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‘It’s definitely a trend’: How hyper-online political activists are increasingly embracing extremism

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In less than two years, Nate Hochman went from “rising star on the intellectual right” to political pariah after being fired last month from the Ron DeSantis campaign for tweeting out a video he created containing a Nazi symbol.

Hochman, a former staff writer at National Review who had also made appearances on programs such as Tucker Carlson Today, has become a cautionary tale for hyper-online political activists who are steeped in digital culture and its often glib embrace of extremism.

But how did Hochman, who was included in a 2021 article published by The New Republic titled, “The Radical Young Intellectuals Who Want to Take Over the American Right,” whose writing has been featured in Newsweek and the New York Times, and who is also Jewish, end up retweeting far-Right imagery?

Journalist and YouTuber J.J. McCullough thinks that many “hyper-online” people see far-Right extremist communities on the internet and believe they are electorally significant, which is not borne out in reality. 

“I think a lot of these guys get into the mindset where they have to be able to code switch to some degree, and use their (extremist community’s) symbols and learn their vocabulary,” says McCullough. “It’s a false impression that I think is born from a kind of narcissism that views the communities that you are personally most familiar with as being the ones that are the most politically significant.” 

McCullough says that many ambitious and talented young men who are interested in climbing the political ladder have grown up at a time when extremist communities have seen their influence grow on the internet. 

“As a result, they go about their business of helping their bosses win elections and so forth, I think that they have a real pronounced sense that this is a group that has to be appeased, and has to receive some degree of sort of formal attention,” says McCullough. 

Hub contributor and Edmonton-based lawyer Karamveer Lalh says people are social animals and will want to surround themselves with like-minded individuals in both real life and the internet.

“They also will generally want to be in an in-group,” says Lalh. “Accordingly, if a person is naturally contrarian against liberal ideas, but if they do not have strong attachment to internally grounding ‘first-principles,’ then they’re at more risk of radicalization.”

Lalh says that within online platforms like Reddit, users dissatisfied with the site’s mostly progressive mainstream subreddits will create their own dissident subreddits to espouse contrarian views.

Anthony Koch, managing principal at AK Strategies, says the current era, where the post-Cold War consensus is increasingly coming under criticism, is ripe for radicalizing the politically engaged. He compares it to the interwar period between the First World War and the Second World War when radical ideologies like communism and fascism spread across the world. 

“It’s definitely a trend that I’ve noticed, anecdotally and otherwise, with friends of mine on either side of the political spectrum who, even a few years ago, would have been considered firmly within the mainstream,” says Koch. “One too many Reddit posts and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Whoa, where did you start thinking that?’” 

Koch says that as the interwar period and the Second World War II fades away from living memory, the internet provides a platform for people to relitigate the past. 

In recent years Reddit has shut down several subreddits created by far-Right online communities for repeated user violations, including the QAnon subreddit r/CBTS_stream, and most famously r/The_Donald, which had roughly 800,000 members when it was closed in 2020.

Koch says people who are predisposed to being provocative have always existed, but the internet allows them to coalesce within online platforms.

Lalh says that in Hochman’s specific case, many conservatives who lean further toward the political Right are often frustrated by being labelled as a “Nazi.”

“Obviously being labelled a Nazi is a byword for being ‘evil’ and ‘bad’,” says Lalh. “Considering the same friend/enemy distinction above, if one’s enemies are calling you ‘Nazis’ well that may lead one to question, “Well, how bad can Nazis really be?'”

To prevent this sort of radicalization, Lalh suggests that people should have a firm understanding and commitment to first principles that are more substantive than defining friends and enemies, which requires self-reflection not always available within an echo chamber.

McCullough says that because the Republicans are the sole party of the political Right in the U.S. many far-right elements fall under its umbrella, whereas the Conservatives in Canada benefit from the existence of the People’s Party, led by Maxime Bernier, which he says is a more attractive option for extremists. 

“The Conservatives, I suppose, have a lot to be grateful for, in the sense that Bernier has probably sort of taken some of these people off their hands, so to speak,” says McCullough.

Mexico just passed China to become America’s largest trading partner. Here’s why Canada is lagging behind

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Mexico leapfrogged China last month to become the largest American trading partner while the U.S. continues its efforts to “friendshore” its trade and decouple from the Chinese economy. 

And even though Canada was the top trading partner of the U.S. until 2014, experts say that Canada will have trouble competing with Mexico’s larger population and cheaper labour.

Several factors have contributed to Mexico’s rise as the top U.S. trading partner, including the demographic advantage of the Mexican market, with over 126 million people compared to Canada’s 40 million, and the composition of trade in sectors like the auto industry, says Christopher Sands, the director of the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute in Washington. 

“Canada has been an auto parts supplier for a long time. It’s very good at what it contributes in terms of final assembly and auto workers and skilled work,” says Sands. “The problem for Canada in auto has been relatively high wages. The Canadian unions have been more strike prone, a little more militant than the American unions.” 

China had been the largest American trading partner since 2014, when it overtook Canada, whose trade surplus with the United States declined by $2 billion from April to May this year, bringing it no closer to reclaiming the top spot on the list of U.S. trade partners. 

Manufacturing in the North American auto market is spread across all three of the continent’s countries, and has been for almost a century. 

The hourly wage of full-time workers at two Ontario paint shops for automobiles is approximately $27.19 USD. Auto workers in Ohio make as little as $16.50, while auto workers at a plant north of Mexico City can earn less than $9 for a whole day’s work. 

“Mexico’s an attractive place to put your capital so, they’ve been building and building, and some of that’s coming from China, some of that’s new growth,” says Sands. “That makes it harder for Canada, which is still a little bit more expensive on the hourly labour and requires the same amount of capital to build a facility as you would in Ohio or anywhere else.” 

In addition to friendshoring, U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in 2022, included heavy subsidies for industries like auto-manufacturing to place their operations in the U.S., threatening to erode Canada’s appeal as a destination for investment. 

Jonathan Berkshire Miller, the director of foreign affairs, national security, and defence at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, says that the U.S. government is not trying to deliberately antagonize Canada. 

“It’s not necessarily the United States saying that they don’t want to be privileged trading partners with Canada versus Mexico, but we just don’t have the price competitiveness, we just don’t have the comparative advantage in certain sectors,” says Miller. 

Rafael Fernández de Castro Medina, the director of the Center for U.S. Mexican Studies at UC San Diego, says Mexico’s growing trade with the U.S. is a byproduct of the decoupling with China, rather than a meticulously planned objective by Biden, who Fernández de Castro says has other priorities. 

“Mexico nowadays, under Biden, has not been an important player for Washington” says Fernández de Castro. “Biden talks about a North American vision, but there’s no vision out there, he has no outline on what is at issue.” 

Fernández de Castro says the relationship between North America’s three countries is similar to the Cold War era when countering the Soviet Union and the spread of communism was a greater priority for the Americans. 

“Washington was fairly negligent towards its neighbours, because it had higher priorities. And now it has higher priorities with China, Ukraine, and domestic political polarization,” Fernández de Castro.

Sands says another contributor to the lagging growth of Canada-U.S. trade is energy, which has been affected by what Sands says is Canada’s limited capacity to ship oil south. In 2018, Canadian energy accounted for over 25 percent of all U.S. imports from Canada. 

Specifically, Sands mentions the Keystone XL pipeline project’s cancellation in 2021 and the legal threats to the Enbridge 5 pipeline from Michigan on environmental grounds. 

“(Oil) prices are still relatively high, so you can get a good return on it, but there’s just an upper limit on what you can ship in terms of natural gas,” says Sands. 

Since 2018, Mexico’s government has been led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often referred to as AMLO), an outspoken populist and nationalist, who has deployed harsh rhetoric towards the U.S. regarding issues like immigration and endorses ending American energy imports. 

However, Sands says Mexico has benefited from the U.S. efforts to decouple from China in recent years, even if it is for reasons AMLO dislikes, such as the competitive advantage of Mexico’s comparatively low-wage labour. 

“Mexico’s a very young country. You can scale up young people for working in manufacturing, and they’ve got the kind of stable economy where it’s possible to invest in the latest robotics,” says Sands. “Because it’s greenfield, you’re often building without having to deal with legacy workers or an old plant and have a union conversation about how we’re going to go forward.” 

New manufacturing facilities have been springing up across Mexico over the past few years, producing products like plastics, medical technologies, and high-end electric vehicles for Tesla.  

“You can tell that every single industrial park in Mexico business is getting busy,” says Fernández de Castro.

Canada is described as possessing an advantage in certain sectors like the auto industry due to its extensive infrastructure for the sector, but the Canadian government has still controversially been providing tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for EV manufacturing plants in cities like Windsor and St. Thomas. Proponents of the subsidies say they are necessary to ensure Canadian participation in the EV production industry. 

Both Ottawa and Nova Scotia’s provincial government contributed roughly $100 million in subsidies to ensure Michelin built an EV tire plant in the Atlantic province, which was announced in March. Nova Scotia’s minister for economic development stated that the subsidies were required for the province to outcompete alternative sites elsewhere in the world.