on poppies, veterans, trolls, and doxing

First of all, I do not apologize.

I have nothing to apologize for. No one should apologize for having an unpopular opinion, or an opinion that the majority finds offensive.

Second, I said nothing disrespectful to veterans. My utter lack of respect -- my undying contempt -- is for rulers whose policies send humans into unnecessary armed conflict. Those rulers pay lip-service to "supporting" troops, while their policies ensure more humans will suffer from the effects of war.

If you're joining us in progress, here's what you missed. 

Before the election, I took all my personal social media offline. We knew that the opposition would dedicate vast resources to digging up or fabricating anything they could use against NDP candidates. For some reason, no one directed me to remove wmtc links from the Wayback Machine (i.e., internet archives). This proved to be a grave error.

A right-wing political hack who masquerades as a journalist received excerpts from some old wmtc posts from a troll source. I know this because Hack forwarded Troll's email to me, with the identifiers scrubbed.

Hack did what hacks do, and trolls did what trolls do. Hack kept this going for way longer than any of us expected, dedicating three columns to me, and mentioning my name in several other columns. Eventually it was reported on by more mainstream media.

The right-wing attack machine moved from candidate to candidate, digging up tiny bits of online fodder, distorting and quoting out of context, in a ludicrous attempt to portray the NDP as a hotbed of wacko radicalism.

Doug Ford and his party waged the worst kind of campaign possible: they obfuscated facts, and relied on lies, sloganeering, and mudslinging.

Andrea Horwath and our party were consistently positive, focused, truthful, and precise.

That the majority of voters in Ontario chose the former over the latter is profoundly disturbing.


I thought I knew what it was like to be attacked by trolls, from early wmtc days. I was wrong. The trolls who attacked this blog were annoying gnats who could be easily batted away. The troll attack orchestrated by Hack & Co. was a whirling swarm of angry hornets, the size of a midwest twister.

Their weapons were the most vulgar kind of personal insults, and graphic threats of violence.

I have pretty thick skin and don't tend to take things personally. My union sisters and brothers often describe me as "fearless". But this was a form of violence, and it shook me.

I'm lucky that it didn't affect my outlook, my opinions, or my self-esteem. That's down to the amazing support I had -- from the party, from my union, from friends, and from strangers who agreed with my views and reached out to me. Because of this support, I was shielded from most of the invective. I saw only a small portion of it, yet that was enough to shake me. I felt that my personal safety was threatened. That's not easy to do to me.

It's difficult -- nay, impossible -- for me to understand this kind of behaviour. The whitehot anger, the fervor so easily ignited -- the immediate willingness to attack, the assumed entitlement to say anything to anyone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. The seeming inability to respectfully disagree. It is truly beyond my understanding.

What I think about poppies, militarism, and veterans

I wrote the now-infamous post about the poppy symbols at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flogging the war machine in Afghanistan. I have a deeply held opposition to war, and I wanted Canada out of Afghanistan.

I also link the symbolic poppy to the general militarism that infects our society -- where "support the troops" is code for "support the war". Militarism takes many forms, including recruiting in schools, honouring military members at sporting events, using weapons as entertainment, such as air shows, and for me, the ubiquitous poppy symbol.

Naturally I understand that the majority does not view the poppy symbol this way. Hundreds tried to enlighten me, as if somehow the view of the vast majority hadn't reached my ears. But guess what? I disagree.

I have never written or said anything that disparages veterans. On the contrary, the pages of this blog are replete with disgust for the governments that disrespect veterans by slashing funding for their health and rehabilitation. My "11.11" category is about peace. If wanting peace disrespects veterans, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare.

What supporting veterans should look like

I have no doubt that for some people the poppy is a potent symbol, and that they believe wearing this symbol shows respect and reverence for veterans. I have never suggested that other people shouldn't wear poppies. I simply choose not to wear one. (I don't refuse to wear one, as the memes said. I choose not to.)

To me, if we truly want to support veterans and military servicemembers, we must do two things.

One, create and fully fund a robust array of supports for people who have suffered from war, to support their physical and mental well-being. Our society does not do that.

And two, stop making war. Stop creating veterans. Search for ways to resolve conflicts that do not involve killing people. And never use war as a means to profit.

Until these things are done, you can cover yourself in poppies, and your "support" and "respect" will be as false as the plastic flowers you revere.

A final word about respect

I don't disrespect veterans. But I don't automatically respect someone because they are a veteran.

Many people contribute to our society through their work or their passions. Others harm our society with selfishness, greed, violence, and unkindness. When people are kind and generous, when they act with compassion and integrity, I respect them. When they do the opposite, I do not. This is as true for veterans as it is for teachers, social workers, nurses, or politicians.

People who hurl crude insults at strangers because they cannot abide a difference of opinion, but who claim to love freedom and respect veterans, are ignorant wretches. I don't respect them. I pity them.


allan said...

If someone says "I enjoy being a vegetarian", that should not be construed as a vicious attack on everyone who eats meat.
A woman wearing a sun hat is not a de facto attack on every woman not wearing a sun hat.
A man wearing suspenders is not a slanderous act against every man not wearing suspenders.
The apparent inability of people to understand this baffles me.

allan said...

The Harper government made the deepest cuts to veterans benefits in Canadian history.
One of Harper's first actions as Prime Minister in 2006 was to deny Canadian veterans a guaranteed pension. When angry vets took the Conservative government to court, Harper stated that Canada had no obligation of any kind to its veterans. He used $700,000 of taxpayer money to fight the veterans in court.

Over 10 years, Harper refused to allocate $1.3 BILLION that was supposed to be used for veterans' benefits (including mental health services).

The Harper government closed nine VA offices, leaving 8 workers to cover 17,000 veterans. In Nova Scotia, 1 person was in charge of 4,200 veterans cases. The Conservatives used the savings to buy hockey ads during the NHL playoffs.

When the Harper government cut nearly 900 jobs from Veterans Affairs, not a single Conservative MP stood up for veterans. Then Harper paid out more than $500,000 in bonuses to VA managers for cutting the budgets.

Harper must have been wearing a poppy when he did all that - because veterans and Conservatives still LOVE him

James Redekop said...

I was impressed: in all the PC radio ads I heard, you were the first person attacked (though not by name) after Horwath was mentioned.

It's kind of pathetic when the only thing a political party has to campaign on are attacks on other parties, but it's doubly so when the only things they can mount attacks on are so relatively minor...

Unknown said...

As one of the veterans so denied. It was the liberal party that passed the bill taking away ourbenefits in 2005.

laura k said...

Two different cuts. Liberals and Conservatives both cut veterans' benefits, further proof that they are two sides of the same coin.

allan said...

Here is a quiz. Does the following exchange make sense to you?

"Canadian soldiers fought and died so you could enjoy freedom of speech."
"You should be put to death for saying that."

laura k said...

James so true. The only thing more pathetic is how many people voted for them.

James Redekop said...

In my riding, the NDP fell short by 225 votes (0.6% of the total). 60% of the voters voted against the PC candidate. A ranked voting system would have given us an NDP win.

laura k said...

Something I always wonder about trolls: do they believe their own ludicrous posts? Right now on Twitter they're all "you cost the NDP the election" and "even the NDP kicked you out!" Is this said only as a lame attempt to bait me or do they actually believe it? No way to know, of course.

laura k said...

225 votes! Heartbreaking. And what a waste.

John F said...

Let me reiterate what I said in my comment in the last post: you were attacked by a Sun paper, so who gives a crap? If the Sun disapproves of you, then you must be living your life right.

I fear that we're falling into the trap of substituting mindless jingoism for critical thinking. Most Canadian voters still don't expect elaborate displays of piety from their candidates. I hope we don't lose that too!

James Redekop said...

The 225 number is out-of-date -- the final number is 1000 votes. Had the Greens voted NDP (never mind the Liberals), this would be an orange riding now.

laura k said...

John F I agree. I wear their hate with pride.

Another difference: the media doesn't report on candidates' personal lives and families, for the most part. I hope that will remain, too.

allan said...

I truly want to know why people who profess to support veterans align themselves with the political party that has done the most to screw veterans over?

Besides the very real possibility that they have no clue about the facts - if they are reading this blog and these comments, they know now (but still will almost certainly not change their minds) - I have found that right-wingers revere symbols much more than they care about the real thing.

They work themselves into a froth about poppies - which are made with prison labour, as Laura wrote years ago - but ignore the facts of how vets gets fucked over. (The link is to that hot bed of Marxist radicalism, The National Post.)

Ford says he is for "the little guy" and has slogans backing him up on his podium and scores of people believe him. They love his simple words and three-word signs, but do not examine the man's actions. To them, the symbols - the outward appearances, the pretty facade - are the most important thing.

Harper and Trudeau have either sent Canadian men and women into a needless war or have sold weapons to countries at war. But as long as they wear poppies - as long as they flash the right symbols for everyone to see - no one really cares or questions or protests their actions.

You would think those Canadians who so loudly "support the troops" online would not approve of men and women being sent to die in a pointless battle solely for corporations' profit. (No group of people from the Middle East is going to cross the Atlantic Ocean and invade Canada and take over the entire country and destroy "our way of life". Do people really believe this?) You would be wrong.

allan said...

And we do not have free speech and other rights because of the Canadian military,

Those rights were created by laws - after protesters created social movements and fought like hell. In too many cases, they also fought their country's military, which the governments at the time used to break strikes and prevent Canadians from having more humane lives.

The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike is one famous example. Wiki:

"On June 21, about 30,000 strikers assembled for a demonstration at Market Square, where Winnipeg Mayor Charles Frederick Gray read the Riot Act. Troubled by the growing number of protestors and fearing violence, Mayor Gray called in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police who rode in on horseback charging into the crowd of strikers, beating them with clubs and firing weapons. This violent action resulted in the death of two strikers Mike Sokowolski (shot in the heart) and Mike Schezerbanowicz (shot in the legs, later dying of gangrene infection), 35 to 45 people injured (police, telephone operators, firemen, utility workers and labors) and numerous arrests. ... This day, which came to be known as “Bloody Saturday”, ended with Winnipeg virtually under military occupation."

Many Canadians could use a few history lessons.

Dharma Seeker said...

I love you and I am so proud of you for all of the reasons you already know and probably a dozen I haven't put in to words. The attacks on you were hard to read and I was hoping you weren't reading the vast majority of them. As I was watching election night coverage some boob CBC was interviewing from the PC event was happy/relieved that it doesn't appear young voters had turned out to cast their ballot. So while turnout was good the group that could have really swung this in another direction just didn't show up. Disappointing to say the least and it makes me a bit angry to be honest. Voting is a privilege that people around the world are willing to die for. And these are the ones who would benefit most from pharmacare and revamping the student loan system. They're also more likely to be impacted by a higher minimum wage. I don't get it.

laura k said...

Thank you, Dharma Seeker. You have sent me many messages of support, and I don't know if I answered them all, as I was a bit insane for the past few weeks. I super appreciate your support and encouragement.

I saw that, too -- that the Cons were happy that it looked like a lot of young people didn't vote. Disgusting!

I don't know why people don't vote, why they think something called "politics" is a separate sphere that doesn't effect their lives, when in fact it's exactly the opposite. There are probably many reasons, but one big reason is consumerist culture. The obsession attention on material goods crowds out everything else.

laura k said...

I have found that right-wingers revere symbols much more than they care about the real thing.

Symbols, simplistic slogans, scapegoating, lies. This is a hallmark of right-wing organizing everywhere.

Here are the left, we are stuck with ideas, concepts, facts that may take longer than eight words to explain. "You know me, I'm for the little guy."

And yeah, this idea that wars and "sacrifice" have given us our rights and freedoms is such an unquestioned assumption -- and it's so completely full of shit. Very few wars have anything to do with rights and freedoms.

Our freedoms are guaranteed by things like the Constitution, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights codes, the rule of law. And those rights were expanded because of social justice movements like the women's movement, LGBTQ liberation, civil rights movements, and the labour movement.

The Canadians who died in Afghanistan or who came home and committed suicide, did not die for our freedoms. And they weren't over there to liberate women! (Remember that crap?) They died for oil, pipelines, international trade deals, and other geopolitic interests. What on earth was Canada even doing in Afghanistan?

allan said...

The Canadians who died in Afghanistan ... died for oil, pipelines, international trade deals, and other geopolitic interests. What on earth was Canada even doing in Afghanistan?

Oil, pipelines, international trade deals, and other geopolitic interests.

deang said...

I'm glad you're so resilient and glad you got through this. I'm remembering the experiences of Janeane Garofalo and Michael Moore, who have also been targeted by right-wing media. Since they're hugely in the public eye, they receive so many death threats of the kind you mention that they had to hire bodyguards and special clerical workers just to go through their email etc so anything truly threatening could be reported - and then of course you wonder if cops will sympathize with the right-wingers instead of with you. We live in scary times.

laura k said...

Thank you Dean.

The party immediately took over my email, to filter out the hate before I saw it. And our social media team -- Allan, M@, and the woman who was handling the social media, now my friend :) -- deleted and blocked everything they could. I saw enough of it to know what was going on.

The executive director of the NDP called every day to see how I was doing! As did the head of CUPE Ontario. That speaks volumes for me.

But stepping back, looking at this whole phenomenon, it's so crazy. Can you even imagine behaving like this? Someone expresses an opinion with which you disagree, and you immediately start bombarding them with insults and threats? I which I understood the psychology behind it.