Is that a flag or a rag flapping over the misinformation superhighway?

The last month has been far more tiring than the two years before. As a Canadian, it’s been more embarrassing too.

The rude flag-waving minority – whether it’s the Canadian flag, a “fuck Trudeau” flag or a confederate flag, it doesn’t matter. They are all being waved vigorously by selfish people who claim they are riding in a convoy for my freedom. Have these people done anything to benefit anyone but themselves?

I realize not all flag wavers are “freedom convoy” supporters, but a hell of a lot of “freedom convoy” supporters love to wave flags, and most of those flags are indeed Canadian flags flown right side up. The inverted Canadian flag, the Gadsden flag, the confederate flag, the neo-nazi flags, the “fuck Trudeau” flags, and the other flags of the extreme right are outnumbered at the gatherings by regular Canadian flags. But, they have been mixed amongst more extreme banners and homemade signs espousing medical misinformation and conspiracy theories.

It begs the question, when you see a Canadian flag flying, what else does that “patriot” believe. Another question springs to mind seeing these flags fly so proudly – if the Canadian government is so oppressive, why use the flag of the oppressor?

The confederate flags and swastikas left the movement so fast that it made the change seem insincere. Can hate get purged from a campaign that quickly, or were the flags cast aside for optics?

Watching the oppression-lite treatment of occupiers in Ottawa juxtaposed with the Russian roll-up on Ukraine showed the contrast in treatment the convoy received to people who live through actual oppression.

A column the NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, wrote for the National Observer asked, “How do you discuss politics when you’re not arguing facts but reality itself?”

That’s an excellent question in the age when opinion trumps fact.

“The “freedom convoy” began as a squabble over border vaccination rules but quickly metastasized into a projection of all manner of social and political discontent,” he wrote. “It has been hard to categorize because there are so many incoherent and seemingly contradictory elements. But this is the issue we must now confront: the unrest has revealed a fundamental fissure in how we, as citizens, perceive social reality in Canada.”

I left my job last week at the Listowel Banner because I found myself in a situation where I believe my former employers were downplaying the seriousness of this disconnect. An article written for the paper appeared online with artwork that made it look like an advertisement for the “freedom convoy.”

Listowel Banner coverage of the actual event looked like the coverage of a Santa Claus parade with a sprinkling of conspiracy theories. Again, there was no counterpoint. The Wellington Advertiser did describe the abusive behaviour of approximately 50 “freedom” fighters as they argued their right to go unmasked in the Palmerston Tim Horton’s.

“How do you discuss politics when you’re not arguing facts but reality itself?” Angus asked in his column. “The convoy has been sustained within an information ecosystem in which people from across demographics, genders and life experiences have simply opted out of national media or other anchors of commonality. They have their own Facebook feeds, Reddit channels and Slack chat information buttressing an utterly alternate reality of science, medicine and politics.”

One of the photos in the Banner coverage of the “freedom convoy” roll through Perth-Wellington prominently displayed a sign which read, “Save our kids from WEF World Economic Forum.” The newspaper did not delve deeper into the ideas promoted by the slogan in the photo.

In a column published on The Line on Feb 24, Conservative MP for Calgary-Nose Hill, Michelle Rempel Garner, explains that “the WEF portrays itself as a highly influential elite organization. In reality, it’s an overpriced sales conference.” And it is “not running Canada.”

The World Economic Forum was founded by German engineer and economist Klaus Schwab in 1971 with a mission to “engage the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

According to Rempel Garner, “the WEF probably could be better described as a left-of-centre think tank and lobbying facilitator that hosts annual meetings in the tiny Swiss ski resort of Davos. There, lobbyists, politicians, the media, and some parts of academia from all over the world mingle in eye-wateringly expensive hotels placed between narrow, snow-covered streets.”

Companies pay considerable fees to attend the WEF meetings allowing them access to members from other industries, key thought leaders, and policy influencers from around the world so it can serve as a way to diversify knowledge in many different fields.

Rempel Garner compared it to “LinkedIn for the c-suite but in person.”

In her piece in The Line, she pointed out that many conspiracy theories regarding the WEF and Klaus Schwab began to circulate in the last two years.

“They arose after the think-tank arm of the WEF published what could generously be described as an overwrought leftist article called the “Great Reset.” The document was light on details and heavy on change-the-world rhetoric,” she stated. “The paper suggested that global pandemic recovery efforts could be used to alter many global institutions in a way that leftists would favour. It was released in June 2020, at a time when much of the world was sitting in fresh pandemic lockdown measures.”

“The Great Reset was published by a global organization best known for the secrecy of its elite members during a time when fear about COVID and its response dominated global media,” continued Rempel Garner. “In other words, it was a Molotov cocktail launched into a rapidly brewing gas bed for conspiracy theories regarding the origins of COVID.”

In a 2020 United Nations meeting video, Justin Trudeau suggested the pandemic could provide for a “reset.” The conspiracy theories started spreading like wildfire.

Rempel Garner has become a target for believers of these conspiracy theories because, in 2016, she was selected as a Young Global Leader by the WEF.

“The YGL program is a big part of the broader WEF programming,” she wrote. “Businessweek magazine described it as: “the most exclusive private social network in the world.” This is an overstatement, but members do include the likes of Sergei Brin, Ivanka Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Amal Clooney and many of the top up-and-coming political leaders in the G20.”

Former Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer and Trudeau were YGLs too.

In January 2018, Rempel Garner attended the annual WEF meeting in Davos, where she attended sessions and debated with others.

“Everyone I interacted with was professional and thought-provoking,” she wrote. “When I interjected with my right-of-centre leanings, no one ejected me into the streets. The WEF is certainly elitist, but, to my eyes, it fell far short of being a cabal bent on global domination.”

Part of her theory on why the conspiracies have grown rampantly out of the Great Reset document was the title, the Great Reset, which Rempel Garner called “blissfully naïve and arrogant at best, and flat-out crackers worst.”

Another seed that helped the theories grow was a video of Klaus Schwab implying that the WEF influenced attendees who had secured roles in the cabinets of several countries, including Canada.

“When I saw it, I was shocked at the presumption of the claim that he had influence over Canadian lawmakers by simple virtue of giving them an award,” wrote Rempel Garner. “I guess this was done to increase the WEF’s prestige, or to convince companies to fund the organization — in other words, it was marketing — but it showed incredibly poor judgement and eroded his credibility.”

She also suggested that Trudeau’s penchant for repeating “whatever fashionable buzzword that’s circulating” did not help matters.

“I took his “reset” comment at the UN meeting not as a mark that an evil supervillain had got to him, but rather as a suggestion that he knew the language of the WEF and wanted an invite back to the Davos party scene, or help with a high-profile post-political gig,” she wrote. “And frankly, the Great Reset document wasn’t much different in principle to what Trudeau had broadly already laid out in pre-pandemic election platforms and budgets.”

Rempel Garner admitted some Conservative Party members hadn’t helped either, herself included.

“I remember giving the very slightest of nods at the onset all this in a statement,” she wrote. “I said that Canada didn’t need a reset but a plan to get out of the pandemic, mainly because my constituency my inbox was full of people asking if I was in the WEF’s nefarious camp or theirs, and because I wanted to make clear that I thought the paper was bunk.”

However, she noted that some of her colleagues went further “and suggested that fighting the evil but functionally non-existent Schwabian-Trudeau Great Reset was of paramount importance.”

Because she has a connection to the WEF, Rempel Garner has become a target of harassment for conspiracy theorists.

“My attendance at a meeting of any type is a speck of sand in a beach of information and demands that I and every other MP is subjected to on a daily basis,” she stated to counter the beliefs of anyone who thinks she could be a pawn in the WEF plot. “And every few years, my ability to critically examine this information in a constructive, unbiased way and then make sound decisions is measured by my community via a general election. So far, I’ve managed to earn the trust of my community, which is why I’ve been repeatedly returned to serve again. Even if the WEF — or any other organization — wanted me to be a slave to their policy, it couldn’t happen. And I can confirm that it has not. And as much as I do not support Justin Trudeau, I would wager a safe guess that Canadian electoral politics and personal ambition have much more impact on his policy decisions than Klaus Schwab.”

Rempel Garner listed five suggestions to neutralize conspiracy theories and related angst that are so rampant.

The final two suggestions deal with the information we share and consume in this country.

“Social media platforms reward user behaviour and content that deepens personal bias,” she wrote. “Canadians need to acknowledge this and interact with these platforms knowing that they are being manipulated into not questioning the information presented to them.”

“Fifth, those who would mainstream conspiracy theories with newspaper columns or statements in the House of Commons need to do better,” she continued. “It’s fair game to critique the policies of an organization, their lobbying tactics, or their impact on politicians. It’s fair game to critique the policies of an organization, their lobbying tactics, or their impact on politicians. However, someone choosing to platform stuff that a Twitter bot (created) should give their head a shake. All this does is validate the actions of stalkers and aggressors and diminish the importance of using more constructive political tools to affect change.”

Rempel Garner’s column ended with a comment on the cost misinformation has had on the country, and she expressed her anxiety.

“Our country is angry, and it is tired,” she wrote. “Some are escalating their anger and frustration into larger and more organized acts of civil disobedience. So, I pray that we can collectively get this right and fast. From a personal perspective, I fear that if we don’t, the next time someone approaches me on the street or in a restaurant, it won’t just be a phone that’s pointed at me.”

It is terrifying when you read a quote like the one Perth-Wellington “Freedom Convoy” organizer Tammy Steckly gave the Wellington Advertiser. “We know our truth, and we don’t need to be validated.”

It doesn’t seem like there is much room for conversation in that attitude.

When the dust settles, and we move on as a country, will that red and white fabric be viewed as a flag representing “true patriot love” or as a rag concealing conspiracy theories and hatred?

Sure, to like-minded people, the participants in the “freedom convoy” might be the salt of the earth, but it would behoove you to remember salt can be a bitter pill to swallow.

A old Canadian flag, torn and tangled, can be seen through bare winter tree branches.
When the dust settles, and we move on as a country, will that red and white fabric be viewed as a flag representing “true patriot love” or as a rag concealing conspiracy theories and hatred? (Colin Burrowes Photo)

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7 thoughts on “Is that a flag or a rag flapping over the misinformation superhighway?

  1. Learn More says:

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our area library but I think I learned more from this post. I’m very glad to see such great info being shared freely out there.

    Liked by 1 person

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