On confusing the enemy

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This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

Alt-right groups are growing in the US and Canada, and social media outlets help to act as a platform for promoting ideologies. These people claim their movement is based on liberty and the right to free speech. However, in today’s apparently civilized society, what they’re promoting should be called what it rightfully is: racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism. The KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, and others are experiencing a revival or resurgence in sympathizers, and it would be shortsighted to exclude the Rise of Trump as partly responsible for this.

Far-right groups and individuals are associated with hate speech as they preach something that encourages divide, exclusion, and blame based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The alt-right is gaining power in both America and Canada, and media presences are giving more credence to these harmful beliefs.

Recently, I read about a far-right political activist from Canada named Lauren Southern. She’s a blonde 22-year-old who made news in my country when the Southern Poverty Law Center condemned her for hate speech and blatant white nationalism.

In the aftermath, I’ve seen people calling her the “Canadian Tomi Lahren.” Lahren is a 25-year-old conservative political commentator and TV host who is quickly becoming one of the most recognized faces in American right-wing media. While humorous to note that they resemble each other in looks, age, and political leanings, to me, it seems dangerous to muddle the two.

Who are they?

Lahren’s ascension to media fame — or infamy — is born from her willingness to make “a rightwing criticism of pop culture”, as explained by political scientist Dan Cassino. She has identified a niche market gap in the political media landscape and has remained a consistent conservative voice.

Southern, on the other hand, is recognized more for her actions — specifically, her antagonistic rally stunts. While neither women are unbiased, Southern is keener to be the creator of events in politics, as opposed to Lahren, who commentates on them.

They are both self-confessed anti-feminists. However, Lahren has been far more supportive and vocal about her belief in women empowerment and is perhaps more transparently using this argument as a convoy for garnering support within her party. She is well-known for her pro-choice abortion position as well.

In contrast, Southern’s vitriolic provocation of LGBTQ initiatives and feminist-based movements such as International Women’s Day is rapidly approaching plain misogyny.

Southern has actively campaigned against LGBTQ movements, insisting that “there are only two genders,” and in 2016 in Vancouver was attacked by a protestor at one of these rallies. Southern has made a name for herself through attending protests with counter-messages, such as in June 2015 where she brandished a sign at the Vancouver SlutWalk saying “There Is No Rape Culture in the West.”

Decidedly anti-feminist given her actions in the public realm, she also initiated “The Triggering”, which fell the day after International Women’s Day and involved Twitter users posting controversial and unthinkable remarks and content to promote free speech.

More recently, Southern incorrectly accused Syrian refugees of the Quebec City mosque shooting in January 2017. She is unapologetically anti-immigration, even going so far as organizing an identitarian group, Generation Identitaire to try and obstruct the passageway of the Aquarius, an NGO ship searching for ship-wrecked migrants. What sums her views up quite nicely is her book, Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants and Islam Screwed My Generation.

So . . . the point?

So why does any of this matter? Here’s the thing: on a political spectrum that is growing increasingly hyper partisan and hostile, we need to be able to correctly identify who the real enemy is. I don’t like Lahren and never have. Her rhetoric spreads a rightest message that I generally disagree with. However, she is arguably not the same as someone as extremist as Southern.

To me, people like Lahren present more of an opportunity for us to try to reach some kind of center approach together. Her pro-choice stance and her noted interest in women empowerment is something that those on the left can try to work with when dealing with people who are merely conservative.

Conservative politics is not the real enemy. The alt-right movement is. It is hostile and angry, and goes far beyond discussion about fiscal policy and the way our government operates. People like Southern do not hold reasonable views. They need to be met with a wall of opposition, and it will be easier to oppose them if those of us who still have a sane and rational understanding of how a democracy works can band together — both left and right.

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