People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier speaks to supporters during the PPC headquarters election night event in Saskatoon, Sask., Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
The leader of a fringe far-right party in Canada had his Twitter privileges temporarily revoked after he directed his followers to harass specific journalists asking questions about his party.Since getting 5 percent of the popular vote (but losing everywhere they ran) the People’s Party of Canada has been receiving requests for comment regarding his supporters, a hot topic of discussion following Monday’s federal election. Instead of putting together a response or ignoring it all together, Maxime Bernier, the party’s leader, and his communication team decided to screenshot the requests, post them on Twitter, and sic his followers on the journalists.
“If you want to write to these idiots to tell them what you think of their disgusting smear jobs, here are their email addresses,” he wrote in one of his posts listing three emails. “They want to play dirty, we will play dirty too.”VICE World News has reached out to Bernier to see if he regrets “playing dirty” and having his account frozen but has yet to hear back.In some of the screenshots, the phone numbers used by the journalists can be seen. Bernier’s loud base—who tend to be angry about immigration, the media, and the conspiracy du jour (often COVID-related)—was more than happy to oblige. The posts were amplified by white nationalist vloggers and copied and pasted onto forums where a harassment campaign ensued.
Within hours of being posted, Bernier’s plea to target the journalists was amplified into the notorious /pol/ board of the imageboard 4chan, known for its trolly neo-Nazi community. The 4chan users spent several hours documenting their harassment of the journalists, including sending them racist hate mail and using bots to send them massive amounts of spam.“I just wanted to wholeheartedly express how much I hope that all propagandists like you get brutally raped before being lynched and strung up from the nearest study tree or lamp post,” says an email sent to one of the targeted journalists. “You are a traitor to your nation and your people. Remember, kill the traitors before the enemy.”
Bernier’s tweets caught the eye of Twitter Canada and three posts were removed shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday. Bernier’s account was also placed into a 12-hour read-only mode.“We’ve taken enforcement action against the account you referenced for violating our private information policy,” Cam Gordon, the head of Twitter Canada’s communication team, told VICE World News. Bernier has since blocked some of the reporters he targeted. VICE World News has reached out to two of the journalists targeted for comment but has yet to hear back.The PPC’s electoral campaign strategy was to actively court the COVID-conspiracy movement and the furthest-right element of the Conservative Party. While it allowed Bernier to build up a base of angry conspiracy theorists (who loudly protested Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular) and get just over 5 percent of the popular vote, it surmounted in little political success: not a single candidate was elected, nor even came close. Bernier was soundly defeated in his own riding as well. The PPC has a history of a rather tenuous relationship with media outlets it doesn’t deem friendly. For a recent VICE World News story on the party’s followers and campaign strategy, a party spokesperson told VICE World News they “don’t have time to waste helping you write more shit about us.”
It should be noted that Bernier’s party is not a cohesive group, and many party supporters are not followers of far-right or white nationalist ideologies. However, the party is seen by the far-right as a tool for recruitment and a way to spread their messaging, and pushing the Overton window further to the right. (The Overton window refers to the politics and topics that will be widely accepted by the population.) In the lead up to the election, a network of white nationalist vloggers became cheerleaders for the party, and the party, and some candidates, actively welcomed the support. Maxime Bernier, and other high profile PPC candidates, appeared in one of the vloggers’ livestreams on the day of and day before the election. Furthermore, it was found that one former PPC riding association president was linked to several white nationalist channels (the former PPC official was charged with assault after allegedly throwing gravel at Trudeau.)
On a Telegram (a social media platform used by the far-right because of its lax rules) page that bears Bernier’s name and just reposts what he writes elsewhere, the journalists’ information are still available. The replies are full of his followers boasting that they’ve written to the journalists; in some cases, they posted screenshots of their messages. One white nationalist, who is associated with the party and had Bernier on his livestream the night before the election, amplified the Telegram post and asked his followers to join the campaign.“PATRIOTS GO GO GO,” he wrote.Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.