An all-white group of men recently patrolled the downtown streets of Halifax handing out slices of pizza to people they felt were in need of food.
“We go to homeless shelters, we drop off food there. We also take care of our vets, we talk to our vets,” said George Fagen, vice-president of the Halifax chapter of the Northern Guard.
“We’re just true Canadian patriots.”
Fagen says the Northern Guard opened a Halifax chapter in January of this year and that their mandate is simple: put Canadian values and issues first.
“It’s almost like the people in charge are putting Canada behind everything and taking care of other countries. We need to take care of our backyards first,” Fagen said.
The presence of the group in the city has raised concerns among some citizens, who feel the beliefs of the Northern Guard represent white supremacy and can be threatening to non-white people, especially Muslims.
“People are afraid, and rightfully so. We’ve seen how this xenophobic, hateful rhetoric, bigoted rhetoric, turns to very real violence,” said a man only wanting to be identified as John.
John says he is fearful of online harassment from far-right groups for vocalizing his opposition to their beliefs.
He says he belongs to a “coalition of citizens” in the region who aim to “educate our communities about the threat of the far-right movement and to help organize the community in defence against this threat.”
According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the Northern Guard is a splinter group of the Soldiers of Odin. The Soldiers of Odin is a well-known anti-immigration group that was founded in Finland in 2015.
“Northern Guard is a hate group we track. They are one of the most militant groups in the anti-Muslim movement,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP say they are aware of the Northern Guard but haven’t linked them to any criminal activity.
According to Fagen, the group in Halifax doesn’t represent violent acts or racist beliefs at all; they’re simply being patriotic.
“We need to take care of our own backyard first before we take care of somebody else, and a lot of people agree with that. Freedom of speech does not exist no more; they’ve changed it to hate speech,” Fagen said.
Alex Khasnabish, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University who has spent over 20 years studying social movements, believes the “resurgence” of the fascist movement is connected to people feeling insecure about crisis-related issues faced by everyday people, like rising poverty rates and increased homelessness.
“Traditional forms of authority — whether that’s family relations, gender relations, general social order — are under stress because of multiple overlapping factors, including things like the economy, including insecurity driven by terrorism or war, including even climate change,” Khasnabish said.
He says the internet and social media movements have “expedited” the ability of far-right “propaganda” to be fuelled and accessed but that the information itself is nothing new.
“We are dealing with a different kind of media, but I don’t think people should see it as fundamentally different than Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan or whatever group we might be talking about putting up posters,” Khasnabish said.
Posters have been put up throughout Halifax alerting people to the presence of the Northern Guard and providing contact information for those who may feel threatened by their beliefs.
“How do you think a Muslim woman walking down the street would feel wearing her hijab? Rightfully, she would probably feel threatened so I think that people have legitimate concerns and legitimate fears when it comes to this group and what they’re about and what they’re trying to do here in this city because I don’t think it’s just trying to feed the homeless,” John said.
Khasnabish says he condemns any movement that makes people feel excluded.
“What we must not do is engage in the dehumanization and degradation of other people as a way to security, as a way to explaining our problems, as a way to making ourselves feel better,” he said.