White supremacist, white nationalist, and “alt-right” figures successfully infected the scope of acceptable discourse in 2017 by regularly inserting racist right-wing extremism into the media conversation. From Confederate statues to the defense of the “It’s OK to be white” propaganda campaign on Fox News prime-time, the media normalized white supremacy during the first year of the Trump administration.
January: Trump empowers “alt-right” media
White nationalist media began 2017 by celebrating the inauguration of President Donald Trump, secure in the belief that their extreme views would be represented in the policy positions and political appointments emanating from the White House.
The new administration relied on a network of supportive right-wing media outlets, which lined up behind Trump during the transition period to push an extremist agenda. This included the new senior strategist to the president, Stephen Bannon, who, as chairman of Breitbart.com, described the site as “the platform for the alt-right,” and allowed white supremacists editorial control over content. Bannon was considered a primary architect of Trump’s first failed attempt at a Muslim immigration ban, alongside White House aide Stephen Miller.
February: The Daily Stormer gains more traffic than ever
The SPLC’s Hatewatch blog published data showing that the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer had seen a significant uptick in traffic “in mid-2016 and continued through the end of the year.” In the months leading up to the election, The Daily Stormer “had become the most popular English-language website of the radical right.” Andrew Anglin, the site’s founder and chief author, called Trump’s election a “referendum on the international Jewish agenda” and the newly-inaugurated president’s advisors were not very far out of step with Anglin. On February 14, Kellyanne Conway -- a former Trump campaign manager who joined his White House staff as a counselor to the president -- tweeted at an explicitly white nationalist account, then attempted to backtrack by saying she didn’t “know who had access to [her] account” and suggesting that her praise for the openly racist and anti-Semitic Twitter user was made in error.
March: The rise of “alt-right” fake news blogger Mike Cernovich
In March, media outlets helped bring far-right troll and noted rape apologist Mike Cernovich to mainstream attention. CBS featured an interview with Cernovich during a 60 Minutes segment about the ecosystem of fake news, which served to help mainstream his radical agenda. The segment failed to hold Cernovich accountable for his history of racist and misogynistic rhetoric, his encouragement of harassment, and his promotion of numerous conspiracy theories, including “Pizzagate.” Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel wrote that CBS failed to realize the interview “would simultaneously give [Cernovich] mainstream validation and the ability to criticize the program for a shallow understanding of the pro-Trump media ecosystem.”
April: Donald Trump Jr.’s interview with a racist NRATV commentator
Donald Trump Jr. attended the annual National Rifle Association meeting in Atlanta, GA, in April, where he was interviewed by Bill Whittle, a racist commentator for the NRA’s news operation, NRATV. In his conversation with Trump Jr., Whittle implied that former President Barack Obama was lazy based on a picture he saw of a pile of papers on Obama’s Oval Office desk. Previous lowlights of Whittle’s media career include an interview with racist “alt-right” blogger Stefan Molyneux in a conversation that advanced discredited theories about race, IQ, and crime. The appearance was praised by The Daily Stormer. President Trump also attended the NRA convention, where he gave the keynote address and promised to be “a true friend and champion” for the gun lobby.
May: Trump’s Civil War comments empower neo-Confederates
President Trump made a foray into Civil War revisionist history when he questioned why the conflict could not have “been worked out” in a May 2017 interview with CNN contributor Salena Zito on a SiriusXM radio program. Trump said he wished President Andrew Jackson had been alive “a little bit later,” because he believed the slave-owning president could have averted the Civil War. The sentiment was celebrated among the “alt-right” and white nationalists. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer said Trump was “right” -- even though he was “fuzzy with dates” -- because “none of the modern wars … have advanced the white race.” American historian Jon Meacham, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, said that Trump’s claim questioning why there was a Civil War “only comes up … in neo-Confederate circles.”
June: “Alt-right” affiliated candidate nearly wins GOP gubernatorial nomination in Virginia
An “alt-right” affiliated candidate, Corey Stewart, nearly won the Republican nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial primary. Stewart has written multiple articles for Breitbart and granted an interview to Mike Cernovich in which he responded positively to Cernovich’s use of the derogatory term “cuck,” which is frequently used by far-right trolls to disparage their perceived opponents. Stewart also participated in a question and answer session on Reddit’s “The Donald” forum, which traffics in fake news, conspiracy theories, and fringe media stories. Stewart defended Confederate statues against citizen-led efforts to remove them as a central issue of his primary campaign.
July: The president’s bizarre “West”-centric Poland speech
President Trump toured Europe in July, making a stop in Warsaw, Poland to deliver a speech in front of a crowd of supporters reportedly “bused in to cheer for him.” During his remarks, Trump posited that “the fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” Vox wrote that the bizarre speech “sounded like an alt-right manifesto” while ”alt-right” and pro-Trump media figures praised the speech and used it’s message to attack Muslims. The speech predictably was praised by Anglin at The Daily Stormer as well as on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board community, a haven for white nationalists. The speech was also popular among Fox News personalities, including prime-time host Tucker Carlson, who parroted the white nationalist talking point that “Western civilization is our birthright” and that “we’ve got to fight to preserve it.”
August: Trump’s disgraceful response to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville
The rise and normalization of white nationalism during the Trump administration came to fruition amid the white supremacist-led “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. Violence erupted as the white nationalist rally-goers clashed with peaceful counter-protesters, and one demonstrator, Heather Heyer, was reportedly killed by a white supremacist who drove his car into a crowd of people. The rally was organized in part by Jason Kessler, who wrote for both The Daily Caller and white nationalist website VDARE. After Charlottesville, Media Matters found that Kessler’s author page had been removed from The Daily Caller. The pro-Trump outlet Right Side Broadcasting Network was also forced to part ways with host Nicholas Fuentes after he was found to have participated at the rally alongside neo-Nazis.
The Charlottesville rally also brought the debate over the removal of Confederate monuments into the mainstream media conversation. White supremacists were able to expand the scope of acceptable dialogue about removing such monuments and claimed vindication when President Trump equated the white supremacist demonstrators with the counter protesters. Trump’s comments that “both sides” were at fault was another instance of the president emboldening white supremacists. It also created the opportunity for pro-Trump media to also blame “both sides”, making them willing traffickers in white supremacist propaganda.
September: Racist response to NFL protests
President Trump attacked NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness for issues relating to police brutality and racial injustice. Trump suggested that NFL owners should punish players for kneeling, saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” His attacks inspired a massive wave of protest by players across the NFL. Reactions from right-wing and pro-Trump media outlets mostly involved attacking people of color for protesting or supporting the protests. Conspiracy theorist and prominent Trump backer Alex Jones said the protesting NFL players are “kneeling to white genocide.” One Fox personality complained that black NFL players should devote more time talking about black violence instead of police brutality, and another called them “cowardly.” One America News’ Graham Ledger called the supposedly “uneducated, partisan, racialist” NFL players “spoiled babies.”
One story that came out of the NFL protests in September was ESPN anchor Jemele Hill’s comments on Twitter calling Trump a “white supremacist.” The next day, Fox & Friends co-host called Hill a “girl” and lamented she got to keep her job, unlike former ESPN analyst Curt Schilling, who was fired for a transphobic social media post in 2016. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on Fox & Friends later in the broadcast and defended her own demand, made from the podium during a White House press briefing, that ESPN fire Hill.
October: Fox’s bigoted prime-time reorganizes
In October, Fox News reorganized its prime-time lineup to permanently fill the void left after Bill O’Reilly was forced out months earlier following numerous reports of sexual harassment. The new lineup featured Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and a new show with right-wing radio host and long-time Fox personality Laura Ingraham called The Ingraham Angle. Media Matters’ Matt Gertz remarked that the new prime-time shows resembled “Breitbart TV,” and were characterized by “anti-immigrant and anti-diversity invective, pro-Trump fanaticism, and vindictive opposition to the Republican establishment.”
Each of the Fox prime-time hosts brings their own brand of right-wing extremism to the network. After Charlottesville, Carlson spent less time condemning neo-Nazis than he did defending Confederate statues and tried to whitewash the legacy of American slavery by pointing out other civilizations that were built on slave labor. Sean Hannity spent much of 2017 defending accused pedophiles and sexual abusers, spreading false conspiracy theories to distract from Trump, and defending the president’s soft stance on white supremacist violence. Newcomer Laura Ingraham is known for her fear-mongering against immigrants, tirades against diversity, and hatred for the LGBTQ equality movement. She has also played a role in shilling for Breitbart’s “GOP civil war,” which seeks to remake the GOP in Trump’s image.
November: Tucker Carlson’s “dog-whistle” politics
The loudest promoter of white nationalist dog whistles on cable news in 2017 was Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Carlson’s defense of the so called “alt-right” campaign “It’s OK to be white” was an overt endorsement of white nationalism. The campaign, which fliered targeted cities and college campuses with the “alt-right” slogan, was praised repeatedly by Richard Spencer as an effective piece of white nationalist propaganda. The idea for the flyers was started on the “politically incorrect” 4chan forum as a way to elicit outrage from liberals. Carlson facetiously said “the sentiment ‘it’s okay to be white’ is now a hate crime” and said the left should stop “sowing racial division” because “these things never end well.”
Tucker Carlson also offered a strong defense of Trump’s anti-Muslim retweets of the right-wing nationalist group “Britain First”, and said the president’s ham-fisted response to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico cannot credibly be criticized as racist because most Puerto Ricans self-identify as white. He also said Trump’s birther attacks on President Obama weren’t racist, claiming it was “a dumb conversation.”
December: CNN hires Ed Martin, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim extremist
Ed Martin was hired by CNN to fill Jeffrey Lord’s seat after he was fired for tweeting “Sieg Heil” at the president of Media Matters. Martin had big racist shoes to fill as CNN’s go-to Trump apologist but has so far exceeded expectations in his ability to spew hatred, ignorance and bigotry on the network. It’s worth noting that before his hire, Martin attacked CNN, calling it “failing” and “fake news” that hasn’t “been credible for a long time.” Since joining CNN, Martin has demanded that the United States “stop all immigration” following a terrorist attack in November, and defended Trump’s decision to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) “Pocahontas” during an event meant to honor Native American veterans of World War II, and he also supported failed Republican senate candidate Roy Moore’s pro-slavery comments by arguing that Jews “were in bondage for years” and “they still loved each other.” Martin’s extremist positions should be no surprise given that he co-authored an anti-immigrant book in 2016 in an effort to boost the Trump campaign.