Interview with Dr. Barbara Perry
By Khaoula El Khalil | July 28, 2021
Experts in Quebec and everywhere else claim that violence and hatred are on the rise. In light of this, it was crucial for the 404 Magazine team to understand hate in order to better prevent it. What is hate? What are the signs of hate and how can we detect them? Is hate speech normalized in our society? How can we counter hate speech? Who better to answer these questions than Dr. Barbara Perry, a leading figure in the research community? Currently Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism and Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Dr. Perry has world-renowned expertise related to hate crimes, such as right-wing extremism. We had the privilege of interviewing her and hearing her thoughts on how to move beyond hatred.
“Hatred is embedded in so many elements of our culture. It will take that same multifaceted, multi-sectoral response to unpack it at the political, social and cultural levels.”
In the past years, your academic work has been focusing on hate crime and right-wing extremism. What led you to become interested in these topics?
I’m almost 30 years in this field. When I came to the field, it was during my first job teaching at University of Southern Maine. There was an incredible uptick of anti-gay organizations mobilizing in the state and the number of hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBTQ community during that time. And there was a gay rights initiative on the ballot in Maine for the fall elections, and it revolved around the extension of benefits to same-sex partners. This is what spurred my interest.
In your article “A Crime by Any Other Name: The Semantics of “Hate”” published in 2003, you explained the importance of transcending the term “hate crime,” which has become very popular and often associated with misinterpretations. You also explain the importance of orienting the dialogue towards language that is more direct and honest. So how do you define hate and what do you mean by moving beyond hatred?
I think we’re so saddled with that term “hate crime”. It is hard for us to back away from it. It is easily dismissed as just an emotion, but it has also been misused and willfully misconstrued. What we think of as a crime is about the exercise of power and control and its attempts to maintain a hierarchy around it. These aren’t just personal feelings, whether through misogyny or homophobia, transphobia, or other forms of systemic bias. These are systemic, biased forms of discrimination that permeate our society. Nevertheless, there is plenty of work to be done in terms of what is more appropriate. There are so many other pieces of terminology that are more direct. I mean, call it what it is : it is anti-Muslim violence or it is anti-gay violence! If we want to find an umbrella term, I think it is a little more challenging so things like ethnic violence have been used in the past. I like the notion of targeted violence because it suggests an explicit focus on a particular community
“For me, hate speech is not just speech that is offensive, hurts somebody’s feelings or makes them feel bad. It’s dangerous speech that dehumanizes the target communities and actively promotes hatred, violence and vilification of particular communities.”
What are the signs of hate in Canada and how can we detect them?
Across the board, all crime decreased by 10%, hate crime increased by 37%, the highest it has been since we started reporting on hate crime in 2009. That is a devastating and dramatic growth of hate crime in the Canadian context. Although all hate crimes are only reported up to 25%, I think online hate is probably reported specifically to the police, maybe 10% of the time. It is so broadly diffused across communities and is so deeply embedded on online platforms now. During the pandemic, we saw a slight decrease in offline activity of the right-wing in terms of rallies but a dramatic increase in their online activity. And even in the context of the Black Lives Matter protest, we did see farright activity in terms of attempts to disrupt the Black Lives Matter rallies and trying to co-opt that movement. Moreover, in our first study of far-right extremism in Canada (2015), we identified over a hundred active groups, and over the last couple of years we have identified over 300 active groups in the Canadian context. Those are probably the primary science indicators : hate crime, online hate, and the rise of the far-right.
“All crime decreased by 10%, hate crime increased by 37%, the highest it has been since we started reporting on hate crime in 2009!”
And in your opinion, which groups are the most dangerous on the ground?
I think we must look at the Accelerationist. They are still in small numbers in Canada, but are one of the most, if not the most, aggressive of the movement. They intend to accelerate a Civil War. Some call for what is known as RAHOWA, an acronym for “Racial Holy War”. And so those are much more racist in their orientation. They are more aggressive in their narratives. They are much more likely to promote violence and much more likely to engage in violence as well. So, I find them very dangerous. I also think that what we might call the Militia Movement or the Patriot Movement is very dangerous for three interrelated reasons. One, they seem to draw from former military and active military and law enforcement personnel. So, they got some training and paramilitary tactics. They are often heavily armed. Then you add the Three Percenters, which is the xenophobia and hatred embedded in their ideology.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
Accelerationism is “a term white supremacists have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it. The term is widely used by those on the fringes of the movement, who employ it openly and enthusiastically on mainstream platforms, as well as in the shadows of private, encrypted chat rooms. We have also recently seen tragic instances of its manifestation in the real world […] Accelerationists believe that setting off a series of reactions, even if they result in changes that directly threaten the white race, can actually be a useful tool for motivating more reticent white supremacists”.
Source: The Anti-Defamation League. (2019, April 16). White Supremacists Embrace “Accelerationism”. ADL Fighting Hate for Good. https://www.adl.org/blog/white-supremacists-embrace-accelerationism
RAHOWA is “an abbreviation of the expression “Racial Holy War.” RAHOWA refers to a proposed armed conflict pitting whites against their supposed racial enemies that will eventually lead to final victory for the white race and world domination. The expression was popularized by American white supremacist Ben Klassen, founder of the World Church of the Creator (a religion centred around white nationalist ideas). It is now used by various supremacist or neo-Nazi individuals and groups, often in the form of a call to racial violence or to take up arms in the defence of the white race. More recently, the code words boogaloo and big igloo have been used online by individuals associated with the extreme right in reference to this racial war”.
Source: Small Illustrated Guide to Hatred in Québec. (s.d.). Expressions. https://guidehaine.org/en/signs-and-symbol/poste-kl1b1m94-hub
The Militia Movement in the United States is a “right-wing extremist movement with an anti-government ideology and a strong emphasis on paramilitary activity. It emerged in 1993-1994, quickly engaging in criminal activity—often centered around illegal weapons and explosives—and violence, including some murders and numerous terrorist plots. After a significant slump in the early 2000s, the Militia Movement experienced a second major growth spurt starting in 2008 that has resulted in continuous activity since then, including more crime and violence”.
Source: The Anti-Defamation League. (2020). The Militia Movement. ADL Fighting Hate for Good. https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/the-militia-movement-2020
Three Percenters (also known as 3%ers, III%ers, and Threepers) are “anti-government extremists who are part of the Militia Movement. They compare their hostility to the federal government with the opposition of American patriots to the British during the American Revolution. The term itself is a reference to a false belief that the number of Americans who fought against the British during the Revolutionary War amounted to only three percent of the population at the time. Three Percenters believe that, just as a small revolutionary vanguard overthrew the tyrannical British rule in America, a dedicated group of modern patriots could rid the United States of today’s alleged tyranny”.
Source: The Anti-Defamation League. (s.d.). Three Percenters. ADL Fighting Hate for Good. https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/three-percenters
We are thinking that hate is rising in Canada, and we can’t say it is just the narrative of the extreme right. What role do governmental mechanisms play in fuelling the informal mechanism that helps perpetuate the marginalization of traditionally oppressed and subordinate groups?
We cannot ignore the role that the government has played historically and continues to play today. That is why it isn’t enough to discuss about the definition of hate just at the individual level, since hate is systemic. Thus, the state has constructed and carefully maintained these hierarchies and governmental mechanisms through legislation and policy through rhetoric. And we need to look no further as our province adopted Bill 21, which has a significant impact on Muslims and Islamophobia. This bill informs and reinforces the narratives of the far right. So absolutely, the foundations of the Canadian and American states in colonialism have been applied. Furthermore, these patterns and practices have been applied, not just to Indigenous communities, but to all racialized communities. Add to this the gender dynamics and the exclusion of women from positions of power at all levels of government and civil society. While the Trudeau administration is much more equitable in terms of cabinet membership, the number of women holding seats remains dramatically low. This is due to the fear and vile rhetoric that is targeted against women. Many women are running away from politics, for fear of not just the online hate, but that might escalate into offline violence.
Do you think that hate speech and hate generally, is normalized in Canada?
Absolutely, and especially in the context of the pandemic. Still, the Trump administration has had a tangible impact on the normalization and expansion of hate speech and hate crime. Amongst others, the vilification of diverse communities, racialized communities, the Muslim Community, LGBTQ+ communities. We’re already seeing glimmerings of that in the Canadian context and in Québec. But also, at the federal level, under the last Harper administration when we started to hear about barbaric cultural practices in Canadian values, which were very exclusionary and very dangerous forms of discourse. So, we already had some of that percolating here, and I think Trump exacerbated that. And what we have seen in public opinion polls is that people are recognizing that and up to 35%, 40% are saying, yes, it has become more acceptable to express negative perceptions of particular communities that they feel free to express those sentiments. So, absolutely and the fact that it is recognized by the public is a sign of how deeply that runs.
Hate crime prevention requires a multidimensional response to a multisectoral issue. What is being implemented (devices, prevention programs, awareness raising, etc.) on the ground? To what extent should we compromise on democratic principles to fight against hate and terrorism?
That is often one of the things that has stalled the work in this area: the accusations that attempts to curtail hate speech or any other manifestation of hate is also attempting to constrain free speech. And my answer to that is there is not a fine line between hate speech and free speech. It is a very obvious and thick line. Our courts have defined, very explicitly, what constitutes hate speech and hateful expression. For me, hate speech is not just offensive speech; it hurtssomebody’s feelings or makes them feel bad. It is dangerous speech that dehumanizes the target communities and actively promotes hatred, violence, and vilification of particular communities. There is a very unequivocal definition of hate speech, and it is often those same entiments that underlie hate crime. So, how have we attempted to respond? We need to continue to promote a multi-sectoral approach to counter hate. For example, the summit on Islamophobia and the summit on Antisemitism did a outstanding job. In the submission by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, 61 of recommendations had targeted the federal, provincial and municipal levels. And it was an intelligent move to recognize that all three levels of government have a role in regulating hate speech and hate crime, other manifestations of right-wing extremism and white supremacy. Then, if we look at the broader recommendations that came out, we did see that every sector of society has a role to play, and obviously, education. And by that, I mean not just formal, primary and secondary school education. Moreover, educational initiatives in the schools won’t do anything to counter their narratives or to counter their ideologies. We need to think more creatively and work with
“We need to continue to promote a multi-sectoral approach to counter hate.”
How can we individually counter hate?
At the individual level, there are plenty of actions that we can take to counter hate. I just finished working with the Canadian Council of Muslim Women on some training workshops around countering Cyber Hate specifically.
In your book “Right-Wing Extremism in Canada”, you developed a theoretical framework to understand how broader social, cultural and political patterns allow permission to hate in Canada. Could you tell us about this framework and why you think it might be the best one for addressing the issue?
It is in my first book “In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes” where I developed a theoretical account for hate crime around the notion of doing difference. I explained the way historical structures build around identities, maintaining inequality through an array of mechanisms, violence being one of them. There was this cultural permission to hate that is embedded. Moreover, the common stereotypes that we see through the media, through political narratives, and political policy reinforce permission to hate. Also, we put people in boxes and those broader structures of political, economic, religious play a role in maintaining the disadvantaged, the vulnerable position of those targetedcommunities.
The theme of our second issue is “Beyond Hatred”. How can we go beyond hatred?
I guess the one thing I would focus on or emphasize when we are talking about going “Beyond Hatred” is the importance of not just assuming that there is one magic bullet, because hatred is embedded in so many elements of our culture. It will take that same multifaceted, multi-sectoral response to unpack it at the political, social and cultural levels. Every institution is somehow complicit in the problem and needs to be explicitly engaged in the resolution.