Day 6

The Rebel Media's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

The Rebel Media, Canada's far right media outlet, veered off course this week renouncing the "alt-right" and shedding its most prominent personalities. Politicians are turning their backs and founder Ezra Levant says he's being blackmailed. The New Republic's Jeet Heer and Maclean's Magazine's Jason Markusoff weigh in.
Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant. (CBC)

by Brent Bambury

It's been a good week for the far right in North America.

After the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where violent confrontations culminated in lethal terror, the neo-Nazi movement is emboldened and looking to the future.

Donald Trump played a role too.

The President of the United States, smacking around the elite media at an impromptu press conference, did all he could to avoid criticizing the far right and floated the spectre of a violent, intolerant left.

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to questions about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia while speaking at his Trump Tower residence in New York, August 15, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump isn't backing down, progressives are dumbfounded and the cosmopolitan media party won't stop talking about it.

This should have been a great week for The Rebel.

Instead, the Canadian far-right media site is shedding personalities — including Gavin McInnes and Faith Goldy — and is being shunned by formerly friendly politicians.

Another ex-contributor published a damaging video alleging impropriety and pressing The Rebel to open its books. Founder and "Rebel Commander" Ezra Levant says he's being blackmailed

"I've had a rough week," he says.

Ezra Levant founded The Rebel in February 2015. (Canadian Press / Jeff McIntosh)


Real Nazis meet 'Nazism-LOL'

Levant's terrible week started with the defection of Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley, followed by contributors Barbara Kay and John Robson, along with McInnes and then Goldy, who apparently, unlike the others, was fired.

Jeet Heer, media watcher and senior editor at the New Republic, explains on Day 6 why he thinks this was the week The Rebel went into retreat.

Jeet Heer, Senior Editor with The New Republic. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

"The Rebel specializes in what I like to call Nazism-LOL, where you make horrific racist and anti-Semitic comments and then you say 'Just joking!'"

"But it's hard to do Nazism-LOL when people are actually getting killed as they were in Virginia."

Brian Lilley was the first out the door. On Monday, he told As it Happens he was wary of The Rebel's direction. "Editorial judgement that sees people go as activist journalists ... to a Unite The Right rally that is obviously just a front for a white supremacist rally left me concerned," he said.


Faith No More

On Tuesday, Levant published a video distancing The Rebel from the neo-Nazis of Charlottesville. 

But a far more dramatic video was captured by Rebel host Faith Goldy who was marching alongside leftist protestors when a car slammed into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer and wounding at least 19 others. Just before the moment of impact, Goldy is mocking the protestors. 

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Heather Heyer, 32, was killed in the incident. (The Daily Progress via AP)

Levant would later say he asked Goldy not to go to Charlottesville and fired her when he learned she'd given a sympathetic interview to a podcast affiliated with the neo-Nazi web site, The Daily Stormer.

Jeet Heer thinks Goldy's turn in Charlottesville is the likely reason for The Rebel's change of tune.

"The fact that they had a reporter down there who said that the alt-right has robust ideas about 'The Jewish Question' — that created a problem."


The mainstream turns its back

This week that problem resonated with Canada's conservative politicians. Jason Kenney, Brian Jean and Andrew Scheer publicly distanced themselves from the site. Scheer, the leader of the federal Conservatives, had been unresponsive to activists who'd been pressuring him to renounce The Rebel, but on Thursday he made his move.

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer is touring B.C. this week to boost his profile with voters. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Jason Markusoff has been writing about The Rebel for Maclean's. He charted the growth of the site as it tilted toward the U.S., looking for a wider audience. He says The Rebel's connection to the violence in Virginia casts a shadow on the centrists in Canada who'd been chummy with the site.

"The Canadian angle to this Charlottesville story is Ezra Levant and The Rebel. And that does not look good on him. That does not look good for his peers… It does not look good for his community in Canada."

Markusoff says Levant's success attracting American fans means he's had to appeal to different audiences.

"The problem is that a lot of his audience and a lot of his money is still Canadian based. A lot of them are people who just want to come for the Trudeau bashing, for the Muslim refugee bashing."


Jeet Heer agrees.

"[Levant's] associated with mainstream conservative figures as well as international far right figures. And that creates a real dilemma because if you're Andrew Scheer. do you want to appear on The Rebel now that they're associated with neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Virginia?"

"What's more," says Markusoff "is that Ezra Levant and The Rebel had grown so big among some of the conservative base that there was a fear among some conservatives — both in Alberta and nationally — that if you attack The Rebel Media, you know, you'll get backlash. Basically, he'll activate his base. I mean he operates more like a political action committee often than a media outlet."


"Fun times in the scorpion pit"

After she was fired by Levant, Faith Goldy praised him on Twitter. "Thank you to Ezra and The Rebel team — each and every one of you," she posted.

Another contributor was less fond.

Rebel Media's former U.K. correspondent Caolan Robertson says Levant offered him hush money because of what he knows about The Rebel's finances.  Levant denies it and says his former employee is blackmailing him.

I asked Jason Markusoff what he makes of it.

"One of the things we heard, interestingly, was this former correspondent accusing them of raising too much money."

"I think they figured out a model. He [Levant] creates this very loyal, passionate mob, people who like his pro-Islamophobia stuff, his devoutly anti Rachel Notley stuff."

An attendee holds a homemade sign at the Rebel Media Freedom Rally in Toronto on February 15, 2017. (Torontoist/YouTube)

"He'll convince them that they can't get what they want in media anywhere else. And he's their media source so they want to give him money to sustain him and he says 'Everyone else is going to attack us and shut us down.' So he creates this political action committee urgency and people will give him money."

Lawsuits, should they proceed, may illuminate some of the murkiness around funding.

"You know what? Fun things sometimes happen in the scorpion pit," says Markusoff.


'There's a sucker born every minute'

What does the future look like for Canada's version of Breitbart?

Jason Markusoff thinks Levant can survive his week of woes.

"He can scale this down," Markusoff says. "He started, you know, barely two years ago as a one or two person operation in the ashes of the Sun News Network. You know, he can muddle along with a smaller operation."

Jeet Heer also thinks there's a future for The Rebel.

Ezra Levant, shown March 2, 2016. (Canadian Press)

"I think perhaps the best way to see Ezra is as a sort-of classic P.T. Barnum style grifter. You know, racism has always been a bit of a con game. You tell white people that they're better than other people and they'll give you money. So I think that in some way, that Ezra's future is actually quite bright because you can never get broke underestimating people's intelligence, and there's always another sucker that you can take money from."

In other words, there's still gas in The Rebel's tank.

It just might not be ethical.