Steve Bannon, former CEO of Breitbart.com, is officially Donald Trump’s right hand man. Trump’s decision to appoint Bannon to an advisory role within his cabinet was immediately met with derision by the mainstream press, with The New York Times lamenting that his controversial alt-right website now “has the potential to play an unprecedented role in a modern presidency.” Most outlets have begun depicting Bannon as a dangerous racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist. But how grounded in reality are these claims?
Most of the articles plastered across the internet accusing Steve Bannon of serious offenses against humanity rely on three key realities:
1. Steve Bannon is racist because Breitbart.com is racist.
A CNN op-ed from Ben Ghiat:
Bannon’s appointment signals that racism will be a lever of the actions taken by the Trump administration. As a historian of fascism, I can tell you that Breitbart has been serving up a textbook-worthy campaign of racist indoctrination. Don’t buy into it further. Otherwise, you’re going to develop nearsightedness and a crick in your neck from looking away from things you’d rather not see.
There is no doubt that elements of the alt-right promote white nationalism. The comment section of Breitbart and hubs like reddit’s /r/The_Donald often reference and create memes which make fun of Social Justice Warriors, Black Lives Matter, Feminism, Jews, and the “progressive” values which they espouse. But the alt-right is also a largely amorphous movement, with several entities laying claim to its founding and its purpose. It is a mistake to lump Breitbart in with all elements of the alt-right, because it is a fractious and evolving entity.
Breitbart, as its own website, offers alternative takes on the mainstream narrative similar to those provided by INFOWARS. They push an agenda in the same way that any media site does, but it is not an explicitly racist one. Breitbart has earned this reputation largely by running articles which support the Confederate flag and discuss the “Muslim rape crisis” happening in Europe. Hillary Clinton made a point of listing some of the more controversial headlines from Breitbart in her speech on the alt-right. Problematic? Yes. Irredeemable? It depends on your sense of humor. Either way, you will be hard-pressed to find published content that actually encourages racism, and it is dangerous to label their content as “fascism,” or “racist indoctrination.” Their content is largely a counter-balance to what the establishment media will not cover rather than a vehicle being used to recruit white supremacists, as the mainstream media would have you believe.
2. Steve Bannon is an anti-Semite because his ex-wife accused him of being one.
A New York Daily News article from August:
Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Stephen Bannon was branded an anti-Semite by the same ex-wife who claimed he choked her, court documents reveal.
Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.
“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007.
“He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote.
If the public is to give credence to this claim, it must also take into account that it was made in the midst of a contentious, ten-year long divorce battle between Bannon and Piccard. Although her claims may be legitimate, relying on them to prove Bannon’s anti-Semitism is ill-advised.
The president of the Zionist Organization of America and Alan Dershowitz have both condemned claims from the Anti-Defamation League and mainstream press that Bannon is an anti-Semite. The idea that Bannon is anti-Semitic also seems to be contradicted by the fact that Breitbart.com was founded by two Jewish men – Andrew Breitbart and Larry Solov – in Israel and that the business has a headquarters in Jerusalem.
Jewish site The Forward remains unconvinced, asserting that it’s possible for Bannon to be anti-Semitic and pro-Israel at the same time. They reference a Breitbart article whose headline refers to Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” as proof of this claim. In fact, the article doesn’t quite live up to the hype, with Judaism only addressed in the last paragraph and, despite the headline, no mention of the fact that Bill Kristol is Jewish. The author of the article is Jewish and claims to be writing in defense of Jewish interests. Dershowitz agrees: “I think the (Breitbart) headline about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness.”
3. Steve Bannon is a white nationalist because white supremacist leaders like him.
A Washington Post reaction to Bannon’s appointment:
It’s true that Bannon has attracted legions of followers who describe themselves as white supremacists. It’s less clear whether Bannon’s own actions and words prove that he is one, too.
Bannon describes himself as a leader of the alt-right, a loose term describing a far-right ideology that includes opposition to immigration and “globalism.”
CNN published a list of the various white supremacists who have endorsed Bannon’s appointment, including David Duke, Peter Brimelow, Brad Griffin, Richard B. Spencer and self-proclaimed founder of the alt-right, Jared Taylor. Although that will be troubling to some, it is likely a mistake to equate the support of these controversial figures with Steve Bannon embracing all of their values.
Where Bannon and these men are going to be in agreement is in their opinion on the toxic effects of globalism on our culture and society. Anti-globalism itself is not a racist policy. It is a theme that runs throughout most of the alternative and conspiracy fringe media, and is about protecting and preserving the national interests of the United States from foreign control – not asserting white dominance.
The mainstream media once again appears to be playing on the worst fears of the left by echoing questionable claims about one of Donald Trump’s advisers. We have already seen the results of the divisive rhetoric about Trump in the form of anti-Trump protests around the country. What will be the results of this latest fear campaign?