The pandemic may have been the best thing to have happened to Lamont Daigle in a long, long time.
The multi-level marketing salesman built a name for himself as one of Canada’s leading anti-maskers, rallying against measures put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19. The logo for the Line, one of the brands he was spearheading, could be spotted in anti-lockdown rallies across the world, and he was beloved by a large group of conspiracy-addled people.
But then the attacks started.
They came from all over. Popular right-wing YouTuber Ezra Levant accused Daigle of being an undercover "narc." Stories reported he was trying to push the anti-mask movement towards violence. A far-right website with a hard Blogspot-circa-2004 aesthetic stated he was a pedophile sympathizer (a cardinal sin in the conspiratorial world).
Surprisingly, the attacks did not come from the media or anti-anti-maskers (although mud was slung from that direction as well) but from fellow anti-maskers. The Line partially split off from the broader movement and disappeared from several key rallies. Several popular but private anti-mask Facebook pages routinely trashed Daigle and fellow Line leaders.
As a result Daigle’s appearances on far-right and conspiratorial livestreams and YouTube shows have slowed down, as has the overwhelming engagement he and the pages for the Line once received on social media.
But Daigle said he’s not worried. ”False information does not affect me,” he told VICE World News in an email, blaming the attack not on anti-maskers but a malevolent outside source.
“What you see as infighting is not really infighting; it is external attacks from groups that are not part of our movement,” he said.
If the call is indeed coming from inside the house, it wouldn’t be the first time a fringe group has gone after its own jugular. Be it militias, neo-Nazi vanguards, street fighting organizations, or just plain ol’ organized conspiracy theorists—the one thing the leaders hate above all is each other, said Kurt Phillips, a longtime researcher of the Canadian far-right.
“Everybody has the exact perfect idea of how things should be done. And of course, if people don't agree with them it results in fighting,” Phillips, who works with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told VICE World News. “ It's funny to watch, but (the fracturing) is also disturbing in that you almost would rather have one large group that you keep an eye on.”
While the groups marching and organizing may all show up at the same rally, they may be doing it while allied with a wide variety of groups (undoubtedly organized on Facebook by some conspiracy theorist sharing false information).
“An outside perspective would look at the movement as one movement, but that is not the case,” said Daigle. “There are many moving parts and groups that are involved with their own goals and message.”
According to Dan Collen, an independent journalist who covers the movement, division in the anti-mask movement was inevitable. “The leaders made promises that could never be proven to come true," he said. This includes some leaders promising a 100,000-person rally when less than a hundred show up, or being called on their lies and conspiracy theories.
“Many of the leaders promised followers wins in legal battles that could have never happened,” he told VICE World News. “(They) told them misinterpretations of lies of Canada's laws that followers gradually find out to be false when they are tested.”
In Canada, the groups, many which started from the same large and amorphous group, have slowly but surely fractured, with some members starting their own smaller, more niche-oriented “groups” and others attempting to rally people around a cult of personality.
In one case, Dan Oke of Stand 4 Thee told VICE World News earlier in the year he broke off his group because he didn’t like the angry tactics of the anti-mask group found at Dundas Square, a downtown Toronto spot that’s worked as a focal point for the Ontario anti-mask movement. Others, like a leader on the West Coast, broke off with other groups because he felt slighted they organized a rally at the same spot.
Drew, an anti-fascist researcher who puts out a newsletter about the anti-lockdown community, has been tracking the anti-mask community for over a year now. On Twitter he’s chronicled the various infighting, which include accusations of grifting and leaders being members of the Freemasons, fights over brands and logos, and disputes over whether the presence of far-right and racist figures in the movement should be welcomed.
Bad press has plagued the anti-mask movement from the very beginning. Negative media attention has only intensified with the insertion of far-right figures like Kevin J. Johnston—best known for failed mayoral runs, being charged with hate crimes, and losing a massive lawsuit for making false and racist statements against a Toronto restaurateur—and other longstanding far-right figures stepping into leadership roles. Arguments over whether or not to embrace these figures have led to even more infighting.
When conspiracy theorists fight there are bound to be conspiracies floated. This includes claims that they’re funded by bogeymen like George Soros or, as is the case with Daigle, claims he’s an undercover police officer attempting to discredit the movement. Even Chris Saccoccia, the closest thing the movement has to an international celebrity, was recently dubbed a "psyop" after he published an incredibly bizarre video claiming he was in charge of the banking system.
Drew said the old guard of the far-right in Canada was immediately “suspicious or resentful of these new anti-lockdown activists.” Before COVID, the leaders and influencers would barely be able to get more than 25 people together at a rally but the anti-lockdown and anti-mask leaders can toss together a rally of hundreds and get positive media coverage.
"Far-right people are used to trying to delegitimize protests they don't like with conspiracy theories that they were all paid off by Soros or other foreign philanthropists," said Drew, who didn't want his last name used out of fear of reprisal. "So it's natural that they do the same with those even on their own side when there's a feud; it's habitual."
Despite all the infighting, the experts all agreed the anti-lockdown and anti-mask movement isn't going away. Just a week ago, the community held massive rallies across Canada.
“That the movement can comfortably disperse into smaller groups is evident that it's no longer a fringe political movement, and is now a popular set of values and beliefs,” said Collen. “I don't think these divisions are going to impact numbers as much as others who are concerned about the anti-mask movement hope it might.”
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