Faith Goldy is not your average U of T alum. In 2012, she received the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, which recognizes “graduating students for making outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.”

In March, a petition calling for her award to be rescinded was signed by scores of fellow recipients, claiming that her views are not representative of the university. This request was surprisingly denied by the U of T Alumni Association.

After all, in the six years since receiving the award, Goldy emerged as a white nationalist and online media personality. Today, she’s using that image to run for mayor of Toronto. It’s difficult to imagine how the views of a potential Mayor Goldy would honour the award’s call to “improve the world.”

Against all odds

Goldy’s core public views are unambiguously hateful. She promotes protecting the white majority, ending a so-called “white genocide,” and closing Canada’s borders. She has also uttered the Fourteen Words, a white supremacist creed about protecting the white majority.

Her views are so extreme that even the controversial Rebel Media, for which she worked as a correspondent, let her go following her attendance at the violent Charlottesville Unite the Right rally and her subsequent interview on a neo-Nazi affiliated podcast.

The passion that fuels Goldy’s mayoral campaign has mobilized Toronto’s far right. Indeed, her fanbase has grown during her campaign, particularly in the online world, with thousands of devoted admirers retweeting and regurgitating her messages. However, she is overwhelmingly dismissed as a fringe candidate by mainstream Toronto media and politicians, polling very weakly throughout the campaign. It’s plausible that much of her support online comes from people living outside of Toronto. Whatever the case, this contradiction puzzled me, and I set out to explore it.

The person and the persona

Having researched her online extensively, I reached out to Goldy directly for an interview. I was nervous to meet her. When she finally arrived at our decided location, Robarts Library, she drew stares. She shook my hand and her face was engulfed with a bright smile. Her energy was infectious, and I could immediately feel myself being pulled in.

She spoke of how her grandfather was a carpenter who worked on the steps of Robarts and about the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. We chatted about its history, and she complimented my knowledge. She has charisma and charm, and she expertly dodged every question that addressed her more extreme views. She was polite, engaged, and moderate in all her responses.

Following the meeting, I felt very conflicted — feeling that I had been bamboozled in some way. I returned to her online feed and scrolled through her Reddit Ask Me Anything to discover her new Islamophobic messages. Other journalists have experienced this very same chicanery from Goldy and other far-right figures.

Her online presence leads down a dark rabbit hole. From seemingly harmless videos about conservative values to tweets about an ethnic genocide of white people, Goldy’s messages are filled with coded language that appeals to loyal, more integrated members of the far-right and white nationalist community.

The contradiction between the considerate person at Robarts and the racist, online persona who spews messages implying that nothing is stronger than ethnic bonds seemed like two different identities. It became clearer that the growing popularity of figures like Goldy relies on a charisma that makes hatred palatable.

Normalizing extremeness

Goldy claimed that her interactions with the public are mostly very positive. She campaigns at subway stops and shares her message by pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Goldy knows her audience. On one hand, she presents common sense ideas like fixing Toronto’s roads, working toward affordable housing, and creating new architectural standards for city buildings.

On the other hand, she makes the sensationalist call to evacuate all “illegal immigrants” to Justin Trudeau’s official residence. She proposes to reinstate the controversial Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, which allows police to investigate anyone whom they feel is suspicious and which has a history of targeting racialized youth. She also wields Islamophobia as a powerful tool, calling for a “Special Research Desk on Islamic Extremism” to “monitor finances in and out of Toronto Islamic centres.” These policies target marginalized communities and not individuals guilty of a crime.

This is strategic. Goldy’s target audience is the ‘Joe Six-pack,’ the average blue-collar white male in Toronto, and she works to make them believe that they are disadvantaged in this city — which they are not. Her use of fear is a consistent tactic throughout her campaign, using “make Toronto safe again” to evoke a sense of purpose and paranoia in her fanbase. She wants voters to think that she is the only candidate with the will to protect them. Thus, she needs to present enemies to protect them from.

While she knows when to stoke the flames, she also knows when to veil her views as non-threateningly conservative. Goldy’s slogan, “Tough on Crime, Easy on Taxpayers,” could appeal to any Torontonian. She argues that everyone in the city wants money back in their pocket. By mixing legitimate policies into her platform, she aims to normalize her candidacy and, by extension, her extremist, racist rhetoric.

This ostensibly makes it possible to explain away being her supporter without being discredited as a white nationalist. Goldy’s auxiliary promises to fix roads and host tailgating parties are her Trojan horse, allowing her to wheel into the minds of moderates without setting off major alarms. This is not very original: far-right movements elsewhere, such as US President Donald Trump’s, have succeeded by this very careful mix of legitimate and extreme policies.

Resorting to the ‘free speech’ argument

When far-right figures like Goldy face criticism, opposition, and de-platforming because of their oppressive views, they are quick to deflect the conversation from the content of their speech to the freedom of their speech. The discussion changes from the underlying racism of their views — a debate they would not be able to win — to one about an abstract right to speak their mind.

Consider the blackout of Goldy’s campaign by mainstream politics. She has not been invited to the mayoral debates; Mayor John Tory has refused to debate her; and, following deserved pressure from the opposition at Queen’s Park, but after posing in a photo with her, Premier Doug Ford condemned Goldy’s views.

Goldy, like many other far-right figures, is a master of self-victimization. When she is shut down and excluded from the news cycle, she portrays herself as a martyr of political correctness — and her followers agree. She tweeted recently that three of her top Twitter supporters had their accounts suspended by the platform. According to Goldy, the evil ‘alt-left’ are the real oppressors and authoritarians, not her. This effectively confuses oppressor and victim.

She even stormed the stage of an arts debate, flashing a petition with 5,000 signatures calling to let her debate. She later berated the moderator, calling her a “leprechaun troll.” She was reportedly not invited because she did not meet the qualifications, which required her to fill out the candidate’s survey and provide an arts policy. Yet she still filed this experience away in her long narrative of perceived censorship.

Goldy is also turning the rejection of her radio ads by Bell Media into a courtroom circus, arguing that her rights are being infringed upon — taking the onus off of the content of her character and instead villainizing her opponents.

I understand why mainstream politicians and media are refusing to engage with Goldy. However, as her self-victimization comes from a place of privilege and her continued ‘censorship’ only invigorates her fan base, silencing the far right has never felt like more of a bandaid tactic.

A forbidden message has power and allure. She has said, “The more they try to silence us, the more people are starting to pay attention.” For once, I have to say that I agree with her. Silencing Goldy only empowers and reassures her followers that there truly is an assault on free speech in this country.

Her supporters band together across her social media, calling for the downfall of the mainstream media and “fellowship” among Toronto’s “political elite.” This anti-establishment rhetoric is becoming more and more familiar with the infusion of unabashed far-right figures clawing their way into the mainstream consciousness.

Confronting the far-right on campus

U of T has a comprehensive free speech policy, acknowledging that debate and freedom of speech are key in the pursuit of truth and the dissemination of knowledge. The university also explains that “every member should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination.” It is within these seemingly contrasting principles that we are left to find the balance.

When Goldy was invited to speak at Wilfrid Laurier University, a student activist pulled the fire alarm. No professors from the university had agreed to debate her. Despite Goldy’s talk ending before it began, she has not been deterred whatsoever. During our interview, she expressed her plans to return to Laurier and finally give her presentation.

I understand why students would want to preserve safe spaces and protect each other from hateful rhetoric. However, by silencing Goldy, we seem to be pumping her campaign with fuel.

The way to challenge far-right figures like Goldy is not to provide them with free rein to deliver long speeches and present their views as fact, which almost occurred at Laurier. Rather, they must be challenged and debated in controlled forums with fact-checking and knowledgeable opponents — ideally professors. This would not only easily reveal the baselessness of their arguments, but also revoke their ability to brand themselves as martyrs and their experience as censorship.

On October 22, Toronto will have its say at the polling stations, and I am confident that Goldy has no chance of victory. However, by silencing figures like Goldy or pretending like they don’t exist, we allow them to continue to assemble underground — unchallenged. I fear that in time, they will only become more united and, as we’ve seen south of the border, real political contenders.

Anastasia Pitcher is a second-year Biodiversity and Conservation Biology and Genome Biology student at New College.