The City of Hamilton is the current site of an intense series of confrontations between numerous far-right groups facing off against a unified social movement, known as “No Hate in the Hammer” (NHH)1. The NHH movement is supported by general Hamilton residents, 2SLGBTQ+ community members, social inclusivity organizations, and the controversial anarchist collective in Hamilton, The Tower. This movement and its prior grassroots initiative called “Hamilton against Fascism” (HaF) has forcefully denounced the regular local gatherings of far-right protesters, including the prominent Yellow Vests. The HaF initiative was formalized as the NHH movement following a physical clash between hateful counter-protesters during the Hamilton Pride celebrations in June 2019. This particular incident was marked by violence from both sides, leading to multiple arrests and extensive news coverage.2 Following this occasion, far-right demonstrators and counter-protesters have faced-off every Saturday throughout Hamilton and most visibly at city hall.
Upon first glance, the political confrontations occurring in Hamilton ostensibly appear as a matter of municipal politics. Indeed, the NHH movement has been widely critical of Hamilton mayor, Fred Eisenberger, the local police chief, Eric Girt, and the city’s police force for failing to adequately respond to the far-right protests occurring in the city. Further, the NHH social movement has unfolded in the context of a recent municipal scandal regarding former city employee, Marc Lemire. Beginning in 2009, a case was brought against Lemire, an alleged neo-Nazi, under the Canadian Human Rights Commission 3. At the time, the defendant was the webmaster for the notorious “Freedomsite.org”, which had been characterized by critics as an online hub for racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic discourse and far-right propaganda. In 2014, Lemire was issued a cease and desist order for his hate speech practices4, yet Lemire remained under the employ of the city until August 20195. The case has received national news coverage from mainstream outlets, some of whom characterized the ruling as a victory against hate speech while an alternative right-wing news source has condemned it as the “latest attack on free speech in Canada”6 This controversy has greatly contributed to the perception of Hamilton as a pivotal stage for free speech rights and federal politics by Canadian far-right organizations.
A recent federal statistic found that Hamilton was home to the highest number of reported hate crimes across Canada.7 Any causality between this statistic and the surge of far-right visibility in Hamilton cannot be assumed, but it is clear that the local confluence of events and issues in Hamilton has formed the impetus for the NHH movement, in standing up against White nationalism, racism, islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, and all forms of bigotry. Currently, the most prominent far-right groups frequenting Hamilton are the Yellow Vests, the Canadian Nationalist Party, the Soldiers/Wolves of Odin, and the Proud Boys, among others. Members from each of these groups come largely from outside of Hamilton in the southern Ontario region and beyond provincial boundaries. For instance, the largest of these groups, the Yellow Vests, have factions across Canada and advocate a non-violent policy for their protests on federal and provincial issues.8 The other far-right groups tend to walk the line of peaceful demonstration while spewing incendiary remarks that target refugees, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and others they label as “sinners”, “perverts”, “illegal immigrants”, “communists”, and “antifa”. In contrast, groups such as the Soldiers/Wolves of Odin flock to Hamilton in large groups with a clear intention to physically intimidate members of the NHH movement by dressing with gang-like patches, camouflage pants, and quasi battle gear, including helmets, goggles, gloves, and protective vests. Despite differences in their tactics of aggression and intimidation, the unifying values of these far-right groups are free-speech advocacy, anti-mass immigration, and crucially, a rejection of the leadership of Justin Trudeau.
In addition to the local protests occurring in Hamilton, social media communities have consolidated around the NHH movement and the various far-right groups. In particular, Facebook represents an important platform, extending this controversy and physical clash into online spaces. In light of the upcoming Canadian federal election on October 21st, we have turned a critical eye to Hamilton. We have been tracking various forms of online targeting and disinformation deployed by far-right groups while following the NHH movement’s social media engagement with this right-wing maelstrom.
Academic scrutiny of disinformation campaigns typically centers on the “data craft”9 of technically competent agents, as articulated by the Russian Internet Research Agency’s deployment of attack-ads during the 2016 US presidential election. While sophisticated data craft is an ongoing threat to the integrity of democratic processes, it does not exhaust the scope of disinformation potentialities on social media platforms. Based on fieldwork findings from Hamilton, local actors of social movements can also execute online disinformation without any data craft knowledge or institutional supports. Put simply, a politically minded social media user can disinform, mislead, and harass others from a fairly technically inept position.
Consider the following case. Shortly after the writ being dropped in Ottawa and the start of the Canadian federal election campaign on September 11th, a recently joined member to the NHH Facebook group posted an event for a Supercrawl performance at city hall by the beloved Hamiltonian band, The Arkells.10 The event quickly received well over 1,000 attendees and was shared with the NHH Facebook group (see figure 1). Curiously, the event was slated for the precise time and location of the weekly protests staged by the NHH movement and oppositional groups. By the early afternoon on September 12th, announcements were posted on Facebook by NHH supporters in confirming that the event was a hoax.11 It was determined that the creator for the event had connections to the Yellow Vests and had evidently joined the NHH Facebook group to inject disinformation onto the discussion board.
Following this, messages being circulated on Facebook by denizens of Hamilton expressed trepidation in attending the upcoming protest, scheduled concurrently with the phoney event. People were rightfully concerned that they were potentially being lured into a physically dangerous trap since the description for the fake event had promoted it as a “killer brunchtime set”. It is unclear whether this trolling charade was intended to generate fear, anger, or was “just for the lulz”12 of creating confusion and uncertainty. In any case, this incoherent act was met with retaliation from the left, in the form of doxing. Information published from the perpetrator’s Facebook profile did not reveal overly sensitive details such as locational identifiers, place of employment, or familial relations, but did include his full name and profile picture—with his face clearly visible. There is debate as to whether such acts constitute as doxing when there is no direct call for malice made.1314 Nonetheless, what this story from Hamilton already shows is that the stakes are high in this political battle between the left and the right in the lead up to the federal election. We will continue to track the ongoing developments in Hamilton while observing how disinformation and online targeting overlap with national issues and social movements at the local level.
- “The Hammer” is a popular nickname for the City of Hamilton, capturing its strong and proud legacy as a Canadian steel production and manufacturing centre.
- Taekaema, D. (2019, June 17). Police took “far too long” to respond to “violent” Pride protest: Pride Hamilton. CBC New. Retrieved September 15, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/pride-hamilton-protest-1.5178037
- See Agarwal, R. (2010). The Politics of Hate Speech: A Case Comment on Warman v Lemire. The Constitutional Forum, 19(1), 65–73
- Calabrese, D. (2014, February 3). Court finds Internet hate speech law Section 13 to be constitutionally valid, doesn’t violate freedom of expression | National Post. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/court-finds-internet-hate-speech-law-section-13-to-be-constitutionally-valid-doesnt-violate-freedom-of-expression
- Lamoureux, M. (2019, August 16). Former Neo-Nazi Leader No Longer Employed by the City of Hamilton. Retrieved September 23, 2019, from Vice website: https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/ywag4v/former-neo-nazi-leader-marc-lemire-no-longer-employed-by-the-city-of-hamilton
- Di Armani, C. (2012, December 22). Marc Lemire Case: The latest attack on Freedom of Speech by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Retrieved September 15, 2019, from Christopher Di Armani website: https://christopherdiarmani.com/8968/big-brother/marc-lemire-case-latest-attack-freedom-speech-canadian-human-rights-commission/
- Haig, T. (2019, July 26). Hamilton leads Canada in hate crime reports, again. Retrieved September 15, 2019, from Radio Canada International website: https://www.rcinet.ca/en/2019/07/26/once-again-hamilton-leads-canada-in-hate-crime-reports/
- The Canadian Yellow Vests are inspired by but not directly affiliated with the Mouvement des Gilet Jaunes in France, dating back to Fall 2018. Nonetheless, much like the Yellow Vests in France, the Canadian Yellow Vests are calling for economic relief for the working class, a reduction in the carbon tax, and a “Référendum d’initiative Citoyenne” or “Referendum Initiated by the Citizens” (abbreviated as RIC).
- Acker, A. and A. Kreisberg. (2019). “Social Media Data Archives in an API-Driven World,” Archival Science. 1-19. doi: 10.1007/s10502-019-09325-9 .
- “Supercrawl” is an annual Fall event in Hamilton featuring a large-scale art crawl, live performances, and an array of community events and activities.
- Mahoney, J. (2019, September 13). Facebook hoax: Hamilton’s Arkells won’t appear at Supercrawl. The Hamilton Spectator. Retrieved September 15, 2019, from https://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/9594161-facebook-hoax-hamilton-s-arkells-won-t-appear-at-supercrawl/
- See Coleman, G. (2014). Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. London; New York: Verso and Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can’t have nice things: Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Doxing refers to the disclosure of personal information on an online forum by a third party, typically with the intention of humiliating, intimidating, or violently targeting the identified person or group. David Douglas subdivides doxing into 1) deanonymizing doxing, 2) targeting doxing, and 3) delegitimizing doxing to evaluate the ethics of this online social practice.
- Douglas, D. M. (2016). Doxing: A conceptual analysis. Ethics and Information Technology, 18(3), 199–210. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-016-9406-0