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On July 1, thousands of Indigenous people and allies gathered from coast to coast under the auspices of the Idle No More movement’s Cancel Canada Day, a call to “honour all of the lives lost to the Canadian State – Indigenous lives, Black Lives, Migrant lives, Women and Trans and 2 Spirit lives – all of the relatives that we have lost.” Calling attention to such pressing concerns as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, and police brutality, organizers sought to “honour our connections to each other and to the Water, Land and Sky.”[1]

In Ottawa, that same day, hundreds of far-rightists and nationalists gathered in the nation’s capital for a “Freedom Rally,” an event promoted by groups such as the Forum for Canadian Sovereignty, the People’s Party of Canada and Libertarian Party of Canada.[2] Those attending promoted conspiracy theories and gun rights, opposed mask mandates aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus, boosted for “Alberta Oil,” and waved banners and signs supporting U.S. President Donald Trump.[3]

The next day, Canadian Arm Forces Reservist Corey Hurren was arrested after crashing his pickup through the gates of Rideau Hall (Government House), an arsenal of weapons in tow, in search of the Prime Minister. Even as far rightists began calling Hurren’s actions a “false flag” intended to make them look bad, a Go Fund Me account was set up to raise money for his family.[4]

Such is the current landscape of challenging societal racism and the politics of far-right reaction.

At the Ottawa “Freedom Rally,” two key players were featured- Mark Friesen and Tyler L. Russell. Mark Friesen, aka Grizzly Patriot, is a former candidate of the nationalist Peoples Party of Canada, board member of the Forum for Canadian Sovereignty, and Agenda 21 conspiracy “theorist.”[5]

Forum for Canadian Sovereignty Board Member Mark Friesen (left)

Tyler Russell hosts The Russell Report on YouTube, describes himself as a “right-wing nationalist,” and sports a tell-tale red “Make Canada Great Again” hat. Following chants of “Canada First” at the Ottawa rally, Russell bemoaned the deplatforming of “truth seekers” such as Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, Faith Goldy, white nationalist “groyper” leaders Nicholas Fuentes and Patrick Casey (American Identity Movement), and “groyper”  America First Students founder Jaden McNeil. These individuals he, declared, had “unequivocally left their mark on the right side of history.”[6]

In keeping with such unmitigated praise of white nationalists, Tyler Russell declared that “being called a racist,” or other “obviously false terms,” is a “badge of honor” for standing up to the “globalist, Marxist political sphere.”[7]

Tyler Russell Praises American White Nationalists

The Ottawa rally marked a continuing shift from online agitation to street-level organizing. Following closely on the heels of the Ottawa gathering, ‘unmask’ rallies and were announced in at least 16 cities across Canada for July 19th.[8] “Unmask” rallies are meant to oppose COVID-19 orders to wear a mask in public to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.[9]

Much like the pattern seen to the south in the U.S., where protestors against COVID-19 restrictions have created more than a thousand online groups involving some 2.7 million people, on-the-ground protests against policies to stem the spread of the virus began in earnest across April and May. Also as in the U.S., these rallies have included an array of far right and nationalist political actors. In Canada this has included a mix of anti-vaxxers, yellow vest activists,  Peoples Party of Canada (PPC) followers and failed candidates, western separatists, assorted conspiracy theorists, and a the likes of white nationalist Paul Fromm and neo-Nazi YouTube personality Brian Ruhe, as documented by Anti-Racist Canada and Press Progress.[10]

Additional “Unmask” events have been announced for Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton on July 25; London and Hamilton, Ontario on July 26; Calgary and Edmonton on August 1; and again in Vancouver, Hamilton and London on August 2.[11] An announcement for the first Vancouver event declares, “Take a stand and let them KNOW you will NOT accept mandatory mask bylaws in public buildings or transit here in Vancouver as well!!!!”[12] The Vancouver Facebook page promoting the event had previously offered “Thanks to [far right conspiracy theorist] Mark Friesen for helping us promote Marck (sic) To Unmask.”[13]

While self-titled, and often mis-named, “Patriots” are holding rallies in urban centers, they have perhaps greater potential to gain a foothold in suburban and rural communities where they can capitalize on real and imagined grievances, align with resource extraction industries, and practice paramilitary training, while exchanging conspiracy theories like recipes in Church. While Canadians have only recently become familiar with this brand of far-right nationalism in the form of the Yellow Vest movement, communities throughout the U.S. Pacific Northwest have a long, sordid and violent experience with a similar movement.[14]

The narrow brand of nationalism espoused by this movement has come into direct conflict with Indigenous peoples, tribes and nations, as during the 2016-armed standoff over federal lands policy in Oregon. It also reared its head recently when some in Riggins, Idaho attempted to draw militia figure Ammon Bundy into Nez Perce country over an issue involving the Rainbow Family gathering.

Just north of the border, in the small town of Blue River, British Columbia, A Rally to Reclaim the North Thompson Valley planned for July 25th is attracting the attention of such “patriots.”[15] The event intends to  “show those that stand unopposed that they cannot just simply go around and utter idle threats and harass local communities with there uneducated rituals.”[16] The target of this rally are members of the Tiny House Warriors (THW) located just outside Blue River, on a site established as a visible traditional presence on the unceded Secwepemc territories.  THW are attempting to address the threat posed by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and camp construction for pipeline workers as well as dealing with ongoing violence, threats, harassment and intimidation, including vehicular assault.[17]

The script flip of victimization is all too familiar.

The “Real BC Patriots” have also set their sights on the Tiny House Warriors, posting an article by Andru McCracken from the Rocky Mountain Goat News on the issue and declaring that “The small BC town of Blue River has been annoyed, and in some cases terrorized by a small group of paid political agitators called The Tiny House Warriors.”[18]

The “Patriots” have also joined the opposition to COVID-19-related restrictions, mixing their opposition with conspiracy theories by calling “Spot on!!!!” the claim that “anyone who thinks that social distancing is a good idea for the next few years, actually wants to be micro-chipped or thinks that a ‘benevolent’ dictatorship is for the good of humanity.”[19] The Real BC Patriots go even further, posting a meme absurdly alleging that mask mandates are “communist” and offensively comparing wearing a community-protecting mask to slavery.[20]

In late June, the Real BC Patriots topped this by citing David Horowitz’s anti-Muslim Frontpage magazine to promote the idea that U.S. protests against police racism, and calls to shift funds from policing to social services, are part of the “globalists…great big long term plan” to institute Islamic sharia law.[21] This canard is common anti-Muslim mobilizations.

Andru McCracken, editor of the Rocky Mountain Goat News, has also jumped into discussions of the anti-Tiny House Warrior protest, writing on the event Facebook page that, “Given what I’ve seen of the THW who aim to incite violence with hate, I would fear this is going to get violent.”[22] Like the so-called “Patriots” promoting his paper and its THW coverage, he too flips the script, offering justification for hostility directed at the Tiny House Warriors.

Across the PNW, towns from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho to White Fish, Montana to Salmon Arm, BC have learned the secondary costs when far-right nationalist come to town. It is a long, expensive, time consuming battlefield once resource extraction jobs are gone, tourist dollars are dependent on that “Welcome to” sign posted on the highway into town, and what towns become hot beds of far right mobilization.

To the extent that groups like the Real BC Patriots are drawn into the mix, Blue River is approaching that crossroads on the 25th.

[1] Idle No More. We Will Not Celebrate Stolen Indigenous Land Stolen Indigenous Lives. #CANCELCANADADAY.

[2] Ottawa Freedom Rally on Canada Day.; Canadian Anti-Hate Network. ANTIHATE.CA. June 29, 2020.

[3] See Deachman, Bruce. Covid-19 pandemic unmasks anger on Parliament Hill, picnickers elsewhere. Ottawa Citizen.

[4] DiMatteo, Enzo. Rideau Hall attack a dangerous sign of Western alienation. The Georgia Straight. July 7, 2020.

[5] Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson. LL with Mark Friesen. June 30, 2020.; CKOM News. Mark Friesen, People’s Party of Canada. 650CKOM. October 7, 2019.; Forum for Canadian Sovereignty. About Us.

[6] The Russell Report. CANADAFIRST Speech by Tyler L. Russell – Canada Day 2020 at Parliament Hill. July 3, 2020.

[7] The Russell Report. CANADAFIRST Speech by Tyler L. Russell – Canada Day 2020 at Parliament Hill. July 3, 2020.

[8] A March to Unmask: Vancouver. Facebook. Events.

[9] Little, Simon. Vancouver protests rally against mask. Global News. July 23, 2020.; Knight, Demi. Anti-mask rallies draw crowds in Calgary and Edmonton amid coronavirus pandemic. Global News. July 21, 2020.

[10] See also, Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Kurt Phillips. Antihate.CA. May 2, 2020.

[11] A March to Unmask: Vancouver. Evetns.

[12] A March to Unmask: Vancouver. July 23, 2020 Facebook.

[13] A March to Unmask: Vancouver. Facebook. July 10, 2020.

[14] See Zeskind, Leonard. 2009. Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. New York: Farrar, sTraus and Giroux; Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

[15] A rally to reclaim the North Thompson Valley. Facebook. Hosted by Darren Bowser.

[16] A Rally Reclaim the North Thompson Valley.

[17] For more on the threats and violence faced by the Tiny House Warriors, see: Turner, Jerome. Land Defenders Describe a Violent Night Attack on Their Camp. The Tyee. May 4, 2020.; Barry, Dave. RCMP seek two men in connection with confrontation at Tiny House Warrior camp. CFJC Today. May 8, 2020.

[18]The Real BC Patriots. Facebook. July 7, 2020.

[19]The Real BC Patriots. Facebook. July 20, 2020.

[20] The Real BC Patriots. Facebook. July 10, 2020.

[21] The Real BC Patriots. Facebook. June 24, 2020.

[22] McCracken, Andru. Response to Bowser, Darren. Facebook. July 7, 2020.


Magdelane Martel

Author Magdelane Martel

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