Punishing the radical right in America — Cauterizing the radical right

by Howard Adelman

Just over fifty years ago, in October 1970 (in what became known as the Crise d’octobre or the October Crisis), Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. It was the first peaceful use of that Draconian measure. It set aside the civil liberties of all Canadians. With far-reaching powers, the police rounded up 497 Canadians and put them in jail without any immediate prospect of bail and initially without any charges being laid. Many were acquaintances from Quebec. A few were even friends. 3,000 premises were raided and searched. Though it must be admitted that, true to Canadian form, both the arrests and the searches were reputedly very courteous. That is Canada. Civility even in the face of insurrection!

The application of the War Measures Act was not a response to an invasion of 40,000 Canadians and their seizure of our Parliamentary buildings with five casualties. It was a response to radical Quebec separatists from the Font de liberation du Québec (FLQ). They had kidnapped and murdered Pierre Laporte, the provincial deputy Premier of the province. They still held British diplomat James Cross in captivity. The latter was released in return for the murderers agreeing to go into exile in Cuba. The War Measures Act explicitly took away the rights of due process. Habeas corpus (an individual's right to have a judge confirm that they have been lawfully detained) was suspended. They could be held for up to 28 days without charges being laid and were not even entitled to have legal representation or even call a lawyer. They could be held without bail for 90 days.

The premier of Quebec, Robert Bourassa, and the mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, supported Trudeau's invocation of the War Measures Act which drastically limited civil liberties as almost 500 Quebec separatists or separatist sympathizers or believed separatist sympathizers (not FLQ supporters or sympathizers) were rounded up and imprisoned, though the vast majority had nothing to do with the kidnappings and murder or even with the FLQ. In fact, only 62 of those arrested were even charged and most of those were exonerated. It is as if the American FBI not only arrested identifiable insurrectionists videotaped at the invasion of the Capitol, but rounded up 5,000 right-wing extremists across the U.S., when the vast majority were not even in Washington at the time of the insurrection.

What if Pierre Trudeau himself had been a separatist fellow traveler? What if a huge throng of separatists had arrived in Ottawa and marched on the Parliamentary buildings after being egged on by the Prime Minister himself? What if they had ransacked the centre of our democracy and five people had died as a result of the mob effort? What if the instigation had been Pierre Trudeau’s false claim that he had just lost an election to the opposition leader, Robert Stanfield, an election that he falsely claimed was fraudulent?

Further, remember that Pierre Trudeau had called out the military. Canadian troops patrolled the streets of Montreal, Quebec and Ottawa. What if Americans had done the same upon the singular orders of say Vice-President Pence whom the insurrectionists had threatened to hang? Obviously, the comparison is more than a stretch. Its only purpose is to indicate the relatively mild response of the American politicians to what was an attempted insurrection, even if one implemented by “protesters” in colourful clown costumes and military fatigues rather than secret conspirators working in the underground of Quebec politics.

Polls at the time showed that Canadians, especially Quebeckers, supported the invocation of the War Measures Act by a wide margin. 89 per cent of English-speaking Canadians and 86 per cent of French-speaking Canadians supported Pierre Trudeau’s dramatic and drastic response. I did not. I was among a small minority who argued that the action was excessive and very disproportionate to the events that had instigated such an extreme response. However, I had to admit that the excessive step did succeed in cauterizing the organized efforts to use violence to advance the separatist cause. From then on, electoral processes were relied upon to advance a separatist agenda. In fact, just five years later, a sovereigntist government was put in power in Quebec with the election of the separatist Parti Québécois which formed the government in 1975.

In both Canada and the U.S., the events had been preceded by years of violence. In the seven years between 1963 and 1970, 950 bombs, largely of post boxes, had been set off. It was equivalent to 10,000 bombs being ignited in the U.S. But post boxes were not the only targets. Admittedly nothing in Canada occurred as serious as Timothy James McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding 680, but the radical separatists did bomb the Montreal Stock Exchange on 13 February 1969 when 27 were injured, a few seriously. Montreal City Hall, the T. Eaton department store and RCMP (The Federal police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) facilities, had all been targeted.

One major difference is that the insurrection in the U.S. was an entirely domestic affair. The separatists in Quebec had external support. President Charles de Gaulle of France even instigated dramatic separatist action when he shouted “Vive le Québéc libre” from a balcony in Montreal. Canadians were not in a position to impeach Charles de Gaulle, but the Prime Minister at the time (24 July 1967), Mike Pearson, rebuked him and sent the president home tout de suite. Pearson fumed, "The people of Canada are free. Every province in Canada is free. Canadians do not need to be liberated. Indeed, many thousands of Canadians gave their lives in two world wars in the liberation of France and other European countries."

I am convinced that as the FBI investigates extremist right-wing activities in the United States, they will discover the equivalent of other militant insurrectionist plans, such as the kidnapping of the Israeli consul in Montreal, stores of guns and explosives, and documented evidence of plans to overthrow the government. Further, in Canada, a number of prominent individuals defended the aims if not the actions of the FLQ separatists. Robert Lemieux became the FLQ lawyer and not only negotiated the exchange of the kidnapped Cross in return for exile, but he urged students at the Université de Montréal to boycott classes in support of FLQ. He also organized a rally at the Paul Sauvé Arena. Paul Chartrand, a prominent labour leader, insisted that support for the separatists, and the FLQ in particular, was rising as a result of their dramatic action – admittedly a statement he made before learning that Pierre Laporte had been killed. Bernard Mergler and Robert Demers were two prominent lawyers who negotiated the release of FLQ prisoners and those involved in the Laporte killing and their exile in Cuba in return for the release of James Cross after 62 days in captivity.

A number of observations are apropos. First, though the U.S. tardily did bring out the National Guard, which do have a legislated responsibility to help preserve domestic order, no American authority proposed the use of the military dedicated to keeping America safe from foreign adversaries. Canadians made no such distinction and Canadian troops occupied Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, though the troops only functioned in support of the civilian authorities. Second, the American insurrection threatened every member of the federal legislative chambers in Washington. The federally elected members of Parliament in Ottawa were never in danger. There are other comparisons that can be made, all of which suggest that the Canadian response was far more extreme than the current American one with its focus on criminal actions against the insurrectionists and impeachment of the president.

In Canada, the FLQ was declared illegal, giving the police virtually unlimited powers to arrest and hold suspected members. In the U.S., we have yet to see whether QAnon, members of the Boogaloo movement, the Patriot Front (unlike others on the right, they reject Trump), the Base, the Nationalist Justice Party, the Order of Five Angels, the Proud Boys (remember Donald Trump in the presidential debate advising them to “stand back and stand by”), the Groypers and the various other iterations of right-wing extremism will be dubbed as domestic terrorists, an action taken by the Canadian government by federal fiat.

Before I get into the impeachment, I want to point to one result of the Canadian response. The radical non-democratic, in fact, anti-democratic left-wing insurrectionist effort in Canada was cauterized. In medical surgery, cauterization, burning the ends of a blood vessel, is used to stem the loss of blood. A hot iron or equivalent is used both to destroy the infected tissue and to deaden the infectious process behind the bleeding. Extremist left-wing separatism was destroyed in Canada. We have yet to see whether the same will occur in the United States with right-wing extremism and whether the governmental authorities will go after the myriad of extremist groups in the U.S. and not just remove the president and bar him from office in the future.

In the U.S., 2020 was a record year for far right or alt-right (really fascist) violence with more murders and car attacks aimed at peaceful protesters than any year in recent memory. Their most important enabler, ever since he labeled Barack Obama a foreigner and accused him of not being born in the United States, has been Donald Trump. Since then, the Republican Party, the GOP, has been effectively taken over by the Trumplicans. What unites all of these movements is a family of beliefs and activities which culminated in the proposition that the election of the president in November 2020 had been a fraud. These include:

  • The belief in the existence of a “deep state” that controls the American government against the will of the people
  • The belief that the president-elect, Joe Biden, is a member of satanic pedophile cabal
  • That Black Lives Matter (BLM) is merely an extension of the ANTIFA anti-fascist movement on the left
  • That the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax
  • That wearing surgical masks is merely a step towards denying individual freedom

The history of right-wing violence in the U.S. has been permeated with a record of sporadic acts of violence as well as scurrilous racist and antisemitic rants on social media platforms with exchanges of conspiracy theories and disruption plans. A selective list of violent events restricted to this past year only is offered below that do not include many arrested for plotting violent actions.

  • March Timothy Wilson, a National Socialist – fascist – member on route to bombing a hospital, was killed by police in Portland
  • April 30 armed protesters invaded the Michigan legislature threatening to kidnap the governor
  • In May, Steven Carrillo was arrested for murdering a federal security guard during the Oakland protests
  • In late May, a police precinct was burned in Minneapolis and militant demonstrations broke out across the country in response to the Black Lives Matter invigorated protests in response to a Minneapolis police officer killing of George Floyd
  • On 31 May, Donald Trump tweeted, "The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization," but he has never seriously rebuked right-wing terrorism
  • On 26 August, a militia member, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Kenosha Illinois, killed two people at a BLM demonstration, and this was but one of many attacks on BLM peaceful protesters
  • Just before the end of August, Aaron Danielson attacked random individuals as part of a far-right protest in Portland, Oregon and was killed by a self-declared antifa proponent, Michael Forest Reinoehl, who in turn was killed by law officers on 3 September (Donald Trump gloated that he was shot down.)
  • During the Western wildfires, vigilante right-wing armed checkpoints were set up to catch and arrest ANTIFA alleged arsonists based on rumour and absolutely no evidence
  • In October, Lee Kellner, a right-wing activist, threatened a TV crew in Denver and was killed by police
  • In the same month, 13 right-winger members of a Michigan militia group were arrested for planning to kidnap the Governor Michigan
  • The 6/1 rally of Trumpists in Washington was preceded by the 14 November Washington Million MAGA March, the 12 December right wing clashes with four stabbings that ended up destroying two Black churches, the Proud Boys attempts to break into the Oregon state legislature in Salem on 21 December.

All of this is offered to put the American political initiative to impeach their president in a comparative context.