It was no coincidence President-Elect Donald Trump announced the appointment of Steve Bannon and Ryan Priebus as top advisers in the same press release. The selection of Priebus, unquestionably establishment, tempered the much more controversial appointment of Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News, the self-declared “platform for the alt-right.”
Most of mainstream media was outraged. Within a day, CNN covered the KKK’s support of Bannon’s selection. The Wall Street Journal published a scathing editorial. Fox News, though otherwise running mixed coverage, ran an interview with a former Bannon associate turned critic.
Breitbart itself is the basis for most of these accusations. A statement from the Anti-Defamation League read: “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ [Breitbart]–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.”
Bannon assumed leadership of the online newspaper in 2012, after Andrew Breitbart died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Its inflammatory headlines have included: “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: Women should log off,” “The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” and “Data: Young Muslims in the west are a ticking time bomb.” Bannon’s presumed racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia has largely been inferred from Breitbart’s political slant.
There is nothing incriminating in Bannon’s early life, however. After serving in the navy–where he oversaw a diverse workforce–Bannon attended Harvard Business School at age 29. In an interview with the Boston Globe, most students who knew Bannon at Harvard remember him as intelligent and polite, women, minority members, and immigrants included.
After Harvard, Bannon worked at Goldman Sachs and then transitioned to the intersection of entertainment and finance. After more than 20 years in the financial industry, he decided to become a conservative filmmaker, working, among other projects, on a propaganda-esq documentary in support of Sarah Palin. Eventually, he made his way to Breitbart.
The most compelling piece of evidence remains, however, Breitbart itself. Strictly speaking, Breitbart is not “white nationalist.” Its consistent support for Israel differentiates it from that movement, and even the Anti-Defamation League conceded that there is no strong evidence of anti-Semitism.
Breitbart is, however, unambiguously sympathetic to white nationalists. Particularly concerning is an article published in March, 2016 as a “Conservative’s guide to the Alt-right,” the movement Bannon proudly labeled Breitbart “a platform for.”
The article characterizes the core of the alt-right movement as “natural conservatives” who prioritize the preservation of the white race’s culture above all else. Richard Spencer–the white nationalist whose videotaped “Hail Trump!” rallying cry went viral–is included in a section of “dangerously bright” alt-right “intellectuals.” His publication is praised as “a center of alt-right thought.”
Bannon himself was intimately involved in crafting Breitbart’s message. Since his tenure began in 2012, he personally approved articles and often directed rewrites. In a New York Times interview, Alex Marlow, Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart, said, “Breitbart represents certain values, like conservatism, populism and nationalism, and Steve Bannon wanted our content to reflect that.”
Breitbart aside, there are two accusations that link Bannon to white nationalism, though neither can be corroborated. First, his ex-wife accused him of anti-Semitism in a sworn statement in 2007 during a contentious divorce battle, specifically describing three instances where he made anti-Semitic comments. Second, one of Bannon’s film collaborators describes him once talking about genetic superiority. Other friends of Bannon’s, minorities themselves, have defended him.
Bannon, for his part, calls himself an economic-nationalist, explicitly rejecting the white-nationalist label. It would be silly, however, to expect any soon-to-be public official, even bolstered by Trump’s victory, to explicitly call themselves a Neo-Nazi in an interview.
While uncertainty surrounds specific allegations, Breitbart is unambiguous, and Bannon’s heavy hand in its publication process directly implicates him. The magazine speaks for itself. The appointment of Bannon is the normalization of hatred.
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