Monday, October 28, 2019

Far-Right Reactionaries Are Behind the WEXIT Campaign

With the election mercifully behind us and many on the far-right disappointed with the outcome, much is being reported on the so-called "Wexit" from Canada (why yes, it IS derivative.)

While this separatist movement has been around a long time, Prairie Freedom Movement (PFM), a Wexit precursor, has been around since December, 2016 (and has a 27,000 membership.) The Wexit online presence has also been around for a while, however their staggering growth since Election Night is most certainly a reaction to the re-election of Trudeau.

A few days ago, the Wexit Facebook group had 96,000 members. At the time of this article, it currently has a whopping 243,000 members, not counting provincial groups.

It's hard to say whether all of the people in the group are real or computer generated, or whether they are all located in the western Canadian provinces, but their numbers exceed that of the main Yellow Vests Canada group, which has stalled at around 103,000 by a substantial margin.

Before we drill down into the rhetoric found in the Wexit ecosystem, we need to go back a ways and talk about Peter Downing, the central figure of both PFM and Wexit.

Downing has an interesting history, having ran for the Christian Heritage Party in the 2015 election for the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding.

For anyone unfamiliar with the CHP, click here for an overview of their platform. It's...problematic. 

Downing is also a disgraced RCMP officer. According to a now-deleted 2012 article by Ryan Tumilty in the St. Albert Gazette (which has also been removed from archive) he was fired for uttering threats. While the article is no longer available (weird!) we did find a copy on another website. The article highlights Downing's lack of consistent credibility, and issues raised by the Crown. 
The concerns about Downing appear to date back years. Before criminal charges were laid against him in July 2010, the Crown prosecutor’s office was already raising questions about Downing’s reliability as a witness. 
A November 2009 memo concluded he was an unreliable witness and if his credibility was a central issue, prosecutors should withdraw the charges. Downing provided the memo to the Gazette, because he believes it was written as part of an effort to remove him from the RCMP after he complained about superior officers. In the memo Crown prosecutor Jeff Morrison assessed Downing as a witness, looking specifically at a Supreme Court case called R. v. McNeil. The case involved an officer in Ontario who testified in a drug case while facing drug-related criminal charges and internal discipline hearings himself. 
The court’s decision sets out when prosecutors have to disclose a police officer’s previous misconduct or criminal convictions. After speaking with other prosecutors and reviewing Downing’s files, Morrison concluded Downing was a problem. “The general consensus amongst prosecutors who have dealt with Downing is one of incompetent zeal,” says the memo. “His motives are not dispassionate; he has a personal agenda inappropriate of an RCMP member, which causes him to overreach.” 
Morrison concluded Downing could be reliable, but not consistently. “This issue is not that he can’t be fair, trustworthy and dispassionate; merely that he is not with sufficient frequency.” At the end of the document Morrison comes to one conclusion. “It would in general be imprudent for the Crown to run Downing matters where Downing’s credibility is a central issue and where there is no independent corroboration, whether or not the defence is attuned to the issues highlighted by the McNeil disclosure.”
On the matter of Downing's suspension: 
The officer, Const. Peter Downing, worked in both St. Albert and Morinville and remains on administrative leave after a lengthy suspension related to criminal charges of uttering threats. Downing was convicted of those charges last summer and last month lost an appeal.
Downing's former wife alleges he threatened to throw her out a window:  
Downing was first suspended in July 2010, shortly after he was charged with uttering threats. At the trial last summer, Downing’s ex-wife testified he threatened to throw her out the window during a heated argument. But Downing’s lawyer focused on timing, noting the incident was reported months later when police were called for another argument.
Since his days with the RCMP, he's turned to far-right agitprop, pushing conspiracy theories and helming PFM and other ventures such as Alberta Verified, which was boosted heavily by Pat King, and Alberta Fights Back, all connected to PFM.

PFM has been covered by us extensively on Twitter in a 23 tweet thread highlighting the rhetoric found on their Facebook page, as well as their inflammatory billboard campaign:
In a surprise to absolutely no one, PFM's rhetoric largely mirrored that of Yellow Vests Canada. In fact, Downing is associated with numerous high profile Yellow Vests, including anti-semite, holocaust denier and white nationalist Pat King, who boosted Downing's other project, Alberta Verified, heavily. Yes. Another project.
King admitting the truck with the black sun decal is his. Downing also spoke at the same rally this truck was at. 

Now that we're all caught up on who Downing is, let's take a look at the Wexit Facebook page.

The Wexit Facebook page admin/mod team

We have problematic activity for most of these people so we'll be going through them one by one.

Carolyn Sharpe: Friends with multiple far-right hate group members, likes include Yellow Vests, National Citizens Alliance, PPC, Free Bird Media.

Garry Grumpelt: Posts picture of confederate flag, likes include Sandra Solomon, National Citizens Alliance, Ronny Cameron, Canadian Action Party.

Jake Wall: Member of main yellow vest group, shares material from far-right sources such as Winnipeg Alternative Media, and former PPC candidate/Islamophobe Mark Friesen.

Kelly Elizabeth: Shares material from far-right and Islamophobic sources like Rebel Media, Mark Friesen, Ed Jamnisek, Amazing Polly.

Mary Bourne: Likes include multiple hate groups; Yellow Vests Canada, Canadian Nationalist Party, Cultural Action Party, Three Percenters, WCAI.

 Bernadette Boudreault: Member of main Yellow Vests Canada Group.

 Barb Meyers Tremblay: PPC

Carmen Lasante: Likes PPC, What's Up Canada(Wayne Peters), Yellow Vests Canada member, posts Islamophobic material.

The provincial pages and other far-right pages crosspost each other heavily:

It doesn't take too much searching to find Islamophobic material within the Wexit Facebook group, and with admins like this that shouldn't be too shocking.

Downing, however, understands the need for restraint. Kind of.

He did take to his website to complain about "free speech" just prior to the election though: 

And while media reports have surfaced that around 28% of accounts boosting #Wexit on Twitter are bots, the activity isn't limited just to Twitter and Facebook. Overtly fascist accounts are also sharing #Wexit on Gab: 

So what kind of people are being drawn to Wexit? ARC recently discovered some persons of interest delving into their particular cesspool.

Christopher Hayes, who drove in the United We Roll Convoy with the Yellow Vests, and is associated with multiple hate groups like WCAI, seems pretty keen on the idea. Hayes was previously convicted of uttering threats against Justin Trudeau.

In addition to Hayes, we have William Miettinen, the "shirtless Nazi", an associate of Aryan Guard:

Even American fascist accounts are weighing in, supportive of Wexit. Why? Because separation due in part to a dislike of immigration is one step closer to an ethnostate. 

Downing and Wexit peddle dangerous rhetoric running the gamut of a "mass migration" scare, "globalism," claim that the government "normalizes pedophilia," even pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Billboards they've installed around Alberta include all that and more. 

The Star reported:
“These folks are not persuaded by knowledge, facts, evidence, law.” But the messages cross a line from commentary to misinformation, and an Edmonton lawyer said that could land Downing in trouble. 
The notion of a “firearms ban” comes from a rumour spread by independent MP Tony Clement, who said in May that Trudeau was planning to announce a ban on all legal firearms during a women’s conference. However Trudeau never announced a ban. 
The “normalizing pedophilia” point stems partly from a Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation document that contains a triangular logo, vaguely resembling one that the FBI has identified as being used by pedophiles to secretly discuss their sexual proclivities. Triangular logos are used by many companies and organizations, but Downing draws the pedophilia link based on a belief in the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy that influenced a 2016 shooting at a Washington, D.C., pizzeria. The conspiracy falsely suggests a number of high-ranking politicians are involved in child sex-trafficking rings.

Photo from The Star. Billboard rhetoric includes "normalizing pedophilia, mass migration, firearms ban, globalism," and others.

Where Wexit will go remains to be seen, but it's imperative that media cover it, and Downing responsibly. There's already been issues in the media with journalists doing superficial coverage or giving soft interviews to Downing about him and his project by CBC and the Ottawa Citizen. 
The country deserves to know who is behind this push, and what ideology is driving it. They may or may not really believe Trudeau is pushing them to "civil war," but we know one thing: their rhetoric is dangerous, and could lead to violence.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated Downing was fired from the RCMP for uttering threats, drinking on the job, and sexual harassment. He was fired for uttering threats.

UPDATE: Since publishing, we've learned that antisemite and white nationalist Pat King sits on the board of directors for Wexit. Past material from King includes propagating the Great Replacement myth and holocaust denial.
UPDATE #2: A former moderator of the Canadian Nationalist Party forum, JonOttawa, has expressed support for Wexit on Reddit (which appears to be his new home.) 

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