Perry and Scrivens (2016) explain that, by and large, the Canadian far-right movement is fueled by responses to the country’s policies of immigration and multiculturalism. They describe it as:
a loose movement, animated by a racially, ethnically, and sexually defined nationalism. This nationalism is typically framed in terms of White power, and is grounded in xenophobic and exclusionary understandings of the perceived threats posed by such groups as non-Whites, Jews, immigrants, homosexuals, and feminists. (p. 821)
The scope and scale of Canadian far-right groups has, in recent years, increasingly been mapped and garnered mainstream attention (Boutilier, 2018). It is currently estimated that no fewer than 100 active right-wing extremist groups have emerged in Canada since the year 2000, ranging in size from three to over 100 members (Perry & Scrivens, 2016).
Canada hosts several websites aimed at promoting far-right conservative ideologies, be they white supremacist, white nationalist, or right-wing extremist in nature. As Scrivens and Perry (2017) contend, “regardless of national affiliation, Internet communication allows white people across the globe to share in the celebration of a common race” (p. 542).
The present study uses corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis [CACDA] to uncover linguistic patterns in online conversations pertaining to the Canadian far-right movement.
An in-depth analysis of the corpora revealed:
- public commentary concerning issues relating to the Canadian far-right mirror the nuances, tensions, and disagreement within and between the groups belonging to the movement
- generally speaking, responses to overt white nationalist, white supremacist, and right-wing ideas were met with a moderate response by online commentators
- a strategy of focusing on the semantics and perceived misuse of terms like ‘white nationalism’, ‘white supremacy’, and ‘Nazi’ was frequently used in order to minimize any controversy associated with the recent rise of far-right groups in Canada
Conversations that covered topics pertaining to the Canadian far-right movement were sampled using combinations of the following search terms: Canada, “alt right”, “white supremac*”, “white national*”, “right wing”, Edmonton, Nazi*.
All conversations contained within the data set were created in 2018. The data set used for the present analysis contained 28 conversation threads written predominantly in English, which stemmed from primarily the r/Canada, r/CanadaPolitics, and r/Edmonton subreddits.
Analysis of these salient terms revealed several meaningful linguistic patterns. Of these, the following three terms held associations that reveal particularly interesting discursive patterns pertaining to the Canadian far-right movement: white [whites], Nazi [Nazis], hate.
Within the present data, analysis of the key word “white [whites]” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: supremacist, supremacy, nationalism, nationalist. These word pairings were used to discuss the nuances of different factions of the far-right movement in Canada. There is little definitional consensus concerning the terms ‘white nationalism’, ‘white supremacy’, ‘Alt-Right’, ‘right-wing extremism’, and Nazi. Moreover, comments revealed a lack of consensus surrounding the possible links between white nationalism or supremacy and Nazism. While the comments made within the conversations analyzed as part of this research brief highlight the nuances, tensions, and disagreement within and between the groups belonging to the Canadian far-right, there was a decided lack of commentary made opposing to the movement overall. Instead, there were frequent attempts to dismiss the “fuss” being made over the rise of far-right ideologies in Canada and around the world:
Analysis of the key word “Nazi [Nazis]” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: call, mean, label. These word pairings were used to question the appropriateness of using the term ‘Nazi’ to describe people espousing right-wing conservative ideologies. These comments seem to suggest that there is a relatively fixed (and shared) understanding of what it means to be a Nazi, which goes beyond simply holding right-wing or conservative views. Absent from this commentary, however, was an articulation of the possible dangers of the rise of (neo)-Nazism in Canada. Rather, the term appeared in conversations mainly to discount and diminish its use when describing groups belonging to far-right ideologies.
Analysis of the key word “hate” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: crime, speech. These word pairings were used to provide conceptual definitions and to debate where the line between concepts gets drawn in practice. In discussions concerning the far-right messages that had recently appeared in public spaces in urban Canadian cities, comments highlighted a relatively common understanding of the concept of ‘hate speech’ within Canada. Comments equally signaled a common understanding of the potential dangers of hate speech, and whether it should be limited within society. The majority of comments offered in these conversations reacted to the type of racism supported by far-right ideologies with moderation, if not outright support.
The online discussions of the Canadian far-right movement that evolved within the conversations analyzed as part of this research brief held libertarian ideological undertones. That is to say that the majority of comments contained arguments in favour of free speech in order to justify measured responses to overt white nationalist, white supremacist, and right-wing ideas.
The majority of comments attempted to minimize any controversy associated with the recent increase of far-right groups in Canada (Scrivens & Perry, 2017) by focusing on the semantics and perceived misuse of terms like ‘white nationalism’, ‘white supremacy’, and ‘Nazi’.
Boutilier, A., (2018, October 7). Rise of right-wing extremists presents new challenges for Canadian law enforcement agencies. The Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/10/07/rise-of-right-wing-extremists-presents-new-challenge-for-canadian-law-enforcement-agencies.html
Perry, B., & Scrivens, R. (2016). Uneasy alliances: A look at the right-wing extremist movement in Canada. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 39(9), 819-941. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2016.1139375
Scrivens, R., & Perry, B. (2017). Resisting the Right: Countering Right-Wing extremism in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 59(4), 534-558. doi: 10.3138/cjccj.2016.0029