bannon.JPGbannon-2bannon-1Heads spun Tuesday when __Donald Trump__decided that the best course for righting his campaign’s sinking ship would be to bring on alt-right newsman Stephen Bannon as chief executive. It was a decision that appeared to double down on some of the Trump’s campaigns most fringe elements and self-destructive impulses—which seem to be the reason the ship has been sinking in the first place—leaving many wondering: Who thought this was a good idea?

The answer, according to several reports, is the conservative, anti-establishment, aggressively anti-Clinton hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and his daughter Rebekah. The Mercers, who initially put $13.5 million into a PAC that supported Ted Cruz’s presidential bid, reportedly surprised their friends when they swung their support behind Trump after the Texas senator dropped out. According to Bloomberg, Rebekah met with Ivanka Trump (the campaign’s de facto First Lady ) and her husband, Jared Kusher (until yesterday, the campaign’s de facto manager) earlier this year to win over her family’s support.

Breitbart News

Main article: Breitbart News

Bannon was a founding member of the board of Breitbart News,[45] a far-right[3][13][23] news, opinion and commentary website which, according to Philip Elliott and Zeke J. Miller of Time, has “pushed racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material into the vein of the alternative right“.[13]

In March 2012, after founder Andrew Breitbart‘s death, Bannon became executive chair of Breitbart News LLC, the parent company of Breitbart News.[24][46][47] Under his leadership, Breitbart took a more alt-right and nationalistic approach toward its agenda.[48] Bannon declared the website “the platform for the alt-right” in 2016.[15] Bannon identifies as a conservative.[49][50][51] Speaking about his role at Breitbart, Bannon said: “We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-‘ the permanent political class.”[52]

The New York Times described Breitbart News under Bannon’s leadership as a “curiosity of the fringe right wing”, with “ideologically driven journalists”, that is a source of controversy “over material that has been called misogynist, xenophobic, and racist.” The newspaper also noted how Breitbart was a “potent voice” for Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign.[53]

Political career

Donald Trump campaign

On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed Chief Executive of Donald Trump‘s campaign to become President of the United States.[46][49][54][55] He left Breitbart to take the job.[24]

Trump administration

Bannon watching Trump sign an executive order.

People protesting against Trumps appointment of Bannon an alleged white supremacist and racist

On November 13, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump.[56] This appointment drew opposition from the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American–Islamic Relations, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and some Republican strategists, because of statements in Breitbart News that were alleged to be racist or anti-Semitic.[1][2][57][58][59]

Ben Shapiro,[59][60][61] Bernard Marcus of the Republican Jewish Coalition,[62] Morton Klein[63] and the Zionist Organization of America,[62] Pamela Geller,[64]Shmuley Boteach,[65] and David Horowitz[66] defended Bannon against the allegations of antisemitism. Alan Dershowitz first defended Bannon and said there was no evidence he was anti-semitic,[67][68] but in a later piece stated that Bannon and Breitbart had made bigoted statements against Muslims, women, and others.[69] The ADL said “we are not aware of any anti-Semitic statements from Bannon”, while adding “under his stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate.”[70] Shapiro, who previously worked for Breitbart, said that he has no evidence of Bannon being racist or an anti-Semite, but that he was “happy to pander to those people and make common cause with them in order to transform conservatism into European far-right nationalist populism”,[71] an assertion supported by other sources and by his alluding to Front National politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as “the new rising star”.[72]

On November 15, 2016, Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline released a letter to Trump signed by 169 Democratic House Representatives urging him to rescind his appointment of Bannon. The letter stated that appointing Bannon “sends a disturbing message about what kind of president Donald Trump wants to be”,[73][74][75] because his “ties to the White Nationalist movement have been well documented”; it went on to present several examples of Breitbart News’ alleged xenophobia.[76] Bannon denied being a white nationalist and claimed, rather, that he is an “economic nationalist.”[77]

On November 18, 2016, during his first interview not conducted by Breitbart Media since the 2016 presidential election, Bannon remarked on some criticisms made about him, stating that “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”[78][79] The quote was published widely in the media.[78][80][81][82][83] The Daily Mail said the quote showed that “Bannon liked being characterized as a villain because he believed it showed the cluelessness of liberals and the media”,[81] while The Independent said that Bannon had “beaten the liberal media to the punch by comparing himself to the devil”.[83] In the same interview, Bannon declared “I’m not a white nationalist. I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist”.[78][81]

Trump responded to the ongoing controversy over Bannon’s appointment in an interview with The New York Times, saying: “I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.”[84]