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Upcoming anti-mask protest in Alberta may conceal radical political movement: experts

Last Updated Jan 21, 2021 at 11:15 am MDT

CALGARY – An upcoming march protesting pandemic restrictions in Alberta may have deeper implications, according to some experts.

The event is billed as an anti-mask rally calling for freedom and the lifting of restrictions. But imagery associated with the rally – some of it religious in nature – could be highlighting the existence of radical political movements in Canada.

“We’ve seen the anti-mask movement either subterfuge for – or co-opted by – alt-right proponents,” said Chad Haggerty with the Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation.

A message from the organizers of the Feb. 20 rally says the invite is open to all people and all groups. But some experts say that’s simply not the case.

“This is not a call to all Albertans. This is a call to certain types of Albertans that they want to come out,” said Brad Galloway, a research and intervention specialist with Organization for the Prevention of Violence.

Irfan Chaudhry, director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity at MacEwan University, says the difference between what the protest claims to be versus what it is can be disorienting.

“You just showed up to protest not wearing a mask, now all of a sudden, they’re talking about anti-government, upheavals, takeovers,” said Chaudhry.

One of the posters advertising the rally is calling the event a “Jericho torch march,” likening it to a biblical battle in which Israelites conquer the city, causing the walls surrounding it to crumble.

“That’s not how someone just talking about freedom from mask wearing talks,” said Galloway.

Added Irving Hexham, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary: “To also tie it to a religious justification, I find unconscionable. They have no real basis for doing that. There’s nothing essentially religious or Christian in what they were putting forward.”

The flyer also contains the image of white nationalists and far-right extremists marching through Charlottesville, VA., in 2017.

“Where, obviously we know the outcome of that incident was someone, a woman, was killed by a far-right extremist person,” said Galloway.

The people lined up to speak include right-wing political and religious figures, many with agendas reaching far beyond COVID-19 measures.

“Right-wing extremist groups, in general across Canada, they like to platform themselves on things that look like, ‘oh the freedom march, fake news.’ They even did yellow vests, they tried to get in on that one,” said Galloway.

One of the speakers in a video promoting the event is seen holding a Donald Trump flag, highlighting the impact the former president has on such movements.

“The people we’re seeing at a lot of these different marches are not your typical old-school neo-Nazi skinheads marching down the streets with Swastika flags. People are showing up with Trump flags, they’re trying to mainstream right-wing populism,” said Galloway.

Added Chaudhry: “The Trump effect for Alberta definitely has amplified things a bit further, but we’ve always had that here unfortunately. And I think that’s one thing that’s always important to kind of reflect on. Alberta has a really interesting legacy of right-wing extremism and white supremacy.”