As the January 6th hearings are being broadcast Canadians too are watching. The role of conspiracy theories and extremism in the events of January 6th are similar to the events on our own nation’s capital and border crossings with the so called Freedom Convoys. Conspiracy theories and extremism on the internet are not bound by borders and as populism, anger, and fear rise we too in Canada can feel the impact of these movements. For decades those who were conspiracists, extremists, and on the margins of society were dismissed and mocked we are all now feeling the implications of our dismissals.
The Great Replacement is a racist conspiracy theory that has been propagated for decades through dystopian novels. The conspiracy has become the mechanism through which hate ideologies are spread, both subtly and openly on social media, gaming, and through memes with real world consequences.
The Great Replacement conspiracy theory has fuelled acts of violence and a rise in extremism and populism across North America, including the recent killing of 13 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY.
On June 15, I’ll be be presenting an historical overview of this conspiracy theory as part of The State of US webinar series, and sharing my latest research into its more recent manifestations, including through extremist groups in Texas.
Register here to attend The Great Replacement: Conspiracy, Fear, and Media.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland have been accused by conspiracists as being “puppets” for Klaus Schwab, and the World Economic Forum to bring forward the “Great Reset.” The conspiracy is based on a short video created by the WEF in 2016, where economists were asked what they envisioned for the future. Once the pandemic and lockdowns began, both Prince Charles and Trudeau spoke the words “The Great Reset” and the conspiracy began to take take hold. The Great Reset was a platform topic for the People’s Party of Canada during the federal election, and now is an aspect of Conservative Party’s leadership campaign. Recently calls for believers to contact the Canadian Ethics Committee to investigate Trudeau and Freeland for their connection to the WEF flooded the offices with complaints.
On April 28th Dr. Mia Bloom and I spoke at Montclair State University for their series on the rise of theocracy in America. We were the final instalment of the series, and addressed the role of conspiracy theories in Christian socio-political movements in the country. Dr. Bloom spoke predominately about the QAnon conspiracy, while I addressed broader conspiracies, situating them historically in America and in the contemporary context. It was a great conversation, and one that will be continued at a round table presentation at the American Academy of Religion national conference in November.
This morning I presented my research to the public safety and national security committee at the House of Commons. The rise of conspiracy theories and their links to right wing extremism is a topic that needs to be addressed. Conspiracy serves as a conduit to spread ideologies, build socio-political movements, and can provide the fears needed that can lead to violence.
The oft-spoken adage that freedom of the media is only free to those who own the media has been repeated for the last few days, given the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk. Much speculation and doomsday prophecies for the social media platform have been espoused, and granted this is a precarious situation within the “town square” of Twitter, we truly need to step back from our emotions and engage in a wider, more logical perspective. This takeover is much more than a perceived silencing of the press, a silencing of the public sphere, or an anvil pressing deep into the cleavage between left and right, it is also a business acquisition. The capitalistic nature of this movement is spotlighted with each “I’m leaving Twitter” or “I’m back!” tweet. Keyboard warriors are simply fodder for publicity and finances of the takeover.
The hype around Elon Musk purchasing Twitter is sparking fear from both individual users and organizations such as the ACLU. Right wing pundits and influencers are taking a victory lap on the platform espousing a narrative of the return of free speech, the end of shadow banning, and significant follower increases. What all of this equates to is publicity for Musk. As fears are propagated and expanded upon in the media, Musk is tweeting troll-esque comments keeping the fear and adulation in the media.
It was announced yesterday (April 25th, 2022) that Elon Musk had purchased Twitter, and with that announcement, a new moral panic of sorts erupted. The truth is there are many months ahead before he actually owns Twitter, but the rhetoric of fear and vindication are like tsunami in the media and the social media platform itself. The hype and publicity Musk is creating is creating new fears of conspiracy of censorship by governments, fears of the complete moral downfall of Twitter, and while one side of the political spectrum declares they are leaving the platform or calling for resistance to the Elon Musk incarnation of a folk devil, the other end of the spectrum is relishing in validation and vindication at the horrible censorship they have endured. In the middle Musk is tweeting that people are simply afraid of “free speech” which really is just adding fuel to the flames.
On April 28th myself and Dr. Mia Bloom will be guests of Montclair University’s Religious Studies Department and will be presenting in the final instalment of the Angry Religion series. We will be addressing conspiracy theory and religion in North America, as well as taking questions from the live and virtual audiences. To register or please see the attached for more information.
Today Elon Musk announced he had made an offer to Twitter to buy out the social media platform. He had already purchased significant shares in the company, and after declining to be on the Board, which would limit his number of shares, this was not a shocking move. Musk wants to make Twitter a “free speech” platform, much like Gab or Gettr, promoting the notions of censorship and promoting a panic of sorts amongst the users of Twitter. Threats to leave the platform if Musk took over were reminiscent of those proclaiming their move to Canada if Trump became president. Yet an important discussion point focused on the spread of disinformation if the purchase went through.