August 19, 2017 12:14 pm
Updated: August 19, 2017 2:40 pm

A fight over a four-bedroom house: The Rebel Media meltdown and the full recording at the centre of the controversy

The right-wing Rebel Media is facing growing criticism in the wake of its coverage of the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va. The NDP's Brian Mason called on Alberta's conservative parties to more clearly renounce the media organization on Thursday.

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With politicians including Conservative heavyweights Andrew Scheer and Brian Jean swearing off appearances and a raft of exits by prominent contributors, Ezra Levant’s far-right video and commentary network The Rebel spent the last week in damage control, trying to distance itself from the extremist alt-right movement whose values many have alleged the site’s content too often sympathized with.

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Levant — a long-time conservative persona who has morphed from early Reform Party figure to Western Standard publisher to right wing Sun News Network host to independent far right internet gadfly— asserted Tuesday that his company was not sympathetic to the white nationalist group comprised of several loosely affiliated extremist groups including neo-Nazis, known as the alt-right.

Many of these factions marched on Charlottesville, Va. last weekend. (One counter-protester was killed and 19 were injured in a car attack. An Ohio man, James Alex Fields, is charged with second degree murder.)

READ MORE: Rebel Media cofounder Brian Lilley explains decision to quit

Levant’s assertion came two days before The Rebel fired one of its most prominent hosts, Faith Goldy, after she covered the protests in Charlottesville, livestreaming herself rolling her eyes at participants in the counter-protest march just seconds before the car attack.

Goldy subsequently appeared on the Krypto Report, a podcast produced by neo-Nazi and white supremacist website The Daily Stormer. In a Facebook post addressing her firing, she wrote that “at no point did I represent Rebel Media while on the ground [in Charlottesville]” and Levant said, in a video announcing her departure, that he discouraged her from going. (Despite these statements, Goldy did file her video of the car attack on The Rebel’s website while she was in Charlottesville under her byline.)

Of her appearance on the Krypto Report, she acknowledged “a poor decision.”

Following the events in Charlottesville, Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley and contributors Barbara Kay and John Robson announced they were parting ways with company. All cited concerns about The Rebel’s editorial judgment that has in recent months included the promotion of conspiracy theories, including those claiming that the shooter in a February mosque attack in Quebec City was Muslim, and sympathetic profiles of prominent alt-right figures including Milo Yiannopoulos. (Vice Media co-founder and former Fox News contributor Gavin McInnes will also depart the company, with Levant saying he was poached by a well-pocketed competitor.)

But despite all the personnel changes, the denunciations from politicians, newspaper columnists speculating about the future of The Rebel and the controversies over its content, perhaps no subject has generated greater social media attention than incendiary allegations put forward by Caolan Robertson.

The former British Rebel contributor who left the company earlier this month, posted a 12-minute long YouTube video on Thursday alleging The Rebel, during its fundraisers, solicited donations for its campaigns beyond the amounts needed, lied about the costs of creating its content and misled its audience about the use of its money. (He also asks viewers to contribute funds to a new media channel he says he is starting.)

In the video, Robertson included excerpts of a recording made earlier this month when he said Levant went to England to offer him and a former Rebel producer, George Llewelyn-John, thousands of British pounds in what Levant called “hush money,” and also threatened to sue them if they tried to make the allegations of financial impropriety public.

On Thursday, in his own YouTube video response, Levant called Robertson’s charges about The Rebel’s business practices “a complete lie.”

Levant also claimed that Robertson and Llewelyn-John had blackmailed him for money with the threat of making the allegations public after The Rebel decided to fire them.

“They were going to publicly allege that we were stealing money from our viewers, that we were stealing money from charities, or from other things we crowdfund,” added Levant, before listing several projects he said the company spent money on, including the purchase of an “extremely expensive wheelchair” for a British army veteran with multiple sclerosis.

Levant said that, before he met with Llewelyn-John earlier this month, he sent a representative, former Conservative party operative and Sun News Network head Kory Teneycke, to London to discuss with him a parting arrangement that included potential severance details.

READ MORE: United Conservative Party’s Brian Jean, Jason Kenney distance themselves from Rebel Media

It is at this point that Levant said Robertson and Llewelyn-John attempted to “blackmail” and “extort” The Rebel with the allegations that have since been made public. Levant later flew to London himself to finalize a parting agreement, which was hashed out at a meeting with Llewelyn-John and Rebel UK commentator and former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson.

The meeting between Levant, Llewelyn-John and Robinson is the one that Robertson played excerpts from during his YouTube video.

Global News has obtained the full recording, made earlier this month, and is releasing it below. The voices on the recording, which is unverified but appears genuine, align with other voice, video and audio recordings of Levant and Robinson.

In a statement to Global News, Levant said “I have not heard the recording myself.”

“Robertson and [Llewelyn-John] made a series of increasing extortion requests in a series of meetings in the UK,” he added. “I reluctantly agreed to them. But even the final written agreement was then amended with hand-written additions. And then even when that was signed, they started phoning our administrator demanding more money still (and to be paid in advance). That’s when it finally dawned on me that they would never stop asking for more, so I flew to London.”

He added that the legal agreements, which he said Robertson and Llewelyn-John signed, required them to return property of The Rebel, including “footage they claim they have of Tommy Robinson saying things that would put him in jeopardy. More than a week after they signed the agreement, which called for the ‘immediate’ return of such footage, they had not done so. So: more demands for money; and a refusal to return the footage despite repeated friendly requests.” (Levant’s full statement can be read here.)

“What Ezra’s doing now is back-pedalling and lying,” Llewelyn-John said in a statement to Global News. “Almost everything in his ‘blackmail’ video is patently false. We had an agreement, which was fair and amicably agreed.”

Llewelyn-John provided e-mails to Global News showing requests made to The Rebel and Teneycke for severance pay, which he said never materialized.

“Obviously don’t want to be a bother, just a little disappointed as this was promised to come in with our regular pay yesterday,” he wrote to Teneycke on August 1. Teneycke responded the same day: “Roger that George. I will get it sorted tonight.”

Llewelyn-John said he decided to secretly record the meeting with Levant after the money as part of “verbal agreements as to how the footage would be returned and the severance paid” made with Teneycke “failed to materialise.”

In the recording, Levant — who repeatedly refers to the idea of payment as a “shakedown” and “extortion” which he says Teneycke told him needed to be paid because of “the threat” — urges Llewelyn-John to come to a friendly parting agreement, noting how he previously sued a critic of one of The Rebel’s campaigns and citing former Rebel employees Lauren Southern and Jack Posobiec as examples of contributors who remained “positive” about the company after leaving.

Llewelyn-John can be heard telling Levant that he and Robertson did not make any threats, and that they were taken aback by communication they received from The Rebel after they met with Teneycke which suggested as much.

“This isn’t about it being a shakedown, this isn’t about us trying to extort you for money,” Llewelyn-John said. “Essentially, we had an agreement that was made that was the two months pay offered and then the difference contractually on the house that we wouldn’t have otherwise taken, where we have 10 months left on the contract.”

Robertson told Global News that the house referred to is a four bedroom that the two rented at Levant’s urging, which they agreed would partly act as studio space for Rebel video productions and to which the company would contribute costs. Most of the conversation on the recording deals with back and forth about the conditions of a separation agreement between the two parties, including payment and non-disclosure terms, and ultimately coalesces around the matter of the house rental.

Tommy Robinson, former English Defence League leader and Rebel UK commentator, pictured on his website speaking at the Oxford Union, Oxford, UK.

“The house, that’s a four-bedroom house that we got with what we firmly believe was you egging us on, saying we were going to centralize things around Tommy [Robinson], have a studio in the house, all that kind of stuff, so that’s what that money, that’s what that figure, that the severance agreement amounted to,” Llewelyn-John said on the recording. “That’s what that was about. There was never any threat made and I’m honestly being completely up front with you now.”

Robinson also raises the lease as an issue: “I don’t think he’s saying about a shakedown: the point is that they’re there. It’s the 10 months that’s on the contract for the four-bed house that they don’t need. Which equated to £6000 (CAD$9700).”

“Alright, I’ll take that,” says Levant. “Done. Alright, Tommy, you just convinced me.” Levant nevertheless describes this agreement as a “shakedown,” a characterization Llewelyn-John rejects.

Robertson said he and Llewelyn-John ultimately accepted £3000 (CAD$4800) each, telling Global News it was “much less than they originally offered to help cover the cost of the giant house/filming studio he moved us into.” Levant can be heard on the recording finalizing the agreement for that amount, in exchange for Llewelyn-John’s signature on paperwork.

The recording totals 50 minutes. A second, shorter recording of the conversation was made at a later point during the same gathering, after which which Llewelyn-John left to call Robertson, and lasts eight minutes. It can be heard below.

Levant, however, still contends that Robertson and Llewelyn-John threatened The Rebel.

“Robertson made repeated threats to my agent who was over there, and to Tommy Robinson himself, as to what would happen if we didn’t pay — they threatened exactly all this (plus more against Tommy),” he said. “After I flew in to tell them I wouldn’t pay hush money, the final agreement I came to with them (that they obviously broke [by making their allegations public]) was for £7,000 (CAD$11500) each in new money, plus keeping all the money we had already paid them.”

Levant claims Robertson and Llewelyn-John at one point threatened he and Robinson for a total of CAD$41,000. That sum is discussed on the recording as a figure that Teneycke had negotiated previously, with Levant stating, “When I heard the totality of what Kory negotiated, I pulled my f—–g hair out.”

Robertson said he and Llewelyn-John never threatened Levant or Robinson for any amount, that they only received the agreed upon £3000 payments, and said they have made no allegations against Robinson. “I spoke to Tommy on the phone this morning and we had a laugh,” he said, in an interview with Global News.

(Tommy Robinson did not reply to a request for comment. On Thursday, he posted a video on Twitter stating his confidence in The Rebel’s UK campaigns: “I’ve never dealt with the money. But when I’ve spoke with Rebel, there’s been no qualms or problems with them sending me the accounts to show me the money was there and assuring me that the money’s going to the people we’re helping.”)

“Ezra keeps saying we threatened to blackmail him, threatened to extort him, that we threatened Tommy, but he has offered absolutely no proof and we have offered evidence to the contrary,” Robertson added. “I’m pretty sure Tommy and I would not be getting lunch next week if I had threatened him.”

Despite the contentious fallout of this week, and the back-and-forth allegations, hearing the end of the meeting on the recordings suggests that things ended well, with Levant praising Llewelyn-John.

“George, I wish you good luck,” he says. “I believe you’re a talent, I think you’re gonna be a star.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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