Those Damned Canadians

They don’t make locomotives in London anymore – at least not in the London in Ontario, about halfway between Detroit and Toronto – but General Motors was doing just that in the last two years of the last century. Those were the two years when the job was rebuilding the systems shop there. Someone had to do it. These things happen. But that allowed two years to get to know Canada, which seemed so much like the United States, but wasn’t. They had strong labor unions – the Canadian Auto Workers at the plant where they built those locomotives – and they weren’t the enemy of all that was good and right. No politicians screamed about them. They were just part of the mix, looking out for their people – and of course those unions didn’t have to demand reasonable healthcare benefits. Those were a provided by the government, by mutual agreement of all the Canadian people. They had established a universal healthcare system, a sort of Medicare-for-all system, long ago. It seemed a reasonable use of tax money – everyone is covered, no one has to worry about getting sick ruining them financially, and labor costs were obviously lower without employers having to cover employees’ medical costs, so General Motors and Chrysler and Ford had assembly plants all across southern Ontario. It was good for business. It assured jobs and growth.

It was depressingly sensible. It was hard to explain why our market-based pay-up-or-die system, where your employer would decide what coverage-mix they could afford to offer you that year, was morally superior, or even pragmatically superior.

That puzzled them, but they didn’t laugh at you. They were Canadians – polite and courteous and warm and open, and funny in their own ironic way. Insult humor, a staple down here, seemed to be considered gauche up there. You don’t get points for making fun of people. Bullies aren’t heroes. Decency and tolerance are not considered dangerous up there, so of course they really didn’t get our problem with minorities and immigrants. Canada has always welcomed everyone – the place is huge, and still pretty empty, and they need anyone who wants to come and build a life there to do just that – and all those other cultures are kind of fun and interesting anyway. The best midrange programmer at the locomotive plant was a proud Turkish woman, and a fine Canadian. Everyone loved her. It was hard to explain why everyone down here wanted to keep everyone else out.

It was an odd two years. Richmond Street, which runs north to south in the middle of London, is to London what the Sunset Strip is to Hollywood – the happening place, even if nothing much happens in that small Canadian city in the middle of nowhere. We’d talk endlessly at the bars and restaurants there, but we really didn’t talk politics. They didn’t see the point. That’s not a blood-sport up there.

They’d like to keep it that way, and that explains this:

Canada formally designated the Proud Boys as a terrorist group under its criminal law on Wednesday, a move that could lead to financial seizures and allow police to treat any crimes committed by members as terrorist activity.

Government officials said they believe Canada is the first nation to label the Proud Boys a terrorist entity. The events last month in Washington, they added, contributed to the move, which was already under consideration.

“Since 2018, we have seen an escalation, an escalation toward violence in this group,” Bill Blair, the public safety minister, told a news conference, adding that the Proud Boys and 12 other groups added to the list on Wednesday are “all hateful, intolerant and, as we’ve seen, they can be highly dangerous.”

An official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said that while information gleaned after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in Washington was a “contributing factor, it certainly wasn’t the driving force.”

They are Canadians after all. They knew better all along. We’re just catching up now:

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right, all-male organization that lauded street brawling as part of its founding idea, played a prominent role in storming the United States Capitol.

U.S. federal prosecutors investigating the violence announced their first conspiracy charges against the Proud Boys last week, accusing two members of coordinating the effort to interfere with law enforcement officers protecting Congress during the final certification of the presidential election.

Well, better late than never, but the Canadians are being comprehensive:

Any crimes committed by members of the group can now be the subject of terrorism charges under criminal law. Those potential crimes include providing a terrorist group with funds or other assistance – such as purchasing Proud Boys paraphernalia or clothing from the group, although displaying or wearing them publicly breaks no laws.

Recruitment, travel and training related to the group can now also lead to criminal charges. Additionally, authorities have more power to remove its online posts, add its members to the no-fly list and deny entry at the border to group members who are not Canadian.

Mr. Blair said the designation will “severely restrict” the group’s ability to use online crowdfunding in Canada or any other fund-raising method.

Bank accounts belonging to the group, officials said, could be seized or frozen, although Mr. Blair, citing intelligence confidentiality, declined to say what assets, if any, the Proud Boys have in Canada.

That should worry them, but they’re just not welcome, because they just not Canadian:

In its designation, the Canadian government said members of the Proud Boys “espouse misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and/or white supremacist ideologies and associate with white supremacist groups.”

But of course they are Canadian:

The Proud Boys was established in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, who was born in England but raised in Ottawa and helped to found the Vice media empire. Mr. McInnes has since distanced himself from the Proud Boys and Vice.

At protests, Canadians members of the Proud Boys often carry the red ensign, a flag containing the Union Jack in one corner that was Canada’s official banner until it adopted its maple leaf flag in 1965.

Well, they can’t really carry the Confederate battle flag up there, but really, they’re polite and courteous Canadians at heart:

Some Canadian news outlets reported that the websites of Proud Boys chapters in several Canadian cities disappeared last month following the events in Washington. It appeared that they were removed by the groups themselves rather than by service providers.

Of course. This was the decent thing to do. They’re cleaning house up there:

In addition to the Proud Boys, lesser-known white supremacist organizations that Canada singled out on Wednesday as terrorist organizations included Atomwaffen Division, the Base and the Russian Imperial Movement.

The Base is a neo-Nazi organization whose founders sought to use violence to help establish a white homeland in the Western United States. Through a series of undercover operations, federal agents disrupted what the F.B.I. said were several planned attacks by the group in early 2020. There was some overlap in membership with the Atomwaffen Division, another American neo-Nazi group that largely operates in the United States.

The Russian Imperial Movement, a paramilitary white supremacist group headquartered in St. Petersburg, Russia, was the first white supremacist group to be officially designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department last year.

Last year, Canada placed Blood & Honour, a neo-Nazi group founded in Britain, and its affiliate Combat 18 on its terrorist group list.

They are being thorough. We are not. Slate’s Jason Blazakis explains why:

Many in the United States may be now wondering, can the Biden administration follow Canada’s lead?

It is an important question, especially when, upon examination, the U.S. Department of State has no radical right-wing terrorist groups on its Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, list. How does Canada have six white supremacist groups on its list of terrorists while the United States has none? Is this an issue of political will, or is there something else that can explain this discrepancy? After all, it was less than one year ago that the United Nations said there was more than a 320 percent increase in right-wing terrorism.

So, what’s the problem? That would be denial:

Unlike Canada, the United States has no legal basis for sanctioning domestic terrorist groups. That’s the reason why even when more than 1 million people sign a petition to label the Ku Klux Klan as a terrorist group, it results in no action. The State Department can, according to U.S. law, designate “foreign organizations.” Lawyers involved in terrorist designation decision-making have interpreted this as excluding groups that have a “significant domestic presence.”

While there is some ambiguity, and thus flexibility, about what the term “significant” may mean, it nonetheless has clear implications for the possible designation of the Proud Boys as an FTO.

The Proud Boys leadership cadre, such as its leader Enrique Tarrio, is based in the United States. Additionally, the group’s activities, such as their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection and in street fights in Portland, Oregon, and Berkeley, California, also are seemingly U.S.-centric.

That protects them. “Our” people wouldn’t do such things, or if they did, whatever they do is free speech of some sort. We’re stuck, or maybe not:

Does this mean it is impossible for the United States to sanction the Proud Boys as terrorists?

It is unlikely, but not impossible. The group’s own literature touts the fact that it has a global presence with chapters in more than 40 countries. While terrorist groups certainly have been prone to exaggeration, it is quite clear that the Proud Boys do have a sizable international presence. The Proud Boys’ overseas chapters have a sizable membership that uses a mix of social media and encrypted platforms to communicate. If this is the case, there may be some scope for the United States government to consider the Proud Boys as a global organization.

After all, the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, is Canadian.

That’s a clever workaround, but with their informal and sly protector, Donald Trump, gone, it might be time to rethink this Proud Boy problem. And it’s more than just them:

An apparent bipartisan majority of the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday endorsed the idea of new laws to address domestic terrorism in the wake of last month’s riot at the U.S. Capitol, as experts warned such internal threats would plague the country for decades to come.

Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of homeland security for counterterrorism during the Trump administration, warned lawmakers that there is a “high likelihood” that another domestic terrorist attack would occur in the coming months and that the problem would persist “for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, told lawmakers that Jan. 6 had been a “watershed moment for the white supremacist movement,” and that its adherents viewed the Capitol breach as a “victory.”

It was time to talk:

Their comments came during the committee’s first hearing in its investigation into the riot that has moved House Democrats and 10 Republicans to impeach the now-former president for an unprecedented second time. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), indicated that he expected its probe would result in concrete legislation to punish and dissuade such attacks, and better monitor and regulate the environments in which extremist ideologies proliferate.

That last bit was the easy part:

Several lawmakers said they endorse targeting social media companies with legislation meant to hold them accountable when extremist propaganda is circulated on their platforms. Some backed the approach set out in a bill, co-written by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), seeking to overhaul of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law giving technology companies liability protection from what third parties post on their sites.

“They’ve dragged their feet too long,” Neumann told lawmakers, referring to social media companies and noting that although the preference was to have business “self-correct we might be at the point where it is needed for Congress to pass legislation to address the problem.”

But that was a minor issue:

Even with bipartisan support for new legislation, there are several political pitfalls on the road to passing it. Some House Democrats have accused certain Republican colleagues of aiding and abetting the Capitol rioters, and across the Capitol the parties remain divided over whether then-President Donald Trump is to blame for inciting the attack.

Thursday’s hearing was held against the backdrop of a debate over whether freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) should be ousted from her committee assignments for espousing conspiracy theories Democrats have labeled dangerous. Late Thursday, the House voted largely along party lines to do so after Greene had pushed back against the accusations, calling them a form of thought crime and decrying Democrats for trying to stifle her right to free speech.

And that will always be the problem:

The debate appeared to spill over into Thursday’s hearing, as Rep. Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia – also a first-term Republican – suggested that activists were too quick to brand people with unorthodox and even offensive views as extremists.

“Can people not have differing opinions and those opinions not affect the actual work that they do?” Clyde challenged Greenblatt in the hearing’s only testy exchange.

“Fierce debate shouldn’t allow you to dehumanize me or any other person from any minority group,” Greenblatt shot back.

We’re not Canadians. This won’t be easy. It was a difficult day:

The House voted largely along party lines Thursday to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two committee assignments, a precedent-shattering move by Democrats to rebuke a Republican who has espoused extremist beliefs that she publicly renounced in part just hours before the vote.

The vote against Greene reflected deep frustration in the Democratic ranks over the Republican leadership’s reluctance to take its own action to marginalize Greene (R-Ga.), their desire to yoke the entire GOP to her extremism, and their anger over a lack of accountability for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

And they had a point:

As recently as last year, Greene had been an open adherent of the QAnon ideology, a sprawling and violent web of false claims that played a role in inspiring the Capitol attack. In addition, she had made comments on social media suggesting that some mass shootings were staged by supporters of gun control, that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by government forces and that a Jewish cabal had sparked a deadly wildfire with a space beam.

“I don’t understand what is complicated here,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), exhorting his colleagues to sideline Greene. “We know the result of these violent conspiracy theories. We saw that on Jan. 6. We know what it leads to. I don’t ever want to see that again. And we all should make clear where we stand on this.”

And that’s what happened:

The vote was 230 to 199, with 11 Republicans voting with Democrats to strip Greene of her committees.

No one expected had anything else, and no one was surprised by what the woman said:

Greene had renounced some of her most egregious remarks on the House floor a few hours earlier, in a 10-minute speech that was more explanation than apology – one that doubled down on her attacks against the media and her political enemies while omitting some of her most recent behavior.

“These were words of the past, and these things do not represent me, they do not represent my district, and they do not represent my values,” she said.

Greene said the 9/11 attacks “absolutely happened” and that school shootings are “absolutely real.” She said she embraced QAnon in late 2017 out of her support for former president Donald Trump and her mistrust of government and of mainstream media sources.

“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret,” she said. “Because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today, and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong.”

That’s a curious use of passive voice. She “was allowed” to believe total nonsense, so this wasn’t her fault. She was given permission to think murderous nasty thoughts, and then to broadcast those thoughts to the world, gleefully, for fun and for profits and finally for power, but by whom? Who was handing out permission slips? But in the end all of this was so terribly unfair. She was the real victim here:

She went on to describe the uproar about her comments as a “cancel culture” attack on the free speech of conservatives: “Big media companies can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.”

That set off a lot of bullshit detectors:

Greene’s comments Thursday did little to temper Democrats’ outrage – particularly as they seized on comments she made last year during her House campaign where she refused to repudiate QAnon, as well as her ongoing efforts to raise money off the uproar. Greene said on Twitter late Wednesday that she had raised more than $330,000 from 13,000 small donors in 48 hours.

“I’m just like millions of people in this country and millions of people around the world that are very much concerned about a deep state,” she told a local TV station in August, adding, “I’ve only ever seen patriotic sentiment coming out of that source and other sources.”

Equally infuriating to Democrats were social media postings she made approving of violence against prominent Democratic politicians including former president Barack Obama, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Greene did not address those postings in her Thursday remarks.

She said nothing about that. She still is calling for the assassination of Democrats and liberals and folks she senses that her base wants shot dead right now:

In one striking moment on the House floor Thursday, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) hoisted a sign showing a Facebook post her campaign made in September — one showing Greene posing with a military-style rifle juxtaposed with photos of three liberal Democratic congresswomen and the caption “The Squad’s Worst Nightmare” — and walked it over to the Republican side of the chamber.

“When you take this vote, imagine your faces on this poster,” he said. “Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be.”

And there was this:

Democratic political operatives have signaled that they intended to use Thursday’s vote as a way to tie mainstream Republican lawmakers to the extremist right wing.

“The party of Lincoln, the party of Eisenhower, the party of Reagan is becoming the party of Marjorie Taylor Greene and the party of violent conspiracy theories,” McGovern said.

And then there was this:

The Greene saga might not yet be over: Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), who has introduced a resolution to expel Greene from the House, said he still intended to force a vote on that question, but he said he was in talks with Democratic leaders about the timing of the move. The House is expected to take a two-week recess after it completes its business this week.

Gomez said Thursday’s vote – and Greene’s speech – did little to soothe Democrats’ anger, which remains raw just four weeks after the deadly riot.

If Donald Trump is Conspirator No. 1 in the insurrection, she’s Conspirator No. 2,” he said. “That’s why I’m pursuing this, is to send a message that this kind of discourse in our politics is not acceptable – inciting political violence, threatening people, is not acceptable, and a person like that should not hold a position in the House of Representatives.”

Jimmy Gomez is secretly Canadian. Those people are depressingly sensible. But what’s wrong with that?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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