Is a racist nationalist movement taking root in Western Canada?
The Yellow Vests protests, gilets jaunes, originated across France late last year as a mass mobilization against rising fuel prices and growing economic stress among people of peripheral France– those who come not from urban centers but from small towns and rural parts of the country. The yellow vests marched in the streets, mounted roadblocks to slow traffic, and engaged in hundreds of other actions across the country. Despite efforts of far-right parties like the Front National to infiltrate or coopt the movement, the yellow vests have largely eschewed racial nationalism.
Recent protests in Canada designed to mimic the French yellow vests have virtually no resemblance to those in France. Instead, the yellow vests in Canada mimic a prominent American version of violent racial nationalism. In a few short weeks, the Yellow Vest phenomenon in Canada swelled to tens of thousands of participants.
In fits and starts, the Yellow Vest moment in western Canada appears to be finding common cause with American groups like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters – taking their place in a landscape populated by a growing wave of racism directed against refugees and migrants in Europe and North America by a mix of white nationalists and reactionary racists.
It’s kinship to American nationalists has appeared in the push for unwanted oil pipelines across unceded First Nations lands (a la Donald Trump in the U.S.), targeting immigrants and Muslims and decrying “globalism” in the form of Canada’s signature on United Nations documents addressing climate change, migration and Indigenous rights. Yellow Vest Canada for instance, calls for withdrawal from the United Nations global compact on immigration and presses for pipelines to address Canadian energy issues.
Meet Canadian Yellow Vest Activist John Tedesco
On January 7, international attention was brought to the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose unceeded territory is located in Northern British Columbia, after a militarized police response led to the arrest of 14 land protectors and the dismantling of a camp controlling road access into the territory. Over 60 international actions have taken place in cities across North America in support of the Wet’suwet’en, raising awareness of the larger international struggles of Indigenous peoples.
Days later, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a Liberal Party campaign fundraiser and town hall meeting in Kamloops, BC. Outside he was met with two very different groups. The first was comprised of members and allies of the Secwepmec Nation in whose territory Kamloops resides – and who oppose the prospect of an oil pipeline through their territory and the violent police action against Wet’suwet’en.
The second group was a long phalanx of Canadian Yellow Vests.
Amid surging protests, police made two arrests. The image of an Indigenous drummer brought to his knees and dragged to a waiting police wagon was broadcast internationally. With the push for pipelines, indigenous leaders also found themselves labeled extremist in documents obtained from the Government Operations Centre (GOC), a branch of the Department of Public Safety that compiles information on threats to Canadian “national interest” from police and intelligence agencies.
The second arrest didn’t garner the same attention. John Tedesco, an activist in the so-called Canadian Yellow Vests, was arrested in the parking lot as he rushed at Prime Minister Trudeau.
Yellow Vests and the Three Percenters
A deeper dive into the background of John Tedesco reveals a figure who appears more comfortable in a cammo-clad ammo vest than a yellow vest.
In addition to claiming to be formerly with the Department of National Defense, and a past Sergeant in the Canadian Army, John Tedesco is an online member of the Three Percenters (British Columbia) and the Canadian Combat Coalition National.
The Three Percenters began in the United States shortly after the election of President Obama as a fusion of far-right Tea Party energy and militia paramilitary sensibilities. The name is based on mythology of the American Revolution where they allege that it was “three percent” of colonists that took up arms to overthrow the British in the American Revolution.
IREHR has documented numerous acts of violence by Three Percenters in the United States. They have also been involved with several armed standoffs against law enforcement, including those at the Bundy ranch in Nevada and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Three Percenters even provided security to white nationalist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white nationalist killed an anti-racist demonstrator.
Despite such an unambiguously American origin story, this particular brand far-right paramilitarism has crossed the border into Canada, particularly out west.
So how do they fit this Star-shaped peg into a Maple Leaf hole? According to the website of Three Percent British Columbia “Three Percent is a group of like-minded and patriotic persons who believe in freedom and free speech as granted by God and our forefathers. We will stand together to protect our families and Canada which is our home, against anyone who attempts to destroy it and when needed by our fellow citizens of Canada in times of natural disaster or imminent threat…”
This Canadian version is quickly expanding with opposition to the Trudeau government, drawing heavily on military and ex-military to bolster their paramilitary and prepper activities. More recently, Canadian Three Percenters infiltrated the yellow vest movement and used the growth of the yellow vest movement to in the hopes of expanding the Three Percenter ranks.
Like their American counterparts, Canadian Three Percenters also maintain ties to other racial nationalist organizations. Kazz Nowlin, former president of the Soldiers of Odin Kamloops chapter, runs the Three Percent British Columbia Facebook recruitment page.
Another of Tedesco’s Facebook “friends,” is Timothy Kelly, an Ontario leader of the Proud Boys. Kelly appears to have recently been elevated to a top leadership role the in the wake of the recent announced departure of Proud Boys’ founder Gavin McInnes. Kelly and contingents of Proud Boys have shown up at Yellow Vest demonstrations in the east. McInnes is also Canadian, though he leads this group of self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists” from the U.S. McInnes and the Proud Boys have promoted anti-Muslim bigotry, the biological determinist idea that genetic differences in intelligence exist between “races,” and a radical attack on feminism.
Another group Tedesco joined is the Canadian Combat Coalition National, a group fusing conspiracy theories, nativism, and Islamophobia. The group mission openly declares that, “We oppose mass immigration, open borders, New World Order and Sharia Law.”
Yellow Vest Islamophobia
John Tedesco is also trying to bring Islamophobia into the Canadian yellow vest movement. He has a lengthy online trail of viscous and violence-threatening anti-Muslim bigotry.
In the United States, Three Percenters have been involved in providing security for Islamophobic protests outside mosques and anti-Muslim rallies in urban areas. Tedesco has, in fact, posted material on his Facebook page from Brigitte Gabriel, chair of Act for America, a leading U.S. anti-Muslim group that has organized such protests. In addition to the Three Percenters, Tedesco also joined the group Canadians Against Sharia Law.
Boasting of his arrest at the Kamloops Yellow Vest protest, Tedesco combined anti-Muslim fear-mongering (references to “Jihadi Justin” Trudeau) with the idea that “Mass migration at the hands of a radical UN is suicide!!!”
Elsewhere, Tedesco sought racist political traction by recalling the murder of Maren Ueland, a 28-year old Norwegian woman killed in Morocco along with Louisa Jespersen, 24, of Denmark. The Moroccan government is investigating the murders as terrorist acts possibly linked to the Islamic State. Rather than seeing this as a possible act terrorism by religious bigots, Tedesco, responded with a blanket condemnation of Islam:
Tedesco’s version could be an entry in the textbook definition of bigotry, casting all Muslims responsible for the actions of a few who have twisted the religion into a call for violence. Bringing anti-Muslim bigotry to its logical conclusion, in January Tedesco posted a meme calling for the deportation of Iqra Khalid, a Pakistani-Canadian Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erin Mills.
Tedesco’s apparent support for deporting a Canadian citizen of Pakistani descent drew two responses on his Facebook page:
Tedesco is the sole individual “liking” these calls for racist violence.
This is not the only time, however, that Tedesco has “liked” the idea of killing a person of color in Canadian government. In a December 27 post, Tedesco aimed his animus at Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen for supporting the United Nations migration pact. This drew the response, “Treasonous bastard, hang him high,” from Donald Willford of Chilliwack. Again, Tedesco “liked” the call to hang Hussen:
Donald Willford, of Chilliwack, again responded to Tedesco’s efforts to gin-up hatred towards Somalis:
Donald Willford’s idea that Somalia should be “cleansed of evildoers and subhumans” has its starting point in the brand of bigotry promoted by Tedesco and the idea that the Canadian nation faces a dire threat from immigrants and Muslims. In line with such views, Tedesco launches missives at the very idea of diversity – i.e., the idea people from many different cultures and backgrounds have contributions to make to Canadian society.
Adding up Tedesco’s attacks on Muslims and immigrants, and his apparent “liking” of the idea of violence against people of color in Canadian government, the logical conclusion emerges that the Yellow Vest movement has created space for reactionary racism and a vision of keeping whites atop Canadian society.
Meanwhile, anti-sharia law activism is a cornerstone of anti-Muslim mobilizations in the United States – alleging that Muslim sharia law is threatening to take over the country. Sharia law has also become the law in exactly zero Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions. In reality, Sharia law is similar the Talmudic tradition in Judaism and the Catholic Canon – an elaboration on foundational texts that plays a role in Islamic practice.
Anti-sharia activism has also repeatedly pressed the idea that Islam and Muslim men pose a mortal threat to women – an argument that recalls the Ku Klux Klan’s oft-repeated claim to defend white women from black men and echoes Tedesco’s attempt to cast all of Islam responsible for the tragic murder of Maren Ueland in Morocco.
The case of John Tedesco is not the first time that organized racists have been linked to the Canadian Military. The presence of organized white supremacists in Canada’s elite special forces led to a national inquiry after the 1993 torture and death of Somalian teenager Shidane Arone at the hands of the Canadian Airborne Unit on duty as peace keepers. The inquiry and subsequent revelations of the extent to which organized white supremacists were found throughout Canadian Armed Forces led to the demise of the Unit and an inexplicable truncation of the inquiry in 1994.
Such politics are also in keeping with the disregard for indigenous sovereignty displayed in the Yellow Vest drive to push pipelines through unceded First Nations territory. On July 1, 2017 Canadian forces members donning the garb of the Proud Boys harassed and attempted to intimidate Mi’kmaw, and other Indigenous supporters and allies at a Halifax Nova Scotia gathering around the statue of General Edward Cornwallis – known for the genocidal practice of issuing bounties on the scalps of Mi’kmaw in the 1700’s. At the time of the incident Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff, called their actions deplorable issuing an apology to the Indigenous community. On September 1, 2017 all members returned to active duty with probation (CBC).
While media coverage has shed light on threats of violence aimed at the Prime Minister, largely ignored is the greater threat of racialized violence in rural towns akin to that experienced throughout middle America at the hands of what once was a singularly American phenomenon. On a similar trajectory to the rise of racist paramilitaries in the United States – the phenomenon that helped produce the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and more recent armed nationalist standoffs in Nevada, Oregon and Montana – a new northern front for may be taking root for the long run.
IREHR will follow these developments and have more to say about them in the near future.