This is a story about a hypothetical made real. It’s a thought exercise — about limits and lines and what happens when those warp and disappear.
Picture this: a man careens through the fringes of public life. He chafes against boundaries. He sues and gets sued. He has talent and drive but lacks, something — a filter maybe, or just someone to tell him when enough’s enough. So he offends. He gets things wrong. He burns bridges and loses gigs. He never quite edges into the mainstream.
You’ve seen him, I’m sure, over the years, red-faced and quivering, his whole body twisting to a point. He jabs the air with practiced hands. He builds a rant from the bottom up, quietly, then not. Eventually, inevitably, he goes too far.
Now picture that man in a world where limits don’t exist, where there are no editors to spike his columns, or executives to demand he retract. A world where he can say what he wants, when he wants, to more people than he ever has before.
Given that chance, what would that man do? What would he say? How far would he go?
On Aug. 3 — nine days before a crisis plunged his empire into chaos — Ezra Levant bobbed in place before a green screen in his Toronto studio. He wore a dark blazer over a blue shirt and striped tie — the same outfit, more or less, that he’s worn his entire adult life. He addressed the camera directly. He spoke of three stories, from three countries that all, he told his audience, shared a common theme.
Levant has been ever present on the edges of conservative life in this country for more than 25 years. A Calgary native, he came of age with Preston Manning’s Reform Party. Before he was 30 years old, he had burst into and bombed out of mainstream politics. In the years since, he has woven a career between activism and media, forever preaching in both against liberals, environmentalists, and socialist hordes. But in recent years, especially since the founding of his far-right news site, The Rebel Media, he has been possessed of a more singular obsession.
The stories he presented that day did not seem at the outset to be connected. They included a synagogue construction permit in Australia, a video of British soldiers singing the Pakistani national anthem and a plan for a women’s only music festival in Sweden. “What do these stories have in common?” Levant asked his audience. “Well, the most obvious similarity is Islam.”
The synagogue couldn’t open, Levant claimed, because of Muslim terrorists. The soldiers were singing as a sop to a Muslim instructor. The music festival, well, that was just a feminist overreaction to a problem “not with all men,” Levant said, “not with most men” but with “Muslim migrants, who have turned Sweden into the rape capital of the world.”
Levant, who is 45 years old, founded The Rebel Media from the ashes of Sun News Network in 2015. In the two-plus years since, he has built it from a tiny niche website operating out of his home into a global brand with correspondents on three continents and a footprint in major controversies around the world.
The site is a natural climax for Levant’s checkered career. It presents a seamless mix of far-right activism and commentary, the same two-feet-in-two-ponds balance Levant has managed himself for decades. But The Rebel is also something decidedly new. It represents an evolutionary leap for Levant. Free from the limits of broadcasters, of publishers and parties, his already unfettered id is now truly boundless.
Levant can say whatever he wants, to whomever he wants, in whatever way he decides. He has the freedom to deride climate science, to embrace Donald Trump, to attack George Soros. He can indulge any conspiracy. Attack any foe.
And the foe he’s chosen, as much as any other, is Islam.
Under Levant, The Rebel has become a global platform for an extreme anti-Muslim ideology known as counter-jihad. It’s a far-right fringe theory founded on the belief that Muslims are deliberately invading the West, biding their time, then overtaking communities and imposing Shariah Law.
Levant says he has never used the term counter-jihad himself. He also denies that The Rebel has a fixation with Islam or Muslims. “It is news,” he responded in an email. “From migrants to terrorism to the separation of mosque and state, it is a pervasive issue.”
But The Rebel has posted regular interviews with many of the seminal figures of counter-jihad, people who have gone far beyond just covering the news. The company’s U.K. correspondent, Tommy Robinson, founded the explicitly anti-Islam English Defence League. There is significant evidence to suggest that a frequent Rebel contributor — the author of hundreds of Rebel posts — is also the writer behind Canada’s most prominent, and one of the world’s better known, counter-jihadi blogs.
None of this is hidden. The Rebel and its main stars preach this message openly. Faith Goldy, until Thursday a top Rebel host, presented a broadcast this spring titled “More Muslims equals more violence.” Robinson just published a book titled “Mohammed’s Koran: Why Muslims Kill for Islam.”
“If any media outlet spoke about blacks or the Jewish community the way Rebel Media talks about Muslims,” said Amarnath Amarasingam a senior research fellow at The George Washington University’s program on extremism, “they wouldn’t survive more than a week.”
But The Rebel hasn’t just survived. Until this past week, it had thrived. And then everything changed.
On Aug. 12, Goldy was broadcasting live from an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters behind her, killing one and wounding 19 others. In the lead up to the attack, Goldy had spoken sympathetically of a rising “white racial consciousness” and dispassionately about the “JQ” or Jewish question, a longtime obsession of white nationalists.
The rally and Goldy’s coverage of it sparked the worst week in The Rebel’s history. One cofounder quit. Goldy was fired. A host of contributors backed away. By week’s end, Levant looked to be barely holding on, his mini-empire dissolving from the edges in.
But nothing The Rebel has done in the past week is fundamentally different from what it has always been. And those who are backing away — including some with ties to the highest reaches of the Conservative Party — will eventually have to answer the question, why now? Why wasn’t everything else the site has ever done — the fear mongering, the focus on Muslims, the footsie with white nationalist themes — enough?
Besides the sudden spotlight, what could possibly have changed?
February 15, the Canadian Christian College, Toronto
Tom McKay walked past the security guards and into the ballroom, passing tables lined with Rebel swag. He wore an InfoWars t-shirt tucked into faded blue jeans. He lingered behind the crowd, keeping to himself. McKay spent almost five hours in his car that afternoon, driving to Toronto from his home near Sarnia, Ont. He was desperate to make it to the rally, put on by The Rebel Media. “I want something done,” he said, leaning in to make sure he was heard. “I want this stopped, this M103 stopped, before it goes into effect.”
McKay was one of hundreds of Rebel viewers to appear at the rally that day, all opposed to M103, a seemingly innocuous motion that became a surprising touchstone for the Canadian right. For McKay, it was a matter of keeping Canada safe from what he saw as a Muslim takeover. He believes that Europe has already fallen. “You see what’s going on in France, Germany,” he said: “Mass rape. Paris in riots.” He’s convinced that if Muslims reach a certain threshold in any area—usually 30 per cent —they’ll take over and impose Shariah law. “They’ve implanted one Muslim family in our district,” he said. “And she walks around with the full bee suit on — the burqua and everything.”
The fight over M103 only really makes sense when seen through the lens of the counter-jihad. A Liberal measure aimed at condemning and combating Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination, the motion was taken by certain parts of Canada’s right as a covert attack on free speech and the first step toward a sweeping anti-blasphemy law. On the surface, both charges range from unlikely to completely absurd. Canadian governments on all levels routinely pass motions condemning all kinds of things — anti-Semitism, racism — to little effect. The Ontario government passed a nearly identical motion to M103, with all party support, this spring.
However, if you believe, as counter-jihadists do, in a vast global conspiracy by Muslims to undermine the Western way of life, then the opposition to M103 makes a bit more sense. What’s remarkable is how widespread that opposition has become in conservative circles.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt started hearing about M103 from her constituents before she was even sure what it was. “This was not on my radar at all, and then calls started coming into my office,” she said in February. During her failed leadership campaign, the issue became at times omnipresent. “Every single town hall I go to, I get the question,” she said. ‘”How are you voting on M103?’ Every. Single. One.”
It’s hard not to attribute at least some of that opposition to The Rebel, which launched an anti-M103 petition in January, weeks before the more mainstream press picked up on the issue. Kellie Leitch, who ran a far-right campaign thick with identity politics, soon came out against M103. (The Leitch campaign also advertised heavily on The Rebel). Almost the entire Conservative caucus eventually followed. Only one leadership candidate, Michael Chong, spoke up in favour of the motion. Chong, not coincidentally, was until recently the only Conservative to speak out strongly against the Rebel itself. “I think it’s clear that they’re not a reputable news organization,” he said this spring, “and that they’re spewing anti-Muslim and anti-semitic sentiments.”
At The Rebel’s rally in February, Goldy and Levant whipped the crowd into near hysteria about M103. “Let’s be very clear, this motion embodies a clash of civilizations,” Goldy said from the podium. She called for a “firewall against Shariah creep” in Canadian legislation. “And look no further than the warning from Europe as to what comes next if we do not,” she blasted.
The idea that Europe has fallen, and that North America may be next, is central to counter-jihadism. Counter-jihadi blogs and thinkers are obsessed with stories of Muslim-dominated no-go zones in European cities, of Muslim rapists in Sweden—which they consistently, erroneously, call the rape capital of the world—and of unchecked migrant hordes. The Rebel routinely aggregates and shares these stories, often plucking them from places like Breitbart and Infowars.
In his address, Levant spoke to another key tenet of the counter-jihad: the belief that Islam is not a race, or even a religion, but an ideology open to attack. “Islam is not a private faith,” he said. “It is a political expression. Every day we see that. And this is the one faith Justin Trudeau says we may no longer criticize.”
Levant is often accused of ranting. More often than not, though, he speaks at such length that a consistent rant would be impossible. Instead, he lectures. He mocks. He elongates words and thrusts fingers. He bounces from the balls of his feet and builds himself into a place that’s more often littered with contempt than anger.
It’s a style honed over decades of public speaking and arguing. Indeed, Levant has been doing some version of this schtick since he was a child.
Levant grew up in Calgary, the son of a hyper-conservative radiologist. “He was definitely more political than your average child,” Kevin Libin, an old friend, once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism. One time, he drew a picture of Pierre Trudeau as a bird of prey sinking his talons into Alberta’s earth. “It was 1982, right around the time of the National Energy Program,” Libin, who now works for the National Post, told the magazine. Levant was 10 years old at the time.
Levant has long focused enormous attention on the Trudeau family. He called Pierre Trudeau a “slut” and Margaret Trudeau “(not) much better,” in 2014. Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, “is everything Ezra hates,” said Jonathan Kay, who worked with Levant at the National Post.
(Levant denies any fixation with Trudeau. He also believes Kay, who ghostwrote Justin Trudeau’s memoirs, holds a grudge against him for publicizing that fact.)
In high school, Levant excelled at competitive debate, a hobby that still informs his speaking style. His debate coach at Calgary’s Western Canada high school remembers him as a fiendishly prepared, if somewhat intense young man. “I found it was really hard for anyone to work with Ezra,” said Ron Lee. “He was so, what do you call it, stubborn? Demanding? … A lot of kids didn’t want to put up with him.”
Eventually, Lee said, he recruited the boy’s older sister as his partner. Even that had its tensions. One day, Lee was teaching class when a call came from the office. Levant’s mother was on the line. “And she goes, ‘Mr. Lee, my two children have been fighting for the last week and a half,'” Lee said. She asked him to talk to Ezra about “not baiting his sister.”
“I had a talk with Ez about working as a team if he wanted to win,” Lee said. “As I recall, they won their first tournament and the problem was resolved.”
(Levant denies that story. His sister was his partner, he said, because she was “the second best debater” in the school. After she graduated, he got a new partner, his best friend.)
For all that, Lee still remembers Levant fondly. He was, he believes, the most gifted debater he ever coached. “You have to challenge him on his facts,” Lee said. “And nobody does. He’ll give you 10 facts, right? Have you ever thought maybe he’s making up some of them? Or the sources are questionable? People don’t do their research.”
Levant joined the nascent Reform Party of Canada after high school. By his early 20s he was regularly defending the party in the press. He wrote a column for Alberta Report magazine titled “Confessions of a Reform Party Jew.” In 1992, when Michael Lublin, then a party member, quit and accused Reform of racism, Levant was sent up to rebut the charge. “You’re calling a Jew an anti-Semite?” he scoffed in a tape prepared and distributed by the party.
Levant’s political life mushroomed at the University of Calgary, where he came under the wing of Reform Party organizer Tom Flanagan, who taught political science at the school. Levant began introducing Reform founder Preston Manning, who lived near his parents, at rallies. He once organized a pro-Iraq war (the first one) demonstration. He interned at the conservative Fraser Institute in Vancouver, and with the far-right Koch Brothers in Washington D.C.
Along with friends Rob Anders and Sean McKinsley, he embedded himself in Calgary’s political circles. “He started throwing these parties,” said Flanagan. He organized them with Laureen Teskey, who would later marry Stephen Harper, and hosted them at his parents’ home. “It was sort of like a who’s who in conservative activist circles in Calgary,” said Flanagan.
Peter Stockland, a longtime newspaper editor who hired Levant to write a column at the Calgary Sun, remembers running into Harper at one of those parties. “But the thing I remember most clearly,” he said, “is being greeted at the door by this man who had one of those little lapel identifiers on that said ‘Ezra’s Dad’. And I thought, ‘That’s about it. Sooner or later everybody will be working for Ezra or everybody will be somehow connected to Ezra.'”
Levant continued to enter competitive debates in university. He won national titles four years running at the University of Calgary, including one with future Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. The two had faced off regularly in high school and, according to Ron Lee, they didn’t much like each other. That changed, at least temporarily, in university. “They worked together and there was a lot of respect for the other person’s perspective,” said Bob Schulz, Levant’s university coach. “So either Ezra’s lost that perspective or he only puts it on the side because the people who are writing the cheques want him to be extreme.”
Schulz, like Lee, liked Levant when he knew him. “He was a very eclectic, open-minded, helping-other-people kind of person,” he said. The two stayed close for years after university. But they haven’t spoken much recently. “He definitely was not extreme when he was an undergraduate,” Schulz said. “Very few of my students change. And he is one of the very few who appear to have changed.”
Levant’s strangest relationship at university may have been with the Gauntlet student paper. It was a yin yang kind of thing that would set his pattern with organizations for years to come. “He was a huge personality and that was a problem for some people,” said Robert Jobst, who was editor in chief at the Gauntlet when Levant first joined. “He was definitely one of those people where you liked him or you hated him and he definitely rubbed some people the wrong way.”
Levant contributed to the paper for several years and then, as would become his habit, he sued it. Along with Anders and McKinsley, he objected to a letter to the editor that accused the three of them of spreading homophobic hate at a public debate. They also accused the paper of subjecting them, as members of the Reform Party, to “ridicule, hatred and scorn.” The suit, filed in 1993, was settled without costs to any party or apology in 1996, after Levant failed to have the Gauntlet’s libel lawyer tossed from the case.
Levant has, in the years since, followed that same pattern with friends, colleagues and organizations. “He had an amazing skill at bringing people together,” said Stockland. “He also has an amazing capacity to have Vesuvial breakups with people and part company with them.”
He has sued and been sued well over a dozen times over the years. He has routinely turned on friends and former colleagues, rarely hesitating to castigate people once close to him in public. He savaged Danielle Smith, a friend for decades, on television, when she left Alberta’s Wildrose Party. “He had me on the line and he said, ‘oh, hey Danielle, good to see you. You know what, I’m going to have to be a little bit rough with you,'” Smith said. (Levant denies using those exact words.) “And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I get that.’ And then I went on the air he just slammed me. And we just haven’t had a personal relationship since.”
Levant’s public, personal attacks are, in fact, things of near legend. “I don’t think he actually goes out to hurt people,” said Michael Coren, a one-time colleague. “He just seems to have this extraordinary lack of empathy… He doesn’t seem to realize the pain he causes people.”
March 22, 2017, Ryerson University, Toronto
It took him a while, on this day, to build into form. He seemed distracted, slightly off key. It was weeks after what was, to that point, the worst scandal in The Rebel’s brief history and Levant was addressing a friendly crowd — campus conservatives — on his favourite topics: free speech, Israel, Islam and the personal history of Ezra Levant.
He started out in his trademark style, drawing out his sentences, leaving a beat in the middle, so that the end of each appeared like a little revelation, even to him. He called a small crowd of protestors outside “professional paid brown shirts.” He suggested they were funded by George Soros, the Hungarian billionaire. Still, he couldn’t quite stay on track. He kept sliding off into a one-sided feud.
“Earlier today, I don’t see him in here now, but I met an anti-Semite, who—Is Zach Ruiter still here? I think he’s outside,” Levant said.
Ruiter, a freelance videographer, had filmed The Rebel’s M103 rally for the Torontoist, a municipal affairs website. The editor who posted his video online used a screenshot of one clip as the main art above the piece. It showed a woman with her hand outstretched in what looked like a Nazi salute, but could just as easily have been a Christian blessing. (The event took place at a Christian college.)
For that crime, Levant decided that Ruiter had to be punished. He kept coming back to him at the event. “I want to bring particular attention to Zach as an anti-Semite,” Levant said. (Ruiter is Jewish). “I want to distance myself from Zach and any other anti-Semites that have come here today.” He accused Ruiter, “who’s vestigially Jewish but a self-hating Jew,” of trivializing the Holocaust.” He called him “a piece of shit,” a ” crypto Jew,” a “Jew in name only.” “I think Zach’s a bigot,” he said.
For his part, Ruiter was mostly bemused by the attack. “Most of what Ezra says is gobbledygook to me anyway,” he said. “So it just can’t get anymore bizarre.”
Levant had some reason to feel sensitive about anti-Semitism that day. Earlier that month, one of his most popular stars, Gavin McInnes, had posted a video on another website that trucked in classic anti-semitic tropes. What’s worse, McInnes produced the video while in Israel on a Rebel-funded trip.
In the video, McInnes waxed on about his time in the Jewish state. “I think I’m becoming anti-Semitic,” he said, according to excerpts posted on media critic site Canadaland. He claimed “Jewish intellectuals” had disproportionally influenced the Treaty of Versailles. He ragged on Jews in general for being too fixated on the Holocaust. “God, they’re so obsessed,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s healthy to dwell.”
The video earned praise from Richard Spencer, America’s most famous white supremacist, and spurred the largest mainstream outrage against The Rebel until the Charlottesville rally. “I found it shocking,” said Bernie Farber, executive director of the Mosaic Institute, and the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “I think if this were to have happened a decade ago, Gavin McInnes would not have had a job the next day.”
At the Ryerson event, though, Levant downplayed the incident. “One of our edgy comedians said some dumb things on another channel that he immediately retracted,” he said. (McInnes had also done a video for The Rebel that Levant initially headlined “10 Things I Hate About Jews.”)
In a way, you could understand Levant’s outrage. McInnes’s ranting was anti-Semitic, undeniably. But The Rebel on the whole is not. What it is, is anti-Muslim, unapologetically so. In the same video where he downplayed the Holocaust, McInnes called Palestinians “stupid Rottweilers.” “Muslims are stupid,” he added. “And the only thing they really respect is violence and being tough.”
It’s hard to imagine any other prominent figure on any platform in Canada saying that about any other race or creed without receiving significant blowback. “I’ve said this before and I’ll probably be attacked for saying it again, but in many ways, today’s Muslims are like yesterday’s Jews,” Farber said. “There is a level of acceptance of Islamophobia in this country. We don’t like to admit it. But it’s there.”
For his part, Levant said The Rebel “generally” distinguishes between Islam and Muslims. “Muslims are people,” he said. “Islam is a religion, a political doctrine, a set of ideas. We believe that any idea should be open to criticism, especially one that is so controversial, and that is cited by its adherents as the authority for so much violence.”
Back at Ryerson, Levant eventually warmed to his topic. “Islamophobia,” he said. “Fear of Islam. Are you afraid of Islam? Are ya? Maybe you are. … I think if you read the Qur’an, one of its purposes is to make infidels afraid. It’s a terrifying story. Islam itself is to submit. … I think it’s a terrifying doctrine, very effective.”
Later, during the Q&A, several people rose from the sparse crowd. They started chanting “No Islamophobia! No White supremacy!” For Levant, the interruption seemed a gift. His face lit up. He leapt off his little podium and went screaming toward the demonstrators, yelling: “Don’t shut down the Jew! Don’t shut down the Jew!” The crowd hustled in his wake. They herded the demonstrators out. As they did, one of the young men in the crowd yelled over the din “Cucks! Cucks! Cucks!”
When he returned, Levant seemed energized. He settled into a story that’s become part of his regular schtick. It’s about what he learned from the Donald Trump campaign.
“Trump was in, I think it was North Dakota or something, Montana,” Levant said. “And he called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas.” This was during the general election. “Well, in the crowd, there was a Canadian Aboriginal journalist who just happened to be there. And if you listen to the tape, you can hear her say” at this point Levant lapsed into an Eyore drone, “That’s offensive. That’s offeeeeeeeensive.”
Levant was rolling now, all hesitation gone. “And what does he do? What would any other politician in the world do? ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Let me take that back.’ What did Trump do? Listen to the tape, you can find it online. He said “Oh, Pocahontas? You mean I shouldn’t call her Pocahontas? Pocahontas? Pocahontas? Like that? Pocahontas?”
For Levant, that moment was not just a revelation, it was a repudiation, for his entire stop-and-start career. The Trump campaign proved to him that he was right all along, that every editor and boss who told him he had gone too far had it wrong and that his way, his never apologize, never go less than scorched earth method was the right method, never mind who got hurt along the way.
“Why are his poll numbers going up when he’s doing things that even I admit are sort of cringe worthy?” Levant said about Trump. “It’s because he refused to be scolded into silence.”
In a way, Levant’s entire professional career can be seen through that lens. He has, by all accounts, an enormous motor. He never stops working. He’s always onto the next idea, the next new thing. But he also has a way of pushing things beyond the pale and then having to watch them unravel.
“I have long thought that, that what Ezra needed, at a kind of middle, formative stage, which I think he didn’t get from anyone, was somebody to say, Ezra, take a breath. We’ve got to think about this. This is where this is going to lead,” said Peter Stockland.
Levant has basically always bridged the worlds of commentary and political activism. When he was writing columns for the Sun, he was also involved in the Reform Party, and in nascent efforts to unite the then-splintered right. “Ezra has been, at one time or another, connected to almost everybody on the right side of politics in Canada,” said Flanagan.
In 1997, he helped manage Rahim Jaffer’s long shot federal election campaign in Edmonton. After that vote, he followed Jaffer, and his friends Jason Kenney and Rob Anders, to Ottawa, where he took a job in Preston Manning’s office. The four of them, Jaffer, Kenney, Anders and Levant became known in Ottawa as the “Snack Pack.”
Levant left the party in 1999 to join this newspaper, as a member of the editorial board. But he never really left politics behind. “It became a subject of dispute in the newsroom just how much he was a journalist and how much he was an activist for the (Reform Party),” said Kay, who was also on the editorial board.
Almost everyone from that era of the paper has an Ezra story. One reporter recalled watching Levant call Ottawa before Question Period to urge the party on the other side to “put up Brown Sugar.” (Levant doesn’t think that would have been logistically possible. He does acknowledge that Brown Sugar was his nickname for Jaffer.)
He would frequently try to slip heavily torqued tips into the news section, an effort that infuriated some editors. (Levant says he was hired in part because of his connection to party and the access that would bring.)
In any case, Levant’s sojourn into fulltime journalism did not last long. He left the paper in 2001 to serve as Stockwell Day’s communications director. (He was longtime friends with Day’s son Logan.) It was not a good fit. Levant flamed out spectacularly in his second stint in Ottawa. He left after just months on the job amidst an intra-party rebellion that saw him threaten to sue several of his own party’s MPs.
“The idea of a communications director hauling an MP in his own party off to libel court was too zany even for the wildest of Alliance absurdists,” Stockland wrote in a column at the time. “It was also pure, unadulterated Ezra.”
After quitting his job with Day, Levant moved back to Calgary, and prepared for his own electoral bid. He worked to take over the Canadian Alliance riding association in Calgary West, where Preston Manning had recently retired, only to have that nomination yanked from his grasp when new Alliance leader Stephen Harper decided he needed a safe Calgary seat.
At first, Levant refused to give up the nomination. The standoff lasted several days, with Levant for a time insisting that every other Alliance MP be asked first if they were willing to step aside and then demanding compensation for the money already spent on his campaign. Even after he did, eventually, cede the nomination, the fight carried on. Levant, his father and several others sued a huge number of fellow party members, claiming they had libeled them during a dispute over funds controlled by the board. “The brouhaha between Ezra Levant and Stephen Harper would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic,” Levant’s old debate partner Naheed Nenshi wrote in a letter at the time to the Globe and Mail.
Levant stayed in Calgary, and co-founded a magazine, the Western Standard, in 2004. It lasted for several years, became famous for publishing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, and then folded in 2007. (Levant, as is his wont, sued a former employee on his way out the door.) He also went back to writing columns for the Calgary Sun.
That stint initially ended in August 2007. But Levant returned for a one-off column that October, in which he linked a fatal bus crash to the driver’s “Muslim-style head covering.” The paper pulled the column offline after realizing it contained a factual error.
His association with the Sun chain, however, was far from over. In 2010, he was announced as the marquee hire for the company’s new right-of-centre news network. He also went back to writing columns for the Sun papers. In September of that year, he wrote a piece accusing George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis as a teenager. Two weeks later, the chain issued an unqualified retraction and apology, saying “there was no basis for the statements in the column and they should not have been made.”
Despite the apology, Levant went on to Sun TV. The network was supposed to provide right-of-centre ballast to the supposed Liberal drift of the press gallery at large. The network’s first president was Kory Teneycke, fresh from Stephen Harper’s PMO. But according to multiple former Conservative officials, Sun TV never proved to be particularly useful to the party.
Part of the issue was that, if the Conservatives gave the network a scoop, they would often torque it beyond any useful meaning, according to one former communications staffer. Even if one the network’s more centrists voices, like reporter David Akin, got the scoop, almost no one else in the gallery would pick it up, according to another. “It absolutely got to the point where legitimate news would be given to the Sun and then pens would drop across the press gallery,” said Andrew MacDougall, one of Harper’s former directors of communications. “People just wouldn’t follow it.”
One of the problems was that people saw the Sun as the house organ of the PMO and were naturally distrustful of its content, MacDougall believes. Several other Tory communications staffers, however, believe that Levant himself was part of the issue. As the network evolved, Levant became by far its most recognizable face. People associated everything Sun TV did with Levant’s over-the-top persona. Levant famously told the president of Chiquita Brands International, in Spanish, to go have sex with his mother in 2012. That same year he went on an extended, openly racist, rant against the Roma people. “I was kind of sad for what the whole Sun media, Sun TV experiment obliged Ezra to do,” said Stockland. “(Or) maybe on the other way of looking at it, gave him way too much license to do.”
Sun TV consistently struggled to find an audience, and by early 2015 it was clear to most involved that the network was dying. By that point, Levant was already plotting his next move. “He was already saying to people, look we don’t need the filter of the broadcasting authorities,” said Michael Coren, who worked at Sun TV and became an early Rebel contributor. “We can say whatever we want if we do this.”
Sun TV officially folded on Feb. 13, 2015. On March 4, Levant incorporated The Rebel News Network Ltd. “We all knew what was going to happen,” said Coren. “It was bad enough when he was being slightly controlled. Now he can say whatever he wants. And so he does and he will.”
It’s a weekday in spring, no different from most, and Ezra Levant is obsessing on camera over a woman’s voice. He’s on his daily online show, available to premium Rebel subscribers, dissecting a CTV interview with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. She is, he says, “a lawyer with a fake valley girl accent.” She got her job, he claims, thanks to “fake gender quotas.”
Levant’s speaking style evokes a man caught in some kind of time loop. He comes off like a high school debate star forced to make the same arguments, in the same stilted “I-put-it-to-you” style, every day for the rest of his life. On one level, it is impressive. He has an ability to talk and keep talking, to draw out sentences and rehash the same points for hours on end — the McKenna interview alone provided literally days of content. But on another, it’s exhausting.
He wheedles and distorts. He takes things out of context: a three-month old piece of CBC polling analysis is hacked up and rehashed as evidence of a CBC plot to praise Liberals; a military coup in Egypt gets rebranded “not exactly democracy, but … a referendum of sorts.” In interviews, Levant jams in endless parentheticals, ramming through references to conspiracy theories (Huma Abedin and the Muslim Brotherhood, George Soros) and his infinitely growing list of enemies de jour: Liberals, husbands of Liberals, New Democrats, climate scientists, Michael Chong, Omar Khadr, Jonathan Kay.
One of his favourite rhetorical tactics is to do something while explicitly claiming to do the opposite. “I’m going to do my best to refrain from mocking her affectation,” he said in the McKenna clip, before going on to mock her affectation — “her valley girl accent, which is fake, and her vocal fry”— he broke into vocal fry. “I’m not going to mock how she talks, even though it’s so bloody weird.” He did the same at the Ryerson talk, saying he wasn’t going to compare campus protests and the Israeli divestment movement to the Nuremberg Laws while effectively comparing them to the Nuremberg Laws.
Levant’s show appears on the site five days a week. It generally includes a long monologue followed by several interviews. Subscribers who pay $8 a month or $80 a year can watch the whole thing uncut, as well as, until Thursday, weekly shows by Goldy, McInnes and Australian Mark Latham. The site also offers hordes of daily free content, including shorter videos and heavily aggregated blog posts on topics that usually include: the horrors of the Alberta NDP or the Ontario Liberals; global warming or green energy “scams”; the dangers of feminism; campus free speech; and the genius of Donald Trump.
But one topic that is everpresent is Islam. In blog posts and videos, The Rebel preaches a gospel of Muslim invasion. It also gives frequent airtime to people who spew extreme anti-Islam views.
April 25, Peel District School Board
On the edge of a large suburban thoroughfare, on a blustery spring day, David Menzies, a Rebel host, stood gushing theatrically into a microphone. The Menzoid, as he prefers to be known, is something of a professional clown. (He’s also a former National Post contributor.) He often performs stunts meant to humiliate or mock the left. He once auditioned for the Toronto Raptors dance squad, for example, while dressed as a woman.
His one serious beat at The Rebel is the issue of Muslim prayers in public schools. The Muslim holy day falls on a school day and Muslim students in Peel, a massive, multicultural region outside Toronto, have long been allowed to pray together on Fridays. For years, that wasn’t controversial. But in the last 18 months, it has become an explosive issue in Peel. At one school board meeting this winter, amid anti-Muslim chants, someone tore pages from a Koran. Demonstrators have picketed school board meetings.
The Menzoid has provided frequent, one-sided coverage of this debate. On that April day, he stood on the outskirts of a demonstration speaking to two middle-aged men. Ron Banerjee and Kevin Johnston have helped spearhead public opposition to Muslim prayers in Peel Region schools. They are also both unabashedly, stridently anti-Islam. Minutes after the interview, they chased a TV reporter across a busy road, yelling at her about the Koran. “Islam is evil in every way!” Johnston howled at her. “It is not designed to better mankind. It is designed to rape, pillage and control people.”
Johnston runs several amateur media organizations, including freedomreport.ca. He has publicly called Liberal MP Iqra Khalid “a little girl” and a “terrorist scumbag.” He once offered a $1,000 bounty, later raised to $2,500, for video evidence of a Peel student “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.”
In July, Peel Regional Police charged Johnston with the wilful promotion of hatred. Afterward, he gave an exclusive interview to Levant on The Rebel. Menzies has interviewed Johnston in the past and the two co-host an Internet radio show.
As for Banerjee, he has never hidden his views on Islam. A long-time activist on the extreme anti-Islam fringe, he has finally found, he believes, an appreciative platform. “When I contact Rebel Media, they pay attention,” he said. “They’re here at just about every one of our events.” Speaking at the Peel protest, Banerjee described Islam as “an ideology” and called Muslims “brainwashed people.” Can he get that message out on The Rebel? “Sure!” he said. “We have a very good relationship with David Menzies.”
Levant says he has never interviewed Banerjee and has personally only interviewed Johnston once. He denies that he’s given either man a platform. “It’s foolish to say that interviewing a newsmaker at a newsworthy event is somehow an endorsement,” he wrote in an email.
The Rebel itself, however, is littered with blog posts and videos that aggregate, repackage and link to stories that push the narrative of Muslim invasion and violence. Rebel contributors make videos rehashing, often with little or no context, stories about Muslims migrants committing rapes and assaults. One Rebel writer alone has written hundreds of posts that link to thousands of Muslim horror stories.
He goes by the name Victor Laszlo, which is fake, and he’s one of only two Rebel contributors without a picture on the site. Instead, next to his name—which is taken from Casablanca—there is a cartoon image of a hat over a shadowy face.
Laszlo has been blogging for The Rebel since early 2016. He has posted somewhere around 1,000 times in the last 18 months. His pieces normally include videos of speeches by far-right politicians, like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, links to stories of Muslim depravity, and interviews with counter-jihadi thinkers. Most weekdays he posts either a top five or a top ten “stories of the counter-jihad”— links to pieces about the supposed Muslim invasion of the Western world.
There is significant evidence to suggest “Laszlo” also runs a personal blog called “Vlad Tepes,” a site considered by researchers to be a significant player in the online counter-jihadi movement. Both “Tepes” and “Laszlo” describe themselves as artists and “Schrodinger’s Catholics,” a phrase that appears almost nowhere online except in their respective bios. The two have posted the same interviews with counter-jihadi heavyweights, Laszlo as “exclusives” on The Rebel, Tepes on his personal YouTube page. The Gates of Vienna blog, perhaps the most influential online source for counter-jihadi news, has repeatedly cited “exclusive” Laszlo interviews as products of Vlad Tepes.
It’s not clear who is behind either, or likely both, names. The two have always posted anonymously. That said, one clue does exist, hidden in the early archives of the Tepes blog. A copy of the blog’s first post, captured by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, reveals a contact email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. That phrase, “heart of velcro” appears effectively nowhere online except in relation to an album of the same name by a retired Ottawa flamenco guitarist named James Cohen.
That same Cohen is as close to a prominent figure as there is in the Canadian counter-jihad. He served for a time as the head of the Jewish wing of the anti-Muslim English Defence League. He worked as part of the International Free Press Society, which has been consistently hostile to Islam, and has publicly interviewed prominent anti-Islam figures, including Danish politician Morten Messerschmidt.
Cohen stopped responding to emails from the Post when asked about his relationship to Tepes and Laszlo.
Levant ignored all questions about Laszlo.
The connection between Tepes and Laszlo is important because it establishes, in case there was any doubt, that The Rebel is deeply, purposefully embedded in the controversial, far-right ideology of the counter-jihad. The explicit purpose of the Vlad Tepes blog is to combat Islam, which it describes as a “religious political and cultural system” that is “no more deserving of protection than that of Nazism or Communism with which, by the way, it shares a great deal.” The site hosts copies of one of the defining texts of the counter-jihad, a long essay called Defeating Eurabia, by the Norwegian blogger Fjordman, who argues that there is no such thing as moderate Islam.
But Laszlo/Tepes is hardly The Rebel’s only tie to the movement. The site has provided a regular platform for established counter-jihadi figures from the United States and Europe through interviews and links. Benjamin Lee, a senior research associate at the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats, has studied online counter-jihadi networks extensively. Almost every major movement figure he identified in a recent primer, including Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Gates of Vienna, Anne Marie Waters and the Vlad Tepes blog, has found a home at one point or another on The Rebel. Levant has interviewed many of them personally.
Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher at Hope Not Hate, the U.K.’s largest anti-racism charity, has seen the movement ebb and flow over the last decade. Two years ago, he thought it was mostly petering out. But the combination of the migrant crisis, Brexit, a string of terror attacks, and the Donald Trump campaign seems to have given it new life. And Mulhall sees The Rebel as a key player in that resurgence. “They’ve been doing stuff over here,” he said, “that’s really quite extreme.”
On March 22, hours after a terrorist attack on Britain’s parliament, Tommy Robinson, The Rebel’s chief U.K. contributor, appeared outside Westminster and got to yelling. He wore a black peacoat over a squat rectangle frame. His blunt hair, stubble on the sides, was edged over on top. He looked a little like a thumb.
“I’m on the reality,” he bellowed at a reporter, in a video posted on The Rebel’s Youtube page. “The reality is this is war. These people are waging war on us…this has gone on for 1400 years!”
Levant hired Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, in January to serve as the British face of his expanding empire. A former football hooligan with an extensive police record, Lennon is a well-known figure in English and European anti-Islam politics.
“Fifty thousand British Muslims downloaded a terrorist manual in our country!” Robinson screamed in the video that day, pumping his steepled hands in front of his chest. “Fifty thousand! Not 10! Not 20! Fifty thousand people who want to see exactly what you see there.” He pointed behind him, where Parliament was visible in the background. “That’s what they want. They want war! They want death! They want destruction! And we keep pandering.”
Robinson first came to prominence in 2009, when he founded what became the English Defence League in his hometown of Luton. (“Tommy Robinson” is a name he stole from a local legend of the hooligan trade.) He soon built it into a national organization—dedicated primarily to fighting Islam—capable of drawing thousands to marches across England.
Robinson’s politics have never fit all that easily into existing boxes of radical belief. He was once a member of the openly racist British National Party, but Mulhall doesn’t see him as a racist, per se. “He’s not a white supremacist,” Mulhall said. “He is however, extremely Islamophobic.”
Like many in the counter-jihad, Robinson has often claimed that he is not anti-Muslim, he’s just anti-Islam. But Mulhall sees that as a distinction without a difference. “The evidence over the years has become overwhelmingly clear that he homogenizes the Muslim community into a single block and judges them by their most extreme elements,” he said. “His root thing is he sees Islam as an evil ideology rather than a religion.”
There’s little doubt Levant knew what he was getting in Robinson. He is perhaps the defining face of anti-Islam politics in the U.K. He’s been the subject of countless profiles and has rarely deviated from his anti-Islam message. “I’m not far-right. I’m just opposed to Islam. I believe it’s backward and it’s fascist,” he told Newsweek in an interview in 2015. “The current refugee crisis is nothing to do with refugees. It’s a Muslim invasion of Europe.”
Amarnath Amarasingam sees the message Robinson touts as being firmly in line with the larger ‘clash of civilizations’ discourse spread by The Rebel and other parts of the new far right. “They believe that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the modern world,” he wrote in an email, “that Muslims are all in it together to wreak havoc and slowly and silently take over the West from within.”
Counter-jihadists like Robinson, and others who have found a home on The Rebel, have always been careful not to advocate violence. But their work has at times helped inspire it. Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011, including scores of children, boasted of having hundreds of Facebook friends in the English Defence League. His manifesto linked to and quoted several frequent Rebel guests, including Geller and Spencer.
Breivik had no formal ties to the EDL, and the group condemned his actions, but Robinson himself expressed some sympathy for his beliefs, if not his tactics, in 2012. “The blogs [cited in Breivik’s manifesto] are full of facts,” he told a Norwegian newspaper, according to a report in the Independent. “You can not yell at people because they tell the truth. You may find the truth hurts, but it is still the truth. I read the blogs themselves – they contain facts about Islam.”
(Levant calls that link, “stretching about four degrees of separation for guilt by association.” “We have never advocated violence,” he wrote. “Our criticism of Islam is in part because of its violence.”)
Robinson is far from the only Rebel contributor to preach the gospel of the counter-jihad. Faith Goldy, until Thursday, perhaps the site’s predominant Canadian star, speaks openly of a clash between Western and Muslim civilizations. “Right now, all of Europe, city by city, is falling thanks to mass illegal migration at the hands of Angela Merkel and her cronies in the European Union, not to mention several organizations funded by billionaire George Soros,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “There has been a demographic change that has brought with it a particular sort of culture—world view—and it is inferior to what was once in Europe.”
Is she talking specifically about Muslims? “That is the demographic that’s coming in,” she said, “yes.”
Goldy, whose first professional bylines came in the National Post, worked alongside Levant at Sun TV. She was once an unabashed progressive and as recently as two years ago was publicly and privately much less strident than she is today. In the dying days of the Sun, she spoke to colleagues about starting her own, less extreme version of what The Rebel became, according to Coren, another Sun veteran. “She said to me ‘I’d like to set up something like Ezra is doing, but different, less raw,'” he said. “Which is pretty ironic.”
In her current iteration, Goldy has called publicly for a “new crusade” against Muslims, although she is a bit vague on what that would entail. (The counter jihad is rife with Crusader imagery and references.) She has praised the increasingly anti-democratic, nationalist governments in places like Hungary, Serbia and Poland, all of which she sees as part of a new “Slav Right” that can rescue Eastern Europe from itself. (Western Europe, she thinks, may be too far gone to save.) In other words, she buys into every part of what researchers on far right radicalism view as the core tenets of the counter-jihad.
“Do I see a clash of civilizations happening?” she said in the interview. “Yes.”
Mulhall and Hope Not Hate have been tracking The Rebel almost since it launched. They’ve watched it grow in prominence and become a core part of what they see as a resurgent, anti-Islam far right in the Western world. What they haven’t been able to decide is what exactly The Rebel is. “Do we put it under websites, or media outlets or do we put it as an organization?” Mulhall asked.
That tension gets to the core of what makes The Rebel different from other media organizations. The site is not an out and out media property. It’s more a hybrid social movement/clearing house for polemical rage. It makes money by ginning up anger on issues then asking the newly outraged for cash. Sometimes organizers do that at live events, like the M103 rally in Toronto, where they passed around buckets. But more often, every day, in fact, in they ask readers and viewers to give and keep giving, through paid subscriptions, donations to specific projects, petitions and just general support.
It’s hard to know how successful that strategy is. The Rebel is a private company and its financials aren’t public. But Levant has said the company has no major outside investors and no significant loans. If that’s true, that means The Rebel produces enough revenue already to fund its existing operations—including a new studio in Toronto, reporting trips to Israel and Iraq, dozens of staff—and pay for its significant global expansion.
Levant did not answer specific questions about the Rebel’s business model, but he told Maclean’s earlier this year that crowd-funding is the company’s top source of revenue. It would have to be, to pay for the kind of operation he has without significant injections of outside cash.
Media analysts who have looked at The Rebel are skeptical of its business model, outside of crowd-funding. A year ago, The Rebel had just under 5,000 premium subscribers, worth something like $400,000 in annual revenue according to an internal company email. According to Alexa, a site that analyzes web traffic, The Rebel’s main site remains a decided niche product, ranked outside the 2,000 most popular sites in Canada.
Rebel YouTube videos do have a significant audience. They’ve been viewed more than 245 million times. But not all of those clicks represent cash. The best way to make money on YouTube is with ads, especially pre-roll ads that run before the content, according to Ken Doctor, a leading online media analyst. But a review of scores of Rebel videos reveals that only a small fraction of them have any ads at all.
Taylor Owen, an assistant professor of digital media and global affairs at the University of British Columbia, believes a very small organization might be able to sustain itself on a YouTube audience of The Rebel’s size. “I mean, you can make money if you’re an individual person and you have that,” he said. “It’s still really vague and not really well known, but I bet you’re making ten grand a month or something like that if you have a couple million followers.” The Rebel has about 840,000 YouTube subscribers. “But that doesn’t sustain a media organization, right?”
So if The Rebel is in fact growing the way it is, without any outside investment, it is likely doing so thanks mostly to its innovative model, which asks a motivated audience to give and give again to keep the Western world afloat.
There is another possibility, which is that, despite Levant’s claims to the contrary, The Rebel is, in fact, funding its growth in part through outside investment. Levant has cited Breitbart, the American alt-right news hub, as an inspiration. And Breitbart survived and thrived in its early days thanks in significant part to a $10 million investment from Robert Mercer, a far-right American billionaire. Re-aggregated Breitbart stories are a regular staple on the Rebel.
On Thursday, Press Progress, a left-wing advocacy group, reported that Levant received funding in 2015 from the Middle East Forum, a right-wing think tank with a long history of hostility toward Islam.
However, if you take Levant at his word and accept that The Rebel Media is primarily self-funding, then from a purely business standpoint, what he’s built is impressive. Making money online through journalism is extremely difficult. Doing that without the massive scale of a legacy organization like The New York Times or the huge capital available to a venture-funded startup like Vox is even harder.
At the root of that success is a business structure that looks more like a political campaign than a traditional media outlet. And the architect of that system is a man with deep ties in Canada’s mainstream conservative movement.
The Rebel uses political organizing software—a platform called NationBuilder—to organize and monetize its audience. (It also sells access to its email list.) The man who implemented that system is Hamish Marshall.
A longtime member of The Rebel board, Marshall is also the person most responsible for making Andrew Scheer the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He’s now running Brian Jean’s campaign for the leadership of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.
Marshall, Scheer’s campaign manager, has tended in the past to downplay his involvement in The Rebel. In an email this week, he said he has been “wrapping up (his) involvement in The Rebel since May” and has “never been involved in any content or editorial decisions.”
But you can’t really separate The Rebel’s content from its distribution and monetization. The business doesn’t exist without its donation model, the one installed by Marshall, and that model relies on a steady stream of outrageous content to drive fear and push participation.
The Rebel also isn’t the first time Marshall has worked with Levant. As of this spring, he was on the board of For Canada, Levant’s non-profit organizing arm. He worked with Levant on the Ethical Oil project, which sought to promote Canada’s Oil Sands. He represents, in several ways, the perfect encapsulation of The Rebel’s remarkable balance between the mainstream and the farthest edges of the fringe.
The Rebel produces and promotes content that is by any definition extreme. According to Alexa, the five sites it most resembled as of July 19th in terms of audience included Pamelageller.com, Jihad Watch and the Daily Stormer, an openly white supremacist, neo-Nazi forum. (The Daily Stormer has since fallen out of the top five, possibly because the site no longer has a .com domain.)
It has moved into offline activism, through Robinson’s British street protests and McInnes’s Proud Boys. But for all that, it has also long maintained a significant presence in Canada’s conservative movement.
Scheer has done several one-on-one interviews with The Rebel, including one after his victory, and one in December with Levant. He twice listed The Rebel as one of his go-to news sources, both during and after his leadership campaign. He hired Marshall, at the time one of three Rebel board members and perhaps its most important business cog, to run his campaign.
After Charlottesville, those ties may be fraying. This week Conservatives and contributors both began to distance themselves from the site.
Scheer himself was scheduled to address The Rebel with the National Post on Thursday. But at the last minute he backed out of the interview. Instead, a spokesman issued a statement saying that “until the editorial directions of The Rebel Media changes, he would not grant the (The Rebel) any more interviews.” He didn’t address what was different about The Rebel now, or how it had changed from May, when he was happy to call it go-to-read. He didn’t answer questions about Marshall, or his ties, or whether they ever came up during the campaign.
(In a brief interview on Friday, Scheer reiterated he would not be granting interviews to The Rebel going forward. He ended the interview — he had to catch a plane — before answering any follow ups. )
Levant, though, had bigger problems. On Tuesday, Barbara Kay, a regular contributor (and a National Post columnist) announced she would no longer appear on the site. John Robson, another Post columnist cum Rebel contributor, did the same. Brian Lilley, who co-founded the site, said he quit entirely on Monday. (Levant says he fired Lilley last year.) On Twitter, Lisa Raitt, now the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, praised Lilley’s decision, though she stopped short of condemning The Rebel.
As the week went on, the trouble continued. On Thursday, Caolan Robertson, until two weeks ago, one of the site’s U.K. correspondents, posted a video online titled “Why I left The Rebel.” In it, he played recordings of what he said was Levant offering him “hush money” to stay quiet about details of The Rebel’s business model. Robertson also slammed The Rebel’s petitions and campaigns. “The Rebel takes its money from ordinary hardworking people,” he said. “But, it also quietly takes a lot of money from less ordinary, more wealthy people.”
Levant responded with his own post claiming Robertson and another man had blackmailed him.
But for The Rebel, the trouble wasn’t over. On Thursday night, after it came out that she had appeared on a Daily Stormer podcast, Levant fired Goldy. News broke earlier that day that Gavin McInnes was also leaving the site. Not even the Rebel’s cruise was safe. The company hosting the November event, where fans would have mingled with Goldy, Levant and others on a Caribbean cruise liner, cancelled the reservation.
It appeared for all the world like The Rebel was unraveling at the speed of the never-ending news cycle; a new disaster seemed to come with each refresh of the Twitter page. But on Wednesday morning, before the blackmail allegations, the racist podcast and even the cruise, Levant played the crisis down. “Our supporters are fine—they aren’t following this media party mania,” he wrote in email sent at 3:15 a.m. “It’s complete fake news—it’s just our competitors and our ideological opponents having their Two Minutes (of) Hate. That’s fine. We have some problems — as always — but they’re not from our customers.”
If The Rebel does collapse, it wouldn’t be the first reversal for Levant. His career has been a series of stops and starts, of envelopes pushed and pushed until they toppled over the edge. So even if The Rebel goes away, it’s hard to imagine he will. “He may have reached the tipping point. He’s gone so far,” said Coren, his former colleague. “But, famous last words. Maybe (he’s) at the beginning of something bigger.”
For Conservatives, that is a problem. Because whatever else he’s doing, Levant is also doing this: He’s calling the question. He’s forcing people to pick a side. The axis of right wing politics in the Western world has shifted. And the Conservatives are headed for a reckoning. The party at some point will have to decide where it stands, on Trumpism, the new nationalism, and the explicitly anti-Muslim sentiments that are riven through both, the same sentiments The Rebel pushes on its site, around the world and right here at home.
Late in the M103 rally in Toronto, Levant shifted focus from free speech and Islam. He turned to cutting down the mainstream media, a frequent target of his ire. At one point, he jabbed toward a group of reporters from Vice Media, including one wearing a hijab. They were standing against one wall in a cavernous room, within steps of the nearest seats.
Dimly lit, they were hard to see. But as Levant carried on, as he mocked and needled and bashed away, more and more in the crowd began to stand. They turned. “Fake news!” they yelled. “Do your job.” It made for an arresting tableau. At a rally thick with anti-Muslim sentiment, the crowd, some just metres away, hurled abuse at the only visibly Muslim woman in the room.
Two weeks before that rally, a rally where the very idea of Islamophobia was denied, a man walked into a Quebec City mosque and murdered six people in the middle of their prayers.
Nothing The Rebel did this week, as Conservatives and contributors edged away, was substantially different from what it had done two months ago, or six months ago or last year. The message was always there.
So ask yourself: What changed? Why did they really walk away?
Think of this story as a parable. Ask yourself what it means, about where you live and who matters, who gets to matter in 2017.
Ask yourself: Where could this go?
National Post, with files from Marie-Danielle Smith
Email: email@example.com | Twitter: richardwarnica
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Liberal MP Iqra Khalid as a cabinet minister.
Ezra Levant publicized though he did not reveal the fact that Jonathan Kay ghostwrote Justin Trudeau’s memoirs. Incorrect information originally appeared in this piece.
The Post regrets the errors.
This article is about the Canadian media website. For the Australian radio broadcaster, see Rebel Media.
Type of site
News and opinion
|Available in||Canadian English|
|Owner||The Rebel News Network Ltd.|
|Key people||Ezra Levant (founder)|
|Alexa rank||1,613 (Canada)|
|Launched||February 14, 2015; 3 years ago (2015-02-14)|
The Rebel Media (officially The Rebel News Network Ltd., stylized as THEREBEL.media, and shortened to The Rebel) is a Canadianfar-right online political and social commentary media website founded in February 2015 by the former Sun News Network host Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, and Hamish Marshall. It has been described as a "global platform" for the anti-Muslim ideology, also known as counter-jihad.
Former Sun News Network parliamentary correspondent Brian Lilley and former Sun News reporter Faith Goldy later joined the outlet.Gavin McInnes, founder of the far-right men's organization Proud Boys, is also a contributor.
Many of The Rebel's contributors announced their departure – or were fired – in the second half of August, 2017, following Goldy's prominent coverage of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and her interview with The Daily Stormer.
The Rebel Media broadcasts its content on the Rebel Media website and its YouTube channel, which peaked on August 16, 2017 at 873,800 subscribers, however with the August departures, it had fallen to a minimum of 842,200 as of August 31. In September–October the channel has renewed its growth, and as of February 27 2018, it had over 882,000 subscribers, exceeding the number of subscribers before August 2017 departures.
The Rebel Media has been described as part of the alt-right movement, although it rejected the term after the Charlottesville rally.
The Rebel Media was formed by Levant and Lilley following the closure of the Sun News Network. Levant said that his online production would be unencumbered by the regulatory and distribution difficulties faced by Sun News Network and that its lower production costs would make it more viable. A crowdfunding campaign raised roughly $100,000 for the project. The site soon attracted a number of other former Sun News Network personalities such as David Menzies, Paige MacPherson, Faith Goldy, Patrick Moore, and briefly by Michael Coren.
In the summer of 2015, the channel, led by Levant, launched a campaign to boycott Tim Hortons, a chain of Canadian coffee shops, after it rejected in-store ads from Enbridge due to complaints from customers opposed to the oil pipeline projects being promoted by the ads.
In early 2016, the Alberta government banned The Rebel Media's correspondents from press briefings on the grounds that, because Ezra Levant had testified in court in 2014 that he was a columnist or commentator rather than a reporter, none of his current correspondents could be considered to be journalists. On 17 February 2016, the government admitted that it made a mistake and said that it would allow The Rebel Media correspondents into press briefings.The Canadian Association of Journalists supported preventing government from choosing journalism coverage."
In late 2016, The Rebel Media advocated for accreditation by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to permit its access as journalists to their event. The Rebel Media had previously published articles claiming that the public is being deceived about climate change.
Rebel Media did receive support from the federal Canadian government and three journalism organizations and eventually was granted access by the UN.
Following the Quebec City mosque shooting on January 29, 2017, Rebel promoted a conspiracy theory that the shooting was perpetrated by Muslims. In 2017, Rebel Media hired as its British correspondent convicted criminal and far-right activistTommy Robinson, founder of the avowedly anti-Islamic English Defence League.
Departures, March–August 2017
Lauren Southern left the organization in March 2017.
Jack Posobiec also no longer works for the Rebel.
Co-founder Brian Lilley quit the Rebel on August 12, 2017, following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia writing, "What anyone from The Rebel was doing at a so-called 'unite the right' rally that was really an anti-Semitic white power rally is beyond me. Especially not a rally dedicated to keeping up a statue of Robert E. Lee, a man that whatever else he stood for, also fought on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of America’s bloodiest conflict." Lilley accused The Rebel of exhibiting a "lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it."
Freelancers Barbara Kay and John Robson also quit the Rebel and the company was denounced by Conservative MP Michael Chong and Alberta politician Doug Schweitzer of the United Conservative Party.
Faith Goldy, a former journalist and online show host of The Rebel, was fired on August 17, 2017, for her participation in a podcast associated with The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news site. In the course of reporting on the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Goldy argued that they suggested a wider "rising white racial consciousness" in America and characterizing a manifesto by white supremacistRichard Spencer that called for organizing states along racial lines as "robust" and "well thought-out."
Gavin McInnes left the Rebel at the end of August 2017. Levant wrote “We tried to keep him, but he was lured away by a major competitor that we just couldn’t outbid" in an email to the independent news site Canadaland.
British contributor Caolan Robertson no longer works for The Rebel. Robertson claims he was fired for 'knowing too much' about the Rebel's finances, claiming the company dishonestly solicited donations for projects that were already funded, and concealing how that money was spent. He also claimed that Southern was fired for refusing to tape a fundraising appeal for the Rebel's Israel trip after fundraising targets had already been met. Robertson also played audio of Levant offering him thousands of dollars of what Levant himself called "hush money". Levant denies these allegations and says he will present evidence opposing this in court, claiming that he was being "blackmailed" by Robertson and his partner. Levant has since briefly talked about The Rebel's finances in his online show and released a summary on The Rebel's website. It was reported that person that negotiated the settlement is the former director of communication for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Kory Teneycke.
Advertiser boycott and cruise cancellation, May–August 2017
Beginning in May 2017, The Rebel was the target of a boycott campaign by the social media activist group Sleeping Giants whereby advertisers were pressured to withdraw their adverts from The Rebel Media's YouTube channel and website. Within a three-month period in 2017, the activist group claimed that The Rebel had lost approximately 300 advertisers, including CCM Hockey, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Red Lobster, Reitmans, Penguin Books Canada, Volkswagen Canada and Tangerine Bank. along with PetSmart, the Hudson's Bay Company, General Motors Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, Ottawa Tourism, Porter Airlines, and Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.
The City of Edmonton withdrew from city advertisements after complaints on social media about the controversial nature of Levant's comments. According to Councilor Oshry, the city would have made this decision regardless of political leanings, because of controversial articles.
Another activist group, Hope not Hate, pressured Norwegian Cruise Lines into cancelling a scheduled Caribbean cruise which was to feature talks by Rebel Media personalities, many of whom have since left the media website.
Connection to the Conservative Party of Canada
During the 2017 Conservative Party leadership race, it was revealed that Andrew Scheer's campaign manager Hamish Marshall was a director of The Rebel Media. He claimed that he had left the Rebel after the leadership race ended, though the claim is disputed. Scheer was criticised for not denouncing the Rebel after the Unite the Right rally; eventually he did. He cited liberal political advocacy group LeadNow for influencing his decision.
On May 31, 2017, in a interview with the Toronto Life, Scheer revealed that his go-to news sources were "CTV, CBC, National Post, Globe and Mail, as well as iPolitics, Huffington Post and even the Rebel". On August 17, 2017, Scheer stated that he barely followed them.
On October 16, 2017, The Globe and Mail asked Scheer if he knew that Hamish Marshall worked for the Rebel during the leadership campaign, but he ended the interview. Scheer denied that he knew Marshall's clients but the party denied his statement. Both Levant and Marshall downplayed Marshall's role, stating that he was a simple "IT guy"; however, it was revealed that Marshall used his business knowledge and skills to help Rebel develop its controversial brand.
The day after, Marshall was named campaign chair for their 43rd Canadian federal election.
Conservative Party of Canada boycott, August 2017
Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer announced after Charlottesville that he will stop doing interviews on Rebel Media due to its “editorial directions". Conservative MPs Michael Chong, Chris Alexander,Peter Kent, Lisa Raitt, and former interim leader Rona Ambrose had previously disavowed the site.
Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, and Doug Schweitzer, who are running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party of Alberta, have condemned the Rebel and said they will no longer grant interviews to the company.
Rebel Freedom Fund
In February 2018, Ezra Levant created an investment fund in which people can invest their money into rebel projects such as film and television-style programming, online apps and even real estate-related projects such as studios. The fund will be managed by Wells Asset Management
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