How the far-right co-opted “free speech”

This column was published at Maclean’s on May 1, 2017

It was the third time in as many months that supporters of President Donald Trump gathered in Berkeley, Calif., the historic birthplace of America’s Free Speech Movement and the cradle of anti-war protests in the Vietnam War era—but when met with counter-protesters on Apr. 15, the confrontation escalated into “something resembling a war zone.” Even after confiscating numerous makeshift weapons, police say fireworks and pepper spray were slung amid the mass street fights. In the end, some 20 people were arrested and 11 injuries were reported. By far, the most remarkable image to emerge from the day’s brawl saw Nathan Damigo, a former Marine—and convicted felon, and white supremacist—punching a black-clad, female counter-protestor square in the face.

To the casual observer, these violent confrontations involving far-right internet personalities, their extremist militant allies, and so-called anti-fascist activists—ostensibly defending freedom of speech—were just another example of an increasingly censorial left shutting down voices that offend them.

But it’s clear that the attendees’ fundamental motivation for the “Patriots Day” gathering wasn’t, as billed, to “stand united against censorship”—it was to use free expression as a shield, to incite a physical encounter with an anarchist opposition, to live-stream the experience for an online audience, and position themselves as martyrs. Damigo, after all, has since become the alt-right’s latest folk hero, celebrated in the darkest corners of the internet and added to the growing list of cult-like figures promoted as a draw for future mass provocations.

The noble pursuit of defending, even pushing the limits of, free expression has been co-opted by far-right status-seekers grasping at relevance through the misappropriation of a previous generation’s moral activism. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this well-rehearsed performance—this protest-violence theatre—which has become essential to fundraise and recruit for, but more importantly, further mythologize, the so-called alt-right. But in the wake of recent protests over University of California, Berkeley’s cancellation of a February talk by now-disgraced professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos, and this past weekend’s demonstration following UC Berkeley’s initial nixing of a planned lecture from Ann Coulter, it’s clear this act is on an extended run.

While Berkeley was responding to “very specific intelligence” of credible threats to the security of Coulter, and acted on “the assessment and recommendations of law enforcement professionals whose primary focus is the safety and well-being of our students and other members of our campus community,” it is worth noting that the outright cancellation was a gross violation of Coulter’s First Amendment rights. After warranted condemnation from across the political spectrum, the university reversed course, offering to host Coulter at “an appropriate, protectable venue” on campus just days later than the initially planned appearance. But no matter the facts or the circumstance —“everything we’re doing is so the speaker and students can actually exercise their rights without disruption,” explained university spokesman Dan Mogulof—the early mishandling provided Coulter and her supporters cause for martyrdom.

Coulter contended the school “just up and announced that I was prohibited from speaking.” Last Monday, the Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans filed a suit against UC Berkeley, claiming officials sought “to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy.”

But Bridges USA, a politically moderate organization involved in Coulter’s invitation, seems to have clued in to the swindle. Pranav Jandhyala, who founded the group’s UC Berkeley chapter, admitted fears “about it turning into a huge battle between [Coulter’s] conservative militia and antifascists and others …We’re worried about violence and student safety and our own safety as well. It’s a huge concern.” More importantly, Jandhyala acknowledged that it was now clear that Coulter’s intention wasn’t to engage in any real dialogue, but to prove her own point.

Coulter declined the university’s offer to reschedule, as framing the matter as one of pure censorship offers maximum propagandistic value—a strategy of capitalizing on free-speech issues that has proven to be something of a PR coup for grievance-mongers.

Berkeley’s far-right agitators routinely invoke the memory of activist Mario Savio, the standard-bearer of the FSM, going so far as to declare themselves “the new Free Speech Movement.” This, while boasting of the endorsement of America’s highest office: “The more abuse and harassment we suffer,” warned the Berkeley College Republicans in a joint op-ed following Yiannopoulos’s cancelled appearance, “the more controversial speakers we will invite to campus. We proceed fearlessly because we know we have the president of the United States on our side.”

Indeed, in February, President Trump implicitly threatened to withhold federal funds from the university for failing to cater to Yiannopoulos who, amid the renewed controversy involving Coulter, has announced a comeback, sensing an opportunity to regain status and rehabilitate his ego—not to mention, profit mightily.

“We will give out a new free speech prize—the Mario Savio Award—to the person we believe has done most to protect free expression at UC Berkeley and its surrounding area,” proclaimed Yiannopoulos in promoting Milo’s “Free Speech Week.” “Each day will be dedicated to a different enemy of free speech, including feminism, Black Lives Matter and Islam.”

This co-opting of Savio’s legacy is a calculated provocation, one that his son Daniel calls “some kind of sick joke.” Savio led the FSM to victory in ending all restrictions to political activity on campus, which included the rights of orators from all political perspectives. “Rather than ban speakers he disagreed with, Savio debated them, whether they were deans, faculty, the student-body president, or whoever,” wrote Robert Cohen, author of Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. “And this was the spirit not only of Savio but of the FSM, which had an almost Gandhian faith that through open discourse anyone had the potential to be won over” to a cause.

Savio was a veteran of the civil-rights movement, and as Cohen details, “sought to convince the editors of the student newspaper there that their use of the term “n—-r” in the paper was hurtful and irresponsible … Savio did not deny students had the right to print what they chose, but asked that they reach out to their black classmates and reflect on whether in the future they could be more thoughtful about the impact their words had on the campus community.”

The FSM’s quest was decent and honest—it was about engaging in open, rigorous debate and the exchange of ideas, no matter how inflammatory or loathsome, with a goal of making progress. What’s happening now isn’t about discussion: it’s pure political tribalism. People like Coulter and Yiannopoulos aren’t brought to campus to contribute substance—hearing either speak for a few minutes quickly puts lie to claims of their brilliance. They are skilled antagonists who can reliably incite backlash from a perceived enemy; they are, as Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian describes, the “outcome of a grotesque convergence of politics, entertainment and the internet in which an empty vessel can thrive unchecked by turning hate speech into show business.”

Where trauma, real or perceived, has become a sort of morbid currency in some circles of the left, often used to justify unworkable demands of individuals and institutions, the self-described “politically incorrect”—adults who consider childlike behaviour to be heroically subversive—are in the grievance trade. Because each provocation inflates the value of a carefully-crafted persona, victimhood is actively—and ironically—sought; they prey on the vulnerable, ridicule targets of well-documented discrimination, then cry persecution when met with resistance.

While it’s vital to uphold and protect the right of all speech on campus—even the most abhorrent rhetoric from the ranks of the alt-right—it’s crucial to identify this new game being played and, as Savio desired, critically judge “whether the speech … is really free, or merely cant.”

And it matters that influential voices, while rightly demanding institutions uphold free speech norms, explicitly make that distinction.

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Rebel Without A Spine

Facts often prove a nuisance to those with an agenda to push or a narrative to sell. Just as those who peddle snake-oil rely on manufactured illness to hawk miracle cures, those who ply their trade in fear rely on ignorance to further an ideology.

I’ve long used social media as a means to combat misinformation, and it just so happens that one of my earliest fact-checks involved a media personality who wears his well-established history of “reckless disregard for the truth” as a point of pride.

In September 2010, ahead of the Sun News Network’s launch, future-host Ezra Levant penned an astonishingly libellous column for the Sun chain of papers accusing billionaire philanthropist George Soros of, among other things, having been a Nazi collaborator.

I combed through Levant’s column, countering each false assertion with documented facts, and soon learned my effort had made its way to Soros himself, who then notified Sun Media of his intent to sue for defamation.

A full retraction and apology was issued, noting there was “no basis for the statements in the column … Sun Media and Ezra Levant retract the statements made in the column and unreservedly apologize to Mr. Soros for the distress and harm this column may have caused him.”

I continued to follow Levant’s work – and that of his colleagues – after Sun News went to air, documenting mistruths, mocking hyperbolic absurdities, and when possible, pairing false reports with links to the facts.

Though I’d become somewhat of a thorn in Levant’s side, it was my possession of the only recording of his racist anti-Roma tirade after Sun News thought they’d effectively purged it from existence – a recording which aided in forcing him to, again, issue a grovelling apology – which cemented his disdain for me.

And perhaps explains why the self-described “fearless Rebel Commander” is so, utterly terrified of me.

When The Rebel, Levant’s online vanity project launched after Sun News’ demise, promoted an “EMERGENCY PUBLIC MEETING” regarding Alberta’s future under the “extremist” Notley regime – an event billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” – I reserved a pair of seats.

After receiving a confirmation email from Amanda Achtman, Levant’s loyal apprentice who first served him at Ethical Oil before joining him at Sun News and now The Rebel, I was surprised to find another email, this one directly from Levant, notifying me of his personal intervention to cancel my reservation, claiming to be “concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane.”

Knowing Levant’s assertions were fabricated, I requested evidence to support his allegations of my “past conduct” or “track-record” of being “disruptive and profane.”

posted a screenshot of the exchange to twitter, and quickly received numerous invites to be another’s +1 for the Calgary event.

I sent a number of follow-up emails to both Levant and Achtman, requesting proof of the various allegations cited to justify cancelling my reservation, and specifically asked whether I’d be barred from entering if I attended as someone’s guest.

Despite repeated requests, neither opted to respond.

After being asked to write about the presentation, I took a right-leaning friend – a Levant fan – up on the ‘+1’ offer and agreed to meet at the Carriage House Inn, the town hall’s location, a half-hour before its scheduled start.

I arrived in good time, maneuvered my way through the steady-stream of attendees and proceeded to the check-in tables. Before I had a chance to confirm my attendance, however, I was whisked away by a pair men whom Levant hired, it seemed, to specifically watch for me and prevent my participation. When I asked for an explanation as to why I was disallowed from this “open to the public” forum, I was told it was open to everyone — except me.

Neither man could explain why, only that they were under strict orders to ensure I didn’t get in.

When Levant ventured out to greet people, he accidentally offered me a hearty “Hello, and welcome!” before recognition set in, after which he frantically turned-tail and rushed away, shouting that I was “not welcome here,” refusing to answer when I asked him to come back, face me, and explain why.

As I stood in the lobby he passed by twice more, perhaps hoping I’d pull a Levant and cause a scene, but I simply continued to request explanation, and he continued to remain silent as he hurried by.

It was the same with Achtman who bolted when she first saw me, later making a few extra passes, each time refusing to stop and answer my queries. I offered to leave once I received an explanation as to why I was barred, but was told by one of Levant’s hired henchmen that I’d get no explanation, and if I did not leave I’d be arrested.

Knowing I’d done nothing wrong, I offered to face arrest, to stay and wait for the police to sort things out. When the police arrived, they seemed completely baffled by the farce. According to his gatekeepers, Levant claimed I’d “long been banned” from the Carriage House Inn, though I’d never once before set foot there. He also alleged I had a “track-record” of disrupting his events – his guards even claimed there were pictures, though neither I nor the police were allowed to see them – and he had a documented history of my ejections — again, flat-out lies.

Once the police determined all the allegations Levant provided were false, they simply shrugged and said there were no grounds on which to arrest me, nor could they force me to leave. One officer suggested I could “make better use of the night in this beautiful weather” than wait on an explanation which likely wouldn’t come, and I agreed.

I thanked them for their time and went on my way.

In the end, the “EMERGENCY” town halls were nothing more than an effort by Levant to build his fledgeling Rebel brand.

Employing his usual strategy – creating a threat (radical outsiders intent on destroying Alberta), presenting himself as the saviour (the “mainstream media” are complicit and incompetent) and, of course, asking for money fund his ‘heroics’ – Levant is working to rescue The Rebel from sharing the fate of his previous media ventures. Through this overwrought grasp at relevance, Levant sought to recruit a new generation of “severely normal” Albertans to his Rebel army; to rouse their anger, stoke their fear, and demand they fight to restore Alberta to her glory.

As evidence by Levant’s own photos of the audience, there are, indeed, a handful of Albertans eager to take up the pitchforks and torches, call themselves Rebels, and “take Alberta back” from the “socialist insurrection” — so long as it doesn’t interfere with Bingo night.

Correction/clarification: BigCityLib informs me he, too, had a recording of Levant’s anti-Roma screed, which was made for people pursuing the complaint. And though I wasn’t aware, it seems he has quite a history with the Rebel Commander himself. His chronicling of Levant’s growing trail of lost legal battles – and the subsequent financial payouts/grovelling apologies – is rather impressive and well-worth exploring.

Here is the full email exchange between Levant and myself, and eventually Achtman too:

From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 9:07 PM
Subject: Town hall meeting
To: Amanda Achtman, Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I’m still waiting on your response to my questions, as I have multiple invites to the event and I do plan on attending.

I’ve now added Amanda to this exchange, as she approved my RSVP, just in case you’d rather respond through her — you know, how middle-school girls communicate when they’re mad at each other.

Clock’s ticking.

Alheli
From: Alheli Picazo 
Date: Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 3:27 PM
Subject: Re: Town hall meeting
To: Ezra Levant 
Hi Ezra,

I eagerly await your response to the questions I’ve already posed, both in my previous email and over on twitter, and now that I’m up to 9 invites to be another’s +1 for the evening, clarity as to whether the event is indeed “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free” is necessary.

I find it quite amusing that you’re so frightened by a wee Calgary lass who is quite literally less than half your size, and who is known (in real, offline life) by those who count themselves your followers – even some who are your personal friends – as quiet and gentle, and nothing but respectful. And it’s these hard-right leaning friends who want me to accompany them to the event. If I take one up on the offer, will only s/he be admitted and myself turned away? Are there any other unwritten rules for the night that I, or others, should be aware of?

Looking forward to your response in this exchange which, might I add, you initiated.

Alheli
On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 9:08 PM, Alheli Picazo  wrote:
Hello Ezra,

I’m sorry to hear that despite being billed as “an independent, non-partisan meeting, open to the public for free,” you’ve taken it upon yourself to screen the guest list. I suppose that means if there is to be a Q & A, the questions/questioners will be pre-selected (if not staged) as well.

And that’s fine. It’s your event, you can do as you wish. Funny though, given your history of making hay over being kicked out/off premises – subsequently demanding those seeking to exclude you respect your freedom and face the tough questions; accusing them of being cowards, afraid of real scrutiny – you’re so quick to do the same.

But I must ask what you’ve based your assertion of my apparent “track-record / past conduct” of being “disruptive and profane”? Perhaps someone who doesn’t actually know me has misinformed you? Or maybe you just made it up, as is your penchant? Because we both know you’ve made an entirely fabricated assertion. Why? There’s no need. If you’re so intimidated at the thought of my presence, just say so.

Though yes, admitting as much would take away from that whole Rebel thing. And I wonder, should someone ask me to be their guest, will I be turned away at the door? Will there be a blacklist to ensure only the like-minded are admitted? If so, you really should change the event’s description.

Though it’s unfortunate you won’t allow me to attend, at least by your personal intervention in the matter you’ve once again revealed the depth – or lack thereof – of your commitment to ‘freedom.’

Hope all goes well, and I’ll watch for the (hopefully full, unedited) event video.

Alheli

On Tue, Jun 2, 2015 at 7:32 AM, Ezra Levant wrote:
Dear Alheli,

I see that you have signed up for our Calgary town hall. I am concerned from your past conduct that you will be disruptive and profane, and that you are not attending in good faith.

Given your track-record, and given that this event will likely sell out, it is my view that we cannot set aside two seats for you, and so I am cancelling your reservation.

If you are genuinely interested in the event, we will be putting a video of it on our website.

Yours truly,

Ezra Levant

Do you know what would be terribly awkward, further showcasing the depth of Levant’s hypocrisy? If there were video of him doing precisely what he claimed he feared I’d do as justification for my exclusion from a public event:

Here’s one of the ever-so-brave Levant’s passes.

(No idea why the audio isn’t cooperating.)

It’s disappointing how much vitriol has been directed toward CANADALAND and Jesse Brown for daring to publish my run-down of events. For a crowd who claims to be the defenders of free speech, they certainly are quick to condemn anyone who dares publish something they’d rather not read — or would prefer not have been written

You know: “Free speech for me, not for thee!” Their master has taught them well.

As for Levant: if you are reading this Ezra, my invitation to meet face-to-face stands. I’m happy to meet-up – with a neutral third-party (mutual conservative friend, perhaps) if it’ll make me seem less intimidating – and see if we can work things out.  Because we both know all your allegations about me were lies, and you continue to misrepresent (through your underlings, natch) what actually happened at the Calgary event.

I won’t hold my breath. But I will leave this here, as a friendly reminder that by your own admission, nothing you say should be mistaken for fact:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 4.12.23 AM

On June 16, a shorter version of this piece (without the additional media) appeared on CANADALAND.

Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

Seriously.

The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

Ezra Levant vs Reality – A Prelude To Fox News North

The battle between supporters and opponents of Sun TV News – the Fox News style channel headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former communications director Kory Teneycke – reached new heights when members of the ‘Fox News North’ team took issue with a growing online petition urging the CRTC to reject Quebecor’s (QMI) request to “make it mandatory for cable and satellite networks to provide access to the channel ‘for a maximum period of three years to effectively expose and promote its programming to viewers across Canada’.”

In an article entitled Anti-Sun TV News campaign in U.S., Sun Media (QMI)’s Brian Lilley alleges the petition is the work of “a group of left-wing Americans supporting interests in Canada that don’t want to see competition in news broadcasting … backed by MoveOn.org a lobby group that has taken millions of dollars from currency speculator George Soros.”

What followed is known as the “saga of the Great Sun TV Petition,” in which Teneycke, fellow Sun Media (QMI) personality Ezra Levant, and Conservative blogger/activist and founder of the BloggingTories.ca Stephen Taylor, took to twitter to express their ‘outrage’, as ‘someone‘ spammed the petition with the names of journalists, actors, and fictional characters, and simultaneously penned an editorial about “why Canada needs Sun TV News.”

In their co-ordinated effort, Teneycke, Levant, and Taylor not only attacked Avaaz.org – a global online advocacy community whose co-founder and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, happens to be Canadian – as a foreign operation, but specifically, and repeatedly, refer to George Soros – a progressive philanthropist who is despised by Right Wing America.

By connecting Soros to the Avaaz petition, Lilley, Levant, Taylor, and Tenycke aim to stoke fear in their followers who, more often than not, are avid consumers of extreme Right Wing media such as Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Andrew Breitbart (BigGovernment.com), Pamela Gellar (AtlasShrugs.com), WorldNetDaily.com, and Judi McLeod (Canadafreepress.com).

Soros can be found at the centre of nearly every conspiracy concocted by the aforementioned, widely discredited media sources, who’ve alleged:

Soros is a Nazi Collaborator
Move over, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. There’s a new kid on the block: Soros
Obama-Soros Blueprint For US Surrender To Islam
Soros’ New World Order
Soros is Obama’s Secret Boss
The Oil Spill Was An Obama-Soros Act Of War Against The United States
Soros Is The Anti-Christ
Soros is The Biggest Enemy Of Freedom
Soros And Obama: Crime Inc.

As if on cue, Levant – who spent the summer of 1994 in Washington, D.C., in an internship arranged by the Right Wing Charles G. Koch Foundation Summer Fellow Program – used his Sunday Sun column to import the ‘Soros is scary’ propaganda from his conspiracy theorist counterparts in the U.S.

In his piece Moral hollowness at work, Levant claims Soros, a Hungarian Jew born in 1930, survived the holocaust by ‘collaborating with the Nazis.’

“First he worked for the Judenrat,” writes Levant. “That was the Jewish council set up by the Nazis to do their dirty work for them. Instead of the Nazis rounding up Jews every day for the trains, they delegated that murderous task to Jews who were willing to do it to survive another day at the expense of their neighbours.”

This oft repeated ‘nazi collaborator’ smear is taken from the pages of The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party, a thoroughly discredited book written by right-wing pundits David Horowitz and Richard Poe.

Levant’s fictitious claim that Soros “collaborated with the nazis” and “worked for the Judenrat,” is based wholly on unsourced allegations, originating in The Shadow Party, and echoed by Right Wing pundits.

Moving on, Levant writes:

“(Soros’ father) hatched a better plan for his son. He bribed a non-Jewish official at the agriculture ministry to let (Soros) live with him. (Soros) helped the official confiscate property from Jews.

By collaborating with the Nazis, (Soros) survived the Holocaust. He turned on other Jews to spare himself.

How does Soros feel about what he did as a teenager? Has it kept him up at night?

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes asked him that. Was it difficult? ‘Not at all,’ Soros answered.

‘No feeling of guilt?’ asked Kroft. ‘No,’ said Soros. ‘There was no sense that I shouldn’t be there. If I wasn’t doing it, somebody else would be taking it away anyhow. Whether I was there or not. So I had no sense of guilt.’

A Nazi would steal the Jews’ property anyways. So why not him?”

The assertion that Soros confiscated property of other Jews – including the imaginary interview Levant creates by cropping and rearranging portions of the actual 60 Minutes Soros interview – was debunked years ago, when the 60 Minutes interview was first selectively edited by conservative columnist Martin Peretz.

As evidenced by the unedited portion of the interview, the conversation between Kroft and Soros bears little semblance to the version scribed by Levant:

Kroft: You’re a Hungarian Jew …

Soros:Mm-hmm.

Kroft: … who escaped the Holocaust …

Soros: Mm-hmm.

Kroft: … by posing as a Christian.

Soros: Right.

Kroft: And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.

Soros: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that’s when my character was made.

Kroft: In what way?

Soros: That one should think ahead. One should understand that — and anticipate events and when, when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a — a very personal threat of evil.

KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.

SOROS: Yes. Yes.

KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.

SOROS: Yes. That’s right. Yes.

Kroft: I mean, that’s — that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?

Soros: Not, not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don’t … you don’t see the connection. But it was — it created no — no problem at all.

Kroft: No feeling of guilt?

Soros: No.

Kroft: For example, that, ‘I’m Jewish, and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be these, I should be there.’ None of that?

Soros: Well, of course, … I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn’t be there, because that was — well, actually, in a funny way, it’s just like in the markets — that is I weren’t there — of course, I wasn’t doing it, but somebody else would – would — would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the — whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the — I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt.

As they say, context is everything.

Soros had ‘no feeling of guilt’ because the property was going to be taken whether he was standing by watching, pretending to be the Christian Godson of an employee of Hungary’s Ministry of Agriculture, or whether he was among the Jews apprehended by the Nazis.

He did not, himself, take any property, nor did he condone it. He was an adolescent who watched it happen; who was powerless in the face of certain death; who could have done nothing to stop what he witnessed.

The remainder of Levant’s article plays out in the same fashion; inaccurate claims, misattributed quotes, baseless allegations.

Borrowing again from the Right Wing blogosphere, Levant claims “(Soros) called the world’s financial crisis ‘the culmination of my life’s work’.”

Had Levant bothered to locate the original source of this claim, he’d have learned the entire article has since been pulled, and replaced with a statement acknowledging that Soros “in fact made no such comment.”

The article reaches an ultimate low, however, when Levant invokes Soros’ dead mother, stating “he is a man who boasted he offered to help his mother commit suicide. Apparently he didn’t see enough death in Hungary.”

This repulsive attack reveals far more about Levant than it does Soros; Especially given that, in full context, Soros in no way ‘boasts’ about offering to help his mother end her life.

In 1994 at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Soros reflected on the experience of dying and bereavement in America while endorsing the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.

In his address, Soros explained how he “chose the problem of dying” as an area promote a better understanding “because of some very personal experiences in connection with the death of my parents, both of whom I was very devoted to and loved dearly.”

“My father died at home in 1963. He was terminally ill. Although he agreed to an operation, he didn’t particularly want to survive it because he was afraid that the combination of the illness and the operation would invade and destroy his autonomy as a human being. Unfortunately, that in fact is what happened. After the operation he had very little time left. I’m afraid I kind of wrote him off at that point. I was there when he died, yet I let him die alone. I could see him, but I wasn’t at his bedside. The day after he died I went into the office. I didn’t talk about my fathers death. So I kind of denied his dying, I certainly didn’t participate in it. Afterwards, I read Kubler-Ross and learned that I might have maintained contact with him if I tried. Had I read Kubler-Ross earlier I would have probably held his hand, because I did love him. I just didn’t know that it might make a difference. I forgave myself because I did not know any better

My mothers death was more recent. She had joined the Hemlock Society and had at hand a means of doing away with herself. I asked her if she needed my help; I offered it, although I wasn’t particularly keen to do it. But I would have helped her because I felt that I owed it to her. At the point of decision, however, she did not want to take her own life, and I’m glad she didn’t. Her decision gave the family a chance to rally around and be there as she prepared to die. And this time we did maintain good contact right to the end.”

Hooray for context.

Before ending this piece of fiction disguised as an article, Levant labels Soros as a “sociopath” who “has turned his attention to Canada” using “one of his front groups, called Avaaz” to petition the CRTC to reject “Sun Media’s license for a TV news channel.”

“The petition is a fraud!” Levant rages. “And the whole campaign is run out of New York.”

Cue the scary music for Levant’s grand finale:

“Do you think Soros should determine what you can watch on TV? Do you think that decision should be made in New York? Is our freedom of speech just another trinket for him to buy and sell? Hasn’t Soros silenced enough voices in his life?”

Really, Ezra?  “Hasn’t Soros silenced enough voices in his life?”

Classy.

As stated earlier, Avaaz is a global operation. Launched in 2007 with the intent to “organize citizens everywhere to help close the gap between the world we have and the world most people want,” Avaaz “has grown to 5.5 million members from every country on earth, becoming the largest global web movement in history.”

Being a global operation, Canadians are able to launch petitions for Canadian interests; Decisions “made in New York?” Not at all.

So where exactly does Soros factor into this debate?

He doesn’t.

Despite the repeated assertions of the contrary, Avaaz is not a “front group” for Soros, and by all accounts (excluding the unproven claims saturating conservative websites), Soros is, in no way, involved with this organization.

But why let facts get in the way of a good story, eh Levant?

After all, it helps draw attention away from reports of last year’s New York lunch date between Prime Minister Harper, Teneycke (driving force behind Sun TV News, who was still Harper’s director of communications at the time), News Corp. (parent company of Fox News) chairman Rupert Murdoch, and Fox News president Roger Ailes.

Though they’re (now) claiming not to be a Canadian version of Fox News, the ‘journalism‘ exhibited future Sun TV News host Ezra Levant provides a clear example of what Canadians can expect from Teneycke’s tabloid news organization, post ideological purge.

Fair and Balanced.” “We Report, You Decide.” “Hard NewsStraight Talk.”

They distort, you comply.

The CRTC wants to hear from the public regarding Sun TV News’ application. Make your voice heard in a single click!

You can also weigh in by signing the Avaaz.org petition.

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Two updates:

First, Kory Teneycke has resigned from Sun Media (QMI) as an RCMP investigation into the spamming of the Avaaz.org petition edges closer to him. (Replacing Teneycke is former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s spokesman, Luc Lavoie — so it’s one Tory insider for another.

*Note – as of January 2011, Teneycke is officially back in the saddle at Sun Media (QMI) *

Second, George Soros is threatening to sue Sun Media (QMI) – which includes Levant.

HERE is a snippet of Levant’s twitter attacks on Soros, and HERE is a snippet of Levant’s attacks on me following the publication of this article.

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Update – Saturday September 18, 1:00 am

Sun Media (QMI) and Levant issue a retraction and apology for Levant’s column:

On September 5, 2010, a column by Ezra Levant contained false statements about George Soros and his conduct as a young teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

Upon receiving a letter of complaint from Mr. Soros’s legal counsel on September 13, 2010, Sun Media Corporation always intended to publish a retraction and apology for this column. Despite constant efforts on both sides, Sun Media and Mr. Soros’s counsel were unable to reach agreement on the content of a retraction.

The management of Sun Media wishes to state that there is no basis for the statements in the column and they should not have been made.

Sun Media, this newspaper and Ezra Levant retract the statements made in the column and unreservedly apologize to Mr. Soros for the distress and harm this column may have caused to him.

A Landmark Decision, A Democratic Victory

In a historic decision regarding the battle for access to documents on Afghan detainees, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken ruled in favour of the opposition, reaffirming the notion that Parliament reigns supreme over the powers of Prime Minister and the Federal Government.

“Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built,” Milliken asserted. “In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and, in fact, obligation.”

This was precisely the argument opposition MPs had made in their attempts to obtain uncensored documents containing key information on the reported abuse and torture of Afghan detainees. In December 2009, the three opposition parties unanimously passed a Commons motion which demanded the Harper government provide them access to the confidential detainee files believed to reveal government knowledge of torture. After months of stonewalling by the Conservatives, as well as the Prime Minister’s adamant refusal to comply with the December motion, the opposition raised the question of privilege with the Speaker of the House, calling for the government to be held in contempt.

Milliken was tasked with wading through the debate, and in an unprecedented ruling, found the Harper government had violated parliamentary privilege and overstepped their powers in their handling of the request for unredacted documents.

“It is the view of the chair,” stated Milliken “that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded. Therefore, the chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.”

On the decision by Harper to thwart the opposition’s motion by appointing former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to independently review the documents, Milliken had this to say:

“The (Harper) government has argued that in mandating this review by Mr. Iacobucci, it was taking steps to comply with the Order consistent with its requirements to protect the security of Canada’s armed forces and Canada’s international obligations. However, several Members have pointed out that Mr. Iacobucci’s appointment establishes a separate, parallel process outside of parliamentary oversight, and without parliamentary involvement. Furthermore, and in my view perhaps most significantly, Mr. Iacobucci reports to the Minister of Justice; his client is the (Harper) government.”

In a telling observation, the Speaker addressed accusations coming from the Conservative caucus that granting opposition MPs access to confidential information somehow posed a threat to national security.

“There have been assertions,” noted Milliken “that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities … from the submissions I have heard, it is evident to the Chair that all Members take seriously the sensitive nature of these documents and the need to protect the confidential information they contain.”

Milliken called for co-operation from all parties involved, and though he acknowledged “finding common ground will be difficult,” he urged them to work together to find a solution to the ongoing stalemate.

“Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.”

“But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
The House has long understood the role of the Government as ‘defender of the realm’ and its heavy responsibilities in matters of security, national defence and international relations. Similarly, the Government understands the House’s undoubted role as the ‘grand inquest of the nation’ and its need for complete and accurate information in order to fulfill its duty of holding the Government to account.”

In granting the Government and the opposition fourteen days to break the current impasse, Milliken warned “if in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.”

Having provided a thorough analysis of the events which played out over the past year, explaining in depth the reasoning behind his decision, Milliken rendered his verdict on the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government.

“Accordingly,” ruled Milliken “on analyzing the evidence before it and the precedents, the chair cannot but conclude that the government’s failure to comply with the order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.”

Somewhere in the span of his 45 minute address, the Speaker of the House reignited the flame of democracy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had all but extinguished. Members of the opposition applauded Milliken for his hard work and dedication concerning the matter, and political observers celebrated a rare victory for transparency and accountability in the ‘culture of deceit‘ that embodies the Harper government.

There is much work yet to be done, and it will take an honest effort from all parties involved to agree on a course of action from which to proceed. Nevertheless, with the balance of power between Members of Parliament and the Federal Government restored, Milliken’s decision was an unequivocal victory for democracy in Canada.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

These are some of the redacted documents which, until now, have been the only form of documents released to members of the opposition by the Harper government.

Behind The Redactions

The detainee document game of hide-and-seek the Conservatives are engaging in is an affront to members of Parliament and a subversion of the Military Police Complaints Commission. It cannot be allowed to continue, and this government must be held accountable for their willful complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees.

Although the Prime Minister would prefer to continue his autocratic reign, never having to answer for the actions of his government, Canadians will not stand for the continued assault on our access to information and our right to know.

The refusal by Harper to submit the requested unredacted documents to the MPCC, who have the highest level of security clearance, speaks volumes to the extent of the incriminating evidence being hidden behind layers of black ink.

The audacity of Defence minister Peter MacKay to accuse those asking questions of undermining our troops serves only to insult those very soldiers who adhere to the Geneva conventions and conduct themselves with courage and honour.

There is no doubt as to whether this Conservative government violated the rules of the battlefield; it most certainly did. But precisely who was aware of the prisoner abuse, and to what extent detainee torture took place remains unclear, because the answers lie in the files Harper is so desperate to suppress.

If the Prime Minister is found in contempt of parliament, and chooses not to produce the uncensored files being demanded by the opposition, Harper may well find himself and fellow Conservatives before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of war crimes.

The increasing sense of urgency exhibited by the government in the face of fresh requests for document disclosure suggests the ICC may just be the perfect venue for the Conservatives to answer for their crimes.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

The video shows Peter MacKay in a media scrum following the testimony of the Generals in November 2009. The reporter wants to know how it is the Generals obtained the documents while the opposition MPs were still being refused access.

Levant, Coulter Protect Free Speech

The rules laid out for attendees of the Coulter event in Calgary demonstrate who’s ‘free speech’ Ezra Levant, Ann Coulter, and event sponsors International Free Press Society are seeking to defend…their own.

Levant and Coulter both hide behind the guise of ‘free speech’ to justify their slander, bigotry, and blatant racism.
There is a difference between ‘free speech’ and ‘hate speech.’ Sadly, neither one of these neo-conservatives seems to be able to distinguish between the two.

Cross-posted at www.rabble.ca