Conservative leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre came under fire this past weekend after an image of him shaking hands with Jeremy Mackenzie, the founder of a group known as “Diagolon,” emerged.
Shortly after the image surfaced on Mackenzie’s public Telegram channel, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called on Poilievre to “denounce Jeremy Mackenzie and Diagolon,” who he said are “designated as violent extremists by Canada’s Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre.”
Singh was referring to a report from Press Progress, which last week published a document it obtained through access-to-information from the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre, a federal organization that assesses threats of terrorism to Canada.
The document, dated Feb. 17, 2022, classifies Mackenzie as one of the “key anti-government IMVE (ideologically motivated violent extremism) adherents” that attended the so-called “freedom convoy” protests in Ottawa earlier this year.
The Canadian government has not expressed formal concern about Diagolon nor does it list the group as a terrorist entity.
“Over the course of my campaign I have shaken hands with literally tens of thousands of people at public rallies. It is impossible to do a background check on every single person who attends my events,” Poilievre’s campaign team said in response to Global News’ request for comment on Aug. 20.
“As I always have, I denounce racism and anyone who spreads it. I didn’t and don’t know or recognize this particular individual.”
So who is Mackenzie — and what is Diagolon? Here’s what you need to know.
Diagolon: Meme country or extremist threat?
A drug-addled demonic goat named Phillip. A fictional diagonal country running from Alaska to Florida. An alleged plot to kill RCMP officers in Coutts, Alta.
There’s a common thread uniting these topics: they’re all, in some way, tied to Diagolon.
Founders of the group say it’s all one big joke, a meme, and they’re just a group of anti-establishment comedians. The demonic goat and fictional country were the product of “several edibles,” to hear Diagolon founder Jeremy Mackenzie tell it.
His telegram channel has more than 13,000 members, and he has at least 10,000 subscribers on YouTube.
But after a patch bearing the group’s insignia was found alongside weapons seized by the RCMP near the border in Coutts in February, some extremism experts say they are concerned about what the multi-hour livestreams could inspire their viewers to do.
“It’s not just an innocent podcast. It’s not just irony,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at Queen’s University and expert on extremism.
These podcasters are giving their viewers a new “lens” through which to interpret their struggles, he said – one that paints government as the villain and societal collapse as inevitable.
“The louder that gets, the more people that message resonates with, then you automatically create the potential for one or two of them doing something about it.”
In a statement sent to Global News, Mackenzie rejected any suggestion that his livestreams could incite violence or aggression.
The goal of his podcast, Mackenzie said, is to “make people laugh and alleviate their stress, build a sense of community to combat the social and spiritual isolation prevalent through society, make it abundantly clear that these incredibly wealthy and powerful folks pushing the buttons in our home are not to be blindly trusted without a thought.”
It all started with a single livestream.
Mackenzie said he was “pretty ripped on edibles” one night in 2020. That’s when the 36-year-old military veteran realized the states without COVID-19 mandates, when highlighted, formed a diagonal line across the North American continent.
“I was like, ‘It’s going to end up, this is where all the sane people live.’ The rest will go crazy, California will probably sink into the sea, New York will explode, and everyone will just kind of live in this line,” he told a fellow podcaster on a livestream on July 7.
The joke became more and more elaborate. The livestream dubbed the series of states and provinces the “Empire of Diagolon,” Mackenzie said.
In reality, Mackenzie said Diagolon is a “cultural clique.”
“There is a community. It’s like a fan club of a podcast, essentially. That’s really all it is — and it’s just like-minded people,” he said.
The streams regularly express their deep distrust in political institutions, hinting at a societal collapse they believe the political elite has Canada careening towards.
The Canadian government has not expressed formal concern about Diagolon, though Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino did refer to “a far-right extreme organization” in relation to the blockade in Coutts.
“Several of the individuals at Coutts have strong ties to a far-right extreme organization with leaders who are in Ottawa,” he said at the time.
He did not name the organization.
Diagolon is not listed as a terrorist entity according to Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act — and according to Amarasingam, it doesn’t fit that definition.
He said the danger with Diagolon, rather, lies with how its viewers might internalize the cynical worldview Mackenzie and other affiliated broadcasters present.
“I don’t get the sense that they know what they want to do next…. There’s this kind of constant revelling in the grievance itself. But there’s no real ask,” Amarasingam said.
“That’s not to say particular individuals and this movement won’t take it upon themselves to do it — as we (allegedly) saw in Coutts.”
As anti-COVID-19-mandate demonstrations paralyzed the border at Coutts in February, the RCMP said they became aware of a small, organized group at the protest that had “a willingness to use force against the police.”
In a subsequent raid, Mounties uncovered 13 long guns, handguns, a machete, a large quantity of ammunition and body armour. They also found two tactical vests — adorned with what Canadian Anti-Hate Network researchers believe were Diagolon patches.
A 2023 trial date was set for the four accused in this raid July 11.
Mackenzie denies that the patches are affiliated with his group. A post on a website dedicated to Diagolon suggests the patches are fake and being “used to frame community members.”
Meanwhile, the Diagolon founder has said in livestreams that he’s “not doing anything.” He’s just “commenting” on the “destructive” behaviour of others — including those in positions of power.
“I’m just pointing it out because I don’t know what else to do,” he said. “And if enough people see it, maybe something will happen.”
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