The nightmare reality of a Donald Trump presidency is getting off to a horrifying start. While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are urging everyone, not least of all disaffected Democrats, to “give the President-elect a chance”, the cold hard truth of what his election means is setting in with Trump’s naming of white nationalist Stephen Bannon – CEO of Breitbart “News” – as his chief White House strategist and senior counselor to the POTUS. What Bannon’s selection demonstrates above all is what many in the corporate media failed to properly understand during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign cycle. What they so often chalked up to being major campaign “gaffes” on the part of Trump – his retweeting of “white genocide” memes, slandering of a judge’s Mexican ancestry, etc. – were not actually gaffes at all but were implicit, bordering on the explicit, appeals to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who make up the so-called “Alt-right.” Somehow Trump understood that there is still potency in indirectly aligning oneself with the long-discredited champions of white identity politics, defying the narrative that these ugly characters are mere remnants of a dark and ugly past. Trump embraced them by retweeting their words of support and approval, their fake and debunked ‘crime’ statistics, and their anti-Semitic imagery without ever having to truly be associated with their most abhorrent views the way most candidates presumably would. When Trump first hired Bannon to be his campaign chief back in August, it was Trump’s biggest symbol yet to the alt-right crowd that yes, in fact, he is their guy. It was his way of telling them that he shares their worldview and all that it entails, though he cannot say so explicitly. According to the Washington Post, Bannon symbolized an electoral strategy that “resembles the alt-right dream of maximizing the white vote.” Trump has been sending dog-whistles to white supremacists all year on Twitter, and now that he has the keys to the White House he’s letting them know, with the hiring of Bannon and nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, that they will not only have a seat at the table in his administration, but one of the most prominent seats available.
So what exactly is the “alt-right”, and what are its ties to Donald Trump? According to Media Matters for America, the alt-right is essentially “a rebranding of classic white nationalism for the 21st century.” The term was created by the avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer who runs the extreme right-wing websites Alternative Right and Radix Journal. Spencer describes his alt-right ideology as “an ideology around identity, European identity.” His websites carry absurdly racist claims like “low-IQ Mexican immigration is the greatest threat to America”, “black people are genetically predisposed to lower IQs” and are “sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives”, and plenty of other pseudo-scientific beliefs that were left for dead by all serious scientists and academics in the previous century. David French, a columnist for the neoconservative National Review, describes the alt-right as being “unapologetically white nationalists” who “hate interracial adoption and other ‘race mixing’ practices, and think about the issue of immigration primarily, if not exclusively, in racial terms.” Those who are attempting to now whitewash the alt-right and paint its followers as being just extremely conservative with some racist tendencies are intentionally ignoring the statements of the founders and leaders of the alt-right movement in the first place. When the Washington Post wrote an account of the rising group of white nationalists earlier this year, it declared their “goal is often offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness in the way that many young white men embrace.” Andrew Anglin, an alt-right figurehead who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, quickly shot back, rebuking the Post for getting the movement wrong. The goal of the alt-right, said Anglin, is not “offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness” at all. Instead, their “goal is to ethnically cleanse White nations of non-Whites and establish an authoritarian government. Many people believe that the Jews should be exterminated.” They’ve also got their own terminology. Conservatives they deem not sufficiently right-wing enough are derided as “cucks” or “cuckservatives”, while liberals and leftists are snidely referred to as “SJWs” (social justice warriors) or “cultural Marxists.” As for Steph Bannon and Breitbart’s connection to the alt-right, this connection came straight from the horse’s mouth. “We’re the platform for the alt-right,” said Bannon to Sarah Poshner of Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in July. This proves Bannon’s ties to white nationalism, despite what Newt Gingrich, Reince Preibus and Kelly Anne Conway are all now trying to insist, are anything but tenuous.
In March 2012 when Stephen Bannon became the CEO of Breitbart “News”, which has trafficked in racist conspiracy theories since its inception, he shifted the far-right website even further to the right (something which at the time didn’t even seem possible). The new CEO “plunged” the site “into the fever swamps of conservatism, cheering white nationalist groups as an ‘eclectic mix of renegades.’” Ben Shapiro, a conservative right-wing ideologue who resigned from the staff of the website, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the site is now “pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section [is] turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.” Bannon himself outrageously pushes the narrative that Black Lives Matter is part of some leftist plot to “take down America”, instead of a genuine response to horrific police brutality and state-sanctioned murder. “Here’s a thought,” he once opined. “What if the people getting shot by cops did things to deserve it?” Yeah, like being pulled over for no reason and kindly informing the officer that you are a licensed gun owner? Or picking up a toy gun to buy inside of Wal-Mart? Or being a young child that’s asleep on a couch when a police officer’s bullet ends your life? In what world could these victims have possibly “deserved” to get shot? It appears that in Bannon’s view, their blackness alone was enough to mark them unworthy of life, as he once suggested that “some people” are just “naturally aggressive and violent” by birth. Unfortunately Bannon’s racist demagoguery doesn’t stop there. He once cited a white supremacist fantasy novel called Camp of Saints to demonize refugees from Asia and Africa. And he’s hosted guests on his radio show that trafficked in Islamophobic conspiracy theories, falsely accusing various Muslim civil rights organizations of being ‘sharia law’ front groups. Then there’s the time he praised the work of Jason Richwine, whose bogus studies attempted to prove Hispanics are intellectually inferior to “Anglo-Saxon” born whites. Another one of the Breitbart site’s “gems” was an article written in response to the horrific massacre of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by an avowed white supremacist and neo-confederate Dylann Roof. It was called, “Hoist it High and Proud: the confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage”. In yet another Breitbart piece, this one titled “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right”, it was stated that the alt-right opposes “full ‘integration’ of racial groups.” Is it any wonder why Richard Spencer describes Breitbart as the “gateway” to his more barefaced brand of neo-nazism?
No recounting of the burgeoning love affair between Donald Trump and the alt-right is complete without examining the place where it was given life: Donald Trump’s Twitter account. That the president-elect is a close follower of far-right white supremacist accounts became painfully obvious late last year when his account kept on tweeting and retweeting various memes and graphics sourced to far right-wing extremist accounts like @WhiteGenocideTM, “whose user had previously tweeted out his or her admiration for Hitler.” In October 2015 Trump tweeted an image of himself as Pepe the frog, a character that has been adopted as the unofficial symbol of the alt-right. He followed this by posting an incredibly misleading graphic containing completely bogus ‘crime’ statistics which falsely asserted that 81% of white homicidal deaths came at the hands of Black people (in reality the Department of Justice statistics hold that 84% of whites are murdered by other whites). He got this blatant piece of anti-black propaganda from “a white supremacist Twitter feed whose logo is a modified swastika.” Even after it was pointed out to him that it was factually inaccurate, Trump did what he always does. He doubled down and, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisted that his source was “very credible.”
Even after tweeting out such harmful disinformation traced back to the most deplorable of sources, supporters and even many of his detractors seemed willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. He couldn’t possibly be knowingly sharing memes and images created to promote white supremacist ideology, could he? Finally, an image posted to his Twitter account over the summer of 2016 of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton (‘Crooked Hillary’ as he called her) erased all doubts. The image, which showed Clinton’s face in front of a pile of money, was condemned as being blatantly anti-Semitic for superimposing a huge Star of David next to the candidate’s face with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
The meme itself was directly lifted from a neo-Nazi message board of the alt-right, though the Trump team made sure not to leave any trace of where they obtained it. Ultimately, Donald Trump’s dog-whistle reached exactly who it was supposed to. As Andrew Anglin approvingly wrote on his neo-nazi Stormtrooper website, “Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR [Trump] has gone full wink-wink-wink to his most aggressive supporters. Whereas the odd White genocide tweet could be a random occurrence, it isn’t statistically possible that two of them back to back could be a random occurrence. It could only be deliberate.” Inadvertently, Twitter also revealed that a whole host of Trump’s campaign staffers followed and/or interacted with five or more white nationalist accounts on the social media platform, as revealed in a lengthy investigation by Mother Jones.
Bannon’s influence on Trump and the oncoming administration can be most notably detected in the controversial nomination of Alabama Senator Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III to serve as the next Attorney General of the United States. Earlier this year Bannon praised Sessions for having laid the groundwork for what he described as his “populist nationalist movement.” Considering the history of Jeff Sessions, it’s easy to see why that would be the case. When President Ronald Reagan nominated Sessions, who at the time was a federal U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s Southern District, for a federal judgeship in 1986, his nomination was rejected – by a Republican-controlled Senate at that – due to revelations made by a Justice Department attorney among others that convinced them that Sessions was an unreconstructed bigot. These include accusations that Sessions derisively referred to civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and ACLU as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” groups intent on trying to force “civil rights down the throats of people.” Sessions also referred to a white civil rights attorney and advocate for voting rights as a traitor to his race. The late African American assistant U.S. Attorney under Sessions, Thomas Figures, once testified that Sessions had warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks.” He also said that Sessions and two other colleagues in their Alabama law office regularly referred to him, the only Black assistant attorney in the office, as “boy.” After two Democrats, Don Wiley and Douglas Wicks, were elected to 2 of 3 county commission seats in Mobile, Alabama in 1980, Sessions led an unsuccessful GOP effort to have the election result in Wiley’s case overturned. According to Wiley, a white Democrat, Sessions remarked to him that the sole Republican county commissioner, Jon Archer, “will be watching you and the n****r.” This was Sessions’ way of referring to Douglas Wicks, the first Black person elected to a county commission seat in Mobile. When this was brought to his attention during his 1986 Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions’ gave an inaccurate denial in which he falsely insisted that there was no Black county commissioner in Mobile at that time, something he obviously knew to be untrue. “The black was only elected later,” said Sessions. Perhaps most telling of all his remarks was the one he made in relation to a case in which a Ku Klux Klan member was accused of having lynched a Black man. In the words of Sessions, as far as he was concerned the Klan was just fine by him. That is, until he “learned that they smoked marijuana.” Notably, after these accusations of past statements came to light and sunk Sessions’ federal judgeship, Thomas Figures and Douglas Wicks were retaliated against. Some argue that people change a lot in 30 years and so Sessions should be given the benefit of the doubt. But as recently as 2010, the Senator from Alabama was up to his old antics, using the occasion of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court as an opportunity to call her judgement into question due to her having once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Justice to serve on the Supreme Court.
It is difficult to overstate the severity of the situation we currently find ourselves in. While it’s not time to panic, it is certainly time to organize and be vigilant, as thousands of Americans currently out on the streets declaring Donald Trump is #NotMyPresident are doing at this very hour. Those whose values are progressive have stated time and again their determination to never again let their country slide back into the days of legalized discrimination based on sex, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, Jeff Sessions and the rest of the fascist right-wing ideologues are more than willing to put that determination to the test. In order to prevent the worst from happening, the Trump administration and the right-wing vigilantes it will inspire will have to be resisted and stifled at every turn. The Left will have to be up to the challenge, because the lives of millions of people are counting on it.