By John Grant
and Fiona MacDonald
University of the Fraser Valley
One year since the violent alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., and months since the Toronto van attack, Canadians can legitimately worry about increased political violence. The images of angry white men marching openly in Nazi regalia loom large alongside the revelation that some men are organizing groups driven by views of natural male dominance and fears that it’s disappearing.
So what can be done?
The best way to reduce the possibility of more alt-right-inspired violence is to confront its narratives head on.
Pollster Michael Adams argues that mass electoral support for an alt-right figure like Donald Trump will never emerge in Canada. Can we breathe easy?
Not exactly. Several prominent politicians have put culture-war issues like sex education and asylum seekers front and centre, with a focus on, echoing President Trump, “taking care of our own first.”
Despite its growing electoral presence, the alt-right is usually found outside of electoral politics. There are likely over 100 active alt-right groups in Canada. The Proud Boys have small chapters across North America and operate on the view that the “West is the Best,” while denying racist intentions. Militia groups like the Three Percenters and hate groups such as the Aryan Guard and La Meute target Muslims, minorities and
asylum seekers with threats and potential violence.
The Toronto van attack that killed 10 people was carried out by a man who supported rebellion by “incels” – involuntarily celibate men who claim mistreatment by women who refuse to engage with them romantically.
What exactly is the alt-right and how is it different from other right-wing ideologies?
The alt-right is made up of individuals and groups that reject mainstream conservatism. It mixes ‘culture war’ politics with a commitment to what it sees as transgression and nonconformity. It’s especially hostile to anything regarded as politically correct, including liberalism, feminism, multiculturalism and diversity. The alt-right values cultural, racial and religious homogeneity, nationalism, a harsh agenda of law and order, free-market capitalism domestically but not internationally, and deep antipathy toward international institutions like the United Nations.
The organization of the alt-right is part of what distinguishes it from older white supremacist groups. There’s no official membership and much of its activities occur online, where anonymity and aggression reign, sometimes leading to real-world violence. The alt-right is also predominantly, though not exclusively, male, particularly in its leadership.
What motivates people to adopt alt-right views?
The “left behind” thesis holds that people whose economic expectations have turned to dust – stagnating wages, precarious work, too little government help – are open to this kind of politics. But this narrative has been largely debunked by the data.
The more compelling factor – backed by American political behaviour research – is the phenomenon of “status threat.” Increasing numbers of white people, cutting across economic classes, regard their social status as under threat. This perception fuels a politics of what Michael Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement” where the life to which you think you’re entitled has been taken away by forces beyond your control.
What’s to be done?
First, when alt-right groups emerge in public, they ought to be confronted in greater numbers by the rest of us. An unchallenged alt-right is an increasingly confident one.
Second, do whatever you can to popularize political and social narratives that challenge alt-right views. Talk to your friends, colleagues and children and post on social media.
Try on these examples. Rather than seeing feminism as a threat to male privilege, explain how it relieves men from the burden of living up to stereotypes of alpha masculinity. Rather than regarding immigration as an attack on ‘white’ culture, explain its economic benefits and how immigrants and especially their children possess very high levels of Canadian pride. Rather than viewing free speech as an opportunity to say anything about anybody, use it as an opening to discuss the role that words play in civic life.
Talk about the kind of sharing and community building that a strong society needs and what each of us can do. This isn’t a request to “be nice.” It’s an appeal to be more assertive politically.
Worried about the alt-right? Be the anti-right.
John Grant is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at King’s University College, Western University. Fiona MacDonald is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Fraser Valley.