Right-wing site The Rebel is trying to step away from the extremist rhetoric that has become endemic to the alt-right after a weekend of protests organized by alt-right activists culminated in Nazi salutes, clashes with counter-protesters and police, and a car-ramming attack that claimed the life of a 32-year-old woman.
In a memo to his staff, posted to The Rebel website, Ezra Levant condemned the far-right political movement and its central figure, Richard Spencer — a high-profile attendee of past weekend’s “Unite the Right” rally, which descended into mayhem — accusing them of “racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.”
Levant, founder of the Canadian-based opinion site, writes that the descent into extremism for the movement occurred after Donald Trump’s election.
But while The Rebel may now be trying to create space between itself and the more virulent racists and white supremacists, the site has become an international platform for far-right and alt-right figures, including former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson and conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, often publishing material defending the alt-right.
The site was the long-time home of Rebel commentator Lauren Southern, who has now taken to blocking migrant ships in the Mediterranean; has aired an interview with Twitter personality Baked Alaska, a prominent alt-right figure at the Charlottesville demonstrations; and has promoted the views of conspiracy theorists such as Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson.
Even Richard Spencer himself has been interviewed more than once by Rebel host Gavin McInnes. During one half-hour long interview, the two agreed on the need to promote Western culture, and discussed supposed racism against white people — they, however, politely disagreed on Spencer’s position that America needs to actively reduce its non-white population by sending them “home again.” McInnes, laughing, ended the friendly interview with: “Thank you for calling, and I disavow your racism.”
In April, McInnes said of Spencer: “I like this guy. I like debating him.” (McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He and the company severed ties in 2008.)
Prior to the car ramming attack, which is being treated as an act of domestic terrorism, Rebel contributor Faith Goldy — who was on the ground in Charlottesville — retweeted a live broadcast from Spencer himself.
And while Levant insisted “simply covering controversial figures doesn’t mean we agree with those controversial figures,” The Rebel has nevertheless used its growing platform — with some 400,000 Youtube subscribers — to push sensationalist coverage of the counter-protesters who showed up in Charlottesville over the weekend. Even in his statement aimed at toning down The Rebel’s image, Levant writes that “the alt-right is, in my mind — the mirror image of Black Lives Matter.”
None of Goldy’s reporting appeared on The Rebel homepage as of Monday morning. The only coverage of the violence was posted without a byline, proclaiming: “Antifa gets violent in Charlottesville, ‘Unite The Right’ fights back.”
Even after the car attack, Goldy retweeted insinuations that it may have been provoked because protesters hit the speeding car before it plowed into the crowd.
In the past two years, The Rebel has published content insisting that Black Lives Matter “seems more like an ethnic terrorist organization than a political movement,” and launched a petition calling for Antifa to be labelled a terrorist organization.
Goldy, for her part, has adopted the alt-right slogan “deus vult” (a Latin phrase that served as a battle cry during the crusades) and was the main Rebel correspondent reporting from Quebec City, where a gunman killed six Muslim worshippers inside a mosque — during that coverage, she repeatedly and incorrectly suggested that the attacker or attackers were Muslim, even after it was revealed the shooter was actually white, not Muslim, and a fan of far-right politicians.
The Rebel’s step back from the harder edges of the alt-right signals a broader split in the movement.
Since Trump’s inauguration, the loose coalition of far-right movements has fractured, with disagreements forming about the extent to which anti-semitism and white nationalism should play in the movement, with some arguing that the movement should be more about Western superiority than about racial purity. The anti-semitism also appears to have struck a chord with Levant, who is Jewish.
Both sides, however, are generally unified by unabashed Islamophobia.