The threat posed by hate groups across North America is growing rapidly. The latest evidence of this danger came on March 26, during an event in Vancouver organized by the Coalition Against Bigotry-Pacific to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (officially March 21). As about 200 participants walked along Hastings Street, marchers near the back were approached by men in black outfits covered with ominous symbols – members of the anti-immigrant Soldiers of Odin, who tried to pick fights. When the diverse group of marchers gathered at Victory Square, a smoke bomb was tossed into the crowd and the thugs grew increasingly aggressive, as Vancouver police stood by and observed. The rally did take place, including a powerful speech by Jenny Kwan, Vancouver East NDP MP, herself an immigrant and a target of racism. But the provocations continued, including by members of the so-called “UBC Free Speech Club,” which specializes in condemning free speech by anti-racists and political radicals. Three fascists were finally handcuffed and taken away by police, only to be released soon afterwards, when more attacks took place.
As Coalition organizers said, the main lesson is that the anti-racism movements must become much larger and better organized. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual census, the number of hate groups in the United States is rising as the radical right becomes energized by Donald Trump. The number of explicitly anti-Muslim groups has nearly tripled since 2015, to over 100 across the U.S. Similar trends are visible here in Canada. We call upon police and politicians to treat the Soldiers of Odin and similar groups as criminal gangs intent on violence. But even more important, labour and other progressive movements must unite to stand up against hate, before more people are killed.