After Charlottesville, Ezra Levant sounds like a man who long ago jumped into shark-infested waters, and is only now starting to complain about the swimming conditions.
His far-right Rebel Media website is under fire for celebrating and catering to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who fomented violence and death on the streets of the Virginia city last weekend. It is a charge Levant tries to deny, but the facts point in the opposite direction.
If you can believe it, his statement of defence is that he was, well, naive.
"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...It was unashamed right-wingedness, with a sense of humour."
(Errr...funny that no one else noticed the side-splitting humour involved in vilifying immigrants and Muslims.)
"But the alt-right has changed into something new, especially since Trump's election," Levant wrote to his staff the other day, after Charlottesville. "There are white supremacists, and even some neo-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."
(So it shocked him to see all those torch-carrying, right-wing marchers in Charlottesville doing "Sieg heil" arm salutes and shouting "white lives matter.")
"There were actually some Nazi swastika flags in Charlottesville," Levant says incredulously, then raises the possibility they were planted. "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."
Levant reminds his supporters that it's left-wing critics and the news media that are falsely trying to "paint us as racist or even neo-Nazi." He reminds them that he, himself, is a good Jew and "simply covering controversial figures doesn't mean we agree with those controversial figures. It means we're covering the news, not just covering Justin Trudeau's socks."
Oh yeah? So let's examine the coverage of Charlottesville by Rebel Media.
They sent their high-profile host Faith Goldy to cover it. Why would they do that? Ezra himself has since dismissed it as a news story:
"The alt-right, as it now constituted and led, is an obscure, small, ineffective movement. Their Charlottesville march, that had national media coverage for weeks in advance, mustered fewer than 500 people altogether. They hold no elected office, hold no prominent positions in academia, media, or any other institution."
And so what part of this non-story did Goldy report on? Well, she called the heavily armed right-wing protesters "patriots" and said "they're here for your freedom." She praised a manifesto written by right-wing leader Richard Spencer as "robust" and filled with "well-thought-out ideas." The manifesto actually states the following: "Whites alone defined America as a European society and political order….The so-called 'refugee crisis' is an invasion, a war without bullets, taking place on the fields of race, religion, sex, and morality."
Even Levant describes Spencer's manifesto as "explicitly racist." He also boasts that "we're the most honest reporters out there." As justification for that outrageous remark, he says several news agencies, including NBC, CBS and Reuters, asked for permission to use Rebel Media footage from Charlottesville.
It's true that Faith Goldy happened to be standing next to the accident scene where peaceful marchers were crashed into from behind by a runaway Dodge Challenger, killing one woman and injuring 20 others. It was gripping footage. But just a few minutes before, she was criticizing those same marchers as aggressors who were in the street illegally without a permit.
One of her broadcasts from Charlottesville said:
"The ex-military guys were just walking through the parking lot, a bunch of young Black men started inciting them, saying, 'Go back home! Go back to where you came from. No one wants you here.' The sort of language that if ever, I believe, a white man were to say that towards a Black man, you would see it played ad nauseam at any one of the major cable broadcasters. The double standards are just so gross, right? And that's what people are seeing. And that's why they're getting more and more pissed off. And that's why they're becoming more and more frankly hard-lined in their views. Not a justification for one side or another, but I mean, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that there is a double standard at play."
Let's be clear. Faith Goldy is not acting like a journalist. She was not there to cover the news. That's not her job. She was there to cheerlead and Ezra Levant, the self-styled Rebel Commander, is responsible for sending her there.
Rebel Media's worrisome biases are so obvious that even some of its ardent supporters are jumping ship. Yesterday, Brian Lilley, who joined Levant in founding The Rebel, parted company saying it suffers from "a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it."
"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."
He said he is also "not comfortable with the increasingly harsh tone taken on issues like immigration, or Islam."
Although Lilley, at his worst, was a leading perpetrator of The Rebel's brand of agenda journalism, he portrayed himself as "a serious journalist with nearly 20 years experience at the highest levels in this country, and abroad. I cannot be a part of this."
Rebel Media also became a wedge issue in the United Conservative Party leadership race in Alberta this week. Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer, a Calgary lawyer, urged rivals Jason Kenney and Brian Jean to denounce Rebel Media for its close association with white supremacists. "It has no place in United Conservative Party, we cannot be playing footsie with this...Enough is enough. We have to be better than this in Canada. Stand up to them for a change. We all need to lead by example."
Rebel Media was closely associated with the union of Alberta's Conservatives and Wildrose Party, and one of the directors of Rebel Media, Hamish Marshall, is Jean's campaign manager.
In fact, The Rebel has had a long association with the principal figures of the Unite the Right movement.
Richard Spencer has been gently interviewed several times. Just four months ago, he and David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was also prominent in Charlottesville, praised a Rebel telecast from Israel that was widely seen as being anti-Semitic. Host Gavin McInnes used air quotes to describe "the Holocaust" and explained why a visit to the Holocaust Museum had inspired anti-Semitic feelings -- so much so that he now felt like "defending super far-right Nazis."
Well, the Nazis have been seen in their obscene glory, carrying torches, shouting "Jews will not replace us" and snapping forth their odious salutes in the streets of Charlottesville for all to see.
It's time to identify and isolate all who support them.
Photo: Raj Taneja/flickr
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