Who Is John Southern?
A year on from protest actions that snarled city streets and blocked border crossings, the “convoy” remains misunderstood, but not in the way most people think.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Saba Eitizaz is not a reporter who backs down.
An international journalist now working for the Toronto Star, Eitizaz has been on the receiving end of a lot of attention in the past few months. Not for covering topics from human rights to radicalization in Pakistan, her award-winning work with the BBC, nor for hosting the Star’s daily news podcast, but instead for the transgression of being a woman in media.
Eitizaz is among a number of female and racialized journalists in Canada who have become the target of vitriol and harassment as part of a larger campaign against the media – now ongoing for over a year.
“Every time there is more activity on our front, we have more of a voice or a bigger seat at the table, that's when the sort of backlash begins to try to shrink that space again,” she told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “It keeps coming, but then there's like a peak if you've noticed one of us starts getting bombarded with the emails.”
Eitizaz, economist and Hill Times columnist Erica Ifill and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore were themselves the group of targeted journalists who became the subjects of a protracted campaign of intimidation we reported on in August.
The latest smattering of messages is likely retaliation for a recent panel at Ottawa’s Carleton University, according to Eitzaz, where the trio appeared together to discuss the topic of online hate directed towards journalists.
We got another email and this shows that they’re monitoring our social media. So glad I’m not going through this alone. Building community is everything pic.twitter.com/k2PtsrOyCC— Erica Ifill (@wickdchiq) December 5, 2022
“There was a lot of amplification around the issue of journalist safety. That's when it immediately started,” she said.
The latest messages came directed at Eitizaz through her work email, though mentioned the three reporters by name.
“Free press is under attack,” Rachel Gilmore said through tears during a video posted to her social media this week.
“I’m a female reporter and I have been receiving death threats for months now,” she said with a few samples of the messages’ text appearing behind her. “My DMs, my replies on Twitter, my emails, this is what they look like every day.”
Far from expressing disapproval or critical perspectives of the work, many of the threats target the gender and race of the reporters, threatening sexual assault, ongoing surveillance, and murderous violence.
“We were told our photos were plastered to the wall of a garage and they were deciding which one of us they wanted to kill,” Gilmore adds in the video. “We’re told we’re being stalked and I don’t feel safe leaving my house anymore.”
The reporters went to police in August 2020, coordinating together to report the harassment across multiple jurisdictions. Little has been done to stymie the flow of hate since.
In the flurry of messages against these journalists and more, one particular individual has joined the fray repeatedly – a man known under the name “John Southern.”
In emails provided to CAHN and posted publicly online, an email connected to Southern has repeatedly penned messages naming the reporters and made claims that they and other media figures are under surveillance by an unseen network who have previously leaked the addresses of health officials. Other messages, sometimes sent in blocks of multiple emails in quick succession, contain veiled threats or racist comments.
“Some of us aren’t holding signs and yelling at empty buildings on weekend. We’re inside your camp. Chatting with you over coffee. Collecting personal cell numbers, friending you on Facebook,” part of one email reads. “We aren’t reacting like most people in the Freedom Movement. We are proactive.”
Another closes simply with, “Everyone has a breaking point. Lets’ see if we can find it, shall we?”
The only reporting so far to focus on Southern came out of the Institute For Research and Education On Human Rights, which noted his appearance at left-wing protests to document and film activists’ faces.
The first picture of Southern came from an October 2019 Extinction Rebellion blockade of the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, BC. The article draws on many of Southern’s own statements online about being close to Wolfgang Droege, the deceased leader of Heritage Front. Southern has reiterated these claims elsewhere, though also specified he was not a member of the organization, even going as far to tell others he warned Droege about Grant Bristow – an HF co-founder later revealed to be a CSIS infiltrator.
Other claims from Southern place him in an Ontario prison as a younger man – by his telling, he is currently 53-years-old – talks about a childhood impacted by a parent’s drug use, and places himself generously on the sidelines of historic clashes between anti-fascist activists and the far right.
Southern also maintains that his photographs have appeared in several publications, including the National Post. No photo credits for a John Southern exist, based on online searches.
Unconfirmed, tragic and braggadocious biographical details aside, Southern has certainly been a fly on the wall for numerous protest actions in the last four years, typically in what is assumed to be his home province of British Columbia. An unassuming-looking man with a tripod and 4K definition camera, he says he records and releases footage with the expressed intent to expose individuals’ identities.
“I do what I do and don't make claims of being something else. I dox Antifa, I'll film inside areas you are not allowed to, I'll happily brawl with boots and fists any protester/Antifa who lays their hands on me,” Southern wrote on the forum Kiwi Farms.
Do you have information about the identity of John Southern or other individuals targeting journalists and activists for harassment? Please contact [email protected] or on Wire at @peter_tus.
Other than allegedly the Vancouver Police Department – Southern posted audio and pictures of two officers he claims visited him – and the man himself, few people know anything about his background or identity. All the information about Southern has been gleaned from his own stories or anecdotes posted online.
When contacted by CAHN in the past, he has refused to answer most questions posed to him outside of requesting a face-to-face meeting in British Columbia. Southern did not respond by time of publication to a request for comment for this article.
Follow-up emails to the address have since begun returning notices that the account is unable to receive email. CAHN has inquired with the encrypted email service used by Southern to see if the account has been shut down by the company or the user.
While it was at an Extinction Rebellion that the first picture of Southern was captured, his focus often lands on the issue of transgender rights and representation in Canada. He has a history of targeted harassment, largely focusing on controversial and prominent transgender figures in BC.
In 2021, this netted his appearance during the small protest actions of Chris Elston, a transphobic former insurance salesman. Elston and Southern both attended a campaign rally of then-BC Green Party candidate Nikola Spurling – a transgender woman.
After Spurling posted footage taken by Southern in a video calling out his and Elston’s attempts to crash a campaign event, she claims to have received “14 calls, five voicemails and a threatening video on his YouTube channel for use of his clips. I have confirmed my use of these clips falls under 'Fair Dealing' in Canada.”
The video Spurling mentions is currently not viewable in Canada due to a copyright claim, according to a notice posted on YouTube.
Elston helped finance a billboard reading “I (heart) JK Rowling” and has appeared at political events and outside of schools wearing sandwich boards objecting to the pervasiveness of “gender ideology”. He now appears at protests across North America and on media like Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Messages posted online by an account claiming to be Southern provide details about events he has attended with Elston, as well as his support for the figure.
“Generally he sticks to himself because cameras tend to scare people because they [are] afraid to talk to him less they get ‘Cancelled,’” the account attributed to Southern wrote at the time.
“The vast majority of conversations he has are off-camera. I don't have the resources to travel the country with him, but I'll happily assist with hooking him up with contacts in the places he goes.”
Southern said in a previous message to CAHN that he does not know Elston personally, and beyond getting information about his next appearance in the city, claims there is little direct contact.
Kiwi Farms, the infamous site reportedly at the centre of a series of transphobic harassment and doxings, has long been a digital home for Southern, who made posts on the forum frequently until the summer when Kiwi Farms became embroiled in a public battle with live streamer Clara “Keffals” Sorrenti. The streamer reports having police sent to her house, allegedly by trolls from the web forum.
Known as a hub for the targeted harassment of primarily trans people, the site has long been the target of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and the backlash saw Kiwi Farms struggling to remain active after it was dropped from commercial protection services.
The site remains active and has regained much of the functionality it lost before the recent public attention.
In one of his most recent emails to Eitizaz, Southern included a picture of a black flag with a white line running diagonally through it, the symbol of the fictional nation of Diagolon.
He does not appear to be a member of any public chats associated with the far-right Diagolon network, but has previously made claims online about being in contact with its creator and de-facto leader Jeremy MacKenzie. In 2020, Southern replied to several of MacKenzie’s posts on Facebook, including one discussing the antisemitic text, “The Protocols of The Elders of Zion.”
Plaid Army’s Mackenzie (Rick Handy,) Harrison, and Copeland are all pretty happy about the FBI fuckup.— YVCE 🧛♂️🧛♀️🧛♂️🧛 - ARCHIVE (@VestsCanada) August 20, 2020
Remember when they said they weren’t antisemitic?
Seems like Thomas Zaugg of the cenotaph vandalism fame and Vancouver propagandist John Southern are on board too. pic.twitter.com/HjLCgWyXjT
MacKenzie did not respond to a question asking if he knew Southern.
The Diagolon network has previously targeted Eitizaz, Ifill, and Gilmore for derision, both on their own channels, and the social media feeds of the reporters themselves. Alex “The Ferryman’s Toll” Vriend often posts screenshots of fake news headlines he falsely attributes to Gilmore.
A video posted to a YouTube channel claimed by Southern shortly after Gilmore’s response to harassment from a variety of sources, includes a clip of the Diagolon flag and other references to the network.