A conservative premier “condemns” the extremists he’s benefitted from for years
Like much of the political right in North America, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has a right wing extremism problem. On one hand, he’s savvy enough to know in the wake of extremist violence on January 6th that he has to distance himself from it in the minds of voters, but on the other hand he can’t afford to alienate the extremists that represent the most fervent core of his support base. He finally issued a public statement that he “condemns all individuals and groups that incite violence and hate, including the Proud Boys.” With the Proud Boys having just participated in a live streamed attempted coup, that should count as a political no brainer, but it still took days of goading by opposition parties to get him to even go that far. It’s also a meaningless bit of hot air. If Ford was interested in deplatforming or disempowering groups that incite hate, he would actively do something about it, but he’s backed into a corner where any effort to defang growing extremism can only serve to shoot himself in the foot, and for modern conservatism, the pursuit of power is everything.
Ford has been chummy with such groups for years. White supremacists actively campaigned for him, excited from the very moment that he was elevated to his party’s leadership. The Proud Boys not only loved him, they once named him their Proud Boy of the Month. There’s a pile of photographs of Ford smiling with well known white supremacists, including Faith Goldy, who managed to be so garishly racist in public that she became even too toxic for “Rebel Media,” Canada’s answer to Fox “News” and OAN, whose bread and butter is promoting intolerance and which also served as the launching point for Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys. After he published a column entitled “Ten Things I Hate About Jews” through the Rebel, McInnes was fired, too, but not for long, and eventually he was welcomed back with open arms to continue using them as a megaphone for spreading hate.
None of this public intolerance was enough to convince Doug Ford to condemn Faith Goldy when she ran for mayor of Toronto. After all, she hadn’t taken selfies of herself in the middle of a violent coup attempt. She had only appeared on an explicitly neo Nazi podcast after reporting in glowing terms about how wonderful the white supremacists at the Charlottesville rally were on the same day that one of them famously murdered a counter protester. Once again, it was only after several disastrous days of public pressure that he finally issued a statement back then about how he condemned people who spread hate speech. After being friendly with them for years. We need to understand that he doesn’t mean it now any more than he meant it then.
That same year, one of the candidates running for Doug Ford’s Conservative party in a provincial election, Donna Skelly from the Hamilton riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook, drew ire for her appearance at an event for conservative youth groups from McMaster University and Mohawk College, where she actively endorsed a website promoting far right extremists, including prominent white supremacists who had been charged with hate crimes. “We need more media like this!” she proclaimed, waving around a red hat (modelled after Trump’s iconic MAGA hats) which advertised the far right platform for extremist propaganda. Fun fact: one of the hate mongers featured on the site is the same prominent white supremacist whose political donation to politician Derek Sloan was used as an excuse to expel him from the federal Conservatives’ caucus when their leader Eric O’Toole was looking for a token sacrifice to distance his party from the hateful ideology complicit in the attempted coup.
When there was public outrage at the idea that a sitting city councillor and candidate for MPP had actively encouraged impressionable youth to consume hateful extremist content, Skelly simply deflected by insisting that she had no idea who it was she was promoting, and brushed it aside. How this counts as an actual defence is beyond me. Saying that you’re willing to actively cheerlead for something without bothering to have the faintest clue what it’s about strikes me as an excellent reason not to want you in a position of public influence. The publisher of this hate speech, however, who was also present at the same event, told a different story when he complained to Facebook the next day. “Skelly completely threw me under the bus” he posted, adding that “she knows exactly who I am and what I’m about.” Were there consequences for the politician telling those youth to go fill their heads up with hate speech? Not at all, she was elected to public office a few months later and welcomed to vote on public policies. After, we should note, abandoning the voters who had elected her to Hamilton city council after she promised them she didn’t just want that position as a stepping stone to higher office, which she immediately proved false. So I suppose the hate speech platformer really shouldn’t have been surprised to find himself under the bus. He was also in a position to know who she was and what she stood for, after all.
The reason that I bring up this specific example is that in the same week that I saw Doug Ford’s “condemnation” of the Proud Boys he has been imbedded with for years, I also learned that, two years after Skelly encouraged them to check out this awesome hate speech megaphone she’d found, two executive members of those same campus conservative groups are linked to white supremacist movements. One of them even posted about his desire to see leftists die to a virulent neoNazi online forum. This is no accident. In the age of Covid, we are collectively a little more aware that what makes dangerous infections truly dangerous is the people committed to their spread. When a politician encourages youth groups to read hate speech and then those youth groups go on to elevate those who speak hate speech, there is a direct correlation to address. Any platitudes about condemning hate speech from a politician who has benefitted directly from people who spread hate speech, and who fails to hold members of his caucus to account for promoting hate speech, mean nothing of any value at all. They are strictly a performance. The words are empty, the needed action that would give them purpose absent, and the steady escalation of hate that will play a role in the next public atrocity inescapable.
The Proud Boys may soon be designated a terrorist group, which in itself says something about white privilege. If you openly participate in what is by definition an act of terrorism before the eyes of the whole world and then there’s a “debate” about whether or not to call you what you obviously are, what else do you call it? Their founder did explicitly say that he built them for violence, so it’s hardly a secret. Even if the designation sticks, the same hateful ideology that wears their logo will just change t-shirts to reveal a different hate message and continue as before, because it’s neither the logo nor the label that’s the problem. If we hope to curtail the threat of extremist violence, we have to do better than letting politicians who actively participate in providing platforms for hatred wring their hands a little once in a while about how shocked they are that extremism has consequences and then move on without any true accountability.
If somehow we can’t commit the people who actively promote and benefit from hate speech groups to prison, could we please at least maybe get them out of public office?