We break down how the White House, Breitbart News, Steve Bannon and Trump’s cabinet are all connected to recent events in Charlottesville
By David Smith in Washington DC | The Guardian |Monday 14 August 2017
Has the White House been fanning the flames of white supremacy in America?
Activists say so. A group of civil rights and faith leaders called on Donald Trump to directly disavow the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville on Saturday and fire White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka and senior adviser Stephen Miller, whom they say “have stoked hate and division”.
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Why is Bannon a key figure?
The former executive chairman of the rightwing website Breitbart News has an outsized influence on Trump. As chief executive of the Trump campaign, he reportedly encouraged Trump to portray rival Hillary Clinton as part of a global conspiracy made up of the political, financial and media elite, a message that many felt carried antisemitic overtones.
In Devil’s Bargain, a book about his role in the Trump campaign, Bannon is quoted as saying that attempts by Clinton to tie Trump to the “alt-right” and nationalists did not worry voters. “We polled the race stuff and it doesn’t matter,” Bannon said, according to the book.
Last November, when Bannon was appointed White House chief strategist, US House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said: “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”
Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for then Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said: “It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide.”
In a sworn court declaration following their divorce in 2007, Bannon’s ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard said Bannon had objected to sending their twin daughters to an elite Los Angeles academy because he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews”. Bannon denies saying this.
But Bannon’s days in the White House could be numbered as he is reportedly locked in a factional battle with national security adviser H R McMaster; far-right media have run a series of articles calling for McMaster’s head. On MSNBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday, McMaster was asked three times to defend Bannon; three times he ducked the questions.
Is Bannon a one-off?
No. Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, 31, was the primary architect of the first travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries (later revised to six and still locked in a legal wrangle). Miller is a former aide to then senator Jeff Sessions and set out his hard-right, anti-immigration views in numerous writings. Recently he drew criticism by downplaying the famous poem inscribed on theStatue of Liberty that welcomes immigrants.
Deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka has been seen in photos wearing a medal from Vitézi Rend, a group with historical links to Nazi Germany and the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. Gorka has claimed that he only wore the medal to honour his father.
London-born Gorka, 46, said last week: “It’s this constant, ‘Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’ No, it isn’t.” In November 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart that was headlined: “Muslim Brotherhood overruns National Cathedral in DC.”
Breitbart News is a recurring theme. What is it?
While running Breitbart, Bannon proudly declared: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” The “alt-right” movement is associated with efforts to preserve “white identity”, defend “western values” and oppose multiculturalism.
On Bannon’s watch, the site was accused of aggressively pushing stories against immigrants, linking minorities to terrorism and crime and publishing a call to hoist the Confederate flag high and “fly it with pride” only two weeks after the racist Charleston church massacre in 2015.
Breitbart’s website still carries a March 2016 article co-authored by notorious activist Milo Yiannopoulos that sets out what the far right stands for. It says: “The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race.
“The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved. A mosque next to an English street full of houses bearing the flag of St George, according to alt-righters, is neither an English street nor a Muslim street – separation is necessary for distinctiveness.”
One headline described conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “Republican spoiler, renegade Jew”. Another referred to Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during a massacre five years ago, as “the gun control movement’s human shield”.
And what about Trump’s cabinet?
It is dominated by white conservative men. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has faced accusations of racism for much of his career. About a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke out against Sessions at his confirmation hearing. Democratic senator Cory Booker of New Jersey testified: “He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but his record indicates that he won’t.”
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Is Donald Trump racist?
In a September 2016 interview he claimed: “I am the least racist person that you have ever met. And you can speak to [African American boxing promoter] Don King, who knows me very well. You can speak to so many different people.”
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, and daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism, have defended the president against charges of antisemitism.
But Trump’s background in liberal, diverse New York does not get him off the hook. Early in his career as a property developer, he fought accusations of bias against black people seeking to rent at his family-owned apartment complexes.
He spent $85,000 to take out ads in four daily newspapers calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1989 after five African American and Latino teenagers were accused of assaulting and raping a white woman in Central Park. Even after the five were cleared by DNA evidence, Trump continued to insist: “They admitted they were guilty.”
More recently, Trump was a key proponent of the “birther” movement, pushing the lie that Obama was not born in the US and therefore an illegitimate president. During his election campaign he retweeted a post from accounts that appeared to have links to white nationalist groups, attacked a Muslim gold star family and called Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was born in the US but is of Mexican heritage, a “hater” and a “Mexican”. In one interview, Trump refused to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and subsequently blamed a faulty earpiece.
Little has changed since he took office. His inaugural address was shot through with Bannon/Miller nationalism and pushed a theme of “American carnage”. One of his first actions was the travel ban targeting Muslims. A speech in Poland portrayed a clash of civilisations.
The White House issued a statement to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day that made no mention of Jews or antisemitism. The former press secretary Sean Spicer was forced to apologise after claiming that Adolf Hitler, who gassed millions of Jews during the Holocaust, did not use chemical weapons.
Now Trump has belatedly condemned neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, two days after instead blaming “many sides” for Saturday’s carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia.
His choice of language on Saturday delighted some on the far right who took it to be an expression of support. The president did declare racism was evil on Monday, but still stopped short of describing the Charlottesville events as an act of domestic terrorism. Even while the president sought to make amends on Monday with a clearer statement, critics say he will not truly lance the boil until he removes the company he keeps at the White House.