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Hey Americans: Why Are You Ignoring The New Online Right’s First Mass-Shooter?

When an anti-immigrant, meme-baiting, white nationalist troll starts shooting. The view from Toronto.

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Alexandre Bissonnette
Handout / Reuters

Alexandre Bissonnette

An idiotic conspiracy theory is making the rounds in Canada’s alt-right media (yes, we have one too).

Here's how it goes: Despite what the lying media told you, last month’s mosque shooting in Quebec city was actually an act of Muslim on Muslim terror carried out by a Moroccan jihadist from a rival mosque. But Justin Trudeau couldn't let the truth out since it would make him look bad for taking in all of those Syrian refugees. So, the powers that be offered the shooter a sweet deal: He'd be released without charges if he backed up their official story, that he was arrested in error while providing first-aid to people shot by the real killer, who according to police is a white nationalist named Alexandre Bissonnette.

It's total bullshit (duh). Even the premise is absurd: Why would a terrorist attack by a Moroccan jihadist make Trudeau look bad for accepting Syrians? Then there’s the crazy notion that the cops would be cool with letting a mass murderer walk because of political pressure from Trudeau. Also, what about the dozens of survivors who could refute a revisionist account? Debunking this nonsense is hardly worth the effort, as any dummy who buys it won't be swayed by things like facts and reason anyhow.

I bring it up now to point out something far more disturbing than the conspiracy theory itself; namely, the fact that there are more people in the alt-right credulously discussing and sharing the conspiracy version of the shooting than there are people in the mainstream conversation recognizing what actually happened in Quebec.

What actually happened is that Canada suffered the world’s first terrorist attack carried out by an extremist who was radicalized by the new online right and whose political guidestars included Donald Trump.

Here’s what we know so far about Bissonnette: He was a right-wing troll, a white-nationalist and an anti-feminist. He didn't just "like" Donald Trump on Facebook. He also championed Trump in arguments, trolled pro-immigration forums, and defended the president's Muslim ban.

In fact, the ban directly anticipated the mosque shooting. In defending the ban, Bissonnette railed about his fears regarding the "marginalization" of the white race. A day after he wrote that, he allegedly walked into a mosque and allegedly opened fire into a crowd during evening prayer, killing six people and injuring many more.

Bissonnette’s Facebook history reportedly contained glorified Christian Crusader imagery, a popular meme of Trump's online supporters.

Via Facebook

How is this getting slept on?

This was not a bunch of trolls harassing a woman on Twitter. This was not a confused man with a rifle in Comet Pizza, investigating an absurd 4Chan conspiracy theory, arrested without injuries. This was alleged politically motivated mass murder by a terrorist who was indoctrinated into a racist ideology that he believed was consistent with the agenda of the American president.

So how has this killing, and its implications, faded so quickly from public conversation? It's hard to imagine the press moving on to Nordstrom and Shia LaBeouf so quickly had the suspect been a guy in a MAGA cap shooting up a Florida mosque. The fact that it happened in Canada (French Canada, no less) definitely helped distance the story from its global political context, despite the many connections. Plus, there were other factors.

There was the initial media confusion based on the early arrest of the Moroccan witness. There was Quebec’s own unique history of intolerance to outsiders. Then there was the usual caution of the Canadian press: No one wanted to jump to conclusions and make too much of Bissonnette's Facebook profile, which included unrelated endorsements and affiliations. Who was to say, in those early moments, that Bissonnette was inspired to do murder by Trump any more than he was by Pizza Hut or by the left-wing NDP, both of which he also "liked"? It was only in the days that followed that Bissonnette's politics and passions became clear, as reporters spoke to those who knew him and saw evidence of his online behavior.

They emerged with a profile of Bissonnette's ideology and interactions that leaves little room for doubt, and the cultural context for the killing is now indisputable. An old friend of Bissonnette’s described how he became “enthralled by a borderline racist nationalist movement.” Bissonnette took his anger to the enemy, trolling members of a refugee-support page with rants against “feminazis.” The page’s moderator described Bissonnette as part of a “nationalist conservative identity movement.” Bissonnette’s flavor of racism was not the Confederate flag-flying anti-black variety of Dylann Roof, it was the anti-immigrant, meme-baiting, white nationalist trolling of the extreme elements of the pro-Trump internet.

This isn’t to compare the new online right to the ISIS internet — it lacks the coherence and clear political leadership of ISIS’s online presence. And, needless to say, it's not attached to a murderous pseudostate. Nor am I assigning direct responsibility for a mass shooting to someone other than the alleged shooter. The comparison is between young men drawn to dangerous ideologies. We can’t blame Donald Trump for the Quebec mosque shooting, but we also can't separate him from it.

There will, from now on, always be lonely and angry young men, clicking around the internet, vulnerable to seductive and simple ideologies that tell them that they are heroes with a glorious past whose culture and masculinity is under threat from terrible enemies. Some of them find ISIS. Alexandre Bissonnette found Trump. Toxic ideologies spread across borders no matter how extreme the vetting.

A final bit of post-truth irony: If Bissonnette hoped his actions could further the Trump agenda, the Trump administration seemed to agree. When asked about the massacre, Sean Spicer said that the Quebec shooting was one more reason why the travel ban was needed.

Jesse Brown is the author of The Canadaland Guide To Canada, to be published this May by Touchstone books.


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