President-elect Donald Trump made a pair of key staff decisions — the first two of the transition — on Sunday night.
Reince Preibus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee who helped mainstream Trump in the party, was named Chief of Staff. This position is traditionally viewed as a top staff position in the White House and will garner most of the headlines.
But Trump also named Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, as “chief strategist and senior counselor” to the president. He will be one of Trump’s closest advisers and, one can presume, one of the most powerful people in America.
The press release says that Preibus and Bannon will be “equal partners to transform the federal government,” making it clear that his role will not be subordinate to Preibus or anyone else.
In his role at Breitbart, he promoted and legitimized the modern white supremacist movement, sometimes euphemistically referred to as the “alt-right.”
Ben Shapiro, who worked alongside Bannon for four years as Breitbart’s Editor-at-Large, wrote that Bannon “openly embraced the white supremacist alt-right.” According to Shapiro, “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website… pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”
Shapiro describes Bannon as “a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies.”
Bannon gave a platform to Milo Yiannopoulos, a prominent white nationalist figure who was banned from Twitter for inciting racist abuse and harassment.
In March, Yiannapoulos wrote a lengthy article promoting the white nationalist alt-right on Breitbart that made an explicit argument for racial and ethnic segregation:
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.
The New York Times notes that Breitbart “regularly traffics in racially charged accusations about President Obama, provocative comparisons between abortion providers and Holocaust killers, and contempt for feminism.”
Andrew Breitbart, who founded the website, compared Bannon to Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.
Kurt Bardella, a former spokesman for Breitbart, described Bannon as a “pathological liar who has a temperament that governs by bullying and intimidation.”
According to his ex-wife’s testimony, Bannon “doesn’t like Jews.”
Bannon's ex-wife swore in court in 2007 that he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews…He said he doesn’t like Jews…"
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 13, 2016
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had “no concerns” about Bannon taking a prominent role in the White House.
Trump’s elevation of Bannon further legitimizes the racist ideas that are regularly promoted on Breitbart. Now, these backwards ideas not only have the imprimatur of a prominent website but also the president of the United States.