By Jonathon Van Maren
Most watchers of the Canadian media scene would probably agree: The ongoing meltdown of Ezra Levant’s online commentary outfit, The Rebel, is an implosion nearly unmatched in severity and swiftness. It started with roving journalist Faith Goldy’s coverage of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which appeared overly sympathetic to the white supremacist marchers—right before she caught the deadly vehicle attack that left a woman dead on camera. Her follow-up interview with Stefan Molyneux, in which she referred to neo-Nazi Richard Spencer’s anti-Semitic platform as “well-thought out,” prompted Rebel Commander Ezra Levant to finally release a long-overdue condemnation of the alt-right.
Levant’s denunciation didn’t come in time. Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley left first, citing the Charlottesville coverage, the “increasingly harsh tone,” and a “lack of editorial and behavioral judgment.” John Robson, the Rebel’s “resident historian,” followed suit and noted that he now finds “the tone too unconstructive” and that “The Rebel has drifted too far from its mission of covering the news from a refreshing perspective.” And then contributor Barbara Kay cut ties, stating on Twitter that Ezra “has brought on contributors whose message and tactics have tarnished the Rebel brand. 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 has happened with the Rebel.”
One of the bad apples Kay is referring to, presumably, is Gavin McInnes, who recently announced that he is taking his toxic self elsewhere and also leaving The Rebel. In March of this year, I wrote a column on Gavin McInnes’s relationship with the alt-right and his poisonous brand of commentary. It was McInnes who recorded a drunken rant initially titled “Ten Reasons I Hate the Jews” for The Rebel, it was McInnes who invited Richard Spencer onto his Rebel platform for a pleasant chat where Spencer noted that McInnes was moving viewers “in our direction” in spite of his Jewish boss, and it was McInnes who landed The Rebel in hot water with his ugly commentary on Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. McInnes has also hosted Spencer on his other online gigs, along with white nationalist Jared Taylor and other alt-right figures. It bears mentioning that McInnes’s claims about women enjoying sexual violence are vile and ugly, and should have disqualified him in the eyes of conservatives long before his alt-right sympathies became apparent.
McInnes’s departure—perhaps Canadians will be fortunate enough not to run across him again—was not the end of bad news for Levant. Former Rebel contributor Caolan Robertson released a video containing recordings of Levant paying him “hush money” and claimed that Levant was bilking his viewers, which Levant responded to by claiming that he was being blackmailed by Robertson and his boyfriend. Levant’s miserable week culminated with the news on Thursday that he’d fired Faith Goldy after it turned out she’d appeared on the Daily Stormer podcast after Charlottesville with a cast of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Levant appeared on a video to announce Goldy’s departure looking exhausted and close to tears, signing off by saying, “Tough week—but we’re going to get back to work now.”
It’s hard to see where Levant can take The Rebel from here. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has already announced that he won’t be appearing on The Rebel. Jason Kenney and the other United Conservative Party leadership candidates have distanced themselves from the now-toxic brand. There’s not a chance that any Conservative Member of Parliament will agree to an interview with Levant’s outfit again—ever. Truth be told, The Rebel’s meltdown was probably convenient timing for the Conservative Party—as long as Levant claimed to speak for Canadian right-wingers, the Conservatives were wary of snubbing his purportedly large audience, even as discomfort with The Rebel’s affiliations and harsh tone grew. But now, Levant’s influence in both the political sphere and among Canadian conservatives in general has been demolished overnight. There’s no longer a cost to ignoring The Rebel—only a cost to associating with them. The Rebel will most likely continue to flourish outside of Canada, but probably cannot recover here.
I’ve been writing about the alt-right for over a year now, saying again and again that any anti-Semitism at all is profoundly poisonous, and any group that embraces or even flirts with such sentiments should be rejected outright. When I critiqued The Rebel on several occasions for playing with alt-right fire, I was told by some that I shouldn’t be attacking “my own side”—when my precise point is that the alt-right isn’t on our side. Too many on the Right have decided that the Left is the enemy, and that all those who agree with that should be banding together. That’s why the racists that gathered in Charlottesville called their rally “Unite the Right.” And that is precisely the mistake that The Rebel made—some of them figured that since alt-right hates the Left, they must be an ally of sorts. But Levant has learned the hard way that if you’re going to dance with the demons, they might want to take you home later.
The implosion of The Rebel—nearly their entire cast of hosts has vanished in less than a week—is a cautionary tale for conservatives. With the emergence of the alt-right during the 2016 American election, many right-wing outfits—especially those who depend on Internet subscribers—decided to either overtly court the alt-right (Breitbart) or make increasingly loud overtures to them (The Rebel). Over the past year and a half, Canadian conservatives—especially social conservatives—grew increasingly uncomfortable with The Rebel’s direction, and many drifted away while alt-right types, encouraged by the fact that their language (“white genocide”) was being spoken and leaders like Richard Spencer were being granted friendly interviews, migrated over.
But the inevitable violence finally occurred and Levant has finally been forced to disavow the alt-right, and now he finds himself with a depleted audience—those who came for the fresh conservative take are generally repulsed by the alt-right, and the alt-right is already furiously labeling him a “cuck” and worse for firing Goldy. So where does The Rebel go now, without embracing the fringe element that so thoroughly poisoned the brand? No reputable journalist or commentator will countenance a job offer from Levant. No politician will agree to an interview. Scandals can be weathered, but the taint of even vague connections to white supremacists will probably be permanent. The Internet is forever.
It’s genuinely sad to see this unfold. When I was a conservative activist back in university, Ezra Levant was the free speech hero. We all watched the videos of his faceoff with the Human Rights Commission dozens of times, I attended the launch of his book Shakedown at the Fraser Institute, and I even interviewed him for the campus newspaper I wrote for. I remember being one of a handful of conservatives at a debate in Vancouver on ethical oil that devolved into chaos so quickly that Levant had to be smuggled out the back door rather than signing books. His books were mainstream back then—Ethical Oil was even profiled by the left-wing CBC.
Levant’s mistake was allowing his new venture to be co-opted by the alt-right. He, like many others, appears to have thought that they were simply Internet iconoclasts and merry trolls, rather than the vicious anti-Semites and racists that they are. As I’ve been saying for some time, we should be taking these people at their word. Levant didn’t, and that has hurt his career, and hurt it very badly. Before I published my column expressing concern over McInnes’s courting of the alt-right, I called someone at The Rebel and was informed that Levant allowed his people “100% freedom of speech,” and that McInnes could say whatever he wanted. It was this lack of editorial direction—cited specifically by so many of those departing The Rebel—that allowed the alt-right poison to spread in the first place.
Everyone should learn something from this: Consorting, even casually, with anti-Semites and racists for the purported purpose of opposing a common enemy is completely unacceptable and absolutely should be. Alliances should be formed around principles rather than perceived pragmatism, because when we ignore our principles, we become infected by the poison that we play with. It doesn’t matter whether conservatives actually agree with the alt-right. If you go to their parties to hang out, don’t be surprised if you get busted along with them when the cops show up. If you defend the alt-right, don’t be surprised if you get lumped in with them. And if you allow neo-Nazis on to your platform to chat casually about their views, the Left’s accusations of racism are going to start to look accurate. And when that happens, you have successfully hurt conservatism far more than the Left ever could.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.