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Neo-Nazis and Conspiracy Theorists Are Seizing Upon the Nova Scotia Shooting

Despite zero evidence linking the Nova Scotia shooter to any groups or political beliefs, extremists are co-opting the horrific attack for their own means.
April 22, 2020, 9:00am
Nova Scotia shooting
An RCMP investigator inspects vehicles destroyed by fire at the residence of Alanna Jenkins and Sean McLeod, both corrections officers, in Wentworth Centre, N.S. on Monday, April 20, 2020.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

As is the case following many mass shootings, far-right social media networks are already percolating with posts glorifying the mass killer in Nova Scotia who killed at least 22 people in a shooting rampage over the weekend.

Neither police nor media have linked the shooter to any organization or political belief system at this point, but that has not stopped far-right supporters from co-opting the deadly shooting.

While some online extremists have floated the idea the shooter, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was an agent provocateur performing a false flag attack on behalf of the government or yet another character in the outlandish QAnon conspiracy, propaganda celebrating the shooter as a domestic terrorist success story has also appeared online.

The Victims of Canada's Deadliest Mass Shooting

One well known neo-Nazi propaganda account known for its connections to extremist organizations and to ‘accelerationism’—a hyper violent political doctrine seeking to hasten the collapse of society through terrorist acts—released a stylized image of Wortman comparing him to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber whose infamous attack occured 25 years ago to the day on Sunday.

“Picking up where Timothy left off,” reads the image which shows Wortman’s face beside the bombed out Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the location of McVeigh’s terrorist attack that killed 168 people in 1995.

Another acclerationist neo-Nazi group linked to the war in Ukraine, posted a photo of Wortman feeding a bear from his Facebook account with the caption, “Love animals, hate modern society!” The group calls for mass killings and openly denigrates multicultural societies.

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In the past, neo-Nazi accelerationists have glorified a number of mass murderers who do not have any outward connections to their movement, which includes jihadist terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden and the infamous “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski.

“While there is no link at this time between Wortman and neo-Nazi groups or ideology, it makes sense that the most violent neo-Nazi accelerationist elements would glorify him,” said Joshua Fisher-Birch, an analyst specializing in the far-right at the U.S. based Counter Extremism Project. “These groups want to inspire additional attacks, so claiming that Wortman acted with similar intent serves their ends of trying to incite racist, anti-Semitic, or anti-government violence.”

Fisher-Birch said it is very common for terrorist movements to claim extreme acts of violence as their own.

“Neo-Nazis, like ISIS’s claim of responsibility for the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, are also trying to stay relevant, receive press attention, signal to their supporters that they’re active, and to alert others that they’re to be feared. This type of behavior has a low cost for violent neo-Nazis who are seeking to spread terror.”

Unsurprisingly there is also a 'truther' movement surrounding the Nova Scotia killings. Like the majority of truther theories, they are nonsensical and ever-changing: Talk of the shooting rampage being staged to strengthen already strong Canadian gun laws or because the “Deep State” needed people dead.

Police have released few details about the incident, the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, and conspiracy theorists are seizing upon some of the conflicting information that has been released.

The theorists, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, cite initial reports the killer was in custody, but later learning he died at the scene, or the number of dead, which continues to grow—as proof it’s an elaborate government cover-up or staged event. "Spot the difference,” a conspiracy theorist well known for urging his followers to drink a bleach-like substance for health purposes tweeted along with two screenshots—one which said Wortman was in custody, the other that he was killed. The tweet got over 2,000 retweets.

One QAnon conspiracy theorist with over 75,000 followers on Twitter and 250,000 on YouTube said April 19 was an important day because it's a, "high holy day for Satanists requiring blood sacrifice and fire.” The same theorist also spread the idea that, since a person with media experience was helping fundraise for the victims, the “Nova Scotia shooting is being handled by people in the entertainment industry.” The tweet, which names the organizer, was retweeted hundreds of times. When someone told the conspiracy theorist they knew someone who was killed by the shooter, they doubled down on calling it fake.

Wortman has no history of radical political affiliations and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki has said there is no evidence suggesting the killings were an act of terrorism. But at a news conference on Sunday a top RCMP officer admitted there is reason to suspect Wortman planned his crimes.

“The fact that this individual had a uniform and a police car at his disposal speaks to this not being a random act,” said RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather. Wortman somehow obtained an authentic police uniform and replica police cruiser, which he used throughout his over 12-hour murder spree.

Leather also told reporters that the coronavirus pandemic did not appear to be related to the murder spree.

The shootings in Nova Scotia marks the first mass murder of the pandemic era and comes at a time when American authorities have seen an uptick in domestic terrorism suspects trying to use the current lockdown to their advantage. In March a neo-Nazi in Missouri nearly carried out a bombing of a hospital struggling with the coronoavirus pandemic, but was intercepted and killed by FBI agents. Last week, a racist extremist in Massachusetts tried to fire bomb a Jewish nursing home, but was caught and is now facing federal charges.

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