Last week, police arrested a man at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Mississauga after he made threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Facebook two weeks before. The threatening post appeared in Yellow Vests Canada, the online home of one of Canada’s angriest political movements.
Yellow Vests Canada , which currently has over 100,000 members on Facebook, carries the “greatest potential for radicalization leading to violence” in Canada right now, according to Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
The group’s description says it was created to “protest the CARBON TAX, Build That Pipeline and Stand Against the Treason of our country's politicians who have the audacity to sell out OUR country's sovereignty over to the Globalist UN and their Tyrannical policies.” But concerns over Canada’s oil sector appear to factor little in the discussion that goes on in the group. Instead, members are obsessed with defending western civilization from Islam, bashing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and spreading whatever far-right conspiracy theory is trending at the time.
In April, VICE Canada spoke to ‘Liz,’ one of three anonymous administrators who runs Yellow Vests Canada Exposed, a Twitter account dedicated to documenting the bigotry and calls to violence that appear on the Facebook page, in addition to similar posts from the litany of Yellow Vest groups that have popped up on the website since December.
During our chat, Liz, who says she’s in her mid-thirties and holds a corporate career, talks about what she has seen in the group, who seems most attracted to the Yellow Vest movement (hint: white Boomers), and why Facebook says they removed YVC Exposed’s page while Yellow Vest groups still remain on the site.
VICE: What motivated you to start covering the Yellow Vest movement?
Liz: Ultimately, we were just kind of making fun of them. We inject a lot of humour into everything that we do. We try to at least. Obviously, it's a lot of sensitive and serious material. But we all do have a sense of humour. We started out, I guess you could say, shit-talking them a little bit. (laughs) But then it evolved into a balance of that as well as the more serious content.
How would you describe the Yellow Vest movement in Canada?
I would describe them as middle-Canadian, uninformed, proto-fascists.
What are the majority of the posts and the comments in these groups about?
Islamophobia, lots of Islamophobia. A lot of misinformation about immigrants and refugees. A lot of criticism of Trudeau, but not a healthy criticism. (laughs)
From what I’ve seen, it’s almost like a cartoonish hatred of Trudeau.
Absolutely ridiculous. You said it: cartoonish. I’ll be upfront. I am not a Liberal. I do not support the Liberal Party. I'm probably further left than that. I have a lot of criticism of Trudeau, and I have a lot of criticism of Harper. [But] I would never in a million years expect the same kind of rhetoric towards Harper from Liberals and left-leaning individuals that we're seeing towards Trudeau.
So, it's a lot of misinformation about Trudeau. It's a lot of conspiracy theories. Absolutely bananas, out-there, bonkers conspiracy theories that have absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever. Those are really the top three things: conspiracy theories, Muslims, Trudeau—and sometimes all three together.
I haven't heard you say anything about oil and gas or the carbon tax yet.
[There's] very little. There is some content but, honestly, I would say 85 percent of it is not oil and gas-related. In fact, what was really striking to all of us was when United We Roll was over, the day that they left Ottawa, the tone and the tenor on the United We Roll Facebook page totally changed. Up to and while they were in Ottawa, I think it might've been really heavily moderated. There was very little anti-immigrant, anti-Islam rhetoric. That shifted dramatically as soon as the convoy was over.
What type of stuff did you see on Yellow Vests Canada in the days after the Christchurch attack?
It was disgusting. Those were probably the hardest days for us as a trio. First of all, we were shaken. We were very upset by what happened. And the content that we saw after was largely celebratory. It was a lot of folks saying that it was fake, it was a hoax. And a lot of people saying that basically it was a good thing.
There was a lot of cries about it being fake. Honestly, we've seen some similar theories with Notre Dame. The idea now is that [Muslims are] behind the fire, which we know was not true.
How much support do these types of posts receive?
There's a lot of posts [of this nature], and there's a substantial amount of support [for them]. What's interesting about these groups is that the people who denounce that kind of content are very quickly to be dog-piled on. They're called trolls. They're called liberal cucks. They're called Antifa. So, people have learned that if they want to remain in this community, even if they think it's wrong, they can't speak out against it.
I think there's definitely a mix of people who are absolutely participating in that narrative and that ideology. There's the people who maybe are not so overtly involved in that ideology, but are OK with it as long as it meets their end goal. And then there are the people who don't agree with it at all. But the people who don't agree with it at all are quickly kicked out if they speak out about it.
We actually had a number of people come to us back when we were on Facebook—before Facebook deleted our page. We had a number of ex-members come to us and say, ‘Hey, you know, I'm worried about economic concerns. I joined the group thinking that's what it was going to be about. And then somebody says something really horrible, I spoke up, and I was banned like two seconds later.’ We have lots of those messages. Tons. We even had an ex-admin contacting us.
Saying how concerned they were about the group's direction?
What have you learned about the people who make up the better part of the community? Do they tend to fit a certain profile?
Definitely. You have your typical conservative. A lot of them are very unhappy with the Liberal government. There's a lot of oil and gas spillover. And mostly westerners, mostly Alberta and BC. A little bit of Saskatchewan, a little bit of Ontario, some even in the Maritimes obviously, but heavily concentrated in the western provinces.
What about personal characteristics, like age and demographics? I've noticed a lot of older, white [baby] boomers.
I would say middle-aged and older. There are a number of younger people. I believe the current roster of admins on the main YVC page are all under 30.
The younger alt-right crowd, they understand that the Soros and the globalist trope, they understand that's anti-Semitic, but they're not going to necessarily use those tropes as they're written. They're going to do the triple bracket; they're going to use their dog whistles. I don't even feel like a lot of these older people understand the implication of the things that they're propagating.
It's a lack of self-awareness. It's a lack of cultural awareness. It's a lack of political awareness. They have these ideas, and they're absolutely 100 percent, heels-dug-in sure that they're right. But then they're posting memes with the Star of David hidden in the eyes of a person. Things that you can actually trace back to white supremacist sources, but it's "Karen from Accounting." It's definitely a more middle-Canadian, average, working-class person that's going to be drawn to this movement. That said, you also do have the hard-line hate groups that have attached themselves to it.
What happened with your Facebook page?
That is the question of the day. So, back in March, our Facebook page had been unpublished, not deleted, just unpublished. [That] means that the page is still left, but it's not visible to anybody but the admin.[...] We were told that we had broken the terms and services of Facebook. They didn't say why. We appealed it, and a week later it was restored. [...]
But then a few weeks later, they just deleted it. Sorry, [actually] they had unpublished it again. And we appealed it. But then at the end of the appeal, they just deleted it. We were told that the reason for the deletion was that our profile photo broke the terms and conditions of Facebook.
[VICE reached out to Facebook Canada for this story, but did not receive a response.]
What was your picture?
It's exactly what's on our Twitter page. It's Ralph Wiggum. (Laughs) We've tried to get in touch with Facebook. Nobody will return our emails or calls. We've tried tweeting them. We've gotten no response. There's been absolutely no line of communication there whatsoever to give us an answer as to why that happened.
A couple of weeks before they had deleted the main Yellow Vest page, but then they issued an apology saying that it was preemptive and they haven't met the criteria for deletion.
What type of impact do you think the Canadian Yellow Vest movement could have in Canada?
I feel like the impact it's going to have is pretty great. What I've personally learned is that the threat is greater than what we thought it was before. The image of the threat is no longer the skinhead, "Blood and Honour"-type. We're dealing with average people who don't understand the impact of their rhetoric, and they’re calling for [the] mass death of an entire religion. Or they're celebrating violence against that religion. Or they're celebrating violence against government officials. That is one step away from outright fascism, but they can't see that. They refuse to see that.
A huge part of it is this western, separatism idea. They feel ignored. They feel put upon. They feel oppressed. Not only for being westerners, but they feel oppressed because they're white. [...] They feel like, ‘Well, you know, my right to free speech was taken away because of M-103. And the refugees just walk across the border, and they make more money than I do.’ So, they have all of these ideas that are completely not based in reality, but they really believe in it. And they find these [news] sources and these echo-chambers that will reinforce their belief to the point where they actually become radicalized.
How has monitoring the Yellow Vest movement this closely changed your life?
No one knows it's me, first of all. So, I’ll go out for beers with friends, and they will talk about what they've seen on Twitter, and I can't tell them that it's me and that's kind of weird. We're very secretive obviously. It definitely has impacted our ability for personal time and whatnot. But it's also kind of – I guess there's always a little bit of a dark cloud. There's always a little bit of waiting for the next Christchurch, waiting for the next big thing that's going to happen that's going to cause this shit storm on social media that we feel obligated to cover.
If my identity were to get out, I would probably have to buy a gun and watch my back everywhere I went. So, that's the reality when you're dealing with you with this kind of stuff.
Do you think doing this has impacted your mental health?
Yeah, I would say it has. We all need to force ourselves to decompress a lot. We all need to force ourselves to step away and take a day off. It's a lot. We manage it with a lot of humour. We're good shit-posters. We're good shit-talkers. We have a lot of fun with it.
But, ultimately (pauses) there was a post maybe a week ago where this young baby in [an] African country, [a] malnourished baby, was being given water by a white woman. And somebody posted on the main Yellow Vests Canada page, 'Would you bring this baby over to Canada?' And the comments were so heartless and cruel. That was the second time that I cried. The first time was when Christchurch happened. So, that was really hard to see. This is not the country that we want. That's why we're doing this.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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