President-elect Donald Trump told the New York Times on Tuesday that he would never even dreamed of hiring Stephen K. Bannon if he thought the incoming chief White House strategist was an “alt-right” figure.
“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him,” Trump said in a conversation with the Times.
So: According to Trump, Bannon is not “alt-right.” And if Bannon were “alt-right,” he would never have considered hiring him.
Here’s how Bannon proudly defined his web site Breitbart.com in an interview with Mother Jones earlier this year: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”
In that same interview, Bannon fiercely defended the “alt-right” from the main line criticism it faces: That it is just a rebranding of white nationalism by and for white supremacists.
“Are there anti-Semitic people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely,” Bannon said at the time. “But I don’t believe that the movement overall is anti-Semitic.”
Why would anyone think that the “alt-right,” which Trump denies Bannon is a part of even though Bannon proudly embraced the label as recently as July, is racist or anti-Semitic?
Bannon’s site in March promoted Richard Spencer as one of the movement’s leading “intellectuals.” Over the weekend, Spencer—who took credit for coining the term “alt-right”—held an alt-right conference. At the conference, Spencer led a Nazi salute, saying: “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” He used Nazi-era anti-Semitic terms to describe the mainstream media and talked of the United States as a “white country … [that] belongs to us.” “To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” Spencer added. Of other races, he commented: “We don’t exploit other groups, we don’t gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around.”
Trump “disavowed” the “alt-right” conference, but continued to insist that Bannon was an innocent victim in all of this. “I think it’s very hard on him,” Trump told the Times. “I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him.”
“Breitbart is just a publication,” he continued to tell the gathering of Times editorial staffers. “They cover stories like you cover stories. They are certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than The New York Times. But Breitbart really is a news organization that has become quite successful.”
Here are a small sample of Breitbart headlines when Bannon was in charge to give you an idea of the main themes of the site Trump considers to be just a more conservative version of the Times:
- “Why White People Seek Black Privilege”
- “Black, Gay Reporter Murders Straight, White Journalists—Media Blame the Gun”
- “Arts Union Blasts Shakespeare Production for Having White Actors and No Disabled Quota”
- “Black Judge Gives Black Home Invader Probation, Attacks White Family for Racism”
- “Nobel Laureate: Girls Are Trouble In The Laboratory”
- “Sorry, Girls! But The Smartest People In The World Are All Men”
- “Here’s Why There Ought to Be a Cap on Women Studying Science and Maths”
How could this site, proudly declared by Bannon as the platform for the alt-right, have become the platform for the alt-right, and why would they affiliate themselves with Donald Trump, who appointed Steve Bannon to a top position in his White House? The president-elect is at a loss.
“It’s not a group I want to energize,” Trump told the Times. “And if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
Finally, did Bannon maybe have undue influence on the president-elect, perhaps to the point that he is a puppet of Bannon as some have suggested? Trump seemed to address that one too. When he was asked about Bannon, he said this: “First of all, I’m the one who makes the decisions.”