Throughout the 1960s Quebecoise nationalists representing the Front de Liberation du Quebec carried out a series of bomb attacks that killed several, and injured dozens more. This weekend, over 40 years since those attacks, Quebec faced one of the worst terrorist attacks in its history.
At 8.00 pm on Sunday evening Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old local man, opened fire on a crowd gathered at the Quebec City Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre for evening prayers.
The attack, which left six dead, was the latest in a series of terrorist atrocities enacted by white Christians in North America and Europe that have left dozens of mostly minority individuals dead.
Bissonnette, a self-identified nationalist and Le Pen admirer, was known among his university peers for his anti-feminist and pro-nationalist views.
During his studies at Laval University as a political sciences student he had regularly posted social media comments in support of a racist anti-immigrant agenda. He is also believed to have been an active “men’s rights” troll who targeted women, feminists and refugees.
Despite Bissonnette’s obvious connection to far-right movements his actions were quickly characterised by the press as a “lone wolf” attack. This classification places him in the rare company of terrorists such as Anders Brevik, Dylan Roof or Eric Rudolph, also seen as independent actors unconnected to their political community.
Like Brevik, Roof and scores of other white supremacists who acted in this way, Bissonnette has been depicted as an exceptional and unavoidable incident, not one whose roots stem from a deep entrenchment in extremist politics.
As with almost all contemporary terrorists Bissonnette is a product of online radicalisation. An individual actively connected to a broader community of white supremacy and nationalist movements, he formed the justification for his actions through involvement with online communities that fostered and informed his views.
Just as with their Islamic counterparts, terrorists like Bissonnette emerge from years of entrenchment in online extremist communities.
However, unlike the Islamic terrorists rightfully denigrated by our media and politicians, Bissonnette and other white “lone wolves” are not depicted in the same way as members of a broader community that encourages and praises their violent acts.
When a Muslim loner attacks a nightclub in Florida mainstream voices jump immediately to question the views potentially shared by other members within our community. But when a white man is motivated by different ideologies it is rare to see the same questions being levelled at the political groups he came from.
Bissonnette, as well as other “lone wolves” before him, are no more isolated in their views and actions than any other extremist.
Although he may not exactly be a card-carrying member of any formal organisation, he certainly represents a specific community that should be held to the same critical standards. His views, justifications and actions all stem from a larger violent culture that should also be addressed.
The notion of a “lone wolf”, often seen following attacks such as these, is an entirely racialised concept – one designed to separate a terrorist’s identity from their background.
This media narrative stems largely from a politicised press, which often vilifies minorities such as Muslims, but also from the simple tropes used to remove all nuance in favour of easy-to-digest, easy to politicise, news items.
A white terrorist simply does not play into the fears and anxieties encouraged by the mainstream press, and so cannot support whatever agenda they hold.
This use of trope is seen on both sides of the political spectrum too. What may be a “lone wolf” attack to the right for example could also be an argument for gun control or mental health support for the left. In both examples these tropes create stigma which help marginalise certain communities, but in the case of Islamic vs Christian terrorism the racist foundation of this rhetoric is obvious.
When it comes to Islamic terror the separation of a killer and their politics is not seen, but with white Christians their actions are viewed as if they are spontaneous and unavoidable events – as unfortunate but inevitable as a natural disaster.
This most recent attack, however, has shown that the false idea of a “lone wolf” is something we must reject.
While young people continue to be radicalised online we must look at the extremist groups that cause such problems, whether they stem from Islamic extremism or “men’s rights” groups.
In our contemporary society we can no longer ignore the threat nationalist and so-called “alt-right” movements pose in justifying and fostering hateful and violent acts.
It is important not to follow the example of Trump, Le Pen and countless other politicians that blame the actions of a single extremist on the group they claim to represent.
However, at the same time we must recognise the dangers online communities clearly present. While the groups that radicalised Bissonnette continue to exist we must fight to destroy them in whatever form they materialise. We must resist rising fascism in the streets, and fight also the threat of online extremism.
We must address these communities, and do everything we can to ensure that their extreme and violent views are not spread so vehemently and easily, as we should too with extremist views that claim to advocate on behalf of any ethnicity, religion or group.
We must ensure that no more “lone wolves” are allowed to emerge from them, radicalised, self-justified and dangerous.