A leadership candidate for Alberta's United Conservative Party is calling on other candidates to condemn Rebel Media for its coverage of the deadly clash between anti-racism activists and white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., on the weekend.
Doug Schweitzer, facing a tough battle against leadership front-runners Jason Kenney and Brian Jean, took to Twitter on Saturday to accuse the right-wing media outlet of defending white supremacists during its coverage of the violence.
Heather Heyer was killed when a car was driven into a crowd of counter-protesters. Suspected white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., 20, has been charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count related to leaving the scene.
In a tweet over the weekend, Schweitzer — a Calgary-based lawyer — accused The Rebel of "defending Nazis" in its coverage.
Just before the fatal collision, Rebel personality Faith Goldy was livestreaming from the scene and condemning authorities for allowing counter-protesters to rally, after they declared the Virginia march an illegal gathering.
Goldy was still live when the car crashed into the crowd where she stood.
'We cannot be playing footsie with this'
Schweitzer called on other UCP leadership candidates to distance themselves from the organization, which was founded by outspoken conservative commentator Ezra Levant.
"We heard the Rebel Media providing coverage on it, and right before the individual was hit by that car and died, they were offering soft support to some white supremacist groups that were out there," Schweitzer said to CBC News on Monday.
He said Rebel has evolved from a site that offered a "fresh voice for issues" into a platform for the alt-right.
"It has no place in United Conservative Party. We cannot be playing footsie with this and enough is enough," he said. "Conservative politicians should no longer be participating in a platform that allows for the facilitation of hate."
Levant himself issued a memo on The Rebel website Monday that distances his organization from neo-Nazis, marching through Charlottesville.
He also distanced the organization from the alt-right label, saying it has evolved from "unashamed right-wingedness, with a sense of humour" to something driven by white nationalists focused on race.
"That term now effectively means racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism," he wrote.
The statement wasn't enough for Schweitzer.
"I think that condemning them is obviously a step that they're doing. They're trying to do damage control over their current actionism."
Jean, Kenney and Callaway
Leadership hopeful Brian Jean tweeted on Saturday he agrees with Schweitzer that white supremacists have no place in society.
White supremacists have no place in our society. I echo my colleague @doug_schweitzer in condemning what is happening in Charlottesville.— @BrianJeanAB
At a media availability on health policy on Monday, Jean — whose campaign manager is a director for Rebel Media — again denounced racism, but did not explicitly condemn the right-wing outlet's coverage.
In an email, Kenney's campaign team also denounced the weekend attacks, but did not condemn Rebel Media's reporting of them.
"Jason has been building bridges between Canadian communities of all races, ethnicities and religions for over a decade," Kenney spokesperson Blaise Boehmer said.
Jeff Callaway, the fourth candidate for the UCP leadership, has not responded to requests for an interview.
Pollster Janet Brown said Schweitzer is using the issue to set himself apart in the leadership race.
"He's definitely trying to make Rebel Media a wedge issue," she said.
"He's really trying to separate himself from the other candidates, as someone who hasn't been involved with Rebel Media and doesn't have anyone on his campaign involved."
Brown said most Albertans identify as fiscally conservative, but are not comfortable with social conservatism.
"This really is the sort of weak link for the UCP, this is the quicksand they have to avoid," she said.
Brown said it looks as though Jean and Kenney are trying to avoid the "distraction of having a fight with Rebel Media" by not condemning the organization.
"I don't know that Rebel Media is really all that important that their success would live and die on them being aligned with Rebel Media," she said.
Co-founder leaving The Rebel
Schweitzer's tweet prompted a response from Goldy.
"Lawyer confused by concept of first amendment," she tweeted.
> lawyer confused by concept of first amendment https://t.co/31PRYQphcl— @FaithGoldy
The coverage was also the final straw for Brian Lilley, listed as a co-founder on The Rebel website, who posted to Facebook on Monday that he could no longer be part of the organization because of its increasingly harsh tone on issues like immigration and Islam.
"There are ways to disagree on policy without resorting to us versus them rhetoric," he wrote.
"What The Rebel suffers from is a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it. For that reason, I am leaving."