Edmonton residents woke up Monday to posters peppering the popular strip of Whyte Ave. that heralded white identity and encouraged people “tired of anti-white propaganda” to check out websites linked to the so-called “alt-right” movement.
They were the latest in a wave of similar posters popping up in cities across Canada in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory earlier this month. In Hamilton, Ontario, flyers also found Monday targeted those who wish to “preserve our culture,” while other versions plastered around Toronto asked white people whether they were “tired of being blamed for all the world’s problems.”
While many have swiftly condemned the posters as hate crimes and acts of white supremacy, it’s still unclear who exactly is behind them, and whether they’re isolated acts or proof of a broader, earnest effort.
Speaking out for the first time, one group listed on some of the Edmonton posters denied any involvement in their creation or distribution, but told VICE News they welcomed it. Their supposed lack of involvement signals a possible disconnect between the online entities referred to on these flyers, and those on the ground putting them up. Regardless, the posters reflects a disturbing pattern of extreme right-wing ideology moving from the fringes to Canada’s public sphere.
“We are happy that we have supporters across the country, but we don’t know who put up the posters,” the founders of Northern Dawn, a website that launched last Saturday, said over Facebook chat, the only method they would agree to use for an interview. The “four executives on the leadership team” said they are located in Toronto and Vancouver and that their names are Mark Christensen, Talib Ali, Robert Harrison, and Joseph St. Pierre. VICE News hasn’t been able to independently verify their identities.
“We encourage supporters to show their support for Northern Dawn by spreading our content as widely as possible within the bounds of the law,” an executive designated to type messages wrote on their behalf.
The four leaders say they founded Northern Dawn because they “didn’t see anyone in Canada actually defending its true cultural and civilizational tradition.”
While the leaders say the group’s ideology has some overlap with the alt-right movement that has proliferated in the US, they insist they have a “different vision” that doesn’t necessarily focus on “white racial identity politics.”
“We consider race important but not sufficient for creating a better path for our civilization,” they said. When asked if the group consider themselves “white nationalists,” they said no but stressed again that “race is important.”
“White nationalism is a narrow conception of politics that misses the importance of the political traditions of our civilization,” they explained. They also brush off accusations of racism and white supremacy. “The same people call pretty much everyone ‘racist.’ It’s a pathetic attempt to shut down dialogue. We don’t really care what slurs they apply to us,” they said.
“And the alt-right is just another form of white supremacy, it’s just a more subtle, more palatable form of hatred.”
The group’s Facebook page had 103 likes as of Thursday. Buried in the 860-word “doctrine” section of its website, it describes itself as “a project of Restoration” that “joins those across the Western world who are taking up the banner against this chaos.”
They added in the interview that the current rate of immigration in Canada has “already been culturally and economically destructive; an increase would make it worse” and that “a couple of us are immigrants and we don’t think mass immigration should be used to undermine the country we chose to come to.” The group said that two of its founders immigrated to Canada from “Europe and South Asia” but wouldn’t say where from exactly or when.
For Ryan Scrivens, who studies Canadian right-wing extremism at Simon Fraser University, whether Northern Dawn admits it or not, it’s just another manifestation of the alt-right movement that has been gaining momentum in Canada in recent weeks.
“And the alt-right is just another form of white supremacy, it’s just a more subtle, more palatable form of hatred,” he said.
“Most of these guys don’t think they are white supremacists to begin with because if they start promoting that, they’re going to start pigeonholing themselves. It’s a simple denial at the end of the day,” said Scrivens.
Northern Dawn’s Facebook cover photo is that of the Red Ensign flag, Canada’s former national flag that features the Union Jack and is commonly flown by monarchists and veterans groups, but also notorious Canadian white supremacists like Paul Fromm.
That flag, a preoccupation with “Canadian identity,” and negative ideas about immigration and refugees can suggest that an individual or group holds alt-right or right-wing extremist sentiments, Scrivens said.
The group’s page also includes memes of Pepe the Frog with the caption: “You will witness Trump complete the system of German Idealism. Feels good, man.”
Scrivens said the difference between alt-right websites and those of “full-fledged white supremacists” comes down to aesthetics.
“A lot of the alt-right presents itself like news outlets, like educational-based sites. If you stumbled across it, you might not know right away what the message is,” he said.
The recent postering efforts and the groups listed on them have excited Canadian white nationalists like Fromm. In an interview this week on a Youtube talk show with fellow white nationalist Brian Ruhe, he said they were a sign that more people like him were coming out of the shadows.
“A lot of people are beginning to lose their fear. They saw that Donald Trump did it. And this has encouraged a lot of people who have been simmering for years to speak up,” said Fromm.
Scrivens says he’s struck by the increase in acts of hatred in Canada in the wake of Trump, such as the recent Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti that was spray-painted on places of worship and on private property in Ontario.
“I’d like to be hopeful that this is a fad in Canada,” he said. “A big predictor will be some of Trump’s next moves. That’s going to be an influence in terms of whether this alt-right continues to gain traction here.”
VICE News reached out to other websites listed on some of the posters to request interviews for this story, but only one responded and said they would do an interview for payment, a request that was denied because it would contravene VICE News’ editorial standards.