Saturday, February 11, 2017


On Sunday, January 30, at 7:50 in the evening, a young man wearing a mask and carrying a rifle walked through an unlocked door and into a mosque in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte Foy. As he shouted “Allahu akbar!”, the young man pointed his rifle at the fifty men who had assembled for evening prayers and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. His gun had jammed. Undeterred, he ran back to his car, retrieved a 9mm handgun with a 15 round capacity, returned, and opened fire, emptying his gun into the crowd.

By 7:55, the shooting was over, and the first call was made to 911. Police arriving on the scene found a bloodbath of dead and dying men, and yet, incredibly, the first thing they did was rough up witnesses, survivors, and those tending to the wounded, possibly adding to the body count. An investigation is pending.

At 8:10, another call was made to 911. Someone claiming to be the gunman wanted to give himself up. By 8:50, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old anthropology and political science student and part time blood bank employee was in custody.

By the time the dying was done and the counting finished, Bissonnette would be charged with six counts of first degree murder and five counts attempted murder.

Not counting the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in which 60 innocent Muslims lost their lives, Bissonnette’s rampage stands as the deadliest ever attack on Muslims in North America. Despite Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the massacre a terrorist attack, terrorism charges have yet to be filed against Bissonnette.

And maybe therein lies a question worth exploring. If Alexandre Bissonnette is a terrorist--and I believe that he is--then what kind of terrorist is he?

According to Bissonnette's friends and classmates, throughout junior high he was a shy, unpopular introvert with an interest in firearms, hunting, and the military. While attending Universite Laval, his interests evolved to include a variety of conservative causes. He joined student organizations and discussion groups, both online and off, and made efforts to participate.

People noticed a change roughly a year ago, roughly coinciding with French Far Right politician Marine Le Pen's visit to the province of Quebec. Bissonnette began professing great admiration for Le Pen, as well as then American Presidential candidate Donald Trump. His rhetoric grew ever more strident and extreme, his interactions with others more anti-social.

Bissonnette soon veered into hardcore racism and anti-Muslim invective. His trolling eventually became so intense that few who were aware of his online activities were surprised to discover that he had perpetrated a deadly massacre.

So, what does this mean, re the question at hand?

Well, for one thing, even though Bissonnette appears to have been completely self-radicalized, and even though he acted alone, it means that we would be fools to dismiss him as a deranged, apolitical "lone wolf" like, say, Elliot Rodger, or Adam Lanza. 

In fact, I think the opposite could be argued. I think that Bissonnette, hollowed out by the corrosive power of the politics of right-wing hate, was left utterly defenseless when the wider culture began its rapid terminal slide towards populist extremism. A non-stop diet of Far Right propaganda succeeded in pounding all the reason, proportion, and empathy out of him, then filled him anew with an incandescent grievance... a horrible swelling of inchoate missionary zeal that would find its ultimate expression in a tragic spasm of barbarous brutality.

In this sense, Bissonnette is not just a soldier for, but an avatar of, the alt.right politics of hate. His politics are literally all that is left of him. 

Being a hollowed out cipher who exchanged his mortal soul for a half-baked pseudo-ideology copy/pasted from Reddit is something that Bissonnette shares with his predecessors in the annals of alt.right terrorism: Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof.

And yes, I am suggesting that there is a substantial, substantive difference between right-wing terrorists of generations past, like Timothy McVeigh, and today's alt.right terrorists... though I'm sure all three secretly dream of one day hoisting foamy mugs with McVeigh in the hallowed mead halls of Valhalla. One needn't watch all two hours of Roof's FBI confession video, or read all fifteen hundred and fifteen pages of Breivik's manifesto, to realize that there is a certain, shall we say, confusion grinding away behind those addled pates. 

Not that confusion is any defense against extremism. The fact that people don't come much more confused than Omar Mateen, for instance, didn't mean much to the hundred and one people he shot (49 killed) in Orlando last year. Which brings us to the Trump administration's impeccably timed announcement that the federal anti-extremist program will no longer be targeting "right wing extremists".

Which is problematic, when you consider that pretty much every single terrorist--be he Jihad-besotted suicide-bomber, or neo-Pagan wannabe Viking, or even pseudo-intellectual “cultural Christian”--is, at heart, a "right wing extremist". The days of the Weather Underground and the Red Brigades have long since passed, after all.

Then again, maybe the real reason the Trumpniks decided to shut down efforts focused on uncovering non-Muslim right wing extremists is because they figured out a more cost effective way of doing so. For instance, by simply calling roll at police stations across the country.

In any case, if you or someone you love is currently involved in a hate group, and extrication from said situation is proving difficult, why not pay the good folks at Exit USA a visit? They've been where you are, and they know the way out.

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