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Rebel Media co-founder quits over company's ties to right-wing groups

This archive photo shows Brian Lilley as host of Sun News Network's "Byline"

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Brian Lilley, a co-founder of the upstart conservative online news and opinion outlet The Rebel Media, quit the company on Monday, saying that he was not comfortable working for an organization that, "is being increasingly viewed as associated with the likes of [white supremacist] Richard Spencer."

In a Facebook post, Mr. Lilley noted that The Rebel, based in Toronto, had arisen from the ashes of the right-wing cable channel Sun News in February, 2015, to serve "an audience looking for informed commentary from a small c conservative perspective," but he was no longer confident it was doing that.

The departure, he wrote, was "a long time coming. What may have started as a concern over the harsh tone taken on some subjects came to a head with this weekend's events in Charlottesville, Virginia. 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."

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Related: Advertisers bow to pressure to pull ads from The Rebel

Faith Goldy, one of The Rebel's marquee commentators, provided extensive coverage of the weekend's events, and was hosting a live-stream of a march as a car slammed into a group of demonstrators, leaving one woman dead and 19 people injured.

On Monday, the company's co-founder and "Rebel Commander" Ezra Levant issued a memo attempting to distance the company from the so-called alt-right, arguing that the movement had drifted from its origins and "now effectively means racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism." He alleged that Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who attended the rallies in Charlottesville, was now "the leading figure – at least in terms of media attention" of the movement.

As the movement burst into prominence last year with the election of Donald Trump – his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had been the head of Breitbart News, a far-right American outlet seen as one of the movement's most prominent voices – critics noted the term was already widely used to refer to a collection of groups or individuals espousing racist, fascist, or white-supremacist ideologies.

In his Facebook post, Mr. Lilley wrote: "I was never enamoured by the 'alt-right', never saw the appeal but I take Ezra at his word when he describes his evolution. But just as he has evolved, just as The Rebel has evolved, so have I and the uncomfortable dance that I have been doing for some time now must come to an end.

"What The Rebel suffers from is a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment that left unchecked will destroy it and those around it. For that reason, I am leaving.

"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.

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"I am not comfortable being associated with a group that, rightly or wrongly, is being increasingly viewed as associated with the likes of Richard Spencer. Like many of you, I had family that fought the Nazis, I never want to be in the same room as one. I am also not comfortable with the increasingly harsh tone taken on issues like immigration, or Islam. There are ways to disagree on policy without resorting to us versus them rhetoric."

After helping start The Rebel, last year Mr. Lilley began hosting a three-hour nighttime talk show on CFRA-AM, an Ottawa-based talk radio station owned by Bell Media. He moved to a freelance arrangement with The Rebel, and reduced his output from approximately three videos per day to one per day.

In a statement e-mailed to The Globe and Mail on Monday evening, Ezra Levant said: "We love Brian and can hardly wait to see what he does next." He chalked up Mr. Lilley's decision to pressure from Bell Media.

"I don't doubt he's getting flak from his other mainstream media employers, who are our competitors. Bell, Corus and Postmedia have all been pressuring our common talent to choose either them or us," he said.

Asked about Mr. Lilley's contention that The Rebel had lost its way, Mr. Levant responded, "I think that is absolutely the correct thing for someone to say who works for CTV/Bell. Brian's no dummy."

In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Lilley chuckled when told about Mr. Levant's comments. "I made this decision on my own," he said. "No one talked to me, no one coerced me, no one suggested this. I just no longer felt comfortable with where The Rebel is going."

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He added: "I do wish them well. I hope they right their ship."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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