The most chilling death threat levelled against Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland came the day after literature was disseminated among convoy protesters accusing her of participating in a global conspiracy led by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF conspiracy theory holds that a shadowy international cabal of elites is using the pandemic to seize power over populations and restructure the world. There is no factual basis for the claims, but that hasn’t stopped some Canadians from believing it and channelling their hatred against those perceived to be in the elite camp. Freeland was one such target.

“I declare war on all the CANADIAN government for lying about covid-19. Chrystia Freeland will get a bullet to the head,” said the email sent to her office Feb. 16. That threat and others were raised last month by a Canadian government lawyer testifying at the Public Order Emergency Commission.

Freeland is one of dozens of politicians across Canada who have faced threats of political violence and terrorism over the past year, and while the convoy might be gone, the threats — and conspiracies behind them — are still here.

The WEF theory and others, like the racist Great/White Replacement theory shared by convoy organizer Pat King, built steam this year following the convoy rallies and are surging on social media as the Emergency Act inquiry plays out. Research from earlier this year suggested as many as 25 per cent of Canadians believed in conspiracy theories. Some MPs feel it's only a matter of time until the rhetoric results in violence.

To find out how we got here, we have to look not just at the messages but the conditions that created them, misinformation and conspiracy theory researchers explain.

Analysis of a conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theories are often mentioned in the same breath as misinformation and disinformation, which are themselves distinct terms. Queen’s University professor Amarnath Amarasingam has studied extremism and conspiracy theories all the way back to 9/11 truthers. Definitions of what constitutes a conspiracy theory are nuanced, but there are three generally agreed-upon elements they all contain: a group of people, secrecy and power or financial benefit at the expense of a subjugated population.

“Those three are important because sometimes I think people think they’re in the presence of a conspiracy theory and they’re not,” says Amarasingam. “If I say COVID-19 was leaked from a lab, that’s not necessarily a conspiracy theory. If I say, ‘Jews leaked COVID-19 from a lab in order to keep people enslaved,’ then you’re tipping into conspiratorial thinking. There does need to be a sinister actor who benefits from people being asleep to the true reality.”

The WEF conspiracy theory fits this model: it focuses on a group of global progressive elites, whose identities aren’t clear, who are using COVID public health policies to grab and exert power. The white supremacist Great Replacement theory espoused by King also qualifies, since it involves the Liberal or Democrat establishment operating covertly to undermine and replace white populations in North America.

While the popular (and partly true) assumption is that feelings of alienation lead to engagement with conspiracy theories, Amarasingam says it's often the other way around. “It’s usually once you adopt these conspiracy styles of thinking that you’re more prone to adopt more and more conspiratorial ideas,” he says.

Radical right conspiracy theories have taken hold in Canada and are leading to terrifying threats against politicians. #ConspiracyTheories #RadicalRight #cdnpoli
Ahmed Al-Rawi, professor at Simon Fraser University and director of the Disinformation Project. Photo submitted by Ahmed Al-Rawi

Ahmed Al-Rawi, professor at Simon Fraser University and director of the Disinformation Project, notes conspiracy theories often occupy “grey areas,” which makes parsing them difficult. “Some of these conspiracies are embellished with a few facts here and there” alongside fabrication and lies, he says. “Those truths are what makes these conspiracies popular.”

From the shadows to the spotlight

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories were relegated to fringe groups in small numbers. Over the course of the past two years, the fringe has expanded to occupy the centre of politics and discourse.

Al-Rawi says the combination of more time in isolation from others coupled with distrust for government lockdowns created the perfect conditions for conspiracy theories to multiply rapidly. “[People had] never seen this before in their lives, what they perceived to be an oppressive measure,” says Al-Rawi. As a result, people believed their rights had been violated. Al-Rawi says the conclusion many reached was that “the government is taking too many strict measures against us, and we are concerned about our freedom.”

These preconditions caused COVID-related theories to gain a lot of traction, and fast. “We have data to support the fact that any groups that spoke the language of COVID conspiracy theories saw their numbers go through the roof online,” says Amarasingam. “These ideas used to be disparate and held by different groups, whether it's Proud Boys or QAnon. Because they all converged on this COVID conspiratorial thinking of anti-government, anti-science, ‘this is all a hoax designed to engage in some sort of power grab,’ a lot of far-right groups saw their numbers climb.”

Amarasingam says the theories continued to grow exponentially when they were platformed by American social media influencers like Joe Rogan and Alex Jones. In Canada, politicians like Randy Hillier and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, along with right-wing media like Rebel News, helped escalate the theories, often while targeting Liberals, the NDP and progressives. Amarasingam notes the social media accounts of King, one of the convoy organizers, counted only a few thousand followers before the convoy; by the time he was suspended from Facebook, his page had reached 176,000 subscribers.

From vitriol to violence

Not all conspiracy theories lead to or carry a heightened possibility of violence, but those propagating in Canadian politics are certainly of concern, especially given there have already been threats levelled against politicians. Amarasingam says conspiracy theories encourage a “good versus evil” mindset that elevates minor policy differences to existential threats.

“Once you get to that transcendental, almost cosmic discourse about ‘the other,’ then conversation and discourse break down and it becomes, ‘It’s my obligation to protect my country against you,’” he says, pointing to attacks like the one on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul Pelosi.

While Canada hasn’t yet experienced violence like that, Amarasingam says the tenor of some elements of the convoy protests, like those who appeared to call for Trudeau’s hanging and accused the Liberals of anti-Canadian agendas, pushes us towards it. This is what terrorism scholars call stochastic terrorism: when more and more people hear a particular message, it’s statistically more likely that one of them will do something about it.

“A lot of people might be listening to that discourse, and it only takes one or two to decide that it’s their responsibility to act on it and save Canada from people who are derailing the country,” he says. “I do think it’s around the corner if we don’t turn down the temperature of our politics.”

The United We Roll convoy arrives in Ottawa on Feb. 19, 2019. The pro-oil group was also joined by Yellow Vest movement members and far-right groups. Photo by Andrew Meade

Turning down the temperature

The bad news is arguments based on logic and rational, critical thinking are very unlikely to snap people out of conspiracy theories. Amarasingam describes it as “punching a waterfall: nothing happens.” However, there is hope. Amarasingam says his research shows people eventually find their way back to reality with the help of family or other support systems. Amarasingam has spoken with former neo-Nazis and QAnon believers who slowly found their way out of those communities after failed predictions and growing disillusionment. “It does happen,” he says, “but it happens slowly.”

Amarasingam says policy fixes like regulating social media companies and taking down content are “Band-Aid solutions,” and that preventive measures are more impactful. In addition to better digital media literacy education and fostering personality traits found to make individuals less vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking, like higher self-esteem and humility, Amarasingam says it's important to focus on the environment around conspiracy theories, rather than the theories themselves.

He uses an analogy of a man with a sign saying, ‘The end is near.’ If we pass him once with only two listeners, then again weeks later with 30 listeners, it doesn't make sense to ask what the message is because it hasn’t changed.

“Something changed in us to make this message more appealing and resonate more,” says Amarasingam. “We have to ask what’s happening in the culture, in us, that some of these ideas seem more likely now.”

Al-Rawi says politicians have a responsibility to de-escalate in situations where extremism seems possible rather than simply brushing off detractors. He says that when Trudeau attempted to dismiss the convoy as a “fringe minority,” it emboldened participants and provided a greater sense of injustice. “Cancelling them is not the right approach,” he says.

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I subScribed to the NO for intelligent, fact based journalism; instead it's more piling on the Freedom Convoy (WHO WERE A GROUP OF NON-VIOLENT PROTESTERS FIGHTING GOVERNMENT OVERREACH).

It is well documented what goes on at the WEF and the covid panic helped them further their plans of digital ID's for everyone, tracking every moment of our lives and the elimination of cash (means every dollar you spend, is tracked.) Klaus Schwab of the WEF brags about how he has his hands in all the major governments, and mentions Freeland and Trdueau both as members of their 'young leaders club' when they were younger.

This woman is fully in the pockets of large corporations and isn't looking out for canadians AT ALL, which at least the freedom convoy was doing.
You can do better Avi -- I hate to put down someone else' work but this piece is trash.

I believe that the comment by Jordan Guilford proves the point of the article. Using small truths to justify a larger conspiracy theory. "It is well documented" is a statement that is heard quite often from conspiracy theorists.

The WEF forum speeches are posted on youtube. If someone literally giving a speech on video isn't documented -- I'm not sure what you're measure of proof is.

Please provide a link to some of those speeches on youtube.

If you don't know how to use youtube you have bigger problems than fascism taking control of our government policy.

Just search for KLAUS SCHWAB on your search engine.

Provide the documents.

I guess you subscribed to the NO quite recently....
And this isn't Avi's article btw.

Jonathan Guilford jumped right in and gave us an example showing the article is correct. I am afraid for our society and democracy when the leader of the CPC, Pierre Populism as well as provincial Premiers like former Premier Kenney and now Premier Smith promote these out to lunch theories. Worse yet is the intelligence of my fellow Canadians for buying into these theories. Cut yourselves off social media for 90 days and see if these theories hold water! THREATS come true when folks get disillusioned. Even my female Conservative MP has received threats, theories and verbal abuse for being female and a politician. I asked her! She responded

You should never let your decision or thought process be motivated by fear. Get over the 'fear' first; (which means YOU should cut yourself off from propaganda and social media) then return to the conversation with a calm mind.
With a calmer mind you may come to realize the liberals care as little about you as the Conservatives. We should not be splitting ourselves along party lines. The liberals put in a wartime measures act and removed our freedoms because they were in a tough spot politically and getting pressure from the US.

So you think political parties are an interchangeable bunch of charlatans interested only in money and having power over the rest of us? There are many like that I'm sure, people being what they are. But you completely discount the definitive philosophical differences between the right and the left that are a distillation of our long, political history. They reflect the old saying that there are two kinds of people in the world which have boiled down to liberals and conservatives. The word liberal shares a root with "liberty" and can mean anything from "generous" to "loose" and open-minded, and thinks that government should be active in supporting social and political change while conservative means averse to change and favours limited government, free enterprise, private ownership and socially traditional ideas/values. Contradictions abound but conservatives inherently have more because of their extreme libertarian take on freedom while also supporting more punitive social controls like mandatory minimums, criminalizing abortion and conversion therapy, basic denials of essential bodily freedom.
So the differences have never been more profound, but in the context of our overarching and idealized system of governance being a democracy, it's never been more clear why we never talk about a "conservative democracy," only a liberal one. Because it's a new and dangerous right wing, widely seen as having lost its mind, that's actively trying to destroy it.

It's completely in accord with my experience of people sucked in to conspiracy theories, that no amount of or reasoning was able to get them to see where the "arguments" of conspiracy-mongers were invalid.
However, the explanation of origins is somewhat shallow, hollow, and contrary to what I've observed over the years.
I'd suggest that someone doing well under the status quo, who's always done well under the status quo, is probably in a poor position to formulate either useful questions, useful observations, or even useful solutions, regarding the lived experience of those who aren't and haven't.
An ever-growing portion of the population is continually pushed further down the economic ladder. People who haven't had that done to them generally have no idea of either the origins or the depth of the problems of those caught up in the by now half-century long process by which more and more people have a harder and harder time not "getting ahead" but keeping alive in substandard housing, total crap for food, second-hand clothes, strugging to keep the heat on, and being treated badly by the health professions.
Everyone likes to believe that there is someone, some group, "out there" making sure the "less fortunate" are somehow looked after. I find it a constant head-scratcher, that the "amount it takes to live in Toronto" has risen in the time I've been aware of the figures, from something around $12/hr, up to 15, up to 19, up to 20-something ... but apparently that doesn't apply to people who have had such damaging childhoods they just can't get things together. Apparently that doesn't apply to people who are homeless. Apparently that doesn't apply to people who wind up on our provincial disability support programs ... or for that matter, on welfare. Those who don't thrive are somehow deemed blameworthy for their condition.
Everyone likes to believe that "everyone" "got help" during Covid, and that the help was somehow proportional to need. That's just a crock, my friends.
I'd like to know, how/why it's seen that there must be one isolated and malevolent actor who profits from the baloney, pulling the strings, in order to meet a (seemingly brand new) definition of "conspiracy theory."
It seems to be the Oxford dictionary definition, taken directly from Wikipedia.
I would go so far as to say that anyone who accepts only The Official Story is most likely either deluded, or well-served by that story.
FWIW, a group of senior law students and human rights advocates started a campaign to stop the violation or human rights." They'd never heard of The Quarantine Act ... and didn't know (either on this side of the border or directly south of us) that such a thing has been in existence for well over a century. They hadn't heard of the 'flu of 1918. I did, from my grandmother and grandfather, whose children were but babies then. I know which of my ancestors' descendants died of it, and what happened to their orphaned children.
I think the truth of the matter is probably closer to what Britannica sets out.
A failure of both descriptions is reliance on an idea (unjustified, as far as I can tell) that we live in a democracy, and that our leaders' main efforts are directed toward the welfare of the citizenry, including minorities, those too poor to be able to afford campaign contributions, and those who don't bother to vote. Would you vote, if nothing government did in, say, 4 decades, did anything but make your own life more difficult? While they, themselves, lived pretty much in luxury?
What if you knew that all the major parties had participated in taking from those with less, to give to those with lots? I'll agree without being asked that most, if not all, of the Covid, etc. conspiracy believers probably don't have any actual information ... let alone proof, that such is the case.
Would you "trust" a government whose best answer to your concerns was "make me." (Or "I don't have to and you can't make me?")
Did globalization improve *your* life? How about "free market" ideology, in practice as opposed to what it was cooked up to be? Or ever-ongoing privatization of public and no-longer public but essential services?

If you would ... Toronto has a Strong Mayor you'd *love* to trust!!! And a premier. For the perfect trifecta.

I find it really interesting, too, that the "creative class" (as they dub themselves) have profound respect for First Nations elders (as they should) but none for all the rest of the elders.

Thank you for that. So well outlined and politely done as well! Don't see any feedback/comeback from "mainstream" advocates, on that opinion...?

So, there are ‘less fortunate’ folks who are correct to believe that the (economic) System Canada is part of does not work for everyone, that we don’t live in a true democracy, and that our Political leaders can’t really be trusted… I can’t argue that, however my concern is that these folks are being manipulated, via dis/mis information and conspiracy theories, spun by the right-wing elite who will do anything to maintain the status quo. The question is, how do we get folks, of all stripes, to see reality and not fall for the rhetoric that Conservative (and to a lesser extent Liberal and NDP) politicians are ‘here for them’. Politicians who are all to happy to twist the justified frustration and angst of folks for their own success, at the expense of the country, the world, and all its citizens (and all life on Earth for that matter)? If reason and logic doesn’t work with these folks, perhaps we must somehow join them in their space, where we can help each other find a way…

I would like to quote you and share this idea:
"I'd suggest that someone doing well under the status quo, who's always done well under the status quo, is probably in a poor position to formulate either useful questions, useful observations, or even useful solutions, regarding the lived experience of those who aren't and haven't."

For me it sums up how difficult it is to build a more inclusive society from where we are (without needing to attribute any malice to decision makers). It seems to broadly apply to most societal issues, e.g. pandemic measures, anti-racism, anti-poverty.

I hope you will reply to this post; I will check this thread in two days.

The unwritten law of survival. Those who do not. cannot contribute to the common good (read wealth in 21st century terms) are disposable. This unacknowledged belief, lurking in the recesses of humanity's evolution, indeed often in the brains of the afflicted, spurs suicide, spurs MAID, and in the brains of the greedy spurs incarceration in jails, in institutions, spurs genocide, and wars. This instinct pre-dates philosophy, religion, party politics, even tyranny.

Interesting, and one phrase that caught my eye was the description of "the other" taking on a "transcendent, almost cosmic" tone that roused the male heroic myth to epic proportions, enough to incite teary-eyed action "for their grandchildren." To the rest of us it looked more like any excuse will do to put on face-paint and go full-on tribal proud boy, similar to the soccer games on right now. In keeping with this, the platform leaders were/are uber-male media musclemen like Joe Rogan and Alex Jones, along with the novelty and validation of an "intellectual" like Jordan Peterson (a psych prof and author of a best-selling anti-feminist, traditionalist, uber-Christian book) and Pierre Poilievre, upstart young rogue conservative "leader." I would suggest that this striking preoccupation with toxic masculinity could also just be a protracted reaction AGAINST feminism.
And the "transcendant, cosmic" tone speaks to a cult mentality, or religion where the emotional high resists correction, one has to almost "come down" from it, which MAY work but can take time, and some sort of "de-programming" can even be required. This reminds me of the Calgary Atheist Society where they offer support for those "recovering from religion."
So "oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practise to deceive." It's why we should actually talk way more about the truth setting us free as with the MAGA hat with the revised slogan "Make Lying Wrong Again."

People should keep in mind that while there's no weird ethnically-or-Bill-Gates-defined subgroup of the WEF trying to steal our precious bodily fluids or inject us with computer chips or whatever the hell, that doesn't mean the World Economic Forum more broadly isn't conspiring against the majority of the world's population.

I mean, the World Economic Forum is very explicitly a meeting of the richest people in the world along with their favourite world leaders and their most lapdog economists, for the purpose of planning the world's economy. You think they're going to be thinking about benefits for the poor? A "good economy" from their point of view is one where they get to make more money, which might in some theories be compatible with general prosperity but in real life is not--they get more rich by making the rest of us less so. But they just do it by advocating for things like free trade, lack of labour laws, stronger "intellectual property" rules and all that boring stuff that conspiracy nuts don't want to bother thinking about.

Pierre Poilievre is totally down with that in general; you'd never catch him doing anything that would benefit the poor and hurt the rich. Chrystia Freeland also. The main difference is that if Pierre Poilievre gets the chance to, say, kick a union in the 'nads, he'll do it with glee and revel in people's suffering because he's a horrible nasty man. Freeland will do pretty much the exact same thing but say to herself "Well, it's a pity, I wish those people didn't have to get crushed, but you know, omelette, eggs." Justin Trudeau would do the same but with a bit more wistfulness.

Haha, well there's a bit of that truth mentioned in the article; I think you missed your calling; you should have been a casting director. But you're doing the bothsidesism thing again that pertains only to the common constraints of the systems and the political realities we all live in/under. Liberals are FAR more open-minded, FAR more generous and compassionate, and most importantly they actually DO get the level of threat climate change presents. I realize Geoffrey Pounder pooh-poohs that entirely, preferring to attribute malice aforethought, but that just isn't believable and actually, such knee-jerk paranoia along with choosing to always totally ignore context is in fact a classic conservative trait, so therefore not worthy.

I think the problem with your political lens is, you fail to follow the money. And the lobbyists. Tell me whose money a political party takes and who they meet with the most, and I will tell you whose side they are on. The Liberal party takes lots of corporate money in general and lots of oil money in particular, and they meet with the oil patch more than they meet with ANYONE else.

And the result is, we see the Liberal government paying billions to build pipelines, but we do not see the Liberal government paying billions to build wind farms, or even to beef up the electrical transmission network. We see the Liberal government subsidizing the hell out of oil companies, but we do not see the Liberal government subsidizing the hell out of renewable energy. We do see incentives for electric car purchases, and even green-ish home improvement . . . but they are half-hearted, designed to be kind of clumsy--you get rebates after the fact if you do all the paperwork, you don't see cheaper sticker prices. Nobody just looking at policies, without knowing anything about what the Liberals SAY or what the Conservatives say about them, would conclude that the Liberals were very interested in a transition away from fossil fuels.

And more broadly, in the Liberals we see a party committed to the good of corporations, and sort of willing to help real people if it's some minor thing that the corporations won't mind. That' because they take lots of corporate money and talk constantly to corporate representatives and don't talk much to anyone else. This IS better than the Conservatives, who are not just committed to the good of corporations, not even just utterly UNwilling to help real people in any way (unless it's something like tax cuts which is really just an excuse to hose people harder somewhere else), but seem actively dedicated to making average people's lives worse wherever they can get away with it. But it isn't good.

The NDP doesn't talk to corporations all that much and doesn't generally take big corporate money. They're still kinda useless because they fear the media, but at the basic "Where does their money come from and who do they spend all their time talking to" level they haven't predefined themselves as the enemy. It's a fundamental difference between the NDP on one hand and Libs and Cons on the other, where the Libs and Cons are the same in this basic way.

Yes, I take your point about following the money but come back to the political reality before us where fossil fuels loom large, as they still do everywhere. Ukraine is showing that.
As far as the NDP remaining unsullied, what has been happening in B.C. shows their hands getting dirty now too with the party removing the young woman who enlisted more memberships than anyone else but was sidelined, deemed too activist. (Avi Lewis wrote about that.) The fellow who edits "The Breach," Martin Lukacs, did a story about how the B.C. NDP were/are also influenced by fossil fuel lobbyists. So it's letting perfect be the enemy of the good.
Further to that pesky "bit of truth" mentioned in the article, here's five ACTUAL, ongoing conspiracies.

Thank you for this reference.

Having been born in 1939 I have been the unwitting recipient of much of the "conspiratorial" action outlined in the "five real conspiracies" article referenced. My hindsight is rather longer than many and lifetime habits and reflection have made me rather more skeptical and cynical than the average.

Early on I came to the conclusion that real conspiracies - secret thoughts and actions are truly rare, largely because humans are lousy at keeping secrets. The conspiracies noted in the article are certainly poorly kept "secrets" and swathes of forests have been leveled for the paper used to describe, explicate, de-bunk, inflate, and otherwise spew multitudes of opinions about them. What few commentators have mentioned is the inevitability of these actions. AS far back as the philosophies, the beliefs, and the ambitions chronicled in the Bible (themselves purloined from other pre-existing sources) most of these enumerated evils have been documented in the Seven Deadly Sins. (or the "thou shall not" strictures). Laying aside the piety, the meat of the list can be summed up in one phrase thou shall not practice greed. Greed is encoded in humans - the striving for more than what one needs. It is probably akin to the survival instinct, spiced with the other genetic encoding, fear.
In eras of existential anxiety, conspiracy has the meretricious balm of ascribing blame that seems like sense, to the "other", the scapegoat, to those who must not be named. Conspiracy theories serve many functions. relief valves, mobilizing mobs, persuasive manipulations of "common sense", legerdemain distractions....

All of which comes back to the self serving lie. All the arguments in the foregoing comments, dance around the inherent human propensity for lying. (Thou shall not bear false witness).

The current catastrophe is a compound of too many human beings (lethal levels of competition) enabled by too easy, anonymous ways of spreading the lies.

Communication technology with global reach, employed in the service of greed, devoted to the back fence gossip of lies, is like to be the death of civilization and perhaps humanity.