By Jeff Shantz
Twice in a matter of weeks in August the white supremacist Soldiers of Odin (SOO) threatened to assault homeless people and take down Discontent City, the shared space at which they are living, in Nanaimo. A march of SOO the first weekend in August was opposed by a collective gathering of homeless people and allies effectively turning SOO away. A week later the SOO made a threat to forcibly tear down the tent city on August 19. Again a mass turnout of people showed up to oppose them but the fascists no-showed.
We must not misunderstand the neo-Nazi basis of the Soldiers of Odin. We should all be deeply concerned about the open, brash, mobilization of the white supremacists against poor people housing themselves at the Discontent City in Nanaimo, a major city in so-called BC. It says plenty about the anti-homeless group, Action Against the Discontent City (AADC) that they would unashamedly ally themselves with neo-fascists.
It is important to view the rise of neo-fascism and white supremacy in a context of growing poverty and homelessness. It speaks to the effects of austerity politics and poorbashing by politicians and public figures in promoting and installing those policies (including stigmatizing homeless people, as “undeserving,” as “others,” etc.). It is not surprising that the structural violence (inequality, poverty, colonialism) that contributes to homelessness would give rise to bare manifestations of neo-fascist, white supremacist violence.
Notably, in Surrey, BC, where I live and work, Soldiers of Odin unsuccessfully tried to recruit homeless people on 135A Street (the Strip) against refugees, who Soldiers of Odin wrongly blame for taking housing. Strip residents had none of it.
The community responses to defend Discontent City shows a positive way forward in times of crisis. Support and care rather than stigmatizing rage and scapegoating that further harm people who are already victimized by structural violence. Solidarity works against fascists as the situations in Nanaimo have shown. It remains necessary to be vigilant and prepared.
It is curious that AADC want to pose as respectable citizens compared to the unrespectable tent city residents, yet do so by collaborating with neo-fascists and white supremacists. People on the sidelines in Nanaimo and elsewhere need to ask: “Who would you want as a neighbour: poor people acting to build a supportive community or ‘good citizens’ who would ally themselves with neo-Nazis?”