Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The alt-right’s jocular façade is an attempt to deny responsibility

On Canada Day, in downtown Halifax, a small ceremony attended by perhaps 50 people was interrupted by five men wearing matching black polo-style shirts with yellow trim who identified themselves as members the "Proud Boys, Maritime Chapter."

The ceremony in question was held at the statue of Edward Cornwallis, the British general who founded Halifax in 1749 before quickly setting a bounty on the scalps of Mi'kmaqs, who happened to be living there and who he clearly preferred not be living at all.

The statue stands, along with the rest of Halifax, on traditional Mi'kmaq land, and that was largely the point of the quiet ceremony, which involved, in part, a woman named Chief Grizzly Mamma cutting off all her braided hair and laying it at the foot of the statue, a symbolic gesture of mourning that was rudely interrupted by what can only be described as a "bro-test."

Story continues below advertisement

Read more: Protesters rally for Indigenous rights as country gears up for Canada 150

Protest is too noble a word for the activity indulged in by these men. Video of the encounter shows them smirking and swaggering about while carrying the Red Ensign, a former Canadian flag. They keep looking over at one another for affirmation, as if prattling on belligerently over an Indigenous woman during a solemn moment of her life were picking up a spare and they hoped that was really impressive but couldn't be sure. The "Did you see that? Did you see that? I totally did that!" glances fairly flew between members of the team, out for a good time. Trolling is the new bowling, sartorial synchronization and all.

As demonstrations go, while these are adult men, it was all very "We're here, we've had beer, we're not all that used to it. Hey, look at our matching shirts. They're shirts and they match, how cool is that?"

"You're disrespecting General Cornwallis," one of the men complained to the peacefully assembled group, who showed considerable forbearance, asking that the interlopers pipe down and perhaps not wave the flag if they wanted to stay.

"This is a British colony" one of the bros, apparently a lost time-traveller, asserted, and, almost predictably, one of the ceremony crashers asked triumphantly and repeatedly if this was Mi'kmaq territory "before the land bridge."

This says so much: To those educated primarily by the Department of Comment Thread at Dubious Site U, the mention of a land bridge is assumed to be geographic-Kryptonite to Indigenous people. One just has to say "land bridge" a few times, and all land claims magically vanish like tears in rain, the theory goes. Because "LOL, everyone moved here, you see."

These colour-co-ordinated clowns were making it clear to the world that they're almost entirely schooled by memes.

Story continues below advertisement

You get the feeling it took extraordinary self-control for these men not to defiantly cry out, "All your unceded territory are belong to us!" and that they knew, and revelled in, the fact that this was neither the time nor the place for their antics.

I hope you all had a fine Canada Day. I did. But if you really can't understand why the Canada 150 celebrations irritated a hell of a lot of Indigenous people, I'll be over at your place Saturday night to celebrate Five Hours of Your Living Room Being Mine. Fireworks!

The Halifax incident made national headlines, as a story like this should, particularly as all the men involved – who later celebrated at a local Halifax pub, posting pictures of themselves making the "okay" symbol with one hand, a beer in the other – turned out to be members of Canada's Armed Forces. As a nation, we are now forced to ask ourself the question "Who the hell are these jokers?" and, always anxious to serve, I present A Brief History of Slime, the story of the Proud Boys.

It's best to think of the Proud Boys as a group of guys possessed of a seriously shaky grasp of history and a burning desire to wear the same shirt as the guy next to them, who want a white supremacist to tell them when they are allowed to masturbate.

It's not a fetish I've encountered before, but were the Proud Boys not also a far-right group of self-described "Western Chauvinists who will no longer apologize for creating the modern world," who are against "racial guilt" and who "venerate the housewife" and believe "that the last 50 years have been a disaster for women" (one doesn't have to be Alan Turing to break that code), I wouldn't kink-shame.

As it is, I have concerns.

Story continues below advertisement

The Proud Boys were launched and are headed by Gavin McInnes, Vice magazine co-founder (although they parted long ago) and current contributor to The Rebel Media, the right-wing website founded by Ezra Levant; and yes, a strict limit on masturbation is one of their many peculiarities.

They "believe that this energy," the energy spent masturbating, "is better spent … getting married, and having children," and I suppose that's their call but I can't help thinking that if you truly believe that by not masturbating you'll be able to save enough energy to raise a child, you are doing one of these things very, very badly.

Some of you may remember Mr. McInnes as the man who made a bit of a splash with neo-Nazis in March when a number of videos he recorded on a recent trip to Israel were posted.

In these videos, one of which was called "10 things I Hate About the Jews," Mr. McInnes variously put the word "Holocaust" in air quotes, complained that Jews, who he said "are ruining the world with their lies and their money and their hooked-nose, bagel-eating faces," have a "whiny paranoid fear of Nazis." He repeatedly spoke in a grotesque cartoon Jewish accent and said that people in Israel spit when they talk and that "Middle Easterners reek."

Ensconced in his hotel room in Israel, which he believes was likely paid for, along with the rest of his "propaganda tour," by private Israeli donors and the Israeli government, Mr. McInnes told viewers that while they "assume we're going to listen to all this shit we get fed" it's "having the reverse effect on me: I'm becoming anti-Semitic."

"Well, we're at the Holocaust museum, and we're being told, 'The Germans did this. The Germans are horrible people …'" he sulked, apparently irritated that Holocaust deniers might not be getting a fair hearing at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial.

"Well, they never said it didn't happen," he said, in an attempt to remedy this perceived injustice. "What they're saying is it was much less than six million and that they starved to death and they weren't gassed …"

Mr. McInnes was quick to ask that the viewer not "take that clip out of context." He's not saying "it wasn't gassing" – that's just what the "far-right nuts are saying" and, being "sick of so much brainwashing," he felt compelled to articulate the theories of said nuts.

Mr. McInnes worries that we're too caught up on the Holocaust in general. "There's been a lot of genocides," he says, most notable to him being the Soviet Holodomor, of which he says, "I think it was 10 million Ukrainians who were killed. That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, commie, socialist Jews."

It seems that the major distinction between the alt-right and Mr. McInnes's preferred "alt-light" is that the former are very concerned about "Judeo-Bolshevism," the Nazi conspiracy theory that Jews were secretly behind the rise of communism; and the latter just wish to inform you that the Soviet Union (or at least the more genocidal aspects of it) was secretly run by Jews.

Jews have been very busy in the Proud Boy's founder's bizarre understanding of history. When not engineering the downfall of the Russian Czar, they were "disproportionately" influencing the Treaty of Versailles, forcing terribly unfair terms of surrender on Germany. The treaty "sucked and the Germans hated it" Mr. McInnes says, indicating that "Jewish intellectuals" were, at least in part, responsible for the Second World War, and the Holocaust, such as it was.

If this sounds extreme, anti-Semitic, or perhaps dangerous to you, it's okay: Mr. McInnes chortles when he says these things, allowing his fans to assure us that it's just harmless comedy.

If much of what you see on the alt-right side looks and sounds so ridiculous, such jocular goose-stepping, these days, that's deliberate. Share a photograph of you and your be-polo-shirted buddies flashing the Nazi salute, and the popular discourse knows just what to do with you. Substitute the "okay" gesture – unofficially but lovingly adopted by this crowd – and anyone who points out the white-supremacist imagery is just a crazy leftist snowflake who probably thinks a cartoon frog is a hate symbol too.

What we're seeing here, and in Halifax, is white supremacy painted over with a coat of irony, euphemism and plausible deniability. All of that just barely thick enough that Mr. McInnes still gets airtime on CBC's Power & Politics. He used this airtime, speaking in his capacity as the Proud Boys' founder and leader, to ask the host "Can you see why Cornwallis issued a bounty on Mi'kmaqs?" and spread, pretty much unchallenged, a number of hateful and damaging historical inaccuracies about the Mi'kmaqs. (The CBC has since apologized for the segment.)

On Tuesday, General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, stated, "The members involved will be removed from training and duties while we conduct an investigation, and review the circumstances. Their future in the military is certainly in doubt."

Ultimately, I'd be okay if the official statement that emerges from the department mimics the one Bearly's House of Blues and Ribs – the spot these men hit after their flippant field trip – posted on their Facebook page.

"FYI the Department of Defence has nothing to do with these dinks, and does not endorse them or their message," the statement would have to read. "Hit share!"

Report an error
About the Author

  More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.