Trump’s pick of ‘white nationalist’ Bannon as key aide sparks furious backlash
Democrats, civil rights groups and even some Republicans have slammed US President-elect Donald Trump for choosing right-wing firebrand Stephen Bannon as a key aide, saying it would elevate the white nationalist movement into the top levels of the White House.
The choice of Washington insider Reince Priebus as chief of staff was seen as a conciliatory signal of Trump’s willingness to work with Congress after he takes office. But the reaction to the hiring of Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and counsellor was furious.
Bannon famously spearheaded a shift of the Breitbart News website into a forum for the “alt-right”, a term describing a far-right ideology that Bannon has said includes opposition to immigration and “globalism”.
But its supporters include neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
“There should be no sugarcoating the truth here: Donald Trump just invited a white nationalist into the highest reaches of the government,” said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who called Monday for Trump to rescind the choice.
US President Barack Obama, who Trump will succeed on January 20, declined to wade into the controversy at a White House news conference, saying it would “not be appropriate” for him to comment on Trump’s appointments.
Democrats and advocacy groups on the left called Bannon a promoter of racism and misogyny who is backed by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’- a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists - is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house’,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Bannon’s appointment sent “an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign.”
Even some conservatives and Republicans voiced dismay. Evan McMullin, who ran as a conservative independent presidential candidate, wondered on Twitter if any national Republican leaders would condemn the pick of “anti-Semite” Bannon.
John Weaver, a top strategist for Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, tweeted that the “racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.” Kasich was one of 16 Republican presidential hopefuls Trump defeated in the party primaries ahead of last Tuesday’s election.
Shortly after joining Trump’s campaign in August, Bannon said in an interview with Mother Jones that, possibly, there were “some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right.” That, he said, could no more define “alt-right” than the presence of extremists on the left could identify their movement.
But by and large, the alt-right is not racist, he said.
Yet some of the highest praise for Bannon’s appointment came from white nationalists and white supremacists. According to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors far-right and far-left activity on the internet, a trove of comments celebrating the news have posted on Stormfront, a website for the “White Nationalist Community,” including this one from a reader called “Pheonix1993:”
“Stephen Bannon: racist, anti-homo, anti-immigrant, anti-jewish, anti-establishment. Declared war on (((Paul Ryan))) Sounds perfect. The man who will have Trump’s ear more than anyone else. Being anti-jewish is not illegal.”
Additionally, the white nationalist writer Richard Spencer posted this late Sunday on Twitter: “Bannon will answer directly to Trump and focus on the big picture, and not get lost in the weeds. Bannon is not a ‘chief of staff,’ which requires a ‘golden retriever’ personality. He’ll be freed up to chart Trump’s macro trajectory.”
Direct evidence of racist or anti-Semitic statements by Bannon is harder to find. According to a 2007 court statement, Bannon’s ex-wife accused him of not wanting their twin daughters attending a California private school because its student body included too many Jews.
Additional reporting by The Washington Post