On Wednesday, small groups of extremists will engage in a series of demonstrations around the country aimed at popularizing their toxic and hateful conspiracy theories about gay and trans kids.
The activists behind these demonstrations are part of a global network of right-wing extremists who have spent the past 10 or 15 years trying to foment rage and sow seeds of division — all in an effort to destabilize democracies around the world.
First, they targeted Muslims and migrants. Then they attempted to demonize civil rights campaigns, like the Black Lives Matter movement. Then they weaponized anxiety related to the COVID pandemic, leading to events like the occupation of Ottawa and the blockade of the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta.
Now they’re targeting gender and sexual minorities.
While it is important for Canadians — the vast majority of whom are caring and tolerant people — to stand up and push back against these blatant displays of bigotry and intolerance, it’s also important for us to understand that the demonstrations taking place tomorrow are a tactic, not the end goal.
The shadowy forces behind these actions and events want to accomplish at least four things.
First, they want to hijack the political process by seizing control of conservative political parties.
They understand that their base of extremists is nowhere near large enough to win elections on their own. But that base IS large enough to seize control of right-wing political parties — as long as their extremist members are sufficiently hyped-up and mobilized. Hence the ongoing waves of “culture war” campaigns.
We’ve seen this scenario play out with the Republican party in the United States and it’s currently playing out with Conservative Party of Canada and the United Conservative Party in Alberta.
The second thing that the forces behind these demonstrations want to accomplish is distraction.
They know that the actual policies that their newly radicalized right-wing parties espouse are repugnant to the vast majority of voters — so they want public attention to be focused on something (anything!) other than those policies.
For example, voters want answers to the affordability crisis. They want good wages, quality public services and retirement security — and they want their governments to address the crisis of climate change. The newly radicalized conservative parties either ignore these issues or would make things worse, not better. The goal, then, is to distract attention away from how badly conservative parties would perform on issues that actually matter to citizens.
Third, the organizers of tomorrow’s hateful demonstrations want to undermine support for public schools with the ultimate goal of eradicating public education as we know it.
For example, the group Take Back Alberta — which has been behind both the takeover of the UCP and the anti-trans rallies in the province — has made it very clear that they want public money to flow to private religious schools or to parents who want evangelic homeschooling for their kids, as opposed to public schools.
For public consumption, they say that parents should decide whether or not to teach their kids about issues related to gender and sexuality. But what they really want is to have the unobstructed ability to replicate their intolerance in their children (and other peoples’ kids) — and they want public funds to pay for it.
Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, the people organizing tomorrow’s anti-trans events want to dehumanize those who don’t agree with them.
For example, David Parker, the leader of Take Back Alberta, has described people who support the current curriculum on gender and sexual studies as “enemies” and “anti-human.” By falsely painting his opponents as “pedophiles” and supporters of “genital mutilation” he’s trying to justify and normalize hatred against them.
As experts on authoritarianism will tell you, this is a tactic used by fascists. It is deeply troubling that it’s being used by people so close to the premier and the ruling party in Alberta.
So, as we watch tomorrow's fringe protests unfold, let’s keep in mind that they are both less and more than they seem to be.
Less because, despite all the noise and fury, they are the work of a tiny fringe minority.
But also more, because they are the latest evidence of a global effort to subvert liberal democracy in favour of a kind of twisted, religious authoritarianism.