By Jack Farrell
The occupation in Ottawa has brought out no shortage of known members from Canada’s far and racist right. One agitator participating in the convoy was Les Michaelson. Well known throughout Alberta, Michaelson has a history within numerous Islamophobic hate groups and movements.
In addition to being a figurehead and mainstay of the Yellow Vests Canada movement, and often broadcasting live on Facebook from multiple groups and pages under his control, Michaelson participated in the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa in 2019.
Speaking to the Ottawa crowd during that event – clad in a neon safety wear uniform of the Yellow Vests and a “Make Canada Great Again” hat – Michaelson said they were ready to get even with the prime minister.
While the public faces of the 2019 convoy insisted the movement was about oil and gas – not dissimilar to the current occupation facing Ottawa – it drew more than its share of hate groups and their messaging. The anti-Muslim faux-biker club Northern Guard were spotted in attendance. Christopher Hayes, who was previously convicted of uttering threats against Justin Trudeau and a history of membership in Islamophobic hate groups, also attended.
Michaelson’s involvement in the far right didn’t begin or end with Yellow Vests Canada. He has attended rallies held by the World Coalition Against Islam, was an early supporter of the COVID-conspiracy movement, and is a supporter of the People’s Party of Canada and Maxime Bernier. This is just another example of the strong ties between those involved in the Yellow Vests movement and the waves of conspiracy-laden protests against public health measures.
In addition to participating in the initial “trucker” convoy – in an SUV – Michaelson also created a Zello channel for convoy participants and supporters to communicate. Zello is an app that functions like a walkie-talkie or two-way radio, allowing users to correspond with each other by voice messages, and occasionally, text messages.
The SUV Michaelson used in the convoy to Ottawa. Source: Zello
At the time of writing, over 95,000 users follow the channel since Michaelson created it during his drive to the capital. His dispatches usually were observed garnering 1,000 to 2,000 listeners at any given time.
Michaelson, posting under the username “va6lm,” and a revolving door of trusted moderators kept the channel active nearly every hour of the day until, according to Twitter users who monitor the convoy related Zello channels, Michaelson changed the channel settings to only allow himself to speak.
Before Michaelson changed the settings, moderators of the channel stated that they aimed to provide a place to “show support for the truckers” and provide “updates on what’s happening at ground zero.”
However, it appeared as though very few, if any, people listening to the channel were actually in Ottawa. Michaelson himself even stated he was only in Ottawa for the first weekend, and had been driving back to Alberta from Ontario since.
Michaelson shared this picture on Zello of him harassing somebody wearing a mask somewhere in Saskatchewan on Feb. 3. Source: Zello
Large amounts of daily air-time on the channel was dedicated to finding ways to handle the trolls who persistently interrupted any attempts at conversation.
The trolling effort included users playing pornographic audio clips, yelling “fuck you Nazis,” stoking conversations about conspiracies, and harassing Michaelson specifically.
Some dedicated users repeatedly played sexually graphic clips, creating new accounts as they were banned.
Michaelson, who seems to be ever-present on the channel, kept his cool for the most part. However, in response to a troll asking if he wanted Hitler to replace Erin O’Toole, Michaelson said “well no, he’s already Prime Minister.”
Michaelson also made some homophobic and queerphobic comments, saying, “Hey antifa I know you guys are the homosexuals out there with the cum zone or whatever but can you guys find maybe a couple of lesbians to try and troll us.”
There were many theories shared on the channel about who the trolls were. Michaelson’s theory was that, “the government gets their minions out to discredit an organization that they don’t like so, Trudeau gets his paid minions out to discredit us and try and troll us.
“If you think these are just guys sitting in their basement, no, these are government paid operatives that are out here trying to make it look like the truckers are playing gay stuff.”
While driving back to Alberta one morning, Michaelson also voiced his support of Pat King, saying, “King did indeed spend a week in Edmonton, in tipis, with native Canadians from all over Canada. I was there with him, I did a video, I saw what was happening and if Pat is racist because he thinks that white people are okay well, go figure.”
“I think he’s proven he’s not racist even though he said something that might’ve been negative or taken out of context,” Michaelson added.
Apart from the 2019 Yellow Vests convoy, Michaelson and King have participated in other events together. In 2020, they both disrupted a press conference in Ponoka, AB. Held by Black and Indigenous Alliance AB (BIAA), the event aimed to address an incident involving one of the BIAA members allegedly being struck by a truck at a protest the day before.
Anonymous antifascist researchers from Edmonton have documented Michaelson’s political activities for years. They aren’t surprised he is participating in this new convoy: “[Michaelson] loves the sound of his own voice and he must feel like he has something important to say.”
Michaelson and the moderators, who worked in shifts, prohibited many topics of conversation on their freedom radio program. Banned topics included Tamara Lich and the GoFundMe, anti-religious sentiments, and the discussion of politics, among other topics.
There was also an incredible amount of infighting on the channel. Many off-shoot channels were created by users who were removed or unwelcome on Michaelson’s. Any mention of the other channels also resulted in users being removed.
Other convoy supporters on the channel would occasionally sing “Oh Canada,” share vaccine conspiracies, make false claims, and more. One supporter suggested that the Trudeau government was using HAARP technology to create snowfall in order to sabotage the occupation in Ottawa – a conspiracy theory of government weather manipulation.
With this convoy radio channel Michaelson built an incredibly large platform for himself; a platform through which he shared and allowed hate speech, conspiracies theories, and an array of harmful ideas. Although the channel was created to support the convoy to Ottawa, people from around the world had joined the channel, commented regularly about what was happening, and shared ideas for what they wanted the convoyers to do.
“Trudeau just doesn’t listen, he’s only out for his liberal friends and the globalists that want Canada to do what the globalists want us to do,” Michaelson said one evening, referencing the globalist conspiracy theory.
The moderators and dedicated listeners placed Michaelson on a pedestal, and refrained from questioning his ideas or decisions.
In the morning of February 4, Michaelson arrived at the Coutts border crossing, saying to listeners, “we’ll be going down there and doing some video, and we’ll see what happens.”
“That’s it, thank you for this morning,” Michaelson said as he signed off for the time being.
Despite Michaelson barely speaking throughout Feb. 4 (because he was live streaming on his Twitch channel) a fluctuating, but significant, number of listeners were still tuned in, waiting for his next message.
Michaelson has since returned to his home in Edmonton, and participated in the protest downtown on Feb. 5. Michaelson stood through the sunroof of the moving SUV and spoke through a megaphone as he drove around the downtown core.
“Do you have freedom? Where is your freedom? Trudeau has your freedom!” Michaelson yelled to nobody in particular.
Michaelson did not respond to a request for comment.