, while others wore white supremacist extremist logos. An apparent arson attempt in a nearby apartment building is under investigation. A hotline for hate-motivated crimes has received over 200 calls.

The vast majority — about 90 percent — of Canadian truckers are already vaccinated, which means these protests are less about vaccinations than the concept of mandates themselves. The protests coalesced after the new Canadian policy requiring Canadian truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border to be vaccinated or quarantine for 14 days took effect Jan. 15. The focus of the protests is on “freedom” and “political overreach,” but the protests have also been used to stoke fear about supply chain disruptions and other shortages. The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the drivers involved in the protests.

What began as an occupational protest about cross-border vaccine mandates quickly grabbed the attention of the far right globally, becoming a “magnet for far-right grievances” and anti-establishment beliefs that are much broader than the original truckers’ anger. U.S. Republican politicians and conservative political commentators have voiced support for the protests, broadening their reach and amplifying videos of the protests on social media. Facebook and Telegram groups of supporters now boast hundreds of thousands of followers globally.

A hotline for hate-motivated crimes has received over 200 calls.

Global support has been consequential. Canadian officials reported that a “significant” number of protesters are coming from the U.S. and that financial support is coming from across the border. A fundraising campaign raised over $8 million in donations on the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe before the site shut it down due to violations of terms of service after the protests ceased being a “peaceful demonstration,” and the site offered to reimburse donors. A Christian fundraising site immediately took up the cause, raising over $5 million within a few days, at twice the speed of the original fundraiser, as the financial crime analyst Jessica Davis reported.

Above all, the protests show clearly that a single issue — such as anger at vaccine mandates — has the power to rapidly mobilize support across the mainstream as well as from the extremist fringe, in ways that local communities, including key targets like state and national capitals, are not prepared for. The response in Ottawa has reflected this struggle, with the cost of policing the protests alone running $800,000 per day, not including overtime costs. Police have worked to disrupt the supply lines of food and fuel to protesters, promised arrests of anyone offering material support and issued hundreds of tickets for disruptive behavior and criminal violations. After 11 days of noise, a resident won a court injunction that silenced the constant air sirens and honking.

Like the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the trucker protests show how anti-government anger has the power to rapidly draw together individuals and ignite the fringe with the mainstream. What’s happening in Ottawa reflects the same kind of lowest common denominator mobilization that brought groups across the conservative and far-right spectrum together to try to stop the U.S. presidential election vote count. In these situations, groups that are normally not ideologically aligned — conspiracy theorists, unlawful militias, anti-vaccine advocates, white supremacist extremists, anti-government extremists and others — join forces with more ordinary voters and protesters in potentially combustive and dangerous ways.

We should all be ready for similar kinds of protests to coalesce globally. Around the world, far-right activists are watching what’s happening in Canada with fantasies of similar resistance in their own countries. Already, a convoy of truckers in the U.S. has announced plans for a similar convoy to head to Washington, D.C., next month.

Organizers planning peaceful protests should prepare to be co-opted by violent extremists, conspiracy theorists and others who pose a danger to the public. A Facebook group set up to organize the purported convoy to Washington reached 100,000 members before Meta shut it down for repeatedly violating policies related to QAnon — prompting the organizers to deny any affiliation with QAnon.

Anti-government and Covid-related protesters — some of whom are stoked by propaganda, disinformation and conspiracy theories — have seized on every opportunity to disrupt and attack new targets, from school board officials and teachers to health care workers and elected officials. The truckers’ protest in Ottawa is one more sign of the creative — and destructive — turns these movements are taking.

More From MSNBC
State of emergency declared in Ottawa amid anti-vaccine mandate protest
Ottawa police target funding, fuel in bid to end Covid mandate blockade

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.