01.19.2015 06:00 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: terror isn’t on the ballot, but it may as well be

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.


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    Kev says:

    Some more evidence of such a rightward tendency:

    – after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Republican President Bill Clinton’s approvals spiked upward.

    – after the 9/11 attacks, Conservative Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s approvals among Canadians spiked upward. So did those of Conservative PM Tony Blair in the UK.

    – after the recent terrorist attack in Paris, Conservative President Francois Hollande’s approvals jumped 21 percent.

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    davie says:

    So, if these observations are accurate, it looks like right wing political parties gain a lot from fear of terrorism. This would suggest that they gain from every indication of terrorism, and, if they are also a tad contemptuous of telling the truth, democracy and openness, then what they have to do is clear.

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    socks clinton says:

    They’re still pockets of neo-nazis in Saskatchewan. They like to pose and take pictures of themseleves in front of the sign for White City just outside of Regina.

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    Brammer says:

    “Shock Doctrine” is a good read on this subject. Conservatives are always ready to take advantage of the latest unrest or terror attack.
    -Bush, 911 and the patriot act, which is what enabled NSA activities that continue unimpeded under Obama
    -Ottawa attack and Harper calling for greater warrantless state surveillance
    -Hebdo attack and Cameron calling for access to user Google and Facebook accounts

    Obviously terrorism becomes a ballot question, but citizens need to consider carefully how they respond. The more freedoms we give up, the more ground the terrorists have gained.

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    TrueNorthist says:


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