Thursday, April 30, 2020

Far-Right Organizing in Vancouver Lockdown Protests with Police Complicity

A hotspot for anti-lockdown protests has been Vancouver. Our friend @nolifeneet has been tirelessly tracking and reporting on them on Twitter, and was kind enough to provide a guest article, detailing the protests, who is involved in them, and why they are so problematic.

Follow them on Twitter at @nolifeneet

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Many first became aware of Vancouver’s anti-lockdown protests on Twitter, when conspiracy theorist videographer Dan Dicks posted photos and video clips of a small rally in which he repeatedly said they would not “drink the kool-aid” by quarantining themselves. It quickly trended on Twitter, gaining mockery from celebrities.

Despite this negative publicity the “No More Lockdowns” protests in Vancouver have only grown. While last week’s protest, which organizers claimed to have numbered around 80-100 would seem small, they stand out by the fact that no other protests of comparable size are still occurring, and that like-minded “patriot” groups are often so lacking in competence to even achieve those numbers. And this time they have another advantage: they don’t have to worry about those pesky anti-fascists getting in their way (at least so far).

As a result these “No More Lockdowns” protests are being used to consolidate a far-right movement, giving them opportunities to organize and network that they would not have had otherwise. This article will try to explain and examine how, showing that far-right elements have been involved at each protest. It will avoid going into the conspiracy theories they have advocated, such as those targeting Bill Gates, 5G, microchips, vaccines, China, the World Health Organization and a Winnipeg microbiology lab as those have already been covered more in-depth elsewhere.

April 10th

The first rally was organized by Susan Standfield-Spooner. Standfield herself does not seem like the kind of person who would organize with far-right groups. A look through her Facebook profile at the time would have shown her supporting various vegan and environmental causes, including the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement. But she was an advocate of “natural health,” and opposed vaccinations. As news on COVID-19 and Trump’s feud with the medical and scientific establishment went on, her feed would show a rightward shift in the source for links she would post.

This first protest numbered about 25 people, but Susan didn’t just get all of these on her own. Well-known neo-Nazi Brian Ruhe helped by using his e-mail list to promote it. He claims to have an e-mail list of around 1000 locals, which he seems to get more additions to by talking to people in the street for his vlogs. At this protest, he claimed to get 10 people from it to arrive, saying that this was a good number for him. Two people in his video of this protest, who go by “Tony” and “Raymond” appear in past videos of protests with Brian Ruhe, who he describes as “members of the Brian Ruhe Show Group,” thus supporters of his Internet show. Tony had also recommended that Ruhe interview Susan Standfield for his show. Other participants were also friendly with Ruhe, knowing who he was, in fact he said one tipped him off about anti-fascist “Know your local neo-Nazi” posters.

An imperfect overview of the participants in this rally can be seen in this Twitter thread:
Standfield knows what strange bedfellows she has, even from the beginning. She promoted Brian Ruhe’s videos of the protests, even though a single click onto his BitChute account would have directed people to a number of recently uploaded videos supporting Adolf Hitler. Probably in response to backlash from friends or others, she made a video saying she would not judge other protesters (while making a comparison to other unspecified controversial activists). She also encouraged people to trust “independent media” which refers to YouTubers like Dan Dicks and Ruhe, not serious journalists.

Other participants included a Yellow Vest supporter and Donald Smith, a known entity at right-wing events in Vancouver and Edmonton. According to Smith's Facebook, he has been charged with uttering threats against an individual. Last year, when Soufi's restaurant was being harassed by the far-right, Smith called and harassed the restaurant, then uploaded the video of him doing so to his now-deleted YouTube account. 

Other conspiracy theorists including Dan Dicks also referenced David Icke, best known for his eccentric beliefs about shape-shifting reptilian creatures controlling the world, but who also has a record of promoting Holocaust denial and the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion forgery. Brian Ruhe himself also tried to push his neo-Nazi beliefs onto attendees, saying “white Nordics” will save the world and that China was in danger for being under “international Jewish guidance.”

April 17th

This one was described as “impromptu” and was done in alliance with #OperationGridlock, the Trump-endorsed and partially astroturfed protests going on in the US the same day. Nonetheless she went and Ruhe also took credit for helping organize it. Another noteworthy participant was Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a failed candidate for the xenophobic Peoples’ Party, who has also done speaking events with longtime white nationalist figure Paul Fromm.

Dan Dicks also mentioned in an interview how many supportive people were just finding out about the protests in Vancouver because of his videos. Dicks himself has a history of giving softball interviews to white nationalists, fascists and other fringe figures. For subsequent protests, many attendees would state that Dicks and Ruhe’s videos made them aware and want to get involved in the protests.

April 19th

This protest also had numbers around 30. This time Standfield claims to have contacted the police a day in advance, for which they shut down a lane of traffic for the participants. Standfield seems to have some experience in activism, albeit privileged NGO forms of it (she says the system works) and has shared simple skills with generally inexperienced far-right figures that they will likely use in the future to try to grow their movements. 

Brian Ruhe said beforehand that he helped organize the event.

Some participants wore MAGA hats, and children were present. Several male participants got confrontational with hecklers, yelling insults at them, with some women involved advising them against it. Many shouted rhetoric against the Chinese government, calling hecklers traitors who should move to China. One of the Yellow Vests who was most vocal had writings in marker on his vest stating "Globalists no more," "stop SOGI-123," "Trudeau must go," "ISlam IS not a race," and "Preserve my people - end the experiment we are not lab rats - ETHNOCIDE."

An amusing aspect of this march illustrating the socio-economic status of attendees was real estate speculator Chris Verolli crying at people to pay the mortgages for his condos, while complaining that people were laughing at him.
Mak Parhar, a flat earther who had the business licence for his yoga studio revoked for falsely claiming hot yoga could cure COVID-19 was also in attendance. He makes a few references to a flat earth meet-up group and at least one other flat earther was there. He is vocally aggressive to others, even mocking people who mind their own business if they are staying on their apartment balcony or wearing a mask. At the previous April 17th protest, he referred to YouTube as “JewTube.”

Many participants also thanked the police for their “VIP treatment,” including Susan Standfield, Brian Ruhe, and streamers Marco Pietro and Chris Verolli, who are becoming prominent in this small circle. 

April 26th 

This recent protest was the biggest one they have had yet. Standfield estimated that it had between 80 and 100 participants, which would violate BC public health authorities’ “ban” on gatherings of more than 50 people. Ruhe estimated an even higher 125 people. Some may discount their favourable estimates as too high, but from videos it definitely looked larger than 50.

Although they had a relatively higher turnout, they faced a lot of hostility from apartment-dwellers who booed them, some even making videos of themselves doing so. A couple marchers also complained of having eggs thrown at them from apartments. It appears that people will still find ways to resist while staying in quarantine, although whether or not this will be enough to discourage them remains to be seen. At least two lone counter-protesters tried to oppose the march on their own, one of which was apparently arrested for getting into a physical confrontation of some kind, however the precise details of what went down haven’t been confirmed by any trusted sources.

Again, Brian Ruhe took part in organizing, describing himself as a “chant organizer” while also mentioning taking part in a Zoom video group organizing it. On his two hour video of the protest he gives out his business card advertising his show, promoting his beliefs about Rothschild and Rockefeller conspiracies. Everyone appears to be comfortable with his involvement, in fact before the march Standfield complained of being “Hitler shamed” while saying the real fascism was the lockdown (a common sentiment these protesters share.)

And by the way, a couple of the participants were coughing. Hopefully what they have is just the flu.

Police Complicity

It goes without saying that organizing in large crowds like this is itself bad for health. It’s even worse when this gathering is entirely devoted to promoting pseudo-scientific misinformation to the public that some may believe and follow. Participants who livestreamed the protests would approach people and push such misinformation, including (in Mak Parhar’s case) the absurd belief that COVID-19 isn’t even real.

In addition to the misinformation, there has also been an increased amount of hate crimes against Asians in the city, with nine anti-Asian hate crimes reported to police so far this year (as compared to 12 throughout all of 2019). Some of these protesters agitate against China, which they put the entire blame for the pandemic on, while warning of an impending yellow peril. One expressed a belief that Asians were going to drive whites out of the city.

But despite the public health risk and racist rhetoric, police have acted irresponsibly with these No More Lockdowns protests, treating it as they say they would any other demonstration during ordinary times. Police have given a weak PR statement to CTV: “We will continue to educate the public around social distancing measures and the importance of it," but this contradicts their actions on the ground which contribute to doing the exact opposite.

According to Brian Ruhe, police even went beyond the protesters’ expectations, closing off an extra lane for them that they did not even ask for on April 19th. Participants have viewed the police protection as an endorsement of their message, using them to dismiss thoughts that they are doing something wrong by endangering peoples’ health.

Police should not have to give fines to avoid sending people the wrong messages.

Astonishingly, at least some in the Vancouver Police want to double down on the resources they spend on these marches. At the end of the April 26th protest, one officer told Standfield, Ruhe and others that he would ask for more officers to be deployed for the next protest, so they can better handle the few counter-protestors who confronted them, while complementing the marchers as “nice people, for the most part.” There seems to be little regard for public health, or the message police are sending to people about the seriousness of the pandemic.

Media Failure

Media too has also been a disappointment, with it rarely mentioning the far-right elements involved in these protests. Some may mention Dan Dicks but don’t tell anything about him beyond using his preferred labels of “alternative media.” Some, like CTV News, also like to mention Mak Parhar’s quirky flat earth beliefs and recent hijinx, but do so at the expense of all else, making them appear goofy and harmless.

Some of these people are also regulars at protests and controversial events, and have much material online making their faces easily recognizable. It is quite astonishing that the media never seems to recognize them or draw these obvious connections.

It’s not like the media can claim ignorance either. MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert made a public statement online saying the events were organized by Holocaust deniers, yet when quoting him outlets either do not include that part or do not elaborate on who he means to confirm it as true. In Brian Ruhe’s video from April 19th, Ruhe introduced himself to a Vancouver Sun reporter and gave him his business card advertising his Internet show, mentioning that he had been covered by the Sun previously. The Sun oddly did mention the questionable decisions of police to escort the marchers, but then the article was edited later to give less emphasis to this.

As to be expected, right-wing partisan attack outlets have been even worse, whitewashing the protestors as being just concerned about the social and economic effects of the lockdowns who are unfairly maligned.

Closing Observations 

As we see, the No More Lockdowns movement in Vancouver attracts an odd assemblage of fringe groups and tendencies, including “natural health” anti-vaxxers, the Brian Ruhe Show Group, Flat Earth Vancouver, Yellow Vest holdovers, Peoples’ Party supporters, small business owners, and unassorted supporters of Donald Trump and conspiracy theorists David Icke and Alex Jones. These all cross-pollinate, with each promoting their theories, material, platforms, and sources of information to each other, and in some cases even their protest organizing skills. 

Due in no small part to being bolstered by the VPD, the protesters are getting emboldened. Although plans are subject to change, some have expressed their desire to protest outside the BC Public Safety Minister’s house this coming Sunday (May 3rd, which will begin at Science World). Leaders have also been floating around the idea of doing a “children’s march,” thinking that risking infecting their children will somehow garner sympathy.

Paul Fromm is also showing support for a rally organized by 9-11 truther Ryan Kulbaba, in Surrey, BC scheduled for May 2. It's unclear whether he is attending.

Brian Ruhe is promoting it as well. 

I have sensed no sign that the Vancouver protests have any major advocacy organizations  assisting them, as comparable protests in the US have allegedly had, although they clearly see themselves in alignment with these protests (which have had a similar infestation from groups such as Proud Boys and III%). While some participants have shared promotional graphics from the shady “Free North Patriots” group that Press Progress recently covered, they don’t seem to have had any of a role in organizing the Vancouver protests, although one protest in Surrey for Saturday, May 2nd is being promoted on their Facebook page. Likewise, a modified form of the “yellow poster” used to promote events in the US has been used by Standfield, and after the first protest they started using yellow protest signs.

Not all lockdown criticisms come from conspiracy theorists or the far-right of course, though don’t expect much serious criticisms from these people, and whatever well-meaning people getting caught up in this are clearly getting in the wrong crowd.

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