Filed under: Analysis, Anti-fascist, Quebec
Anti-racists and anti-fascists from across Québec successfully disrupted a demonstration planned by the xenophobic, anti-immigrant and rabidly Islamophobic group La Meute, in Québec City, on August 20th. For more than 5 hours, the racists were holed up in an underground parking garage, as hundreds of anti-racists laid siege to the building where they had gathered, a massive government facility located directly behind the National Assembly of Québec. After clashes with police and several physical altercations between antifas and alleged La Meute sympathizers (including one siegheiling bonehead), police cleared the way for La Meute members to come out of their hole and march silently around the parliament buildings for a couple of minutes, still shaking and reeling from their prolonged confinement, significantly reduced in numbers and under heavy police escort.
A Bit of Context
For over a decade now, the social and political climate in Québec has been increasingly poisoned by xenophobic narratives peddled by conservative ideologues, sensationalist mainstream media and “trash” talk radio, right-wing columnists and populist politicians. Ten years ago, this toxic discourse led to a national crisis around so-called “reasonable religious accommodations”, and later to a crassly Islamophobic proposed “Charter of Values” by the nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ) in 2013. The PQ was born in the late sixties as a coalition of left-wing and right-wing nationalists with the shared objective of achieving the political independence of Québec. It organized and lost two referendums on the matter in 1980 and 1995 (that last failure was famously attributed by then Prime Minister Jacques Parizeau to “money and the ethnic vote”), and has gradually re-branded itself as a run-of-the-mill neoliberal party. Over the years, the left wing got increasingly marginalized, and in the last 10 years the party moved dangerously into identity-based politics in a desperate attempt to remain relevant to a xenophobic backward-thinking electoral base.
Not satisfied with the PQ’s drift to the right, a fringe of far-right individuals has coalesced over the last few years into several small groups putting forward anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric as some sort of ambiguous and ill-defined political program, increasingly echoing historical fascism both in form and content.
A turning point for this milieu came in January, when gunman Alexandre Bissonnette entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and opened fire, killing six people and seriously injuring nineteen more. Perversely, this massacre caused the far right to assert itself more than it ever had before, going on an offensive that continues to this day. These groups include a Québec branch of the neo-Nazi inspired Soldiers of Odin, the openly neo-fascist group Fédération des Québécois de souche, the more recently formed Storm Alliance (SA) and the much larger and populist La Meute (meaning Wolf Pack in French).
Founded by ex-military men, La Meute is extremely regimented and authoritarian, its leadership council dictating everything from the top down, including dress code, a strict prohibition against members speaking to the press, and even choosing what its officials are allowed to “like” on Facebook. Ex-members have come forward expressing concerns with the extremely centralized internal politics, despite a seemingly decentralized structure, which is strikingly reminiscent of classic fascist militias. La Meute’s leadership and (in)security service have even adopted black shirts as a uniform over the last few months. They have publicly stated that they are offering their service as a security apparatus to any right-wing event, anywhere in Québec, that might be targeted by anti-racist militants. Following suit, their “Guard” has indeed served as a goon squad for such local Islamophobic luminaries as Djemila Benhabib and Mathieu Bock-Côté, a pathetic conference of assorted reactionaries organized by local far right nationalist outfit Mouvement républicain du Québec, as well as a nation-wide tour by alt-right-inspired vlogger and La Meute cheerleader André “Stu Pitt” Pitre.
Despite their insistence that the group is not racist or anti-immigration, thousands of racist comments have been posted by members on their public and “secret” Facebook group pages, and recently, one of their top lieutenants was spotted in Charlottesville hugging disgraced White Nationalist Chris Cantwell. (This member, Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald, pictured below, was supposedly relieved from his duties with the organization, which did not stop Robert Proulx (Proule on Facebook), self-described “head of security” at La Meute’s Sunday fail, from subsequently “liking” his posting of the neo-Nazi 14 words on Facebook. Despite La Meute’s claims that this unabashed White Supremacist has been “suspended”, as of August 24, Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald is still listed as a Montréal-Clan 06 member. Update: We have obtained pictures of Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald actually participating in the La Meute protest in Québec City. It appears that this 14 words-loving piece of shit is still an active member, despite La Meute’s claims to the contrary.)
On March 4th of this year, hundreds of La Meute members marched in several cities alongside other far right and openly racist forces, as part of a nation-wide day of actions against Bill M-103 (a private member’s motion condemning Islamophobia). In Montreal they marched under heavy police protection, despite a strong anti-fascist mobilization. This initial public show of force marked the first time in decades that an organized far-right group was able to take to the streets in this city, well-known for its militant left.
A bit more context: Québec City has been home for years to an active neo-Nazi scene, gathered around a crew of boneheads who are part of the Rock Against Communism (RAC) movement and have created a fascist militia called Atalante. Its leader announced last week that an “identititarian” fight club would be starting in Québec City, called “La Phalange”, and Atalante carried out an August 19 banner drop intended to intimidate refugees being housed at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It turns out the fight club has been effectively operating since June.
La Meute’s Anti-Refugee Bullshit
Despite its repeated claims that the group is not opposed to immigration or refugee claimants, that was the whole basis for La Meute’s mobilization in QC on August 20th.
Because of a loophole in the law regulating refugee claims in Canada, the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement between the US and Canada, there has been a sharp increase in refugee claimants coming through the border irregularly in the last couple of months. Thousands of mostly Haitian claimants have fled the toxic climate in the US, out of fear of being deported by the Trump Administration. The Québec and Canadian governments have reacted to this upsurge by finding accommodations for the refugee claimants, including hosting them inside the Olympic Stadium and setting up a refugee camp near the small border town of Lacolle.
Far-right groups, including La Meute, have swarmed on this issue like flies on a pile of dung. A rally at the US-Canada border by Storm Alliance on July 1st and a proposed anti-immigration demonstration at the Olympic Stadium on August 6th were both derailed by anti-fascist and migrant justice organizers, but the leaders of Storm Alliance have promised to do more actions at the border in the coming weeks, and La Meute called for a “mass demonstration” in Québec City on August 20th. Bizarrely, for a group whose base is strongly Québec nationalist, this demonstration would march behind a Canadian flag and was dressed up as a show of support for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Their twisted reasoning is that the refugee claimants are “illegal” and that the police should enforce the law. This, of course, makes absolutely no sense, since the irregular refugee claimants actually hand themselves over to the RCMP as soon as they cross the border, in order to be processed by the Canada Border Services Agency and get their refugee claim going. Their crossings are in no way illegal or even clandestine.
Upon hearing of La Meute’s plan to rally and march in the capital, anti-racist and anti-fascist organizers in Québec City, Montréal and other regions scrambled to organize a counter-protest within a couple of weeks.
Québec City organizers called for a mass peaceful protest along non-violent lines, whereas the newly created network Montréal Antifasciste and allies mobilized anti-fascist forces with an implicit respect for a diversity of tactics. Three busses were chartered to bring people in from Montréal, and several more made the 2-hour drive independently in the morning. In all, Montréal mobilized between 150 and 200 people to Québec City.
La Meute had warned that they would announce their gathering point on their “secret” Facebook page only 24 hours before the rally. Rumours had circulated that they would try to march from City Hall to the National Assembly, so the counter-protest was set to start from Place D’Youville, a public square located roughly mid-way between these two points.
However, La Meute’s actual gathering spot had been leaked beforehand: they were to meet in the underground parking garage of a government building located directly behind the National Assembly, and would march out of there in formation as a glorious phalanx.
This choice of meeting place was obviously a hare-brained idea, one that Montréal anti-fascists would quickly turn to their strategic advantage. Rather than disembark at Place D’Youville, they prepared for a quick deployment right at the spot where La Meute had planned to gather. At 12:30PM exactly, the three busloads of anti-fascist and anti-racist activists disembarked and stormed the (only) garage door of the large building, taking everybody by surprise, including the Québec City police, who scrambled to half-assedly deploy a line of riot cops to stop the advancing militants. Too little, too late, as the terrain was already occupied and the garage door completely blocked by anti-fascists.
The large counter-protest was not set to leave Place D’Youville before 1PM, however, so blocking off all access and entry points to that giant building posed a major challenge, especially considering that very minimal scouting had been conducted prior to the busses’ arrival. Two scenarios were possible at that time: 1) hold on to that strong position and wait for reinforcements from the larger group of counter-protesters in order to re-deploy some of the militants to the other side of the building to prevent the La Meute members from even gathering inside, or 2) re-deploy immediately, thereby cutting the group of about 150 people in half and making both groups significantly more vulnerable to police tactics. It was chosen to wait for reinforcements, which turned out to be a tactical mistake.
Several calls were made for the QC crew to dispatch people to back up the blockade, and to go directly to the other side of the building. Unfortunately, the QC comrades either did not comprehend the urgency of the situation, or felt that it would not be safe to do that. Moreover, they waited a full hour to leave Place D’Youville (which was about 7 minutes away on foot), and rather than come directly to support the blockade or deploy strategically around the building, stuck to their original plan and marched to the National Assembly, which by that point did not make much sense, as La Meute was effectively confined inside the parking garage. The two dozen or so protesters who did respond to our direct call for backup did not form a large enough bloc to grow our ranks significantly.
This proved to be a major strategic error, because between 12:30 and 1PM, La Meute members were able to trickle in through the other main entrance, only meters from where the anti-fascists were holding it down, on the other side of the riot cops’ line, and gather inside. That is how they managed to build up a crowd of 200-300.
Nonetheless, during that period of hesitation, the initiative was taken to hand out black t-shirts to the crowd, asking if people wanted to don a mask and showing how to put them on, for those who came a bit unprepared but recognize the importance of maintaining their anonymity – all 50 masks were taken within minutes.
When a large splinter from the larger counter-protest finally made its way to the location of the blockade, the black bloc led a contingent of about 250 people around the building to try and block the other main entrance, both to prevent more La Meute members from entering, and to prevent their protest from getting out, thereby completing the siege. Roughly half of the counter-protesters remained behind to block the garage exit for the duration.
However, as soon as the splinter contingent arrived near the entrance on the other side, a physical altercation occurred between anti-fascists and La Meute sympathizers, prompting the riot cops to use tear gas and batons against the antifas. This quickly degenerated, as some in the bloc had come prepared to defend the crowd from the pigs with fireworks, smoke flares and other projectiles.
Following this deployment failure and set back, militants scrambled to find a plan B, and during this period, scuffles broke out between bloc members and some journalists, who were being their usual dickheads. The cameraman from Global TV had his camera totalled. (This was not without consequence, as the media coverage of the counter-protest would turn out to be even more horrible than usual. The mainstream media’s complicity with police and the state’s repressive apparatus should not be understated. There are countless instances where the media have readily released footage to the police as evidence to charge anti-fascists. This is why many of us feel it is totally warranted to chase them away and damage their tools when they refuse to get out of our faces.)
It was then decided to walk to nearby Grande Allée, a major tourist strip lined with bars and restaurants, to try and circle around to the building where La Meute was holed up and make another attempt at blocking the entry point. A dumpster was grabbed from an alley and brought to the front. By that point, the larger contingent was still following the black bloc. Some chairs were then grabbed from terraces in a rushed attempt to build a barricade at the corner of a side street, along with the contents of the dumpster. Projectiles were also hurled in the direction of a few soft-target traffic cops who were some distance away. This, in our opinion, was a tactical mistake, because there was nothing to be gained from it at that particular time. In retrospect, the dumpster should have been kept longer and not used at that location, where it didn’t serve an immediate purpose, as the traffic cops did not pose an immediate threat. Also, the net result of this show of militant chaos was that it scared off the larger contingent of counter-protesters, who stopped in their tracks, not knowing what to make of it all. This set back the black bloc, as well, because it was no longer able to mobilize the critical mass that had been following it earlier. At that point, we lost the opportunity to circle back to the target location. Anecdotally, a journalist from the daily newspaper Le Soleil was shoved face first into the pavement after he thought it would be a heroic and smart move to pull down the mask of a comrade. He learned very quickly that that was, in fact, a terrible idea.
After a substantial and frankly annoying period of uncertainty, the bloc turned toward the Plaines d’Abraham, which was an odd choice, in hindsight a result of the militants’ lack of familiarity with the city. After circling back to Grande Allée, comrades spotted a group of protesters in the distance carrying Québec and Mouvement de libération nationale du Québec (MLNQ) flags. (MLNQ is a far right nationalist organization passed its heyday, and its flag is adapted from the historic Québec “Patriots’ flag”.) Comrades started chasing this small group away toward Old Québec. In some videos circulated by alternative media, we can see that one member of this group, a man in his fifties, was attacked by anti-fascists after he swung a pole in their direction. This, in our opinion, was an over-the-top aggression on a man who we have no reason to believe was an actual fascist or Nazi. This man was immediately treated by black bloc medics.
Following this incident, the contingent regrouped with some difficulty and circled back around the parliament building to join up again with the other half of the counter-protest that had remained at the garage door to maintain the blockade. That group had held strong by enthusiastically chanting, dancing, chasing away right-wingers and trolling any of La Meute’s leaders or (in)security dudes who dared to poke their heads out of the hole.
A short while later, Montréal anti-racist activist Jaggi Singh, who had been entertaining the crowd with a small megaphone and portable sound system for several hours, was violently arrested by riot cops after he refused to disperse. He was detained and released across town 30 minutes later, without charges.
After that, as the crowd had somewhat thinned out, the police declared the counter-protest illegal and finally made a power play to clear out the garage entry. They pushed everyone onto René-Lévesque Street, pepper spraying numerous people in the process, after which point the counter protest just sort of petered out, as the critical mass of Montrealers had to go back to catch their chartered busses. One crucial piece of information was later revealed: It turned out that Québec police had been harassing one of the bus drivers for hours, pestering him with questions about the protesters and their plans. It is more than likely that the driver told the police that the busses were scheduled to leave the city around 5:30PM, and that that information was relayed to La Meute’s leadership, who then chose to wait out the chaos rather than give up and disband. It must be said that throughout all of this, the police collaborated with La Meute like true BFFs.
Around 6 o’clock, as the busses to Montréal were leaving the city, La Meute finally came out of their hole. From the videos and photos available, its members were visibly shaken by the ordeal they had just experienced, they were exhausted from waiting so long in a hot garage, their numbers were possibly only a fraction of what they would have been if left unopposed, and their leaders were obviously extremely upset. They marched for about a half hour, in silence, flanked by police the whole way, looking gloomy and miserable.
As has been pointed out elsewhere, the only way La Meute could claim this epic fiasco as a victory was if the media handed them the victory. And of course that’s what the media did, with great fervour. La Meute’s leaders are spinning the whole affair as a clash between law and order on their side, and chaos on our side. And the media is eagerly swallowing this narrative whole and making it the official story.
Let’s be clear: despite a few over-the-top violent incidents and some tactical mistakes on our part, that clash was a major failure for La Meute and generally a success for the anti-fascists.
Liberals and the media seem to be irremediably stuck in the circular logic of a so-called PR battle. Newsflash: anti-fascists are not fighting the far-right and the fascists to win PR points. It’s not a fucking popularity contest, folks. We are doing it because there can be no platform for hate speech. Period. It’s not always going to be pretty, mistakes will be made, and lessons will be learned and applied. But we can guarantee one thing: the fight against fascism is never going to be a strictly non-violent one. That is simply delusional, and the sooner people realize that, the sooner we can move on to building a mass anti-fascist movement. Besides, if one actually believes the argument that a few isolated violent incidents delegitimizes the entire anti-racist cause, a line repeated ad nauseam by liberal analysts and media parrots, one clearly has not fully grasped the importance of that cause.
Groups like La Meute might pretend they are not violent, but they adhere to varying degrees to a White Supremacist point of view, which is inherently violent. A huge number of their members flirt with openly fascist groups and express violent racist sentiments online, ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Their leaders promote xenophobic, and specifically Islamophobic, rhetoric, which is a supremely violent thing to do in a city where not even seven months ago, a right wing fanatic murdered six practicing Muslims who were doing nothing more than praying in the privacy of a mosque.
That is why we cannot let them grow and take any space in our communities. By all means necessary. Does that mean that every single action that was carried on our side was good? No, of course not. We ALWAYS need to be self-critical and acknowledge our own shit, too.
(For more on the delusional and counter-productive nature of dogmatic non-violence, read the seminal How Nonviolence Protects the State, by Peter Gelderloos.)
- We need to better define our objectives. It seemed like the Montréal-based and Québec City-based mobilizations may have had different objectives. We need to better communicate our respective intentions in the future, as it is absolutely certain that we are going to have to coordinate inter-regionally in the near future. Also, within the radical anti-fascist milieu, between different affinity groups, we need to better define specific goals for specific actions.
- We need to better define our enemies. La Meute are not Nazis. It is frankly embarrassing that some on our side seem unable to differentiate between some incoherent far right populist group with no clear political program, like La Meute, and a full-on neo-Nazi outfit like Atalante or neo-fascist pressure groups like la Fédération des Québécois de souche or Horizon Québec Actuel. Of course they are all our enemies ideologically, but we must know them better for what they truly are if we are to defeat them.
- Proceeding from this, we need to do better at choosing the targets of physical aggression. Few people would cry about a neo-Nazi bonehead getting his faced rearranged. Not so much so with your uncle Jerry from Amqui, who’s a bit on the racist side but wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s important to make racists afraid again (and I think we can check that box after last Sunday…), but let’s not overburden our already strained public health system.
- There is a long-standing organizational divide between Montréal and Québec City, one that re-emerges periodically. Montréal’s activist community is much more militant, both in tone and practice, including in its approach to fascists and far-right organizing. Our position is that the militant side of things needs to be developed everywhere where the right-wing is gaining momentum. On the other hand, there are certainly aspects of other people’s contexts that we in Montréal need to learn more about, and take into account better. Maybe capacity building and skill-sharing could also be developed and reinforced between regions, always in a manner respectful of differences (that’s sometimes the difficult part).
- We need to fight and deconstruct the liberal narrative that all violence is equally bad. That’s just some complacent, ignorant, ahistorical, bullshit. We also need to challenge the media at every opportunity on this, because as long as we let them, this is always going to be their default narrative.
— Some Montréal anti-fascists