Two days before Halloween, a post appeared on the Canadian politics subreddit /OnGuardForThee. An individual had compiled evidence showing that white supremacists were planning a postering campaign on October 31st with flyers that said “It’s Okay to be White”.
The post detailed how the campaign was coordinated by the alt-right subreddit /thedonald and other white nationalist channels. The campaign “Okay to be White” was nothing more than racist subterfuge, designed to fool the public into debating the message, rather than it’s origin or purpose. As one white supremacist reddit user said “If people start being Nazis and supporting the posters, then liberals can just dismiss it all with dog whistles and moderates won’t be convinced.”
Fast forward to November 1st, one day after the posters appeared. CBC covered the story as they would any other. But not once did the story mention their hidden purpose or the group behind the posters.
The posters had their intended effect. People called them racist, which they are, but many respond to the message itself, that there is nothing wrong with being white. By not providing context, the CBC reinforced the white nationalist’s objective to turn average people against anti-racists. A cursory Google search would’ve uncovered numerous sources showing the hate-based history of the slogan.
We shouldn’t be surprised. White supremacists and neo-Nazis understand marketing and know how to weaponize media coverage in their favour. Throughout history these groups have used branding and hidden messages to normalize their messages and incept it beyond their narrow confines (listen to my interview on the subject with Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss to learn more about the history of far-right branding).
Our short attention spans, hyper-reactivity and inability to consume the larger context of stories make these posters so effective. By not including the context of the message, that it’s an insidious marketing ploy perpetrated by white supremacists to further their white supremacist agenda, CBC became an unwitting tool of the far-right.
Countering these messages isn’t difficult, but requires work.
White supremacists, as the individual in the Reddit post above makes clear, intuitively understand the dangers of association with the word Nazi. That word still has the power to cut through bullshit white supremacist propaganda in a way no fact-based argument can. Discrediting the source works.
But it’s not enough to just call them white supremacists or Nazis. White supremacist propaganda is defeated by showing who these people are and what they say when no one is looking. Reporters covering the far-right and organizations like Anti-Hate Canada are leading the charge by outing white nationalist message boards, group chats and breaking down barriers of anonymity that allow hate to proliferate.
When we understand this, it’s clear that “It’s Okay to be White” has nothing to do with helping white people. It’s a branding tactic that white supremacists understand works. They literally say so on their message boards.
Stories like the CBC perpetuate the problem. But it’s those same reporters that have the power to counter these messages. Let’s hope the CBC and other media outlets do better in the future.
For more information about the history of far-right branding, listen to Episode #21 of Cable Street with Cynthia Millier-Idriss
To learn more about how journalists expose the far-right, listen to Episode #7 of Cable Street with Canadian reporter Martin Patriquin.