With the appointment of former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon as a permanent member of President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, white nationalist forces in America have achieved what Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson could only dream of: a revanchist, retrograde ethno-nationalist at the highest levels of the United States government.
You might think this would be a major news story, but instead the focus has been more parochial, largely focused on the extremism of Breitbart.com under Bannon. And indeed, the website was extreme.
But the driver of Breitbart is not its focus on or use of verboten topics or words. Breitbart is driven by the horde of white supremacists and misogynists who frequent the site. Don’t take my word for it. Take it from Stephen Bannon himself. In late December, Bannon told Breitbart radio, “The best thing we ever had was both the comments section at Breitbart and the callers, the great audience we’ve got here at SiriusXM, to call and share every day what their feelings were.” He reiterated the importance of the “intensity in the comments” later in the interview.
There is no ambiguity about which commenters Brannon was referencing. He bragged to Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in August that Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right.” And the “alt-right” loves Bannon back. Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro said that “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [editor Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers” (emphasis added). Beyond Yiannopoulos, Breitbart has also hired white nationalists as reporters. Shapiro said the “alt-right” is “shot through with racism and anti-Semitism” and explained the connection with Breitbart at length:
I’d heard, of course, that the some (sic) of Breitbart’s comment sections had been occupied over previous months by a motley collection of white supremacists and anti-Semites (I generally never check the comments). I’d certainly felt their online wrath, accused by alt-righters of being an anti-Trump “cuck” — accusations that came with memes of gas chambers and “shekelmeister” cartoons that could have come directly from Der Stürmer. Such material flowed into my inbox and Twitter feed. That flow escalated dramatically after I declared that I would not support Trump, and it escalated again after I left Breitbart over its attempts to smear its own reporter, Michelle Fields, in order to shield then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski against charges that he’d yanked her by the arm at a campaign event.
But it wasn’t until March 29 that Breitbart’s full embrace of the alt-right became clear. That’s the day the site featured Yiannopoulos’s lengthy piece glorifying the alt-right. Yiannopoulos had already given interviews in which he stated that “Jews run the banks” and “Jews run the media,” dismissing anti-Semitic memes as merely “mischievous, dissident, trolly.” He wrote, along with co-author Allum Bokhari, this insane sentence: “There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence.”
And this is the cast of characters, and their enablers, to whom Trump has turned.
White nationalists and white supremacists were overjoyed when Trump appointed Bannon as his chief strategist. Former KKK grand wizard David Duke told CNN, “You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going.” Duke added on his radio show that Bannon had “been right on about a lot of the issues facing European Americans.” A neo-Nazi website described Bannon’s White House position as “pure awesomeness.” Richard Spencer, the Nazi who was punched during inauguration weekend, lauded Bannon’s ability to chart Trump’s “macro trajectory.” Andrew Breitbart himself reportedly called Bannon “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” referring to the German filmmaker who made propaganda films for the Nazis.
And yet the mainstream media is still insistent upon protecting Stephen Bannon’s reputation. NPR’s deferential interview with Breitbart editor Joel Pollak was a signal of what was to come. After House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) twice called Bannon a “white supremacist,” mainstream figures rushed to his defense.
Speaking to MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren, The New York Times’ Nick Confessore literally scoffed at the idea of Bannon as a white supremacist:
Scott Pelley on CBS Evening News described Bannon as “controversial” and said that CBS Evening News could not find “any quotes from Bannon himself advocating white supremacy.”
Stephen Bannon spent years empowering white supremacists and publishing a white nationalist website, and his ex-wife even swore in court that “he said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to “school with Jews.” And yet, mainstream media give him a pass because he has enough sense to not say anything in public that explicitly reveals white supremacist views. This is narrowing the definition of white supremacy to just the cartoonish, David Duke version. Bannon’s longest description of his own worldview described an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, even invoking the siege of Vienna in 1529.
From a perspective — this may be a little more militant than others. I think definitely you’re going to need an aspect that is [unintelligible]. I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that’s fine.
If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places… It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.
Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.
The “alt-right” is counting on the media using only the cartoonish definition of white supremacy and white nationalism. Its adherents take advantage of the hesitancy of mainstream media and establishment figures to call out connections between Bannon and white supremacy. The “alt-right” is self-organizing and aims to protect the reputation of their allies.
BuzzFeed gained access to secret chat rooms in France and documented Trump supporter’ efforts to manipulate the conversation to favor the “alt-right” by making far-right Marine Le Pen supporters appear to be the most reasonable political group. Trump supporters in America are undeniably using the same tactics.
It’s more than fine if news outlets want to fact-check statements made about the chief strategist to the president of the United States. But it would be nice if they also gave a little more scrutiny to what, exactly, he is planning for America’s future.