A Study in Swastika
At the Public Emergency Order Commission in Ottawa, one man vows to investigate the real source of a Nazi flag.
You are getting a practical deluge of Bug-eyed and Shameless this week. Expect more dispatches from the Halifax International Security Forum soon. I’ve also been trying to write something about my feelings after the Colorado terror attack on the Queer community, but all I can muster are the words “fuck you” over and over again.
But I wanted to send out a brief dispatch about the Public Order Emergency Commission happening in Ottawa right now. It has been tasked with delving into whether the Trudeau government was right in its use of the Emergencies Act in clearing out the anti-vaccine convoy that took over the capital and blocked borders across the country.
This is a particularly tiny bit of disinformation. But I want to dig deep into it because sometimes understanding how these crackers theories come together can tell us a lot about why they grab hold, and about the types of people that advance them.
We knew that giving the convoy organizers standing at the commission was going to be an invitation to enter a bunch of bizarre nonsense into the record. The hope was that having a lawyer there, particularly lead counsel Brendan Miller, would having a moderating influence.
I wrote earlier about Miller’s bizarre line of questioning that turned on the movie The Purge. We heard organizer James Bauder talk about “RMNA [sic] 6 gene-altering therapy.” But, overall, things haven’t been that bad. Some of Miller’s lines of questioning are incredibly worthwhile. His effort to fight back against the federal government’s aggressive redactions and claims of privilege is important. This would not be a real commission of inquiry without him there.
But things have gone into crazyland.
Miller has embarked on a bizarre and totally unfounded side quest to prove that a complicated network of agents, operating under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, infiltrated the occupation with Nazi and Confederate flags, in order to discredit the movement and make the case for police action.
I have prepared this short video to recap Miller’s strange fixation.
Let’s rewind the clock.
On January 28, the convoy of trucks and personal vehicles arrive in Ottawa. Scattered throughout the crowd are photos of nooses, the logo of the listed terror group the III%ers, the occasional Swastika (generally, I note, in the context of calling Trudeau a Nazi — not that that’s an excuse), and the occasional Confederate flag.
A day later, a Reddit user uploads a photo from downtown Ottawa of someone flying a Nazi flag — perhaps alongside a “FUCK TRUDEAU” flag.
Pretty quickly, the pro-convoy crowd insisted that it was an agent provocateur. Or that the person was in fact anti-Nazi, and just happened to have a Nazi flag onhand. Either way, they said, just a single photo of the flag proves nothing.
Now, according to some anecdotal reports from the streets of Ottawa — this Nazi flag guy was confronted by the participants and told to take a hike. While there were some grotesque usages of the swastika throughout the convoy, it did seem like the use of Hitler’s insignia was generally unwelcome at the occupation. And, well, good!
And it was particularly obscene for the prime minister to repeatedly suggest that the occupation was defined by the Nazi flag. There are plenty of things to pin to the convoy — you don’t need to stretch that hard.
When it comes to the Confederate flag? Well Chris Barber, one of the main organizers, had two hanging up in his garage. So it’s hard to claim that it was not a symbol welcome at the convoy.
For all her efforts, Malcolm never identified the flag-waver. So some people came up with their own kooky theories about who was really behind the flags. Someone spotted one ginger with a camera, and concluded it must be the only ginger in Ottawa.
Someone else noticed that a photo of the Confederate flag had been taken by photojournalist Dave Chan: A guy who also used to photograph prime minister Paul Martin. It was decided that his presence at the occupation was proof of this false flag flag. Case closed!
But that was just online lunacy — albeit nuttery that convinced one conspiracy-minded Member of Parliament. Overall, it seemed to just become established fact that the Nazi flag guy was just some asshole who had either left town after being told to fuck off, or had ditched the flag and just become another occupier; and the Confederate flags had been swept under the rug to avoid bad press. Given the circumstances, that’s a minor victory.
It was all settled until, of course, Brendan Miller came around.
His theory has risen to even higher heights of crazytownbananapants.
Miller thinks he has not just identified the source of the flag, but the whole conspiracy that put it there. In case you’re completely lost from Miller’s line of questioning, let me sketch it out for you:
According to one random guy, ostensibly a part of the convoy, he approached the man carrying the Nazi flag, who identified himself as Brian Fox.
Brian Fox is a former journalist who now works at governmental relations firm Enterprise Canada. The idea that he was involved in flying a Nazi flag near Parliament may seem completely unbelievable, until you see the photographic evidence.
The resemblance is uncanny.
But wait, the conspiracy doesn’t end there.
As Miller argued at the commission, the first time the photo of the Confederate flag showed up was in a column in the Toronto Star.
By an Enterprise Canada consultant and Liberal Party staffer.
[hold for gasps]
“I was like wuhhhh.”
That’s how Supriya Dwivedi reacted to hearing her name — or, at least, some comically incorrect pronunciation of it — mentioned at the commission. Or, at least, that’s how I managed to transcribe it. She made a noise that, I believe, we can roughly translate to: What is this absolute clown on about.
Dwivedi did, indeed, write a column for the Toronto Star, confronting the ways in which targeted misinformation campaigns can lead to hate, violence, and extremism. The banner photo is that Dave Chan shot of the Confederate flag.
And, indeed, Dwivedi is a Liberal — though she does not work for the Trudeau government. She is senior counsel at Enterprise Canada, but her main job these days is at the Max Bell School’s Centre for Media, Technology, and Democracy. She’s “steeped” in misinformation and studying its impact on our democratic system.
At the risk of shocking you, dear reader, Dwivedi is not a plant.
Fox is not the guy in the photo, as he wasn’t even in Ottawa when the occupation occurred. Dwivedi wrote the column before the convoy arrived in Toronto. And she, as a freelance columnist, doesn’t choose the art for her column — her editors do.
“I’m still somewhat unsure what the through-line or thinking of what [Miller] posits this whole grand conspiracy to be,” Dwivedi laughs.
Full disclosure: Supriya is an old friend. As is Jason Lietaer, the very conservative president of Enterprise Canada, who took on Miller’s “unhinged” conspiracy theory last night.
“It’s a giant Alanis Morissette levels of irony,” Dwivedi told me.
This week, in WIRED, I wrote about the mounting political fight brewing over autonomous cars. Lawmakers and experts are worried the uber-connected vehicles could be a trojan horse for Chinese surveillance.
In the Globe & Mail, I wrote on the illusory promise of a ceasefire in Ukraine. Negotiating temporary terms with Russia, as we’ve seen multiple times over the past decade, only leads to more war.
For paying subscribers, some of the conversation we had with Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna.