File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Outspoken political commentator Ezra Levant arrives at the Law Society of Alberta in Calgary.

Tension renewed between conservatives, Rebel

OTTAWA — The uneasy relationship between Canadian conservatives and controversial news outlet The Rebel garnered renewed attention Tuesday after one of the site’s co-founders and two of its contributors quit over its coverage of the Charlottesville protests.

Co-founder Brian Lilley said he was no longer comfortable working with an organization increasingly linked with the alt-right, the name most commonly used to represent the white nationalist movement in the U.S. involved in the incidents in Virginia over the weekend.

Among its leaders is Richard Spencer, whose manifesto written specifically for the Charlottesville event includes a call for states to be organized on racial and ethnic lines and speaks to the superiority of “White America.”

The Rebel’s coverage suggested Spencer and his followers ought to be afforded the same rights as left-wing protesters who massed in opposition, Lilley said, and that was a tipping point for him.

“They are not equivalent,” he said in an interview.

“Black Lives Matter and (anti-fascists) need to be called out for their problems, but a Nazi, is a Nazi, is a Nazi. And I think we all agree that Nazis are bad.”

National Post columnists Barbara Kay and John Robson also stepped away.

Robson said on his web site he appreciated that the The Rebel had challenged political correctness, “But I now find the tone too unconstructive and think The Rebel has drifted too far from its mission of covering the news from a refreshing perspective.”

Kay tweeted that most of the journalists at The Rebel are reasonable and humane. “It takes only one or two bad apples to spoil the brunch. And regrettably, that is what has happened to The Rebel.”

Lilley said he had already made up his mind to quit when the other Rebel founder, Ezra Levant, published an all-staff memo trying to deflect the criticism that The Rebel is part of the alt-right movement.

Coverage of the alt-right is not the same as being the alt-right, Levant said Tuesday.

But he said as an outlet considered a trusted source for conservatives, a distinction needed to be publicly made.

“It’s important that our viewers know that the alt-right is not actually conservative — they are socialist; they are communalist; they reject individual autonomy and subordinate everything to genetics,” he said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“And most importantly, they are a false flag, by which leftist media can demonize all conservatives and pretend that white supremacists are the leading problem in America, rather than a tiny fringe.”

Lilley’s choice to quit brought kudos from some federal Conservative MPs, among them deputy leader Lisa Raitt.

“I admire a man who speaks what he believes. I wish you the best @brianlilley,” she posted on social media.

But while she and others have condemned the violence and racism on display in Virginia, they’ve not responded to direct calls to explicitly disavow The Rebel.

A petition by the advocacy group LeadNow calling on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and his entire caucus to act drew over 4,200 signatures, but Scheer’s office would not comment.

Doug Schweitzer, running for leadership of the United Conservative party in Alberta did publicly condemn The Rebel, saying it had evolved into a “platform for the alt-right.”

Schweitzer has called on his competitors — Jason Kenney and Brian Jean — to follow his lead and cut ties, but neither has.

Jean’s campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, is currently listed as part of The Rebel’s board of directors, but Levant says he is no longer on the board.

Scheer did interviews over the course of the leadership campaign with The Rebel; with over 850,000 subscribers on YouTube, the site wields influence over the Tory rank-and-file.

For some Tories, it’s too much influence — during the leadership race candidate Erin O’Toole told the Huffington Post he was frustrated that the outlet’s coverage of an anti-Islamaphobia motion in the House of Commons ended up defining the issue for many Tories.

Others have previously broken ties with the outlet, among them Chris Alexander. He’d been pilloried during the leadership campaign for appearing to encourage chants at a Rebel rally of “lock her up” directed at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

But when a Rebel commentator later did a piece with inflammatory statements about Jews and Israel, Alexander vowed to never return.

On Monday, leadership candidate and Tory MP Michael Chong told a website run by the left-leaning Broadbent Institute that he’ll never appear on the site again after its coverage of Charlottesville, though he hadn’t done any interviews with them in over a year.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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