On August 18, 2017, in the aftermath of right-wing violence at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Steve Bannon resigned from his post as “Chief White House Strategist” and returned to Breitbart, where he was hailed as a “populist hero.” “The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today,’ said Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow. “Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda.”
While the Trump administration may be symbolically distancing itself from the “alt-right” with Bannon’s resignation—and corporate media is certainly covering that rift—over the last year, independent journalists at Mother Jones, Truthout, Democracy Now!, and other outlets have meticulously documented the rise to executive power of white supremacists, including the longtime opponent of integration, Jeff Sessions, Breitbart ideologue Steve Bannon, and a host of others.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Klansman David Duke’s praise for Trump received a fair amount of media attention, and Trump eventually distanced himself from Duke. But Trump never rejected endorsements from a number of other extremist groups, none of which had ever before publicly backed a major party nominee for the White House. As Mother Jones’ Sarah Posner and David Neiwert reported in September 2016, “During the Republican National Convention in July, Trump endorser Andrew Anglin, who runs a neo-Nazi website called the Daily Stormer, wrote: ‘The biggest story in the filthy kike media has been a few lines from Melania’s speech which these Jews claim she stole from monkey Michelle.’”(The Daily Stormer was one of the original supporters of the “Unite the Right” Rally held in Charlottesville in August 2017). Posner and Neiwert also reported that other enthusiastic Trump supporters included Rocky J. Suhayda, Chair of the American Nazi Party; Alex Linder, founder of the website Vanguard News Network, and a former member of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group; Don Black, former KKK Grand Dragon and founder of the white supremacist website Stormfront; August Kreis III, a former KKK member and former Aryan Nations Minister of Information and Propaganda; and Rachel Pendergraft, a national organizer for the KKK-affiliated Knights Party.
“Trump has been declared a deplorable racist, and [yet] he won,” crowed Richard Spencer, who has been widely credited with rebranding various supremacist factions as the “alt-right,” after the election. The relationships developed between Trump and the far right have allowed various white supremacists to gain direct access to the Oval Office. In January 2017, Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart.com, considered ground zero for the alt-right movement, became the “White House Chief Strategist,” a position the White House created for him. As John Feffer reported for Foreign Policy in Focus, Bannon’s Breitbart protégé Julia Hahn became a special assistant to the president. Both Feffer and Democracy Now! reported on Trump’s deputy assistant, Sebastian Gorka—a vocally Islamophobic national security editor at Breitbart. Democracy Now! described Gorka as having been linked to “a Hungarian far-right, Nazi-allied group.” The Democracy Now! report also covered Gorka’s wife, Katherine Gorka, who serves as policy advisor to the Department of Homeland Security. As Amy Goodman reported after the death of Heather Heyler in Charlottesville, “the Trump administration recently cut funds to groups dedicated to fighting right-wing violence.”
Other alt-right followers assigned Cabinet positions include Kris Kobach, best known as the co-author of anti-immigration laws; strident Islamophobe Michael Flynn, who was assigned Trump’s national security adviser; and Jeff Sessions, who is a hardliner on civil rights in the position of U.S. Attorney General.
Corporate media often report on isolated examples of Trump’s policies attacking minorities, but seldom “connect the dots” between such policies and the white supremacist agenda driving them. On August 1, 2017, the New York Times described an internal White House document that demonstrated that “the Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.” The article framed the move as a Republican response to the Obama administrations policy of bringing in lawyers “with experience working for traditional, liberal-leaning civil-rights organizations.”
Independent news organizations continue to make connections between Trump policies and the far right. In July 2017, Doran Larson reported in The Conversation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has “recently announced a return to a pre-Obama policy of seeking maximum penalties for all drug crimes, including low-level, nonviolent offenses.” A disproportionate number of those affected by this policy are minorities. Larson’s piece went on to quote incarcerated minority writers, touching on two aspects of the retroactive policy changes that you are unlikely to see referenced in corporate media: the need for resistance and the possibility of resistance. Nor is corporate media likely to mention who these policy changes benefit. “Sessions’ statement no doubt sang to the prison servicing industries, prison guard unions, the private prison industry and everyone else who profits from the salaries, pensions and lucrative contracts generated by the largest prison system on Earth,” Larson wrote.
And on August 10, 2017, Truthout’s Ebony Slaughter-Johnson reported, “Jeff Sessions has used his brief tenure as attorney general to promote policies that empower law enforcement officials to brutalize Americans, physically, legally and otherwise, beginning with his April decision to execute a review of all ongoing federal consent decrees.” Consent decrees were the result of Justice Department investigations into police departments where a “pattern or practice” of racially biased policing was evident.
Josh Harkinson, “White Nationalists See Trump as Their Troll in Chief. Is He with Them?,” Mother Jones, January/February 2017, pp. 24-34,
Heather Digby Parton, “The Disturbing Dawn of the Alt-Right: Donald Trump’s the Leader of a Dark Movement in America.” Salon, August 25, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/08/25/the-disturbing-dawn-of-the-alt-right-donald-trumps-the-leader-of-a-dark-movement-in-america/
John Feffer, “I Am an Enemy of the People,” Foreign Policy in Focus, March 15, 2017, http://fpif.org/i-am-an-enemy-of-the-people/.
Amy Goodman, “Life After Hate: Trump Admin Stops Funding Former Neo-Nazis Who Now Fight White Supremacy,” Democracy Now! 17, 2017, https://www.democracynow.org/2017/8/17/life_after_hate_trump_admin_stops.
Doran Larson, “Digital Database Captures Voices from Inside America’s Prisons,” The Conversation, July 18, 2017, https://theconversation.com/digital-database-captures-voices-from-inside-americas-prisons-81058.
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson, “When It Comes to Police Brutality, Trump Preaches What Sessions Practices,” Truthout, August 10, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/41558-police-brutality-trump-preaches-what-sessions-practices.
Student Researcher Jessenia Guzman (Syracuse University)
Faculty Evaluator Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)