*Editor’s Note: Arthur Newspaper regrets its use of the words “white supremacist,” “white nationalist” and “white power manifesto” in an opinion article published on October 4, 2016. Arthur apologizes for its use of these terms in reference to Corey LeBlanc.
On September 20th in a lecture hall at Gzowski College, the head of the Trent Conservatives is alleged to have raised his hand and asked, “do you think it’s okay for a professor to criticise a mainstream political candidate in a classroom setting?” The candidate referenced was Donald Trump. The professor, Dr. Aslan Amani, had been in the middle of teaching a course called Governing Canada: Issues and Challenges.
Witnesses say that within twenty minutes, Corey Leblanc was escorted out of the room by campus security.
According to a student witness who documented the scene on Twitter, Leblanc took issue with Professor Amani pointing out the advantages to Western nations accepting immigrants. Referring to a graph displaying relevant statistics, Dr. Amani made a passing remark that “people like Trump” do not see the economic benefits of accepting new citizens from abroad. To be fair, in Leblanc’s version of events (@CLeblanc4Canada) Professor Amani said that “people like Trump were too dumb to understand”. But whether the professor used inflammatory language or not, Leblanc’s tweets emphasize that Dr. Amani’s graph “was wrong,” and he claims to have “pointed out three reasons why,” although he hasn’t found find it necessary to list these.
If the confrontation was truly centred on the graph and its statistics, that leaves us with the word of a PhD from the London School of Economics on one hand and an undergraduate on the other. However, if Leblanc thought he was justified in disrupting the lecture because he felt personally insulted, this presents a few problems. Quoting from the same witness (whose testimony emerged a full day before Leblanc’s version) Leblanc actually called Dr. Amani’s graph “stupid,” claimed that “as an Economics major he was more qualified to speak on the subject,” and “repeatedly accused Amani of calling Trump stupid, [which] he didn’t”.
In stark contrast to this detailed version of events, not to mention the handful of cell phone videos that are circulating around social media, Leblanc’s claims that he “attempted to have an academic discussion,” got “freaked out on”, and calmly withstood an “anti-Trump tirade” seem so far fetched they make one question why he would try passing them off as true at all.
The answer is as simple as it is concerning. “People like Trump,” to borrow Dr. Amani’s phrase, employ such tactics in a sustained effort to dilute the significance of facts in meaningful discourse, whether that be political or academic. The GOP convention in July was riddled with such emotive phrases as “the economy seems stuck,” “America feels less safe,” or “Muslim refugees could be a Trojan horse”. If it is even possible to extricate a concrete assertion of fact from any of these calculated attempts at evoking emotion from the listener, they are all statistically untrue. As Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale tirelessly reports, any Trump speech from the last three or four months will similarly appeal to the pre-existing emotions of a riled-up crowd rather than anything resembling the truth. The crime rates of inner-city neighbourhoods, the federal deficit owed to China, the number of refugees that would be accepted into America under a Clinton presidency—all of these numbers are wildly jacked up for the benefit of the voter with a complete disdain for reality.
That this smoke-and-mirrors act yields mainstream results is without question. On August 25th, when Hillary Clinton pointed out that Trump had been sued twice during his years in the real estate business for not renting to blacks, he responded during a speech the next day by bellowing, “Hillary Clinton is a bigot.” Anderson Cooper later asked him what he meant, with Trump offering this delicious word salad: “When you look at what’s happening to the inner cities, you look at what’s happening to the African-Americans and Hispanics in this country, where she talks all the time, where she talks, ‘look at the vets,’ where she says that the vets are being treated essentially just fine, that it’s over-exaggerated what’s happening to the vets, not so long ago—she’s selling them down the tubes, because she’s not doing anything for those communities.”
The next day, headlines around the world read some variation of “Clinton and Trump Trade Barbs Over Bigotry”. The media objectively offers two opposing points of view. The fog thickens.
Leblanc seems to have taken this lesson to heart, believing that if he opposes it loudly enough, he can muddy the dominant narrative of an anti-intellectual xenophobe interfering with a lecture and being removed for questioning a professor’s academic freedom. He knows he cannot change what happened, but he can diminish it to a case of “my opinion vs. yours.”
It is plain that this is a blatantly childish way to achieve any end. As the Trump candidacy has taught us, however, it becomes frightening when wielded by someone who seeks power over people he does not understand.
The day before the incident at Gzowski College, the president of the Trent Conservatives posted a fascinating article on Foreword, “a blog run by young folks for you folks, writing about the times we live in” (aforeword.com). The piece was entitled “Donald Trump Is Going to Be the 45th President of the United States”. Arthur readers are strongly recommended to find it online and make their own assessment, but I will go over the essentials here. The introduction is a self-aggrandizing series of stream-of-consciousness self-contradictions in which Leblanc widely bashes mainstream U.S. media outlets while displaying his ignorance of the meaning of the words “objective” and “un-ironically”. This portion is only noteworthy because 1) it demonstrates that Leblanc subscribes to hate-mongering news outlet Breitbart, and 2) it shows him relying on the far-right conspiracy-theory trope that the mass media is an ideologically united entity out to get the Trump campaign. CNN, which has been widely criticised for its leniency on Trump and for giving him countless hours of free airtime, is inexplicably referred to as the Clinton News Network. Off the top of my head, it seems unlikely that the race would be in such a dead heat if CNN was on the Clinton campaign’s payroll. More importantly, this type of sweeping conspiracy theory, that the news is “wrong,” neatly fits the playbook of someone who feels compelled to blur the lines between fact and opinion to promote his views.
The following segment, a list of reasons why Trump’s win is guaranteed, reads like a white power manifesto: whites are “sick and tired of being the proverbial punching bag of America,” whatever that means; whites are threatened by the concept of diversity; the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread frustration towards police brutality are a threat to whites; lower-income whites resent minority populations living in better conditions now than they did some decades ago. Leblanc claims that Trump has created an idealistic coalition of “southern white-identity voters and northern unionised working-class whites” against, well, everyone else. In Leblanc’s words, these are “minority voters, wealthy corporate interests, and ‘educated’ whites who don’t want to appear racist.” Oh, and somewhere in there, Leblanc also laments whites not being given their due credit for having “created” American civilisation.
All of this is so densely packed with idiocy that it is almost difficult to refute. In the first place, the suggestion that “wealthy corporate interests” are conspiring with minorities to undermine the white working class throughout America positively screams of a far-right conspiracy theory—and a particularly misguided one considering that there are surely as many “wealthy corporate interests” on the right as there are on the left, if not more. Furthermore, it is strange that Leblanc would discount the significance of “educated whites who don’t want to appear racist,” or “race-traitor cucks,” as his friends on 4chan would call them. A Globe and Mail report from August 19 notes that while the proportion of white Americans is shrinking (something Leblanc denies), more of them are graduating from university, meaning they represent an increasingly significant portion of the white vote. Finally, Leblanc’s source for his “punching bag” claim provides a perfect example of his bad habit for citing sources after only reading a headline. While the majority of white respondents to a survey published in The Washington Post did sense a rise in “anti-white bias” in America, the authors add that this is “a perception that statistics say is wrong … on almost every outcome that has been assessed,” from “life expectancy to school discipline to mortgage rejection to police use of force.” This pulls the rug out from under Leblanc’s claim that minorities’ lives are improving at the expense of working class whites. White people, as Leblanc would know if he read his own sources, are actually doing fine.
Leblanc’s subsequent predictions on what a Trump presidency would bring do not require serious scrutiny. They are as self-serving and vapid as anyone else’s attempts to forecast the perennially flip-flopping candidate, from CNN pundits to Ann Coulter. Only projection #8 is of any interest, and rather than try to do it justice, I’ll simply reproduce it here.
Riots. When Donald Trump wins, expect riots. Do we really think that an organization like Black Lives Matter will stay silent in what may present a perceived historic setback for civil rights? Likewise, expect an emboldened White America to respond in kind. It very well could get ugly.
Sure, anyone who has any brain cells left after reading this garbage can take solace in the fact that Leblanc’s statements are unsubstantiated schlock, his very persona absurd. But, just as Trump has already damaged American democracy whether he wins or loses in November, we need to consider that whatever bleak, unfulfilled future awaits Corey Leblanc, he is taking up space here right now, harassing students and teachers, threatening lawsuits, tainting our university’s identity. LeBlanc’s statements appear to promote hate and intolerance, and evoke white supremacist language. He “un-ironically” and “objectively” predicts a goddamn race war if his candidate wins, and will soon graduate with a degree worth just as much as yours and mine.
The Trent Conservatives peddling white nationalism around our campus has not gone unnoticed. The TCSA has been made aware of a variety of incidences in the last handful of years, most recently because of the group’s pro-Trump antics at Clubs and Groups Day. This was reported in Issue 3 by Arthur correspondent Josh Skinner, and it is no great secret by now that the Conservatives spent the day on Bata Podium broadcasting audio from Trump’s anti-immigration speeches and playing his campaign music. Cáitlín Currie, coordinator for the Community and Race Relations Committee of Peterborough, had the dubious privilege of manning a booth directly across from the Conservatives. In a conversation with Arthur she corroborated the reports of “hateful anti-immigration rhetoric” being broadcast from their speakers. Currie adds that “perhaps the most shocking” thing she overheard was a member of the Trent Conservatives suggesting in a debate with a student that “if the opinions of white people were as valued in our society as the opinions of people of colour, then it is likely that formal racial segregation would exist.” Currie goes on to clarify that this is not necessarily proof of Trent Conservatives officially supporting segregation, but that “simply having these conversations in public creates a hostile and unsafe environment for racialized and indigenous students.” She notes the importance of “holding ourselves to standards that recognize the violence in words and ideologies.” This last point is as straightforward as it is crucial. The right to “free speech,” which Trent’s Conservatives are prone to appealing to when challenged, does not apply to rhetoric that questions the right of certain individuals to exist in a society. Your free speech cannot infringe on someone else’s freedom. Anyone who finds this a difficult concept to grasp ought to question what brought them to a university in the first place.
Currie voices the concerns of a great many community members when she wonders “what the impacts on students might be when a group openly discusses the validity of racial segregation, has no understanding of colonialism but [feels a] vapid entitlement to use the word with such authority, and has no shame in advertising themselves with deeply racist and xenophobic speeches.” It is certainly worrying to consider the impact on new students—of any race or ethnicity—who arrive at Trent and observe that such expressions of hatred are protected due to a misguided interpretation of free speech.
Make no mistake; as things currently stand, the Trent Conservatives are thriving from the increased ambiguity with which we seem to be interpreting such concepts as “fact,” “reality,” “opinion,” and “free speech”. They are also profiting from an intense confusion on all sides over what their group actually represents.
As Currie notes, the Trent Conservative booth at Clubs and Groups Day “appeared more like a Donald Trump campaign table that accidentally took a wrong turn at the border,” and says she “contemplated throughout the day what the Conservative Party of Canada would think of an affiliated student group representing their politic as an endorsement for Trump.” Considering that the official Trent Conservatives bio states they “represent the Conservative Party of Canada as well as the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario,” and that they are the only Trent student group to claim any such affiliation with a political party, this is a valid question. Michael Skinner, federal Conservative candidate for Peterborough-Kawarthas, did not respond to our requests to comment on the Canadian Conservative Party’s position regarding the Trump candidacy. This is not particularly surprising, for he had no reason to do so. It is utterly nonsensical to equate the reactionary identity politics of the Trump candidacy and the Canadian Conservative movement with its distinctly nuanced, Canadian history. More importantly—and it is unfathomable that this needs to be pointed out—they have no relevance to each other. They are parties operating within different systems. Nevertheless, Leblanc’s typical response to being told his group promotes hate speech is that it is “intolerant hatred” to disparage representatives of a Canadian political party. I’m a bigot? You’re a bigot!
Anyone hoping for decisive action from the Trent administration will be sorely disappointed. In an email response to the Arthur editors, Nona Robinson, Associate Vice President for Students, conceded that her office had been approached with concerns “about a club playing a recording of a Donald Trump speech and a club member sharing views on reverse racism.” Her department’s response was to assign a TCSA representative to “follow up with the club”. Robinson alleges that this “had addressed the situation,” although she fails to explain how a brief conversation could possibly undo the paranoia and hate with which Trent’s Conservatives have clearly been indoctrinated. While that may not seem like our administration’s job, it is worth considering that hate groups who are historically accustomed to censure must surely view such a meek slap on the wrist as tacit encouragement to see what more they can get away with next time. Truly, it is impossible to imagine any racialized student who has had their right to live here questioned finding any comfort in our administration’s solution. The Associate VP concluded with some curiously broad advice that “in general, while many issues between students or groups are resolved between each other, students may contact Campus Security or the administration for advice or support at any time.” It is excruciatingly clear that Trent’s bureaucrats are not willing to acknowledge the activities of the Trent Conservatives as a threat to the integrity of our institution’s core values. Robinson’s statement implies that this is nothing more than bickering between students. In diminishing what sounds very much like open racism and hate speech to a matter of two parties “trading barbs”, our administrators perpetuate the confusion so actively sought after by Leblanc & co., who, incidentally, have not been idle in the meantime.
By September 30th Arthur had become aware of a thread on anonymous image-sharing site credforums.com (similar in structure and hosting an identical culture to 4chan). Titled “Pro-Trump Student Kicked Out of Class,” the original post is a video clip, seemingly captured from Leblanc’s phone, which begins after Leblanc had engaged the professor and ends before Leblanc is ejected from class. A small handful of commenters question the validity of the clip. The overwhelming majority, using every imaginable racial slur, contentedly perpetuate Leblanc’s version of reality in which the professor promoted a sinister personal agenda, grew enraged when someone offered a rational critique of his views, and unfairly used his privilege as an academic to eject a tuition-paying student. Considering no public account of the altercation matches Leblanc’s, it is not surprising that he would revert to his insulated, fanatical online community to commiserate over the injustices committed in the name of “libtard PC culture”; a safe space for him to be listened to, where he can luxuriate in the feeling that he is a victim.
The problem is that not even the video embedded in the thread corroborates his interpretation of events. At no point in the clip does Leblanc articulate a counter-argument to the professor’s data. What he does instead is make a steady stream of diversionary statements in a self-satisfied tone while repeatedly accusing the professor of being “insulting”. The clip shows a very agitated Professor Amani, but also provides the reason why. Not only were his rights to live and teach in Canada being publicly questioned in the middle of his class, but he was being browbeaten by a student’s calculated effort to consume all the oxygen in the room and derail the lecture. Those of the view that the professor did not do enough to rationalise and diffuse the situation need to consider the possibility that Leblanc did not intend to offer any rational debate of his own. Like his Republican hero, Leblanc is profoundly reactionary and believes that he thrives from controversy. I propose that from the moment when he heard a professor with a Muslim name mention Trump in lecture, he knew he was going to get himself kicked out, one way or another. After all, most of us wait until after class if we want to debate the instructor. Or, you know, send an email.
In any case, the administration’s present hand-wringing makes one thing clear: this is a student problem. It is up to the genuine Canadian conservatives on campus—and this must include Tories who may have immigrant, indigenous, or otherwise racialized backgrounds—to reclaim their movement. It is up to all of us to firmly say “no” to white nationalism on our campus. Everyone on the political spectrum deserves the right to speak freely on their beliefs, but understand what hate speech is, and if you think you are witnessing it, document that shit. Take a video or a screen shot. Pippa O’Brien, VP of Clubs and External Affairs for the TCSA, made a statement to Arthur to corroborate what we already had heard from Nona Robinson, but added crucially that she “encouraged all students who would like to share their experiences to come forward,” as the TCSA can “only act on the information [they] are given.” These rubes thrive when they are sowing fear, intimidating and confounding those around them. Let us not become intoxicated by the hyperbole and cynicism of our time. Let us keep a clear head and maybe, just maybe, we will find a way to address our world’s problems that does not require a race war.