OPINION | Failing to critically think has manifested as right-wing populism

Six days into 2021, rioters stormed the U.S. capitol  to ‘take back the vote’ and attain justice for what they believed was a stolen election. Upon entering the Capitol “rioters had wielded bear spray, batons, pipes and fire extinguishers against officers.” Then on October 15, 2021, David Amess, a British Member of Parliament, held a constituency surgery for constituents to express their concerns when he was fatally stabbed. During the campaign trail this past summer, an anti-vaccine protester threw gravel at Prime Minister Trudeau, while other anti-vaccine protesters were following him and shouting Nazi references.    

There is a definitive and alarming rise of right-wing populist rhetoric and violent actions both internationally and nationally. Perhaps more concerning is the normative belief that Canada’s multiculturalism policy will protect Canada from this threat to democracy. In today’s terms, sorry-not-sorry, but this is false.

For example, during the 2021 federal election, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) founded by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier led a campaign that supported the anti-vaccine movement and spouted populist beliefs.

While the PPC vehemently denies any and all accusations of racist rhetoric, their party is in favour of unrestricted free speech this means repealing laws that prohibit hate speech. They further propose the reduction of immigration which coincides with their argument to repeal the Multiculturalism Act (because why would you need Multiculturalism when there are no more immigrants seems to be the argument right?). With what seems to be a campaign that follows the footsteps of the American GOP, the PPC positions themselves in  “support for public access to military-grade weaponry.” 

In the U.S. where the situation of anti-vaxxers is worse, there have been violent attacks and stabbings against journalists and others as a by-product of anti-vaccine protests. 

The anti-vaccine movement is so closely intertwined with white supremacy and extremism that through the guise of anti-vaccine distrust, these supporters have been allowed “to push increasingly extreme conspiracy theories targeting Jews, immigrants, health care workers, and others.”

Slowly, but surely, misinformation and the allowance of right-wing sentiment to proliferate has created an unnerving movement of people who distrust the government and have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of democracy and freedom. All of this has coincided with catchy phrases and a complete loss of critical thinking. 

With over 250 people charged with breaching the Capitol on January 6,  the common thread that weaves amongst them is that the majority, if not all, were encouraged to storm the Capitol “by the falsehoods they had been reading online and in social media for months.” The inability to discern misinformation stems from a multitude of factors, with one being the inability to think critically. Here was a group of people not who believed the election was stolen but rather, who believed that they were protecting democracy and their freedom by storming the Capitol armed and guns blazing. 

While there are many interpretations of democracy, the most common Western perception is that we elect individuals to represent “the people” in the government. There is no subsection in the Constitution that outlines ‘if you disagree, is it within your purview to come violently change the results.’

The abundance of symbols and slogans presented during the violence at the Capitol  “[revealed] an alternate political universe where violent extremists, outright racists and conspiracy theorists march side by side with evangelical Christians, suburban Trump supporters and young men who revel in making memes to “own the libs.”

This vigilante style violence is a threat to democracy, and we need to treat it as such. So consumed with the idea of freedom, equality, and liberty, we, as a society have forgotten the notion even the most Conservative of philosophers put forth: you enter a social contract in which to be part of a community you give up some freedom and liberty to allow the state to govern society. 

This is further witnessed in the current attack on women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. The Supreme Court of the United States is currently hearing a case about a law introduced in Mississippi that “makes most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about two months earlier than Roe [v. Wade] and later decisions allow.” This comes after Texas introduced a law that prohibits abortions “once cardiac activity can be detected in the embryo” which is often at six weeks, and importantly, usually before women even know they are pregnant. 

What drives the Texan law to scarily fascist measures is that it prohibits the state from enforcing the law, but rather “citizens are incentivized with suing anyone who performs abortions, or “aids and abets” them.”

This spirit of vigilantism stems from the traditional belief that  “the use of force by private citizens [is needed] to uphold the law, instead of – or even against – the state.”

Though many of these examples focused on the U.S. Canada is not immune to these shifts, with Canada reported as the third largest nationality that is often found on forums that promote white supremacy.  

The link between gun rights, reproductive rights, and the choice to vaccinate need to be made, yet they often get lost in the tantrums thrown. As Canadians continue to wear their rose-coloured glasses, we may fail to see the cracks that are emerging in our democracy, and similar to the pandemic response, we will most likely be ill prepared, kneeling to the minority who scream for freedom while failing to understand what it means to live in a democracy. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and do not reflect the views of Conversationally Speaking Magazine
Sophia Stavropoulos
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Sophia Stavropoulos graduated from the University of Ottawa with a Bachelor of Social Sciences, Joint Honours in Political Science and History. She is currently attending the University of Toronto for a Master of Public Policy with a Collaborative Specialization in Environmental Studies. Her research interests include politics, environmental policy, Indigenous issues, and American cultural & political history.

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