Musings —01.19.2015 06:00 PM—
In Summer of 1986, around the time I was reporting on the activities of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations for the Calgary Herald, an editor approached me in the newsroom.
“How many of these Aryan Nation guys are there in Alberta?” he asked me.
“Hardcore, committed members?” I said. “Maybe forty or so.”
“Forty!” the editor said. “That’s ridiculous! Why are we writing so much about a group of lunatics with no more than forty members?”
The answer was blindingly obvious, but I didn’t argue. The editor had a higher pay grade than me. So I kept quiet.
In the intervening years, perhaps the answer has finally revealed itself to that editor. The Aryan Nations – like every other terrorist organization extant – is disinterested in democracy. Between 1983 and 1986, members of the Aryan Nations had been involved in assassinations, robberies, bombings and a multiplicity of other crimes. Their objective, like all terrorist groups, had been to destroy democracy.
Like all other terrorist groups, too, the Aryan Nations used undemocratic means to achieve change. It doesn’t use ballots do so; it used bullets and bombs. So the fact that it had just a few dozen members was completely, thoroughly irrelevant. Focusing on membership numbers in terrorist organizations – as opposed to what those members can actually do – has had calamitous consequences for the West.
In the years that followed, the United States learned this lesson the hard way. The worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of the U.S. was the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, claiming the lives of 168 men, women and children – and was carried out by just two men. The worst act of international terrorism in the history of the U.S. was the 9/11 attacks in September 2001, claiming the lives of 2,996 men, women and children – and was carried out by just 19 men.
The implications of terrorist acts – particularly when carried out in proximity to an election year – are far-ranging for every democracy. And terrorists have therefore become very adept at affecting democratic outcomes using undemocratic means.
One academic study in Israel – which has more than a passing acquaintance with terrorism – found this: “The electorate is highly sensitive to terror fatalities…terrorism causes an important increase on the support for [conservative] political parties.”
Closer to home, a study published by Queen’s University also looked at a generation of terrorist attacks in Israel, and their effect at voting time. “Terrorism is causing Israelis to increasingly vote for right-wing parties, while at the same time, they are turning left in their political views,” the professors concluded. “In periods of repeated terror attacks, voters increase their support for [conservative] political parties because [conservatives place] a larger emphasis on security related issues. Right-wing parties benefit from the increasing prominence of the security issue during a wave of terror.”
This last result may explain what is now seemingly happening in Canadian politics. For months, a majority of Canadians wanted Justin Trudeau to be Prime Minister, and a majority wanted a Liberal federal government. If you were to ask them if they still self-identify as Liberals, and if they still like Justin Trudeau, they would almost certainly say yes.
But, increasingly, it appears they would also say that they do not think Trudeau is experienced enough to handle the sorts of terrorist incidents that have been happening, with increasing frequency and ferocity, in Western democracies. They do not think he is ready.
In Israel, the academics found the same phenomenon: the electorate was moving Left, but – after a terror attack – voting Right.
Terror is the antithesis of democracy, of course. But it is apparent that – even in a place as removed from the Middle East as Canada is – terrorists can still have an impact on millions of people far, far out of proportion to their numbers.