Three years ago this week, a young man drove to a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers and, strolling through them while firing an arsenal of military-style weapons at worshippers, killed 51 women and men. In the midst of the massacre, he posted an online manifesto that described the murders as acts of racially motivated terrorism intended to stop immigration, using phrases and ideas borrowed from a small circle of extreme-right and white-supremacist publications.
The young man – who we are not naming, in following New Zealand convention – had learned these ideas over a period of months. And one of the apparent sources of those ideas was a Canadian fringe-media outlet – something you may not know, as a result of that outlet’s determined efforts to use the courts to prevent you from reading about it in this newspaper and elsewhere.
Between January of 2017 – around the time he first “had a terrorist attack in mind” – and August of that year, when he moved from his native Australia to New Zealand to begin actively planning the attack, the future murderer spent months reading far-right literature and communicating with people and organizations that had inspired him. By the end of that summer, he possessed “a fully developed terrorist ideology.” Those were the conclusions of a detailed forensic report on the massacre published by the New Zealand Parliament in November, 2020, after the young man had been imprisoned for life on murder and terrorism charges.
We now have a sense of what ideas might have inspired him during those eight formative months. The investigation found that in August and September of 2017, while he was making active plans for the rampage, he made a series of donations to a small circle of publications and organizations. The recipients of his donations, all on the extreme right, had all published or promoted a similar set of then-obscure racially oriented ideas.
One of those organizations was Rebel Media, the Canadian right-wing publisher known for online video sites such as Rebel News. On Sept. 15, 2017, the future terrorist made a donation of $106.68 from his personal bank account to Rebel News Network Ltd. of Canada, using PayPal. Around the same time, he made donations to organizations such as the neo-Nazi publisher Daily Stormer and the white-supremacist organization Generation Identity. It is reasonable to conclude that he felt influenced by those organizations, because they were among the few places in the world then publishing and publicizing the collection of ideas that would be at the core of his manifesto.
Canadians may not be aware of this connection between the Christchurch massacre and their country’s fringe media – and that’s because Ezra Levant, the publisher of Rebel Media, went to great lengths to ensure that it stayed out of the press. Around the time that the New Zealand parliamentary report became public, Mr. Levant launched a series of libel suits against journalists who had mentioned his organization’s possible influence on terrorists and violent individuals and groups. That included a suit against the author of this column for having mentioned the terrorist’s donation to Rebel Media on Twitter, after it appeared in the New Zealand report.
None of these lawsuits have been successful. In 2021, three of them were thrown out by Ontario judges, who agreed with the defendants that the suits were simply attempts to silence the media (or, in legal terms, “strategic lawsuits against public participation”). This January, a judge ruled that, in two suits, Mr. Levant and Rebel Media were “using litigation to silence critics” and ordered the outlet to pay more than $250,000 in costs. In late 2021, Rebel Media dropped its suit against me, too, with an agreement not to pursue its defamation claim against me with respect to my tweets or their contents, and not to pursue any claims against me relating to them.
What Rebel Media appears to have been trying to keep out of the public eye – and, to a large extent, successfully so – was any suggestion that their content could have influenced terrorists and violent figures in several countries.
In preparing my defence around the lawsuit, I found a string of articles and videos that were published on Rebel Media’s sites during those key months when the terrorist was gathering influences, shortly before he made his donation to the Canadian organization. Most have been subsequently deleted from their sites, but can be found on internet archives.
Central to many of those articles is Martin Sellner, an Austrian extreme-right figure who was arrested in 2006 for painting swastikas on synagogues and who, in the late 2010s, made declarations about the “Jewish question” and funded attacks on refugee ships using his extreme-right organization Generation Identity. He has popularized a racial conspiracy theory known as “the Great Replacement,” which holds that people in Western countries from racial or religious minorities are not simply fellow citizens, but the subjects of a plot to “replace” white and Christian people. He is also known for promoting the concept of “white genocide,” which holds that the immigration of racial minorities is a form of extermination.
The Christchurch terrorist was an admitted admirer of Mr. Sellner’s. He corresponded with the extremist repeatedly during those formative months of 2017, and he titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement,” filling it with Mr. Sellner’s quotes and concepts, including “white genocide.” The murderer’s donations appear to have all been directed to Mr. Sellner’s organizations or those that regularly published and advocated his ideas.
That includes Rebel Media. On June 22, 2016, Rebel Media published a post headlined, “Leader of Generation Identity Austria: We want to stop what we call the Great Replacement,” devoted to an adulatory video interview between a Rebel staffer and Mr. Sellner. The post remained visible until at least March of 2019, and carried the tagline, “Martin Sellner of the Austrian chapter of Generation Identity joined me to talk about Europe’s disastrous immigration policies, and why more people like him are fighting back.” Rebel Media’s main Twitter account promoted it with the line, “We want to stop the Great Replacement,” and a photo of Mr. Sellner with one of their staff.
Journalists have also identified at least one other Rebel interview with Mr. Sellner (which has since been deleted), as well as two other instances of posts that appeared during this period in which Rebel hosts reportedly express advocacy for Mr. Sellner. These were among the few places in the world, aside from the Daily Stormer and Mr. Sellner’s own sites, where his ideas could be found in any detail during this period.
The concept of “white genocide,” central to the terrorist’s manifesto, featured prominently on Rebel Media platforms during the time the young man was planning his terrorist attack. On May 31, 2017, Rebel published a much-discussed article, also later deleted, titled “White genocide in Canada?” which asked whether “diversity is just code for population replacement.” Another, published in December, 2016, claimed that a CBC show “celebrates white genocide.” During 2018, other Rebel posts and tweets promoted the “white genocide” concept.
I am not suggesting that this Canadian fringe-media site was responsible for, or approved of, the murderous violence of March 15, 2019; that is solely the responsibility of the man who committed the crimes. But it is quite reasonable to conclude that Rebel Media was an influence on his ideas during the time he was planning an attack, as were the people and concepts the outlet regularly and enthusiastically promoted during those years.
What does appear clear is that Mr. Levant and his colleagues at Rebel Media have devoted considerable effort and expense to ensuring that Canadians do not hear any discussion of their organization’s potential influence on people who commit horrible crimes in the name of baseless racial conspiracy theories.
While Rebel Media’s legal efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, they do mean that many Canadians have spent three years without hearing a word about what could be a Canadian connection to this, and other, atrocities. At a moment when the online publication of hateful fictions is having an increasingly damaging effect on the world, we need to be on guard against such attempts to silence the media.