As is well known by now, Canadian police allege that on Sunday Alexandre Bissonnette, a French Canadian White Nationalist who is reportedly a fan of Marine LePen walked into a mosque at prayer in Quebec City and opened fire, killing at least six people and wounding many more. Regis Labeaume, the mayor of peaceful Quebec City, which has one of the lowest homicide rates in Canada, stood in front of the cameras that night to tearfully tell the Muslims of the city, “We love you…this is your home.” LeBeaume was still visibly shaken the next day, saying that he had not slept all night and muttering to reporters, “It’s horrific. It’s horrific, in our magnificent city…..it’s horrific.” Vigils broke out across Canada yesterday, with many synagogues holding special prayer services as well.
Just hours after the attack, however, American White Nationalist Richard Spencer broke with the chorus of outrage and empathy to tweet one of the most horrible responses imaginable. Spencer tweeted, “Why are there mosques in Quebec City, one of North America’s most beautiful cities?”
This stomach-churning tweet manages to combine a blithe disregard for the lives lost and the suffering of the wider community with the repulsive assertion that there should not even be mosques in a Canadian city. Canadians, who reacted with a massive surge of support and love for the Canadian Muslim community, beg to differ.
Spencer rejects the title of Neo-Nazi, labeling himself instead an “identitarian” (i.e. someone who supports ethnic nationalism) and calls for the “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of the United States of non-white peoples.
Although a supporter of Trump’s recent Muslim ban, he does not do so because he is afraid of Muslim terrorists, as he made clear on Twitter the next day, writing: “I’ve always been skeptical of focusing on crime and terrorism as a basis for immigration restriction. Even if immigrants committed no crime whatsoever, they would fundamentally change the character of a nation.”
Although Spencer does not directly incite violence as far as is known, he is known for his pejorative and dismissive references to other ethnicities, tweeting on that same day: “We need an effort across N. America and Europe to help Muslims reconnect w/ their roots and families. Yes, Muhammad, you can go home again.” Spencer has also been criticized for his use of Nazi terminology, Hitler-style salutes to Trump, and his refusal to denounce Hitler himself.
Spencer seems to believe that he can walk the fine line between espousing ethnic cleansing and espousing violence. Yesterday Spencer made sure to tweet the Mosque shooting suspect’s identity as a white nationalist, possibly in response to the extreme slowness of Fox News and others to correct the original report that he was a Moroccan (the police had taken in a Moroccan eyewitness for questioning). Spencer tweeted: ” The suspect in the #QuebecMosqueAttack is a young White male, who was apparently critical of mass immigration. If the suspect did such a thing, then he committed an act that wasn’t just immoral and disgusting but politically counterproductive.”
Of course one should note the real purpose of the above tweet, which is not to denounce the killing of the Muslims (Spencer did not dedicate so much as one tweet to that specific purpose) but rather to signal to his followers that killing non-white immigrants will set back their agenda of accumulating political power to expel them legally. How long Spencer will hold to the position, or at least the appearance, of “nonviolent white nationalism” is anyone’s guess. After he was sucker punched by an anti-fascist protestor at an anti-Trump protest last week, he called for a vigilante force to protect white nationalists.
Matthew Gindin is a journalist, educator and freelance writer located in Vancouver, BC. He is the Pacific Correspondent for the Canadian Jewish News, writes regularly for the Forward and the Jewish Independent and has been published in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Religion Dispatches, Kveller, Situate Magazine, and elsewhere. He also writes on Medium from time to time.