Rebel Media, the far-right news organization that Ezra Levant built from the remnants of the Sun News Network, appeared in near total meltdown on Thursday, losing more high-profile contributors, facing accusations of financial mismanagement and being shunned by leading conservative politicians as the shock of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi protests reverberated through Canada.
Despite an effort this week by Levant to distance The Rebel from the “alt-right” white nationalist movement that violently marched on the Virginia college town on the weekend, The Rebel’s sympathetic coverage of the movement’s racist provocateurs and their conspiracy theories led many of its best-known contributors to quit this week, including co-founder Brian Lilley and National Post contributors Barbara Kay and John Robson. On Thursday, Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes also reportedly departed. In an email to the media news site Canadaland, Levant said The Rebel had “tried to keep (McInnes), but he was lured away by a major competitor that we just couldn’t outbid.” McInnes did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.
Also on Thursday, Levant fired Faith Goldy, the contributor who had covered the weekend’s protests in Charlottesville. Goldy did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment, but confirmed her dismissal in a tweet Thursday night.
As The Rebel grappled with the departures, Norwegian Cruise Lines bent to the pressure of U.K.-based advocacy group Hope Not Hate and cancelled The Rebel’s booking for a Caribbean voyage featuring talks by Rebel personalities, saying the views The Rebel has espoused are “inconsistent” with the cruise line’s own “core values.” Meanwhile, the anonymous online activist group Sleeping Giants reported its long-running efforts to organize an advertising boycott of The Rebel has now resulted in a total of 237 advertisers, including major automotive firms, airlines, retailers and governments, dropping The Rebel from their campaigns.
But none of these setbacks seemed as much of a threat to destabilize The Rebel as accusations made by another recently departed employee, British contributor Caolan Robertson.
In an explosive video posted to YouTube on Thursday, featuring secretly recorded audio of Levant, Robertson claimed The Rebel has dishonestly solicited donations in excess of the costs of creating its content, concealed its use of the money, and oriented its news agenda around stories that can be turned into activist campaigns, generating a vast database of email addresses of sympathetic viewers and readers who can be mobilized for fundraising.
Robertson claims Levant flew to England to offer him thousands of dollars in what Levant described in the recording as “hush money,” and threatened legal action if Robertson or his partner and producer, George Llewelyn-John, were to try to sell their story to a British tabloid. Robertson also claimed Levant spiked a story about the UK Independence Party allegedly committing electoral fraud, and that Levant was actively trying to recruit its former leader, Nigel Farage.
“Ezra didn’t seem to care about the truth,” said Robertson, who ended his video by announcing his own new media startup, for which he made a plea for donations.
Levant declined the National Post’s interview request, but in a written statement published Thursday on The Rebel’s website he claimed Robertson was blackmailing and extorting him.
“I’ve always known the rule that if you’re ever being blackmailed, don’t pay. I mean, even if you think you can pay a blackmailer, they’ll just ask for more a second time. But you’re scared. So you pay. I thought I could make the problem go away, so I actually paid. And then I paid again. But then they threatened again. Last night actually. So I haven’t slept,” he wrote.
Then he gave his side of the story, in which Robertson and Llewelyn-John were hired first as freelancers, then as employees, and made increasingly panicked demands for emergency operating funds, eventually threatening to ”publicly allege that we were stealing money from our viewers … stealing from charities.”
“It was a complete lie,” Levant said, claiming various charitable donations The Rebel has made, including paying for a lawyer and even a vacation for a British rape victim whose case was not prosecuted.
“It also went to good things, like the extremely expensive wheelchair we’ve ordered for Gareth Knox (a British army veteran with multiple sclerosis),” Levant wrote.
As a defence of The Rebel in its time of crisis, Levant’s statement did not appear to have calmed the situation.
Andrew Scheer, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, who has appeared on The Rebel several times, released a statement Thursday saying he is boycotting the outlet because of its “editorial directions,” and because it gives a platform to “hate groups.” Scheer had previously scheduled an interview with the Post for Thursday, to discuss The Rebel and the question of free speech on university campuses — which he had made a key part of his leadership platform — but the interview was abruptly postponed.
“I am disgusted by the vile comments made by hate groups this past weekend,” read the statement Scheer offered instead. “I believe there is a fine line between reporting the facts and giving those groups a platform. I have a positive vision for Canada and I want to share that vision with Canadians and talk about issues that unite us all. Until the editorial directions of the Rebel Media changes, I will not grant interviews to the outlet.”
Scheer’s leadership campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, was until recently on The Rebel’s board of directors, but told Maclean’s he is “in the process” of cutting ties with the company, a decision he said he made months ago, unrelated to the Charlottesville protests.
I believe there is a fine line between reporting the facts and giving those groups a platform
Marshall now works as campaign manager for Brian Jean in his bid to lead Alberta’s United Conservative Party. Jean also announced Thursday he would not appear on The Rebel again “unless their direction changes in a significant way.” Jean’s chief rival for the UCP leadership, Jason Kenney, on Thursday also condemned the outlet’s “alt-right editorial direction of recent months.”
The discord reflects the unease that has grown between The Rebel, some of whose contributors have enthusiastically adopted the language and ideas of the far right’s anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, nationalist fringe, and more centrist Canadian conservative politicians, who are struggling to mount an effective and popular opposition to the governing Liberal Party.
It is hard to resolve, for example, Levant’s rejection of racism with Goldy’s appearance on the Krypto Report, a podcast produced by the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi outlet that advocates genocide.
In it, she said she “salutes” the white supremacists for showing up to Charlottesville “in hordes,” then she clarified with a laugh: “Not a Roman salute, guys,” a reference to the stiff armed Nazi salute. It was not immediately clear whether Goldy’s appearance on the podcast had contributed to her dismissal from The Rebel.
The podcast’s live audience erupted in cheers and applause when Goldy predicted that within five years an alt-right politician would run for office.
“Love you or hate you, people would be fools to ignore you,” she said.