Oct 1, 2017

Women of Quebec's far right come out of the shadows

Supporters of La Meute in Quebec City
Their increased visibility is a troubling sign that such groups are becoming more mainstream, experts say

CATHERINE SOLYOM
MONTREAL GAZETTE
September 30, 2017

One is a hairdresser in Lévis who sometimes wears her Storm Alliance sweatshirt while clipping hair or dying it mermaid blue.

A proud member of La Meute owns a restaurant in St-Paulin, in Mauricie, where she serves a $6.99 lunch special and karaoke on Saturday nights.

Then there’s La Meute’s new secretary and accountant, from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu – the first woman to attend the group’s council meetings, even if it is just to take notes and pay the bills.

The three are among the growing contingent of women in Quebec’s far-right groups, an increasingly feminine face of the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim movement hoping to make waves this weekend with demonstrations first at the Lacolle border Saturday, Sept. 30, then in Quebec City on Monday, Oct. 2.

After attending the Storm Alliance protest in Lacolle, a group of women calling itself “les Irréductibles Québécoises” – diehard Quebecers – will be marching and picnicking at the National Assembly Oct. 2 to denounce the government and the “Muslim invasion.”

But what is drawing these women to the far-right, normally a stronghold of white, alpha males? And what does it signal for the movement?

Women have always been in the shadows of far-right groups, say experts, but they are moving into the spotlight as the far right takes on a more mainstream veneer.

***

Back in the 1920s, a group of women from Arkansas formed their own branch of the Klu Klux Klan. The WKKK, with 500,000 members across the U.S., was restricted to white, Protestant, non-immigrant women. It would join the KKK for parades and social functions but Klanswomen were not allowed to be part of the KKK per se because of their gender.

Fast forward almost 100 years and white supremacist groups like Stormfront and Richard Spencer’s “alt-right” are misogynist – or at least see men and women having separate roles, with women’s main responsibility being to breed.

Some of the newest far-right groups in Canada, like the Proud Boys and the National Guard – the latter which will be joining Storm Alliance in border protests on Saturday – are restricted to men. The 10 tenets of the Proud Boys include stopping immigration and venerating the housewife.

But according to Benjamin Ducol, of the Montreal Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, other groups have softened their discourse to appear less radical and appeal to women.

“There’s a feminization of extreme-right political parties and of movements like La Meute and Storm Alliance, where women are more visible,” Ducol said.

Women now lead several far-right parties in Europe, including France’s Front National, whose share of the women’s vote went up by almost 20 per cent to 25 per cent in the decade since Marine Le Pen took over from her father. And a woman now heads Quebec’s Soldats d’Odin, though some say that’s why that group splintered into Storm Alliance and the National Guard.

“In the 1930s, the women of the extreme right were to stay home and cook and raise the children. Today they’ve taken up a different discourse that isn’t feminist but that aligns with women’s causes.”

In Quebec, they say they are defending women against the veil and oppression, and that resonates with women, Ducol said.

“What is perverse is that it is not a defence of all women – just of Western women, and it only allows one idea of femininity. According to their thinking, someone who wears a veil is necessarily oppressed, and that reinforces xenophobia and racist attitudes.”

Aurélie Campana, the head of research on terrorism and extremism at Université Laval, who has just finished four years of research into extreme-right groups in Canada, says these groups remain dominated by men, but some have recalibrated their message to fit with the news of the day and widen their base.

Today’s grievances in Quebec include the hearings on systemic racism, NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh (he wears a turban), “illegal” immigration across the U.S. border, and the supposedly impending introduction of Sharia law.

“Women always refused to talk to us – they didn’t want to be stigmatized because of their political allegiance,” Campana said. “But the context wasn’t the same. Now it is less stigmatizing to be part of a group seen as being on the far right. We’ve normalized these groups, and they have understood if they want greater resonance, they have to address the women.”

Campana says these groups have been adept at exploiting stereotypes and taking intellectual shortcuts that equate fighting Islam with fighting for women.

The New Year’s Eve sexual attacks on women in Cologne, Germany, where hundreds of women were groped or molested, and some of them raped by immigrants of North African descent, were played and replayed in the social networks of anti-Islam groups in Quebec, Ducol said.

When there were sexual assaults on the Université Laval campus last spring, ultimately blamed on one student of North African origin, the parallel was made.

La Meute, for example, now offers women’s self-defence classes.

Both researchers say the far right is no more prevalent in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, where women are also increasingly visible.

The difference stems from the particular history of women’s rights in Quebec, where women had to fight against the oppression of the Catholic Church. Groups play on their fear of being newly oppressed, this time by Sharia law.

A video to promote Monday’s march begins with black-and-white photographs of some of the heroes of women’s emancipation in Quebec: Thérèse Casgrain, who led the suffragette movement in Quebec, followed by Lise Payette – a journalist and minister under René Lévesque.

Next come today’s heroes, including Janette Bertrand – an actress who campaigned in favour of the 2013 Charter of Values – and Josée Rivard, a brash Gatineau woman who films her rants against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard from her car and then posts them on YouTube.

Then in colour comes the image of a white woman wearing nothing but the European flag, with brown hands grabbing at her and tearing the flag off. The video caption, in Polish, reads: “the Islamic rape of Europe.”

Several women who are members of La Meute and/or Storm Alliance, including the hairdresser and the restaurateur, were contacted for their perspectives on why they joined these groups. None wished to speak to the Montreal Gazette.

The secretary for La Meute, Myriam Voyer, said she was motivated by seeing her rights trampled on by the government. Motion 103 violates her right to freedom of expression, she said, before cutting off the communication. (Motion 103 called on the federal government to condemn Islamophobia and systemic racism and study the phenomena.)

Myriam Sylvain, one of the organizers of the Irréductibles Québécoises, reached by phone, said she was concerned with the collusion of the Liberal government with Jewish and Islamic religious entities, as well as with multinational companies, the decline of the quality of life in Quebec and rising debt since 1975, Quebecers being treated like a minority in their own land, and Islam, “which brings problems wherever it goes.” (Muslims only make up about three per cent of Quebec’s population.)

“We have questions and we want answers but just asking the questions people throw stones at us and call us extreme this and that, and racists, in a country that we say is a democracy,” Sylvain said. “I’m just a concerned citizen.”

***

“There’s a storm coming that Environment Canada could’t predict.”

So says the front page of Storm Alliance’s Facebook site, ahead of the protest at Lacolle and other sites around the country. But whether it’s a storm or a tempest in a teapot remains to be seen.

On the one hand, a CROP poll released Sept. 28 said two-thirds of Quebecers were ready to elect an openly anti-immigrant candidate. La Meute, for one, has said it intends to be an influence in the next provincial election in 2018. La Meute members were instrumental in the vote to reject the Muslim cemetery in St-Apollinaire.

Ducol says he doesn’t know whether all of these groups want to become political institutions, but some do.

“The ultimate goal is the day these groups will have a political platform and run in elections for the National Assembly. That has never happened in Quebec… but the fact that women are part of it will help. For public opinion it all looks more normal than to have 15 guys with shaved heads and tattoos in black T-shirts,” he said.

On the other hand, the groups remain fragmented, Campana said, with bitter internal and external feuding. Storm Alliance is the latest version of Soldats d’Odin, and while La Meute calls SA members “friends and allies,” sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t.

“They will end up tearing each other apart,” Campana said.

She also said that what may seem like 43,000 “members” in the case of La Meute is really only 43,000 Facebook friends – they won’t necessarily show up at your party.

Indeed, four days before the event, one Storm Alliance member had to announce that the second bus to Lacolle on Saturday had been cancelled. There were not enough people to fill the seats.

csolyom@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/csolyom



http://montrealgazette.com/news/women-of-quebecs-far-right-come-out-of-the-shadows

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