President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon to serve as his top White House strategist spurred widespread criticism from anti-discrimination groups who raised concerns Monday about the political operative’s ties to the fledgling “alt-right” movement.
Trump’s surrogates and campaign aides rallied behind Bannon, describing the fiery campaign strategist as a Harvard-educated “patriot” out to reform D.C.’s political culture.
Bannon, the executive chairman of conservative news outlet Brietbart News who served as CEO of Trump’s campaign in the final three months of the election, was appointed Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor on Sunday, underscoring his ascent from a leader in the alt-right movement to the limelight of the Oval Office.
As the head of Breitbart News, Bannon presided over coverage that anti-discrimination groups have labeled as “anti-Semitic” and “misogynistic.” They cite as evidence headlines on the website such as “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet,” or a post describing conservative columnist Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” for not supporting Trump.
Bannon in a July interview with Mother Jones said Breitbart had become “the platform for the alt-right” — a fledgling conservative movement that has grown in prominence on white supremacist websites and online message boards. But he said the movement was not inherently racist, saying progressives also “attract certain elements.”
The Anti-Defamation League, one of the country’s largest groups fighting anti-Semitism, said in a statement: “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’ ”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Bannon’s appointment “sends the disturbing message that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology will be welcome in the White House.”
John Weaver, a Republican campaign strategist who ran the presidential campaign of Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), wrote on Twitter: “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.”
Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman who Trump appointed as his chief of staff Sunday, defended Bannon on Monday.
“The guy I know is a guy that isn’t any of those things,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Today” show, noting that Bannon attended Harvard Business School, the London School of Economics, and served in the U.S. Navy.
JuanPablo Andrade of Kings Park, who serves as an adviser to Trump’s National Diversity Coalition, said he attended multiple campaign meetings with Bannon, describing him as a “great leader” who has made it his mission to “go against establishment Republicans.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the only Jewish Republican currently in Congress, was unavailable for an interview Monday, his spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena said.
When asked to respond to the Anti-Defamation League’s statement opposing Bannon’s appointment, DiSiena said via email: “Congressman Zeldin would need a whole lot more facts to connect all of the dots on the multi-leveled theory fueling complaints.”
President Barack Obama, at a White House news conference, declined to comment when asked to weigh-in on Bannon’s appointment, saying it would be up to Trump “to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies.”
With David Schwartz