The trials for Freedom Convoy Leaders Tamara Lich and Chris Barber has seen a large amount of social media as evidence presented in the courtroom. Social media, both mainstream and alternative, was a significant component to the social mobilization of protesters and funders. While the evidence being shown focuses on the two leaders attempting to convince protesters to remain in Ottawa, after the police and Emergency Act called for them to leave, the posts from those leading the protest were also laden with conspiracies and disinformation.
The great replacement conspiracy theory holds that white people are being replaced in “Western Civilization” through immigration policies. Christianity will be destroyed and believers persecuted for their faith. In the August edition of Sojourner Magazine I have written a piece explaining the history and the impact of the conspiracy theory and how Christianity is intertwined.
The concept of 15 minute cities is an urban planning idea to make where we live more walkable. Having stores, entertainment, and all our needs met within a walkable range of our homes, to eliminate car use, and engage in activities and with each other. Conspiracy theorists have linked this idea to the Great Reset, QAnon, and the social credit system believing that this is the latest form of control by elitist cabals trying to enslave us all, and begin the New World Order. The ramifications of this idea, in an offline setting, are becoming apparent as social movements in online communities, come forth and voice their concerns at local municipal meetings, as we recently saw in Essex, near Windsor, Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the app Tik Tok is no longer allowed on Canadian government issues cell phones. Given the concern regarding China data mining information of users from the app, and recent events such as the weather balloon shot down, the CSIS report on China’s influence on the federal election, and spy buoys found in our waters, this was not an unexpected move. Other countries such as America, India, and the EU have also taken this measure.
Brazilian supporters of Bolsonaro turned protests about the recent election to violence as they overtook the federal government buildings, an event reminiscent of the events of January 6th in America’s capital. The protesters were fuelled by disinformation and conspiracy theories of a rigged election, spouted by social media, the former president himself, and American right-wing influencers such as Steve Bannon. These events, including Jan 6th, and the Canadian Convoy movement reveal how powerful conspiracy theories can be in creating social movements of self declared “patriots” determined to “save” their country, and in doing so define who are citizens of their nations.
Francesco Villi shot and killed numerous people in his condo building in Vaughan, Ontario. For years he had been in a legal battle with the condo board regarding an electrical room under his first floor condo. Villi claimed that the noise and the electrical waves coming from the room were causing him both physical and mental harm. In numerous video and text posts on social media Villi positioned what was happening to him through a religious lens, envisioning himself as “good” and on the side of God, what he understood as the 5% of the planet, while the other 95% were evil or demons.
This interview was quite personal for me. As a child OMNI was the only network that provided programming in my father’s first language. He would watch the channel a lot and chided me for not continuing my learning/use of speaking Italian. He would be proud that I was the talkative English language person in the midst of Italian. Being interviewed for this piece on Omni’s Italian Language News Broadcast was a little bit of an homage to my dad.
The Inquiry into the use of the Emergency Act during the “freedom convoys” addressed some of the issues of disinformation/conspiracy but it also provided an audience for additional disinformation to spread. Conspiracy theories and disinformation spread on social media platforms before, during, and after the convoys, and the level of distrust supporters have towards the institutions of society is not going to simply disappear. This is an issue that we as a global community need to address.
The inquiry into the use of the Emergency Act continued today with three leaders of the convoy. Today’s testimony was of interest because the founder of Canada Unity James Bauder and Tamara Lich, the name associated with the GoFundMe accounts for the convoy testified. There has been a consistent theme of victimhood from each of the presenters, a denial of extremism, and claims of vast changes of perspective. Most of the testimony states there was little to no knowledge about the MOU, or the extremist hate speech, and threats.
What is fascinating is the pulpit the Inquiry is providing for the spreading of distrust, fear, conspiracy, and disinformation in the testimony of the leaders. It would appear the opportunity they were seeking to express their beliefs has come to fruition. The responses of supporters of the convoy on Twitter and Telegram are cheering these individuals on and it is reinforcing their stance. The truth is distrust in institutions (media, government) is not going to dissipate instantly, and we, as a society, need to be aware and vigilant as this could impact our democracy.
Leaders and organizers of the freedom convoy will be providing testimony all this week at the Emergency Act Inquiry. Today was the first day of testimony with three of the leaders/organizers. Throughout their time on the stand each of them continued to blame legacy media, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, all while positioning themselves as both victims of the COVID19 mandates and as heroes who were loved by all Canadians. When asked about extremists within their ranks, the word “inclusive” was raised, while claiming they needed the support of those who were there even though their ideologies were violent or hate based. The distrust of institutions, notions of fear, and reliance on conspiracy theories were centre stage.