‘That’s just racist’: Ezra Levant distances The Rebel from alt-right as contributors resign

Despite Levant’s sprint to distance The Rebel and the alt-right, some of his regular contributors, including Barbara Kay and John Robson, have resigned

If last weekend’s rally in Charlottesville, Va., was meant as a show of strength by those hoping to “Unite the Right” in an America consumed by political division, its out-and-out embrace of Nazi symbolism, goonery and violence has instead created a wedge among hard-right partisans — and is leading some of Canada’s best-known contributors to the culture wars to try to distance themselves from the so-called alt-right.

The aftermath of Charlottesville has hit The Rebel, an ultra-conservative online Canadian media outlet, particularly hard, with three regular contributors resigning over its recent content, despite its proprietor issuing a disavowal of the alt-right and one of its most popular personalities harshly condemning the rally and its organizers.

“It pretended to be ‘unite the right’ but it was basically Nazis saying, ‘shit or get off the pot, become a white nationalist or f–k off.’ And a lot of people told them to f–k off,” Gavin McInnes told the National Post in an interview.

McInnes, 47, an Ottawa native and co-founder of the Vice media empire, now heads the Proud Boys, a right-wing populist men’s group, and is a caustic hard-right media commentator in the United States and Canada, including on The Rebel.

McInnes didn’t attend the rally, which was sparked by the city of Charlottesville’s plans to remove a public statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. After initially supporting the plan for the rally, he said, he smelled impending disaster more than a month ago.

“It seemed like they were drifting into the arena of the unwell,” McInnes said, quoting the movie Withnail & I.

“This gathering was a lie. It purported to be about statues; it purported to be about community, but it was really about polarizing the right and saying, ‘You are with us or against us.’ And I think they’re going to find that everyone is against them. Their rhetoric got a woman killed and a boy put in prison.

“It cut the alt-right off from everyone else,” McInnes said. “(The left and the media) see us all as one dumb unified group, and we’re not. And I think what we learned this weekend is, we shouldn’t be.”

Charlottesville also seems to have jolted Ezra Levant, proprietor of The Rebel, and some of his contributors. On Monday Levant publicly issued a “staff memo” disavowing the alt-right and the weekend’s white supremacist gathering.

“When I first heard of the alt-right a year ago, I thought it simply meant the insurgent right, the politically incorrect right, the grassroots right, the nationalistic right,” Levant wrote.

“But the alt-right has changed into something new, especially since Trump’s election. Now the leading figure — at least in terms of media attention — is Richard Spencer, and other white nationalists. By that, I mean people whose central organizing political principle is race.”

Both McInnes and Levant’s The Rebel have been accused of pushing an anti-Semitic message despite Levant’s declarations he is “a proud Jew,” notably when McInnes recorded a Rebel video while visiting Israel titled “10 Things I Hate About Jews.” (After a backlash, The Rebel changed the video’s title to reference Israel rather than Jews.) Popular Rebel content also features anti-immigration messages and raises fear of Muslims.

In his memo, Levant said he was shocked by the weekend’s events.

“There were actually some Nazi swastika flags in Charlottesville. Whether or not they were being genuinely carried, or carried by agents provocateurs trying to embarrass the alt-right isn’t even important. They were there — and Spencer’s torch-lit walk had other Nazi symbology, including the ‘Sieg Heil’ arm salute, and the chant of ‘blood and soil’ — which was a slogan popularized by the Nazis.

“Sorry, that’s not conservative, that’s just racist, and I think it’s unpatriotic to mimic one of America’s greatest historical enemies.”

Levant’s memo came after he boasted on Twitter that The Rebel “cracked the top 50 YouTube news channels, with more than 870,000 subscribers.” Its growth was fuelled in part by broadcasting some of the far-right personalities and themes prominent at Charlottesville — including Spencer (whom McInnes interviewed) and others who were at the rally.

Although both Levant and McInnes are now trying to distance themselves from the alt-right’s embrace of white supremacism, neither backed away from other controversial views in the wake of the rally.

“(The protesters) did have some valid points; there is a lot of anti-white racism in this country, white men do get the brunt of abuse in media and pop culture — but they took all of their cogent arguments and flushed them down the toilet,” McInnes said. Levant, in his memo, said “we can point out the differences with which extremist black, gay, Muslim or feminist identity politics are treated by the establishment, as opposed to how white identity politics are treated.”

A casual observer might have trouble identifying the point of divergence, absent the Nazi-esque logos brandished by many at the Charlottesville rally, but for many insiders, it has become the dividing line.

The Rebel’s apparent rethink comes after one of its leading personalities, Faith Goldy, was broadcasting live from the rally when, beside her, a car drove into demonstrators agitating against the alt-right protest, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and wounding 19 others. Police arrested James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohio man, who, a former teacher told CNN, was “big into Nazism.”

Before the crash, Goldy’s commentary was sympathetic to the alt-right demonstrators, complaining of their unfair handling by police and media.

“The double standards are just so gross, right?” she said in her broadcast. “There’s freedom of assembly for one group and not for another. There’s freedom of protest for one group but not another. You don’t need a permit if you’re antifa (short for anti-fascist protesters). But if you have a permit, and you’re in the alt-right, you’re not allowed to mingle, you’re not allowed to talk about ideas.”

Despite Levant’s sprint to put distance between The Rebel and the alt-right, some of his regular contributors have announced their resignation.

On Monday, Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley announced he is leaving the organization followed Tuesday by Barbara Kay and John Robson.

“What may have started as a concern over the (Rebel’s) harsh tone taken on some subjects came to a head with this weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Lilley said in a Facebook post. The protest “was really an anti-Semitic white power rally,” he said. Lilley also hosts a talk show on an Ottawa radio station.

“I am not comfortable being associated with a group that, rightly or wrongly, is being increasingly viewed as associated with the likes of Richard Spencer. Like many of you, I had family that fought the Nazis, I never want to be in the same room as one.

“What The Rebel suffers from is a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it.”

Kay, who also writes opinion columns for National Post, announced her departure as a freelancer for The Rebel because she could no longer share space with “contributors whose message and tactics have tarnished the Rebel brand,” she said in a statement.

“Most of the journalists who contribute to The Rebel are reasonable and humane people. Many, in fact, are my friends. But it only takes one or two bad apples to spoil the bunch. And regrettably, that is what has happened with The Rebel.”

Robson, who also writes opinion pieces for the Post, resigned Tuesday, complaining of The Rebel’s “tone.” Robson said in a statement he valued Levant’s efforts “to challenge conventional wisdom and defy political correctness,” however, he now finds “the tone too unconstructive and think The Rebel has drifted too far from its mission.”

In an interview, Robson said Charlottesville forced him to act on something he has been feeling for some time.

“I’d rather be part of a solution, not part of the problem,” he said. “I’m very much a defender of free speech, even monstrous speech… but there needs to be some sunlight.”

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