Rex Murphy’s recent piece in the National Post comparing anti-fascist and anti-racist activists to fascism provides political cover to racist thugs. It is despicable that a person of Mr. Murphy’s stature and position would use his national media platform to attack those who are standing up to xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism. Whether Murphy is consciously supporting fascists or is simply misguided, the results are the same.
“False equivalency” or “moral equivalency” is a well-known propaganda technique used by Nazi Germany, its appeasers, and now by the Trump’s administration and its supporters. This tactic was on full display in Donald Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country,” said Trump, casually dismissing the neo-Nazi terrorist murder of Heather Heyer as well as the injury of nineteen other anti-racist demonstrators.
By refusing to condemn white nationalists marching with torches (an obvious symbol when placed in the historical context of Charlottesville), Trump was securing a place for Nazis in America’s political discourse. Rex Murphy is doing the same thing with his spluttering about the violence of anti-fascists.
Of course there is no equivalency between fascists and anti-fascists. The only thing they have in common is that they are willing, in some circumstances, to use violence. If we were to follow Murphy’s logic, we would have to conclude that anyone who is not a pacifist is a fascist. His equivocations demonize those who seek to defend themselves from violent, racist thugs.
Rex Murphy begins by mocking the idea that fascism is a threat in North America. In his view, there is no risk of fascism developing in the U.S. or Canada because he sees these groups as a small fringe. The reader is therefore led to conclude that there is no reason for anti-fascists to mobilize.
He seems to miss that this small fringe is represented in the White House. He also seems oblivious to the fact that, only two years ago, Donald Trump himself was on the fringes of politics. And yet today here is as the president. It’s lost on Murphy that journalists, political pundits, and politicians said similar things about the Nazis in the 1920s. Whether or not the rise of fascism is possible or likely in North America today, there is ample reason to fight fascists now.
What Murphy doesn’t seem to see from his protected and privileged position as a rich white male media celebrity, is that fascists are dangerous even as a fringe with small numbers. Fascists are dangerous because they terrorize communities. Fascists are dangerous because they commit hate crimes. Fascists are dangerous because they use or advocate the use of violence against immigrants, minority groups, and individuals or organizations that disagree with them.
Murphy either ignores or has forgotten that, earlier this year, a “lone-wolf” attacker with far-right leanings walked into a Quebec City mosque and opened-fire on Muslims peacefully worshipping there. Six people were killed, nineteen others were injured. In July, that same mosque received a package containing a defaced Koran. Last week, Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, the head of that very same mosque, arrived home to find his car had been torched.
Why mobilize against fascists today? White supremacist leaders have been openly calling for lone-wolf or “leaderless” attacks on immigrants, minorities, and left wing organizations. There is currently an armed militia forming in their Canadian stronghold, Alberta, with the express purpose of launching a war on Muslims. La Meute, a Quebec-based hate group, now has thousands of members. The Soldiers of Odin have set up chapters and are patrolling in cities across the country. Fascist organizations are on the ascendency in Canada. It is no wonder that targets of fascists would consider proactively organizing their own defense. Many have reason not to trust the police or the courts.
Since the end of World War II, and until recently, there has been an understanding that there should be no “free” speech, no political platform, and no stage for fascism. Hate speech is not free speech. Nobody has the right to threaten and intimidate communities. Nobody has the right to incite violence against immigrants and minority groups.
There is a long history of far-right violence in Canada. More than 30 murders since 1980 can be attributed to far-right ideologues and organizations. In 2009, white supremacists in Vancouver poured kerosene on and set alight a Filipino man who had fallen asleep on Commercial Drive. The homeless black man who intervened to try to stop them was met with blows, but they reportedly ran off shouting racial slurs as they fled when others arrived. The white supremacists charged with this crime were not convicted. This was part of a series of increasingly violent attacks on immigrants and Indigenous people. Attacks such as these continue.
I remember those days in Vancouver. I can remember delivering mail on my route in East Van, and finding a large swastika spray-painted across the front door of a house and the words “Chinks Out” scrawled above it. An active white supremacist cell in the city, though extremely small in number, was terrorizing our neighbourhoods. It’s true they had no prospect of immediately forming government, but anti-fascist activists worked to ensure they didn’t have a stage from which to spread their hatred.
In 2010, I was targeted by white supremacists. Police took measures to protect my family from possible fascist attacks. I was believed to be on a hit-list for the crime of working on behalf of my union to help organize a demonstration against racism, on the world day to end racism.
This demonstration was called to counter a white pride march that was organized on the same day. Hundreds showed up at the rally to end racism. The small handful of fascists that showed up turned tail and ran immediately upon seeing our crowd. We all had a few laughs, and we thought that was the end of it.
A few weeks later, the house of the lead organizer of that demonstration was bombed. Luckily, the bomb did not fully detonate, it merely set his house on fire. Though they were asleep at the time, he, his wife and his children were able to escape safely. Before I knew it, I was rolled into a turbulent storm of threats, having to constantly look over my shoulder, forced to take time off work, living under police protection: all because my union supported a march against racism.
For the next ten weeks over 50 anti-fascist activists volunteered, taking shifts, two at a time, quietly keeping watch over my home and my family. Twenty-four hours a day, they stood guard outside, prepared for what may come. We didn’t speak publicly about it, for fear of encouraging reprisals. These are the people Rex Murphy attacks when he compares anti-fascists to fascists.
One of the key hate-mongers at the time, an internationally known white supremacist, is now in a U.S. prison for hate crimes. The fascist organizations that were trying to gain a foothold in Vancouver were defeated by mass action. They were not allowed to assemble. They were not allowed to spew their hatred.
Stamping out and suppressing violent groups who call for and commit organized hate crimes is not equivalent to fascism, Mr. Murphy. It is what many in your parents’ generation died for.