As controversy swirls around Alberta’s United Conservative Party and the far-right associations of some of its members, the party is declining to answer questions about the membership status of six men identified by a Ricochet investigation as the operators of a white supremacist web store.
Last week, Ricochet reached out to the UCP’s official media relations email account with a list of the men currently or formerly involved with Fireforce Ventures — Adam Strashok, Keean Bexte, Henry Lung, Kyle Porter, Ryan Jorgensen and Wesley Taylor — and two simple questions: Were any of these men members of the party at any time? If so, have they been expelled from the party, or will they be expelled from the party?
An unsigned response Thursday evening asked for more time to conduct verifications. On Friday, we followed up and later that day a statement from party president Erika Barootes was provided. In it, she stated that none of the men we had named were currently members of the UCP.
We asked again if any of these men had been members of the party at any time, and if so had they quit or been expelled by either the leader or the party’s board.
That email, sent to the party’s official media account and Barootes’s party account, did not receive a response. Neither did another follow-up on Saturday morning, nor a final attempt to contact the party and Barootes on Monday morning.
Bexte, who works as a journalist for Rebel Media, did not respond to a request for comment on his membership status.
- Original investigation: Meet the Canadian soldiers behind a white supremacist military surplus store
- Update: Canadian Forces investigating soldiers behind white supremacist company
- Update: Jason Kenney expels former senior campaign operative from party
- Update: Rhodesia nostalgia ‘screams out extreme hatred,’ say Zimbabweans
- Update: Canadian Forces suspend soldiers behind white supremacist web store
- Update Rebel Media reporter worked for white supremacist web store
Kenney’s changing story
As recently as Nov. 10, Keean Bexte identified himself as a member of the UCP. In a now-deleted tweet, he threatened that if the UCP membership of a controversial speaker at a Rebel Media conference was cancelled, the party would have to cancel his as well.
In the wake of Ricochet’s original investigation tying Adam Strashok to both Fireforce Ventures and pseudonymous internet posts using racial slurs, and a follow-up by PressProgress identifying more racist statements, Kenney stated in a release in late October that he had instructed party officials to expel Strashok from the UCP, citing his “extreme views.” Kenney stated that he rejects “unequivocally the voices of hatred and bigotry.”
But last week, facing pressure to expel John Carpay — a lawyer involved in challenging the Alberta government’s law protecting gay-straight alliances in schools who equated the rainbow flag with a Nazi swastika in a speech at a Rebel Media event — Kenney’s story changed.
He told reporters that he did not have the power to expel Carpay, stating, “It’s our board that deals with expulsions.” Asked to explain the discrepancy between this position and his swift action to expel Strashok, Kenney suggested that he had misspoken when he gave orders to expel Strashok.
“I actually don’t have that authority. It’s up to the board,” the Canadian Press quoted him as saying. “I think there was a consensus that that should happen. The board reflected it in a vote.”
Kenney’s statements suggest that Strashok was a member of the UCP, and was ultimately expelled following a vote of the party’s board.
So why won’t the UCP confirm that version of events? And what of Bexte, who thought himself a member of the UCP six days before the party informed Ricochet that he was not a current member? How did his association with the UCP come to an end? What about the other four operators of Fireforce Ventures — were they ever members of the party?
If either Strashok or Bexte were expelled at the order of the party’s leader, without a vote of the party’s board, that would cast Kenney’s statements about Carpay in a different light.
Bexte, Strashok worked in Kenney call centres
Both Strashok and Bexte have deep ties to Jason Kenney and the UCP. As has been reported, Strashok ran a call centre for Jason Kenney during his campaign for leadership of the UCP. But he wasn’t alone.
In March 2017 a CBC story detailed the strange saga of the Wildrose on Campus club at the University of Calgary, where Bexte was an executive. He was tied to an email stating “feminism is cancer” and had to resign as a youth delegate to the Progressive Conservative leadership convention amid accusations he had sent the email and orchestrated a coup of the club to ensure its support for Kenney in the leadership race.
A spokesperson for Kenney denied that he had any knowledge of Bexte’s activities at the time but acknowledged that Bexte had “previously worked for one of the vendors which has provided call services to our campaign.”
It appears Strashok ran the Kenney campaign’s own call centre, while Bexte was employed by a third party contracted to provide additional calling capacity, in addition to his work on campus at the University of Calgary campaigning for Kenney’s leadership of the UCP.
More than merely two among what the party says are its “over 140,000 members,” Bexte and Strashok were heavily involved in Jason Kenney’s campaign to lead the UCP, and have been vocal and enthusiastic supporters of Kenney, the UCP and his leadership of it in multiple venues.
The two also have ties to the federal Conservatives. Bexte was an executive with the Conservative club at the University of Calgary for over two years, and both Bexte and Strashok worked together in the office of Conservative MP Bob Benzen and attended party conventions and other events held by the party and satellite organizations such as the Manning Foundation.
Statement from Henry Lung
Subject: UPC Membership
Reference your recent article mentioning my name yet again: https://ricochet.media/en/2426/kenneys-ucp-wont-say-if-party-expelled-extremists
I am not an “extremist” as you have described with your previous articles and my personal views are not reflected whatsoever in the sound-bite statements you have published.
Additionally, I am not a member of the United Conservative Party. Fireforce Ventures is not a “white supremacist” webstore, you can claim that it’s previous members might have links to alleged racist statements, but the store as it clearly states on it’s website is not political whatsoever.
We sell communist insignia, along side yoga leggings in the Rhodesian pattern. In fact, if you were to conduct more detailed research, you would note that white nationalist podcast I allegedly appear on, which you have yet to name, actually denounced Fireforce Ventures for that very fact. The company is currently, and always was non-political.
For the record, Mr. Strashok was never a partner at Fireforce Ventures and was dismissed as an employee after the media allegations against him. Given the controversy your publication has generated, all of the previously named partners (Kyle Porter, Ryan Jorgensen, and Wesley Taylor) and myself included have tendered their resignation as we are not white supremacists, and don’t want to be affiliated with an organization that is perceived to be white supremacist. None of us are involved with Fireforce Ventures anymore, with exception to my small involvement in this transition process until the end of the tax year.
Call it what you will, it is now managed by Rhodesian born Bush War veterans living in Canada who are proudly recognized by the Royal Canadian Legion and the Veteran’s Transition Network for their service. This includes black African veterans of the conflict, assisting the business in Zimbabwe. Feel free to write about them as extremists, but you should probably brush up on your Shona.
In summation, I am not a white supremacist, a member of any political party currently, and do not support the views of the UCP. I will not be responding to any further requests for a comment.
Statement from Ryan Jorgensen
Subject: UPC Membership
Reference your latest article: https://ricochet.media/en/2426/kenneys-ucp-wont-say-if-party-expelled-extremists
I am not an "extremist" as you claim in your previous articles and my views are not reflected whatsoever in the tabloids you have published.
Mr. Strashok's termination from Fireforce Ventures was a swift and immediate decision after a collective, unanimous decision amongst the Founding Partners (Henry, Kyle, Wesley, and myself) once the media allegations against him were published. We, and certainly myself, do not support, condone, or tolerate hate speech, divisive race politics or any kind of discriminatory groups, behaviours, actions.
Most importantly, I'm not so certain my Father-in-Law, RCMP Inspector Baltej S. Dhillon, for the nine plus years he and I have known each other would allow me to marry his daughter and into his devout Sikh family if I held any of the views you or your outlet claim I hold.
Insp. Dhillon has been an instrumental role model for not just Sikhs but also the human race and is well respected across the country for not just his police work, but also his humanity. His work to fight youth crime and gangs in Surrey BC, countering racism and extremism of all varieties, and everything else he has fought for since 1988 is something that I not only cherish and hold in high regard, but I am greatly inspired by it and look up to him.
I am no longer affiliated to Fireforce Ventures, and have not been involved with the organization since 01 November 2018, as I am not a white supremacist and have no desire being affiliated to an organization that is perceived as being discriminatory. You left me no other choice but to resign from the company to protect the reputation of myself and that of my family.
I have never been a member of the UCP, I do not support or condone the platform or behaviours and actions of the UCP and it's members. As a matter of fact, I have never been a member of any political party in Canada at any time.