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.
John Vause of CNN, looked into the idea of the role of conspiracy theory and disinformation spreading online and culminating in the protests we have seen across Canada. As the protesters blocked border crossings between the US and Canada, rumours began to circulate that the protests would erupt in America. We discussed the role of populism, nationalism, and the role of right wing media in the spreading of not only the conspiracies, but also perpetuating and fanning the fear mongering amongst protesters and their supporters.
As a state of emergency is declared in the province of Ontario and police are removing the blockade at the border in Windsor, Canadians are wondering what the future holds with these potentially volatile protests. Protesters still occupy the nation’s capital and new protests strongholds are developing in New Brunswick, at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie, Ontario, in Winnipeg, and in Toronto as the provincial leaders respond in various forms of capitulation and refusals to negotiate.
As the freedom convoy remains firmly entrenched in Ontario cities Ottawa and Windsor and Coutts, Alberta, there are rumblings of convoys being organized in other countries. Maps appear on social media of routes in France, Austria, and America. Rumours have been recently acknowledged by the Department of Homeland Security in the US, that planned convoys may impact the Super Bowl and Coachella before moving to Washington for the State of the Union Address. The standoff in Windsor is impacting the importing of goods, and manufacturing is coming to a standstill, with President Biden offering assistance to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Is this a groundswell of a social movement that will have greater impact internationally? Only time will tell.
NPR spoke to truckers stuck in the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. The “Freedom Convoy” has blocked any traffic from crossing the border between America and Canada for a few days, and as the impact of this action shuts down car manufacturers in both countries, NPR asks who is behind the protest and why?
Canadian’s have witnessed the Canadian flag being worn, displayed upside down, and desecrated with symbols of hate at the ongoing convoy protests against Covid mandates, while simultaneously witnessing the flag as a symbol of pride at the Winter Olympics. What do these contradicting images of our national flag mean to Canadians, being Canadian, and the reckoning of who we are as a people? The flag waving at this juncture in time is creating a sense of pride and anger.
Disinformation, conspiracies, and extremist ideologies are important components of social movements, such as the convoy protest in Ottawa. The link to extremist views, white nationalism, and neo-Nazis have overshadowed any real protesters who are expressing their positions. More importantly extremists are using this opportunity to recruit and spread their ideologies. As Canadians recoil and denounce the actions of some actions in Ottawa, we need to consider what the future of this movement could be.
A report was released by Liberation 75 which found that a third of North American students new very little about the Holocaust, or believed the Shoah was exaggerated. One cause could be that only a few states mandate that the Holocaust be taught in schools, and in Canada, it is not mandated at all. Many students learn about historical events from social media and the internet. The result of disinformation, memes, and conspiracy theories is the lack of knowledge in our youth.
Some of the organizers of the Freedom Convoy, or the trucker protest in Ottawa, have a history of connections to right-wing extremism and white nationalism. One of the organizers of Unity Canada, Jason LaFace has previous connections to the Soldiers of Odin. Conspiracy theories are an important aspect of this movement and cause harm as they spread across the many social media accounts and channels associated with the protest.