Observers who warn against increasing levels of radical, far-right activism in the U.S. and Canada are often met with a retort of “it’s just a few crazy people.” In other words, “It’s clearly just a few dozen losers on the corner with signs, so why panic?” These fringe characters, the argument goes, are so unacceptable to the mainstream that it’s inaccurate to see them as being in any way representative of a larger right-wing movement. And since they don’t constitute a larger threat, why worry?
Such a liberal interpretation of today’s troublesome status quo is worryingly naïve.
First of all, let’s take a second to remember that it doesn’t take 50, 20, 10, five or even a pair of determined nutcases to do real damage these days. It takes one. Critics of “Islamic terrorism” always note without fail how today’s technological and societal circumstances allows one—just one—nut job to do the damage that only armies could do centuries ago. Well, the same applies to far-right or alt-right nut jobs.
Almost exactly a year ago, it took one such murderer—Alexandre Bissonnette—to walk into a Quebec City mosque and shoot dead six Muslim men and injure 19 others. He wasn’t a trained tactician. He had no military or Special Forces background. But he was dedicated to his task and got his hands on a deadly weapon. That’s all it took.
Sticking with this example, how fair is it to point to such a killer—who was known for loving Trump and hating on refugees—as an extreme product of the prevailing political atmosphere?
Well, if we’re being honest, it’s totally fair.
Some in Quebec’s provincial legislature recognized the connection (and how bad it made them look) and offered an acknowledgement of the kind of rhetoric that might have contributed to such a toxic atmosphere. It’s a scary thing to remind oneself of from time to time, but an individual’s extremist actions are almost never carried out within some sort of sealed social vacuum. Human beings are connected, now more than ever, to the sociopolitical “ether” surrounding them.
Today’s atmosphere has facilitated a rise in xenophobia against minorities, from Muslims to Jews to the transgender community and so on. This shift in political climate, this increase in the public legitimization of so-called politically incorrect speech, constitutes the direction of today’s cultural wind.
Foremost among those whose job it is to gauge such winds are, of course, elected officials who rely on the voting public for legitimacy, support and a career. It goes without saying that, regardless of where one looks on the political spectrum today, politicians in North America and Europe are well aware of the far-right resurgence and are working to orient their public image according to it.
Sadly, this act of political orienting has too of