Most people assumed that Rebel Media would somehow emerge from the ashes after another tumultuous year of offensive controversies. What most of us didn’t expect is that it would involve a retirement savings plan.
Yes, Canada’s favourite contentious far-right news source has now decided to diversify into the wealth management game, partnering up with an Alberta-based investment firm—Wells Asset Management—to offer an RRSP-eligible retirement savings fund.
It’s of course called the Rebel Freedom Fund, and the only real criteria to stash your money in it is you gotta be an ideologue and have the desire to save for retirement.
“The Rebel Freedom Fund is directed at investors seeking to save for retirement or in retirement that desire modest, regular, steady income. It is intended to be suitable for anyone who wishes to participate in both a financial and ideologically-based investment,” says the fund’s webpage.
You don’t say.
The fund’s key money manager is one Dale Wells, CEO of Wells Asset Management, who professes to be a “strong personal supporter of the Rebel” and saw a way to blend his “professional financial acumen with the moral and ethical values he holds dear as a Canadian.”
Some further digging reveals that Wells was disciplined by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) back in 2011 for “engaging in business conduct unbecoming or detrimental to the public interest.” Turns out, Wells was posing as a financial advisor without being registered as one.
When contacted by VICE about Rebel Freedom Fund, Wells reiterated his ideological commitment to the media company. “I’m a Western Canadian boy and it sits well with my personal agenda. There’s a strong right-leaning market that Rebel represents,” he told VICE.
(Incidentally, Wells Asset Management also helped fund the 2016 Denzel Washington period film, Fences).
But the real question is, what exactly does Rebel Media get out of launching an RRSP?
Last year, VICE News attempted to track the funding mechanisms tied to Rebel, to determine just how much money the company makes. The site, according to VICE News, “pulls in $1 million per year from subscriptions alone, which works out to more than 10,000 subscribers,” not nearly enough to fund its downtown Toronto operation.
Sure, you also have donations from rich conservatives—Rebel has reportedly received grant money from the Middle East Forum, which has been identified as "a US think tank that promotes anti-Muslim views and is bankrolled by a wealthy right-wing donor network linked to prominent Republican donors like the Koch brothers," and the David Horowitz Freedom Centre, another right-wing institution allied with Steve Bannon and members of the Trump presidency. But Rebel, at the end of the day, is a media company whose profits depend on the whims of an audience and rich ideological allies.
Simply put, the RRSP venture is just another way for Rebel to raise money.
According to an information sheet on the fund’s website, you would need a minimum of $5,000 to invest in the fund. The target rate of return is four percent, which is actually slightly below average compared to a standard investment in any kind of popular ETF or index fund.
Your $5,000 goes into a big pool of money which is then invested in “asset-backed debt obligations,” which is just another way of describing the infamous “collateralized debt obligation” or CDO, a structured financial product that partially led to the collapse of the global economy in 2009.
“The Fund does not yet have a track record so the risk level cannot be directly ascertained,” says a disclaimer on the information sheet.
Now, here’s the real tie to Rebel: whatever money the Fund makes will be invested in “projects and opportunities that are, in whole, or in part, directly or indirectly associated with Rebel Media Holdings Inc.” So essentially, your $5,000 is being invested in financial products by Wells Asset Management, the proceeds of which are then used to fund Rebel projects.
All this, of course, will set you up nicely for retirement and just maybe help the Rebel with any of its financial troubles.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this article misquoted a citation about the Middle East Forum and the Koch Brothers. That sentence has been amended.