As It Happens

Halifax's former poet laureate on being doxxed by a Cape Breton far-right group

El Jones, Halifax's former poet laureate, was one 28 people whose personal information was posted online by an anonymous Nova Scotia organization calling themselves "national socialists."
El Jones, Halifax's poet laureate, appeared on a list of 'potentially dangerous' people posted online by members of an anonymous right-wing group. (Rob Short/CBC)

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El Jones, Halifax's former poet laureate, was one 28 people whose personal information was posted online by an anonymous Nova Scotia far-right organization. 

An anonymous Twitter user affiliated with a group calling themselves Cape Breton Alt Right published a list of people online. The group claims the people listed have shown interest in protests calling for the removal of an Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax, dubbing them "potentially dangerous."

Cornwallis was a governor of Nova Scotia. In 1749, he issued a so-called scalping proclamation offering a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaw person.

His statue made national headlines on Canada Day when members of a right-wing group called "The Proud Boys" disrupted an Indigenous protest at the site.

The Cape Breton Alt Right, whose members have turned down CBC News interview requests, bills itself as a group of "national socialists" — an apparent reference to the Nazi Party.

Some of the people on the list told CBC News they were not actually involved in the protests, but Jones was at the Canada Day protest and wants the statue removed.

Jones will temporarily host CBC Radio's Tapestry later this summer. She spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about being targeted by Canada's far right.

This is how the Cape Breton Alt Right identified El Jones. (Twitter)

El Jones, how did you find out your name was on this list?

I'm not on Twitter and one of the reason I'm not in Twitter is because of the number of threats black women often receive in that medium. So the way I found out is that people started messaging me and saying, "We just wanted to let you know there's this list going around, your name is on it and just wanted to check and see that you're safe."

What was your immediate response when you heard this?

I suppose you could call me an outspoken black woman or a public figure. I'm certainly someone who's been active speaking about injustice or racism or these other issues. So, in that sense, is this anything new? No. 

But I think any time you have a Twitter account from a "national socialist," you have to take that seriously, no matter how small the account is, whether or not it's organized, no matter what it represents.The very idea that someone's taking on a Nazi account and then listing people, you have to see that as threatening.

You sound like, on the one hand, you're able to step back and look at this in kind of an analytical way. But I have to wonder what the emotional impact is, whether it frightens or angers you to be targeted like this?

We know that when black women speak, often people will do everything they can to silence it. So in that sense, I would say that it's not something I haven't been preparing for and it's not something I don't see other women going through.

What I do think I take out of it is that the things that we speak about are very real. So, often when we speak about racism or oppression or we say we feel threatened or we feel unsafe, a lot of people laugh at that and say oh, you know, "Poor triggered snowflake," or "These people are whining."

Now this is more extreme but, you know, when people are saying we experience racism, we mean it and it's real and it's not something we made up.

Have you been contacted by authorities about your appearance on this list?

No, not yet. And one of the points I was making to a friend is I wonder if a bunch of, say, Muslim men had made a list of people how quickly the police would have responded?

One of the concerns with the way that we're seeing this particular extremist rhetoric growing around white nationalism, white supremacy, what they call themselves the alt-right, you know all these different kind of groups, is that people don't always receive it as extreme and it's often quite normalized.

I think one of the questions we should be asking is, why is this extremist rhetoric growing? And why is it often growing without people seeing as as serious as it is?

Activists protest at the base of the Edward Cornwallis statue after city staff covered it with a black sheet. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

You say you think it's possible police are not taking this seriously. Have you made a formal complaint to police?

No. ... To me, I do think there's a danger in placing too much energy and attention on this list because you take something that starts as not an organized thing and this gives it the power to organize.

But I think where we really need to focus is on how in generally normal, good, progressive white people often don't do as much work as they could to push back against racism and often aren't questioning some of the ways this rhetoric is entering our mainstream. 

People often support whiteness unthinkingly. Fifty-eight per cent of Halifax supports the Cornwallis statue.

I guess I want to know why you think the proposal to remove the statue of Cornwallis has become such a lightning rod — first with the Proud Boys and now with this list from this group that identifies itself as national socialists, or Nazis?

It went up in 1931, so it's more recent than most of the buildings we're knocking down in the city, but people don't need to restore that heritage and hold onto it. But they become very attached to Cornwallis. And why they become attached is not because they cared about Cornwallis — it's because people seem to become defensive any time they feel any white privilege or position in society is being taken away.

El Jones will be hosting Tapestry on CBC Radio for the first three Sundays of August. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.