Report on recent community mobilization in defense of a drag event in so-called Montreal. Originally posted to Montreal Antifascists.
The drag artist Barbada de Barbades was invited by the municipality of Sainte-Catherine, on Montréal’s south shore, to host a drag queen story hour on April 2, 2023, for twenty interested families from the area, the key goals being to encourage children to read, to demystify gender diversity, and to promote openness to difference. The event was to take place at the municipal library in Sainte-Catherine.
Barbada has hosted story hours since 2016 (and she has not been the only drag queen to do so), but it is only in recent years —and in a particularly apparent way in recent months— that a section of the local far-right adjacent conspiracy theory milieu has had a bee in its bonnet about the issue, under the combined influence of the conservative evangelical right and the anti-protocol conspiracy milieu that coalesced around the so-called “freedom convoy.” This anti-drag hysteria is one element in a larger movement meant to demonize sexual and gender identity minorities, trans identities in particular, on the basis of a variety of conspiracy fantasies, including, for example, the “grooming panic,” “pedosatanism” (a key theme in the QAnon milieu), and, in some particularly extreme cases, the racist and antisemitic “great replacement” theory. This fundamentally far-right transphobic movement has, at this point, made legislative and institutional headway in the US.
Les esprits s’échauffent à Sainte-Catherine, où a lieu une contre-manifestation organisé par des membres de la communauté LGBTQ+. La situation dégénère. #Manif #Drag pic.twitter.com/x4GHLna25E
— Audrey Robitaille (@arobitaille_) April 2, 2023
In this case, it was the anti-protocol militant François Amalega Bitondo, best known for his shenanigans during the COVID-19 pandemic, who decided to lead the charge against the drag queen story hour, because opposition to health measures is no longer getting him the attention he’s clearly grown accustomed to. It seems that Amalega has grown increasingly fanatical in recent years, particularly as a result of his contact with the evangelists at Théovox and André Pitre (Lux Média), a key source of disinformation. He has become pro-Trump, pro-Putin, and has generally drunk the various flavours of conspiratorial Kool-Aid available, including the anti-drag hysteria, which is explicitly constructed around transphobic rhetoric. In recent weeks, he mobilized his followers to demonstrate against Barbada’s story hour in Sainte-Catherine. With a handful of his sympathizers, he also unsuccessfully tried to disrupt a story hour at the Westmount library on March 25.
In the face of the imminent threat posed by this reactionary movement, which in the final analysis wants to marginalize and suppress their communities, an ad hoc network of queer and trans antifascists and their allies decided to organize a community defense intervention in Sainte-Catherine. At the same time, other initiatives were spontaneously organized on social media to mount a festive counterforce in support of drag queens and against the conspiracy theorists and haters.
A week before the event, Barbada and her entourage indicated that they would prefer no response of any type against the anti-drag demonstration, labouring under the peculiar illusion that simply ignoring this movement will naturally lead to it dissipating and fading away. As we have often said, when it comes to fascist and fascist-adjacent movements, magic thinking doesn’t work. The organizer of the “OUI aux DRAGS” (Yes to Drag Queens) demonstration nonetheless chose to respect Barbada’s request and cancel her event. In reaction to this evasion, an anonymous statement was published two days before the event and circulated by the P!nk Bloc and Montréal Antifasciste addressing why this analysis is problematic and confirming that the self-defense mobilization would be going forward.
The Day Came. . .
Story hour was planned for 10:00 a.m. Amalega and his trolls called for a demonstration at the community center where the library is located at 9:30 a.m. Amalega arrived at 8:45 a.m. and parked his car at a small strip mall across the street from the community center. He was immediately encircled and blocked by a dozen militants, who prevented him from crossing the street and effectively trapped him in the parking lot. On his webcast, he claims he was the “victim of aggression” and “feared for his life,” but the video clearly shows that the militants simply blocked his way and demanded that he leave. This face-off lasted for a few minutes, as a growing number of anti-drag demonstrators gathered, (at that point, one particularly aggressive sympathizer decided to play the big man and needed a gentle reminder not to cross the line). Meanwhile, the community defense contingent was also growing, and the police from MRC Rousillon arrived and separated the two groups.
In the following half hour, the two camps continued to grow, and the confrontation gradually became static. The core of the anti-drag demonstration gathered around Amalega remained confined to a sidewalk behind a police line for two hours. While a section of the self-defense demonstration surrounded this core group, others circulated in the neighbourhood to greet the anti-drag demonstrators and make it clear to them that they were in a hostile environment. There were a few minor skirmishes but nothing serious. Over time, both sides gained reinforcements. There were a number of vehicles in the parking lot decorated with the nauseating flags and ornaments familiar from the conspiracy theorists of the “freedom convoy,” and a bus chartered for the event arrived with around thirty community defenders, who brought snacks and coffee, festive costuming accoutrements, and a sound system. For the subsequent hour and half, the defensive bloc took on a festive, colourful, and irreverent quality, with comrades dancing in the street to popular songs and Disney classics, while the mortified anti-drag demonstrators remained trapped on their bit of sidewalk.
It’s worth noting that the conspiracy theory milieu was largely spared having to deal with anti-fascists during the last three years of the pandemic. In spite of the close and often explicit proximity of the far right to conspiracy theory fantasies, the challenges raised by the health measures had to do with personal decisions, and responding to people and vaguely defined organizations whose key shortcoming is to adhere to anti-scientific nonsense is complicated and far from straightforward. Nonetheless, a line is crossed when these conspiracy theory fantasies directly target our communities and compromise our security, whether in the short-, medium-, or long-term, and that is the line the anti-drag movement has crossed with its ridiculous panic, and it is absolutely essential to deliver the message that queer and trans communities will defend themselves in the face of this intimidation. There should be no doubt: if the queerphobes/transphobes persist in their demonization exercise, they will always come face to face with us. Queers bash back, darling. . .
Finally, at around 11:00 a.m., the information began to circulate that the story hour had been moved to another municipal building and had unfolded as planned undisturbed. Anyway you look at it, the anti-drag contingent lost, and the community defenders can feel a certain pride in their strategic victory.
The Neo-Nazis Came Out to Play. . .
The media reported that there were altercations and arrests, and that chemical irritants were used. What they didn’t say, however, was that these altercations involved individuals clearly identified with the most radical fringe of the far right—a handful of neo-Nazis and white supremacists we are entirely familiar with.
As well as a few veterans from the glory days of the national-populist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic milieu (2017–2019), including Michel Éthier and Luc Desjardins (La Meute, Storm Alliance, Front patriotique du Québec, gilets jaunes/Vague bleue, etc.) and the disinformation commander in chief André Pitre (Lux Média), some surprise guests made an appearance.
At a certain point, three individuals had the questionable idea that they would plant themselves in the middle of the defensive contingent and unfurl a banner that read “sales pédos hors du Québec” (filthy pedos out of Québec). While ultimately it is entirely noble to denounce and combat pedophilia, in this instance one can safely presume that these dubious characters were not there with good intentions, and as a result their banner was immediately confiscated, which led to some pushing and shoving when one of them tried to reclaim it. He got knocked around a bit, so the police intervened to end the altercation and escort the three intruders off to the side at some distance, but another altercation occurred, which led to the arrest of one of these irritating individuals. When examining the photos of the people in question, comrades identified the leader of the local White Lives Matter network, which was the topic of a Montréal Antifasciste article in March 2022.
L’enfant d’une manifestante vient d’être attaqué par un groupe de personnes. La mère a dû quitter les lieux avec son enfant en pleurs. pic.twitter.com/659pvnihnn
— Audrey Robitaille (@arobitaille_) April 2, 2023
This very active white supremacist militant, whom, up to this point, we have only identified by his Telegram sobriquet “Whitey,” is a Laval resident named Raphaël Dinucci St-Hilaire. This little neo-Nazi twerp got his warning shot last winter and has had an entire year’s reprieve to give up his militant activities, but instead he has redoubled his efforts, putting up hundreds of white supremacist stickers in the Montréal area and participating in banner drops. He made a fatal error in Sainte-Catherine. The gloves are off, and Mr. Dinucci can take it for granted that the Montréal anti-fascist community’s patience with him has run out.
As to his comrade, who was arrested, we can’t be a 100 percent certain, but we believe he is a (former) member of the Soldiers of Odin, Bruno Lacasse-Freeman, aka “Burn SOO,” who was never at pains to disguise his white supremacist proclivities.
That, however, wasn’t the last surprise! A few minutes later, another neo-Nazi, and not the least of them, showed up at the edge of the demonstration: none other than Sylvain Marcoux, a special target of antifascist surveillance activities (a raging antisemite, a great admirer of Adolf Hitler and Adrien Arcand, a close associate of the Fédération des Québécois de souche, the leader of the Parti nationaliste chrétien, etc.) in the company of two young adults. He was intercepted and politely encouraged to join the anti-drag contingent to avoid any escalation. He chose instead to strut his stuff and increase the tension, which didn’t take long. He met some opposition and started flailing about like a madman before finally hitting a comrade, after which he ate a knuckle sandwich. The police intervened with pepper spray and detained Marcoux, who it seems was later released with no charges.
The Nationalist Identitarian -> Conspiracy Theory -> Queerphobe Hatred Pipeline
In a video released several hours after the event, the doddering fascist and former Farfadaa, Luc Desjardins, who was decompressing and recovering from the stress all by his lonesome at home (20 Chemin Talbot, L’Assomption), whined about the complete humiliation suffered by the anti-drag crowd and called for a “militant” alliance to “really, really, really” resist “the antifa and all the crazy faggots,” while pouring bile on his old comrade Steeve Charland.
It’s no coincidence that all of these known far-right figures (soft and hard) now find themselves together sharing the conspiracy theory hysteria that is currently in vogue. For some years now, these milieus have submerged themselves in various social media bubbles where all manner curious amalgamations, disinformation, and toxic fantasies that incessantly promote fanaticism on the part of those exposed to them circulate freely, leading to these crazes being imported from the US. The vast majority of the people involved are completely unaware that they are being pulled into a down spiral that gradually desensitizes them to hatred and inexorably pushes them into the sphere of the far right and neo-Nazis.
Faced with this phenomenon, we have no choice but to mobilize our forces, develop community self-defense, and do everything in our power to deconstruct and defeat the hateful discourse targeting our communities. Transphobic discourse in particular has been increasingly resonating in mainstream society for some time now. Laws have been adopted in the US to strip sexual and gender minorities of their rights, influential comedians have normalized mockery and threats targeting the trans community, and the religious right is gaining greater traction every day.
It would be a grave error to think that these phenomena will stop at the border and Québec will remain impervious to them. The mobilizations against drag queens are only the first sign of the contamination, and we think this movement must be nipped in the bud, as is the case with any attempt by the far right to impose its ideas and its program.
Never forget that together we are stronger, and that when our rights and our very existence are attacked the only possible response is community self-defense.