Symbol in snow sign of extremism, experts warn
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This article was published 08/02/2022 (474 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A symbol created in the snow outside the Manitoba legislature Monday should be cause for concern, say experts on extremism and hate.
The large circle encompassed a hashtag. It was made in thigh-deep snow between the seat of government and demonstrators who’ve occupied Broadway since Friday who demand the province end public health orders.
At any other time and place, the tracks in the snow might have been seen as an Eggo waffle or a dream catcher. But in this emotionally charged, pandemic-weary political climate, it took on a sinister meaning.
A photo of it posted on Twitter Monday night drew a swift and emotional response. By Tuesday morning, someone on social media who said they were offended by it had trampled the tracks in the snow.
“While we are unable to tell at this point what exactly the symbol in the snow at the Manitoba Legislature was meant to be, we have seen prior incidents, unrelated to the Ottawa protests, where hate symbols have been drawn in the snow, so the matter is worth investigating,” B’nai Brith Canada told the Free Press Tuesday.
Its creator hasn’t claimed responsibility and surveillance camera footage likely wouldn’t identify them bundled up in the dark, a source said. Whether they were just having fun, trying to be provocative, or menacing, the symbol they created was no joke to those on heightened alert for extremism.
Commenters identified it as the symbol for “globalism” touted by antisemitic conspiracy theorists or the St. Michael’s Cross used by militant Romanian fascists in the 1920s, which has been adopted in recent years by white supremacists who try to blend traditional Christianity with racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic beliefs.
To those who study extremism and hate, seeing either symbol here and now is worrisome.
“It matters little whether the image is of a symbol denoting some iteration of fascism or globalism,” said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a retired University of Winnipeg sociology professor and expert on neo-fascism.
“Both are associated with antisemitism, and both tie to conspiracist narratives about government elites, and Justin Trudeau as having betrayed the people, hence calls for the execution of Trudeau and the overthrow of the federal government,” he said.
U of W adjunct political studies Prof. Kawser Ahmed said the St. Michael’s Cross inside a circle suggests a global appeal for the movement.
“The appeal is about exposing the vulnerability of the decadent liberal democracy that must be toppled and replaced by authoritarian rule,” Ahmed explained. “The symbol echoes some of the tenets of the accelerationist movement,” he said. Its goal is to hasten the collapse of society, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“Of course, such symbolism that urges direct violence to overthrow an elected government — attempting to mimic the Jan. 6 (2021) insurrection on Capitol Hill — is dangerous for our society and must be taken seriously,” said Ahmed who leads the non-profit organization Conflict and Resilience Research Institute, Canada.
What is happening in Canada right now shouldn’t be taken lightly, he said.
“This whole protest has been hijacked by extremists — those who propound that our liberal democratic system has collapsed, and they would want to replace it,” he said of the organizers of the Ottawa convoy. “The protest leadership is very clear about their demands: one, end vaccine-related mandates or two, quit,” Ahmed said.
Loewen said the public must pay attention to the context in which the symbol was found: “at a so-called ‘freedom convoy’ whose organizers are politically on the far-right,” he said.
“It is the far-right in Canada and in the U.S. — Rebel Media, Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada, Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and (Fox TV host) Tucker Carlson — which is aligned with this movement,” Loewen said.
In Manitoba, the group that calls itself “Standing 4 Freedom” has demanded an end to public health restrictions and vaccination requirements. Members display Bible verses, American flags and “Make Canada Great Again” signage — a nod to former U.S. president Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.