Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine the Freedom Convoy Telegram channels became inundated with posts supporting Russia’s military actions, and Putin himself. It was a stark change, but one that was not surprising. Some of the convoy participants on Telegram are enmeshed with conspiracy theories, which see Putin as a potential ally to destroy the mechanisms for a New World Order to enslave the world’s population. Ideas of US owned bio-weapon facilities in Ukraine have become the targets for Putin’s missiles. Ultimately the conspiracy rich environment of the Convoy Telegram channels have become a conduit to conspiracy, Russian war propaganda
The last couple weeks we have witnessed an increase in pro-Putin posts in the Freedom Convoy Telegram channels. This could be predominately bots as we cannot argue these posts are sincerely from convoy supporters, what we can do is understand these posts within a conspiratorial worldview, which sees Putin as destroying Bio-Weapon facilities and human trafficking routes in Ukraine. This narrative supports both the QAnon and Great Reset conspiracies and develops the idea of Putin as a hero saving the world from a One World Government.
Social media platforms such as Twitter has responded to Russia’s attack on Ukraine by banning Russian users. Simultaneously Apple Pay and Google Pay have halted service in Russia. These actions by technology companies reveals the dependency we have on global companies’ platforms in the modern age. Historically media has been used to shape discourse in war time efforts, both as propaganda machines and as a tool to attack the enemy, but often that media was shaped by the countries at war, not by their adversaries. 9Corporations have also been active in the war efforts, and we are seeing that play out as we all watch what feels like the beginning of WWIII, but this is the first time tech companies and social media companies have played a role and how will that affect their future responses to military conflict?
The protests in Ottawa and the borders have been dismantled and as we watch the bail trials for the leaders, there is a sense that the occupations are behind us. There are sarcastic comments made in social media posts as the leaders of the convoy plead their cases, yet if we look in other posts there are those cheering on the leaders and pointing out the unfairness of the situation. On Telegram and other alternative social media sites protesters and their supporters grapple with the loss of the battle, and cheer each other on for the war.
The convoy protest has been vilified for the right-wing extremism that is apparent in some of its quarters and leadership. Conspiracy theory is the fuel and impetus for many of the protesters there to fight evil and save Canada from the Great Reset and the New World Order. There are those who participated in the protests as genuine concerned citizens protesting the mandates, the vaccines, and expressing their fears. Those are the voice which are unheard and ignored within this protest. Labelled as “crazy,” “self-centred,” “uncaring of others in society” these individuals are cast aside, lumped in with the far right and the conspiracists, while being insulted. When they have no one to speak to they will seek solace in friendships of those who support their views, which eventually becomes connected to extremism, conspiracy, and enclaves of those who welcome the disenfranchised.
As police officers dismantled the occupied areas of the nation’s capital and arrested protesters who chose not to leave, the protesters adamantly adhered to their conspiracies, fears, and battle plans. Canadians watched as police officers pushed protesters out of Ottawa with a sense of relief, or concern, but each of us wondered if this was truly over. Was the war over or just a battle lost? To accept conspiracy the individual needs to feel as though they are disenfranchised in the political and social spheres, that must hold complete distrust in the institutions like media and government. These beliefs are not going to dissipate and it is something we as a society need to address.
This week we all watched as leaders of the convoy expressed their fears and bravado at the prospect of being arrest. Tara Lich cried. Pat King tried to be strong and streamed his own arrest. Other leaders are on the run, but there is a consistent message from all of the leaders to the protesters “Stand you ground.” This narrative of battling against the “tyranny” of an “oppressive” government, of being the social heroes who can save the nation and the world, is still a valuable social mobilization tool. As the protests and occupation come to an end, the distrust, fear, and anger the protesters feel won’t just dissipate.
The last year has been a time of reflection for the citizens of Canada. We have had to grapple with the graves of residential school students, a part of our history as a nation, we need to account for. The realization that perhaps we are not Canada “the good, the polite, the peacekeepers” led many to call for a cancelling of Canada Day this year. Now we are confronted with upside down flags, desecrated flags, and our fellow citizens occupying our nation’s capital. Does this change how we feel about the flag? Or is this a time for reflection, apologies, and concern?
Fear, distrust in institutions, and a sense of disenfranchisement are the breeding ground for the acceptance of conspiracy theories. A perpetual sense of disaster, a mix of the occult, radical politics, and religion can lead to improvisational conspiracism, that can erupt into violence or political action, like we are witnessing across Canada. As we see images of the protest leaders and their followers being arrested in Ottawa, we must pause and ask how did we get here, and what happens next?
Throughout the “Freedom Convoy” protests we have seen the Canadian flag being flown as a symbol of distress, a rallying call for mobilization, and defaced by swastikas. Unlike our neighbours to the south, Canadians are not a people who are flag waving nationalists, instead the symbol of the flag represents who we are as a nation: kind, polite, police keepers. This shift of symbolic meaning brought forward by the protesters has forced many of us to consider not only our flag, but also who we are as a nation.