Montreal: Balance Sheet on the November 25th Counter Demonstration

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The joint La Meute/Storm Alliance demonstration of November 25, 2017 promised to be the largest far-Right mobilization in Québec since the 1930s. The organizers anticipated a thousand people turning out to denounce the Commission publique contre le racisme systémique, which, ironically, the Liberal government cancelled on October 18.[1] At the end of the day, even the two groups and their allies from the nationalist groupuscules, the Three Percenters, the Northern Guard, and the boneheads from the Soldiers of Odin and Atalante only collectively reached half that number (300 to 400 max). Nonetheless, this mobilization could still mark a qualitative and symbolic watershed for the fascist drift in the province—a drift that police forces are more openly supporting, and in which many “mainstream” political actors are complicit.

While, in Montréal this year, we got used to the SPVM acting as a security force for La Meute and the other identitarian groupuscules, never was the collusion between the police and the far-Right organizations as flagrant as it was in Quebec City on November 25. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Service de police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ) brutally repressed antifascists, beating us with batons and shields, pepper spraying us, and making “preventive” arrests, with the clear goal of permitting the identitarians and fascists (some of whom were openly carrying batons and mace) to spread their hatred and racism unopposed in the province’s capital city. Additionally, the multiple approaches used by the media to demonize antifascist counterdemonstrators, both before and after the demonstration, contributed to normalizing the identitarian groups’ toxic discourse.

That said, we have to face the fact that we in the antifascist and antiracist movement have an enormous amount of work to do to make clear the urgent danger posed by the increasing shift to the far-Right. The various militant groups involved were only able to mobilize around 250 people to face off with the fascists at the Assemblée nationale.

An Underwhelming Antifascist Mobilization

To begin with, the Rassemblement populaire contre la manif de La Meute et Storm Alliance à Québec!, which the Quebec City ad hoc antiracist collective “CO25” put a lot of energy and thought into organizing, only drew a few hundred people, including those who made the trip from Montréal, who made up almost half of the assembled group, which was also augmented by small groups of comrades from Saguenay, Estrie, and elsewhere in the province.

Although a variety of objective factors undermined the mobilization (the time of year, the cold shitty weather, the early morning bus departure from Montréal, etc.), we also need to consider a certain number of complementary factors.

It was no coincidence that the major media published a series of articles demonizing the “far left” in the days leading up to the demonstration. The negative presentation of antifascists, treated as interchangeable with the far left, is an established approach that has only gotten worse since last August 20 in Quebec City. The negative image of antifascists that has been publicly fostered rests in no small part on a biased perception of violence and a dishonest portrayal of the far left and the far-Right as equivalent.

There’s simply no denying that the events of last August 20th, some incidents in particular, seriously undermined the credibility of the antifascist movement, even in some circles that are would normally be sympathetic to us. Not everything, however, can be explained away by the media coverage. It’s pretty obvious that we are collectively having an enormous problem breaking through the hegemony of a particular legalist, pacifist, and pronouncedly nonviolent discourse, which could be described as “extreme centrism.” This sort of ideological monopoly, characterized by a rigid pseudo-ethic wrapped around a woolly ideological core, primarily serves the interest of the far-Right, which in its quest for legitimacy is making sure to cooperate with the police and to project a law and order image that belies the much greater and much worse violence at the heart of its programme.

To put it another way, given that the state, the far-Right, the media, and even certain progressive personalities have banded together to demonize the antiracist and antifascist movements, our movements face an uphill battle of popular education and the deconstruction of centrist myths.

We also have to recognize that racism is greeted with a high degree of tolerance in Québec, particularly outside of Montréal. Recall that the famous Commission publique contre le racisme systémique—which certainly didn’t pose a radical threat of any sort—was harshly criticized by the two main opposition parties, before being cancelled by the Liberal Party, which for abject electoral reasons replaced it with the a meaningless “Forum sur la valorisation de la diversité et la lutte contre la discrimination.” That very same week the Liberal Party passed the Islamophobic Bill 62, which is now facing constitutional court challenges. Without fail, surveys conducted in Québec confirm a strong popular sympathy for anti-immigrant and Islamophobic ideas, particularly in communities with few (or no) Muslims or immigrants, but which are inundated by trash media and the fear it whips up against the “other.” It’s a context where hostility toward antifascists is fed by both anti-left conservatism and a xenophobia that rejects and disdains anything that is not “de souche.”

On the other hand, the very structure of the social media that we are overly dependent on in our organizing favours echo chambers where users inevitably end up interacting almost exclusively with people who share their ideas and values. This plays no small part in the isolation of the far left and its views. The identitarian echo chamber actually seems to be a lot bigger and substantially more influential than the antiracist echo chamber, reaching more people every day. It’s obvious we have to find new ways to organize, and to do so we HAVE TO get off of the social media platforms and go into communities, or we risk radical antifascism being permanently marginalized. That means organizing and acting in the cities, neighbourhoods, and communities where the far-Right are intent upon recruiting.

An Exemplary Antiracist Gathering

On a much more positive note, we must note the excellent work done by our CO25 comrades. The popular gathering, even if it only brought out a small crowd, was a clear organizational success. Everyone appreciated the meal collectively prepared by members of the IWW, the Collectif de minuit, and Food Against Fascism, the speeches were clear and on topic, security was well organized, and the piñata was a nice way to end it. Overall, better communication vastly improved coordination between the cities. But it’s still clear that things are far from ideal . . . it was fine for a pleasant picnic to denounce racism, but it wasn’t enough when the pepper spray came! So, while the popular gathering was a success, the same can’t be said for the subsequent events.

The Most Unequal Faceoff to Date . . . A Brief Account of the Events

The parameters established by the “popular” gathering were clear; people planning to physically block the far-Right march were to wait until after noon to move into position.

Following improvised leadership, a small group of about 200 demonstrators easily skirted a handful of disorganized cops to take to the street and move in the direction of René-Lévesque. The SPVQ riot squad got their shit together just enough to throw up a haphazard cordon at the intersection of René-Lévesque and Honoré-Mercier. Showing little taste for the fight (perhaps a prudent assessment of the objective conditions . . .), the antifascist forces didn’t try to break through the police line, instead choosing to occupy the intersection for a long as possible. At this point, the La Meute and Storm Alliance march was 150 meters away, in front of the Centre des congrès.

It wasn’t long before the cops received the order to put on their gas masks, a sure sign that chemical irritants would soon be coming into play. After about ten minutes the riot squad moved against the antiracists, more and more violently pushing them in the direction of the Fontaine de Tourny, generously dousing the front row in pepper spray, and they quite literallydid this to clear the way so the racists could march on the Assemblée nationale as planned. The cops’ commitment to defending the racists’ right to demonstrate was almost touching.

Comrades resisted courageously for as long as they could, but eventually they were pushed back to the fountain. Metal barricades were dragged into the street to block the cops and snowballs rained down on the cops and the identitarians. However, by this point the resistance was pointless; most of the counterdemonstrators were dispersing, as rumours of an imminent kettle created confusion in our ranks. We withdrew to the Plains of Abraham, where there was an impromptu caucus, after which a hard core took off in the opposite direction, hoping to skirt the police and confront La Meute and Storm Alliance further on. A commendable effort, but unfortunately unsuccessful. At about the same time, the police arrested twenty-three comrades.

In the end, the far-Right march was able to return to its starting point unopposed, yet still under a heavy police escort.

The police later reported an additional twenty-one “preventive” arrests shortly after noon in the area of the demonstration. The arrestees in these cases were charged with conspiracy to illegally assemble and being disguised with the intention of committing a crime. The police themselves admit that no crimes were committed by any of these people. Minority Report much? There are also some comrades who face additional charges.

La Meute, Storm Alliance, Atalante: The Same Struggle!—and the Police Working for the Fascists!

From our point of view, what was historic about the November 25 mobilization was the open unabashed coming together of almost all of Québec’s far-Right forces. Until now, concerns about how they are perceived have caused La Meute, and to a lesser degree Storm Alliance, to keep openly fascist and white supremacist groups like Atalante and the la Fédération des Québécois de souche at arm’s length. This time they did not hesitate to cheerfully invite them to join their little party in the province’s capital. And in the aftermath of the demonstration Atalante Québec’s Facebook page included comments replete with praise from dozens of members of La Meute, Storm Alliance, the Soldiers of Odin, etc.[2] Which says it all.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Atalante members are white supremacists and unequivocal neo-fascists. There’s no room for doubt. The group was founded in 2016 by boneheads from the “Quebec Stompers” scene, part of the milieu surrounding Légitime Violence, a band with edifying lyrics such as: “Ces petits gauchistes efféminés qui se permettent de nous critiquer n’oseront jamais nous affronter. On va tous les poignarder” [The little leftist sissies who dare to criticize us would never risk confronting us. We will knife them one and all]. And perhaps even more to the point: “Déroulons les barbelés, préparons le Zyklon B!” [Roll out the barbed wire, Get the Zyklon B!], referring to the gas used in the Nazi concentration camps. Atalante has close ties to the fascist “Rock Against Communism” music scene, with the Italian neo-fascist group CasaPound, and here in Québec with the Fédération des Québécois de souche and the traditionalist Catholic Society of St-Pius X.

We also noted the presence of the Three Percenters (III%), a pseudo-militia whose members arrived at the demonstration decked out with reinforced security gloves and carrying telescopic batons, what appeared to be pepper spray, and other concealed weapons. This group, which has only recently established itself in Québec, includes conspiracy theorists and survivalists bound together by anti-Muslim and “anti-globalist” paranoia. The organization is primarily based in the U.S., but it has some chapters in English Canada as well. A few days after announcing themselves on November 25 in Quebec City, a number of “threepers” were part of the hodgepodge of dickheads who announced a pro-gun rally at the Polytechnique at the Université de Montréal, on December 2, 2017, four days before the annual commemoration of the 1989 shooting of fourteen women there by the anti-feminist Marc Lépine.

We are within our rights to ask why the Threepers weren’t arrested in Quebec City (or, at a minimum, why their weapons weren’t confiscated), while the police arrested twenty-one antifascists purely preventatively, pointing out in the media that weapons were found in the possession of some arrested militants. . . . And why were the Atalante and Soldiers of Odin boneheads permitted a lengthy gathering on the esplanade ramparts, from where they could fly their colours without the slightest interference from the police . . . while a few meters away the riot squad was mercilessly assaulting the antifascists.

The way the police were deployed in the contested space goes a long way toward suggesting complicity and a comfortable symbiosis with our adversaries. The police were in front of the far-Right march with their backs to the identitarian protesters, focusing their attention on the antiracist militants. The SPVQ played a similar role on August 20, providing La Meute organizers with privileged information about the Montréal militants, extracted in a questionable way from a bus driver, thereby helping them to go ahead with their demonstration. But, frankly, this time not the slightest effort was put into hiding the complicity!

No big surprise that the identitarians applauded the police at the end of their demonstration . . .

Media Complicity

As expected, media coverage once again left a lot to be desired, typically portraying the antifascists as shit disturbers, when in reality we were on the receiving end of all of the violence! Most of the media repeated the SPVQ press statements without asking a single question, focusing primarily on the seizure of arms and throwing around the word “conspiracy.” We noticed a substantial difference between the coverage in the anglophone press and that in the francophone press. Significantly, the former doesn’t shy away from referring to La Meute and Storm Alliance as far-Right, while the francophone press defaults to euphemisms and beating around the bush . . . when they don’t completely confuse the various groups and their respective positions (one TVA journalist went as far as to claim that Atalante were the antifa who had come to demonstrate against La Meute!). Xavier Camus has produced an excellent piece on the bizarre media coverage of the November 25 events.

Only the CBC thought it worth mentioning that the police had done the far-Right’s dirty work. To the best of our knowledge, in his piece appropriately entitled À bas le fascisme!, Houssein Ben-Ameur was the only columnist to set the record straight without feeling he had to tar the racists and the antiracists with the same brush.

Once again, it is the independent media that provided a perspective closer to what the antiracist and antifascist militants there that day actually experienced. The MADOC video is a great example.

A Negative Balance Sheet

In the final analysis, it’s hard to see this as a success for antifascists and antiracists. Obviously a modest mobilization was better than no mobilization at all, and we were frustrated by all of the adversity we faced trying to clearly express our opposition to these racist groups gathering in Quebec City. Even if November 25 wasn’t a victory for us, it would have been worse still had there been no opposition. It is also a fact that without the help of the police, even our modest mobilization would clearly have disrupted our adversaries’ plans in no small way. But that just isn’t good enough. To halt the fascist advance, we need to pick up our game, both at the level of mobilization and in terms of information and education. Furthermore, we need to find new ways to intervene, new approaches to mobilizing that allow us to break out of the ranks of the established left-wing scene and begin to meet and discuss with new comrades.

The best thing to come out of this mobilization was the improved ties between antiracist and antifascist militants in Montréal and Quebec City, as well as elsewhere in the province. Obviously we have our work cut out for us if we are to use this beginning to build ever stronger and more effective networks.

Some general observations:

  • Police complicity with the far-Right isn’t a problem that’s likely to go away. The fact that the new La Meute head of security is a former career police officer (from the Quebec City region) shouldn’t come as a great shock. It is getting more difficult to ignore the fact that the identitarian groups most certainly include members of the police force, and even possibly of the justice system. We need to look into this.
  • While the convergence of far-Right forces on November 25 might seem disturbing, there are ways in which it helps us. The façade is crumbling, and claims made by La Meute leaders no longer seem credible. Their ties to racists are getting harder to hide. We need to draw attention to these links and ties.
  • We need to better prepare for tactical deployment. Some decisions that were made in the heat of the moment in Quebec City are clearly open to debate. For example, before announcing an imminent kettle, you need to be absolutely certain you’re right. That kind of warning has an immediate demobilizing effect, and it’s obviously a big problem if our demonstration scatters because of a faulty assessment. In the same vein, we need better communication, and we need experienced militants to begin sharing their skills with newer arrivals. There are, of course, security concerns with all of this that require some serious thought.

[1] There was also the fig leaf of support for “Seb,” a Québécois  man whose wife (a “potentially legitimate immigrant”) is having trouble immigrating to Canada.

[2] It’s worth noting that Dave Tregget, the leader of Storm Alliance, was himself the president of the Soldiers of Odin about a year ago and did not hide the fact that he was on good terms with Stompers and Atalante. Tregget has spent the recent months denying that he is a racist at every opportunity, but how can you doubt his racism when he and his buddies jump into bed with Atalante at the first opportunity? Tregget lies and manipulates, and it’s time the media recognized that.


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