On NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Wednesday, Breitbart Senior Editor at Large Joel Pollak defended his former boss Stephen Bannon, who Donald Trump has named chief strategist for his White House. Trump has faced a barrage of criticism for giving such an influential post to Bannon, who turned Breitbart into a sensationalist outlet for the Alt-Right, trafficking in conspiracy theories and railing against political correctness and providing a platform for misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
On NPR, Pollak responded to questions about Breitbart articles promoting Obama birtherism and praising the confederacy by calling NPR’s “Code Switch” show on race and culture a racist program, citing a blog post that calls the election results “nostalgia for a whiter America.”
Among the things Pollak mentions in defending Bannon is a “Gays for Trump” party Breitbart hosted in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention:
I don’t think you can judge Steve Bannon’s views. What you can judge him is how he’s conducted himself at Breitbart, and he brought a gay, conservative journalist like Milo Yiannopoulos on board, and Milo has brought gay conservatives into the media, into the debate. At the Republican National Convention, Breitbart co-hosted a party for gay conservatives. So, that’s not something you do if you’re anti-gay, and Andrew Breitbart was the same. Andrew Breitbart broke through at CPAC, the conservative annual gathering, and helped GOProud get a foothold there.
Pollak doesn’t mention that just before that “Gays for Trump” party, Breitbart’s Yiannopoulos was permanently kicked off Twitter for inciting a brutally racist and misogynist campaign of online harassment aimed at actress Leslie Jones. At the event, Yiannopoulos declared himself “dedicated to the destruction of liberal media in this country.”
Another thing Pollak fails to mention is that the party also featured Pamela Geller, an intensely anti-Muslim activist who praised Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims from jihad nations” as “logical, sensible and reasonable.” The keynote speaker was Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who said Islam has “no place in a free society” and said Western countries should “de-Islamize” their societies. He has called for banning the Quran and the building of mosques. Among those attending the party were white nationalists Peter Brimelow and Richard Spencer.
So maybe that’s not the best example to use if you’re trying to defend Breitbart and Bannon against charges of bigotry and extremism.
And while we’re at it, a number of commentators have defended Bannon against charges that he is a white nationalist by saying, no, what he promotes is a “civic nationalism,” albeit one that centers on “a politics based on the idea of an imperiled white male identity” and is “willing to go after race and immigration, and absolutely willing to go after transgender people and women.”
The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold and Frances Stead Sellers listened to a series of one-on-one interviews Bannon did with Trump on his radio show, which amounted to a kind of coaching session for how Trump should talk about issues of importance to the Alt-Right. In one of those sessions, when Trump criticized immigration laws that he said required talented foreign students to return to their home countries, Bannon responded:
“When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
So if there’s a line between Bannon’s “civic nationalism” and a more brazen white nationalism, it’s an awful blurry one. But he has plenty of company; as we have reported throughout the campaign, Trump’s campaign excited and energized white nationalists like no politician in recent memory and they have rejoiced in his election.