Shortly after the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) director of Hispanic communications announced a Latino engagement campaign that she said signified “a dramatic change” from what the community has come to expect from the RNC and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, news broke that Trump had appointed Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon as his campaign’s chief executive. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News has frequently used anti-immigrant slurs, defended Trump’s worst attacks on immigrants and Latinos, and published “war on Spanish” and alt-right, nativist-appealing content.
On the August 16 edition of Univision’s Noticiero Univision Edición Nocturna, the RNC’s Helen Aguirre Ferré told Univision correspondent Janet Rodríguez that “we’re going to see a dramatic change in our approach toward the [Hispanic] community, and you’ll see it as well from the campaign of Mr. Trump.” The segment was reporting on a Latino engagement campaign the RNC is launching, which includes “ads about terrorism in Spanish.”
The next morning Trump’s campaign announced Bannon’s appointment, highlighting an obvious disconnect between the campaign’s direction and Aguirre Ferré’s statement. Aguirre Ferré -- who has admitted to never having met the presidential candidate -- has openly criticized Trump in the past and scrubbed negative tweets about him after being hired for the RNC position, which she filled after former director Ruth Guerra quit over “lingering discomfort” with Trump’s nomination.
Bannon’s hiring indicates that Trump has no intention of changing the hostile anti-immigrant tone of his campaign, as attacking undocumented immigrants has been a staple of the Breitbart News Bannon chaired. Many of the website’s immigration-related stories are headlined with anti-immigrant slurs -- which the Associated Press and many news outlets have long abandoned and the National Association Of Hispanic Journalists condemns -- and it regularly promotes myths fearmongering about undocumented immigrants committing voting fraud (which on its own is far from being a widespread activity) and taking advantage of food stamps.
The right-wing news site has also echoed Trump’s attacks on the use of the Spanish language, slamming the Democratic Party for “discard[ing] assimilation” by featuring speakers who addressed the Democratic National Convention in Spanish and mocking Jeb Bush’s wife Columba Bush’s “halting, accented and simple English.”
Additionally, Breitbart News stood by Trump’s racist attacks against Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel -- which were widely criticized by the Hispanic community -- stating that Trump was “correct” in saying that the judge’s ethnicity impaired his impartiality and smearing (incorrectly) the lawyers association Curiel belongs to.
Under Bannon, Breitbart News became Trump’s official propaganda arm by relentlessly defending his inflammatory rhetoric, including the remarks that have offended Latino voters the most: that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” While Trump’s remarks reportedly had violent, real-life consequences for Latinos, Breitbart News commended Trump for doing a “spectacular job of changing the debate on illegal immigration to exactly where it should be.”
Bannon turned Breitbart News into the “media arm of the alt-right,” masquerading its fringy “racist” and “anti-immigrant ideas” as news. It’s likely he will now attempt to package those ideas as policy proposals in the presidential election, possibly with devastating results to the second-largest demographic in the country:
As Maria Hinojosa of NPR's Latino USA pointed out in her coverage of damaging 2016 campaign rhetoric, “Words are powerful; they can motivate people in good ways and bad.” In fact, words are already motivating people in negative ways. Latino teens were attacked in Los Angeles by white supremacists who yelled “Heil Hitler” and waved Confederate memorabilia, and students at a high school basketball game chanted “Trump” “as an epithet directed at Latino students,” according to CNN. And in Boston, “a Hispanic man was beaten ... by two Boston men, one of whom told police that he was inspired by Donald J. Trump's anti-immigrant message.” The correlation between rhetoric that has gone beyond dog-whistles and violence is also demonstrated by The Huffington Post's running list of racial incidents that have happened at Trump rallies, often with the blessing of the candidate.