At his daily briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to condemn top Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s inflammatory remarks on Islam.
One reporter at the briefing asked Spicer if President Trump shares Bannon’s views on the religion — that it is “dark” and “not a religion of peace” — and if he wanted to distance himself from Bannon’s statements.
Spicer, in response, drew a distinction between Trump’s views and Bannon’s views but avoided condemning Bannon’s statement.
“[Trump] understands that it’s not a religious problem, it’s a radicalization problem. There’s a big difference between Islam, the religion, and radical Islamic terrorists that come here to seek to do us harm,” said Spicer.
“Nothing about this comment the president wants to distance himself from or even elaborate on?” the reporter then asked.
“I think I’ve just made it clear that there’s a difference between the president’s view,” Spicer responded, before taking another question.
Earlier this week, CNN uncovered an audio clip of Bannon mocking former President George W. Bush for calling Islam a “religion of peace.”
“Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is a religion of submission. Islam means submission,” Bannon said on an online right-wing radio station in 2010. Bannon has a long history of making similar remarks.
In January 2016, on his Breitbart radio show, Bannon said that Islam is “much darker” than the rise of fascism in Europe before WWII.
“You could look in 1938 and say, ‘Look, it’s pretty dark here in Europe right now,’ but there’s something actually much darker. And that is Islam,” he said. Bannon frequently hosted far-right anti-Islam and anti-immigrant ideologues on his show.
Trump has elevated Bannon to a position of extreme power within the White House as his Chief Strategist. This weekend, Trump also signed an executive order elevating Bannon to the Principal’s Committee of the National Security Council.
Spicer’s defense of the President’s views on Islam also doesn’t line up with some of Trump’s past comments.
On CNN in March 2016, Trump told Anderson Cooper, “I think Islam hates us. There’s something there — there’s a tremendous hatred there, we’re going to have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us.” In Trump’s campaign proposal in December 2015 to prevent Muslims from entering the United States, he said “it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension.”
Trump’s refusal to condemn Bannon’s remark and his elevation of Bannon within the White House sends a message to white supremacists. It’s a trend the Trump administration is carrying over from Trump’s campaign.
In one of the more prominent examples of a white nationalist dogwhistle from the campaign, Trump turned down a chance to denounce Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who had endorsed him.
When directly asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he would denounce the endorsement, Trump responded, “I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay?” He eventually said, after widespread pressure, “I disavow.”
After Trump was elected, he also professed ignorance of having emboldened the so-called alt-right, the white supremacist movement that hails him in chatrooms as the “god emperor.”
And in the White House, Trump is continuing to send messages that white supremacist groups are hearing loud and clear.
On Friday, for example, Trump’s statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention Jews or anti-Semitism. In his press conference on Monday, Spicer called objections to the statement “pathetic.”
After the press conference, the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer crowed exultantly, “White House admits They Intentionally Omitted Jews From Holocaust Statement.”
“We previously reported that the White House released a statement on holohoax remembrance day that failed to mention Jews or anti-Semitism,” the article begins. “There is no way this was accidental, but all in all it was basically a subtle nod to us.”