As chaos and confusion erupted after Donald Trump’s sweeping crackdown on immigration, one thing became abundantly clear: Stephen Bannon is the man pulling the strings in the Trump White House.
Since the inauguration, Bannon, Trump’s fiery chief strategist and the former chairman of Breitbart News, has had an outsized role in shaping policy in the new administration, particularly when it comes to immigration.
It was Bannon who wrote Trump’s sweeping executive order on Friday that stopped all Syrian refugees from entering the United States and temporarily banned immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries. The hastily enacted order caused chaos at airports as immigrants were pulled off planes and protests erupted around the country. CNN reported that Bannon and another White House adviser overruled Department of Homeland Security officials who recommended that green card holders be exempt from the order. The White House later softened that position.
Amid the fallout of the executive order, Trump elevated Bannon to a full seat on the National Security Council, an unprecedented move that gives him “a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers,” according to The New York Times. On Twitter, Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, called the arrangement “stone cold crazy.”
We reported on Bannon’s rise to power and his stark views on immigration and globalism on our radio show last month.
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Here are four things we learned:
1. Under Bannon, Breitbart became the platform of the “alt-right.”
Bannon became executive chairman of the conservative website Breitbart in 2012, and under his leadership, the website began embracing racist, anti-immigrant and white nationalist ideas that form the alt-right movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Breitbart published an article in 2015 defending anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller for hosting a “Draw Mohammed Cartoon Contest” in Texas, which was viewed as many as an overt attempt to anger Muslims. Two armed men with links to ISIS targeted the event and were killed by police.
Two weeks after the white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine black parishioners at a prayer service in South Carolina, Breitbart ran a story titled, Hoist it Loud and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.
Last year, Breitbart ran a story titled, Young Muslims in the West are a ticking time bomb.
At the 2016 Republican National Convention, Bannon proudly told a reporter from Mother Jones that “we’re the platform for the alt-right.” In the same interview, he denied that the alt-right embraced racism or anti-Semitism.
However, his message has resonated with white nationalists and neo-Nazis, who’ve celebrated his rise to power in the White House.
2. Bannon worried that too many immigrants would undermine our “civic society.”
In an interview between Bannon and Donald Trump in 2015 on Bannon’s Breitbart News radio show, Bannon suggested that highly skilled foreign students should return to their home countries after finishing college in the U.S., rather than staying in the U.S. to create startups and work in the tech industry.
Trump seemed concerned by that proposal, saying, “We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country.”
Bannon didn’t back down. “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think …” he said, trailing off. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
3. He views Islam as an existential threat to Western values.
In a speech to a conservative conference in Europe, Bannon said that the Judeo-Christian West was in an all-out war against “jihadist Islamic fascism.” Calling his views “militant,” he said the U.S. and other Western nations had to take a “very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam.”
4. He is an expert at playing the media and manipulating the masses for his political goals.
Bannon is a master communicator who knows how to work the media, according to a profile of Steve Bannon in 2015 by Bloomberg journalist Joshua Green. Bannon understood the limits of running a conservative news site like Breitbart, and wanted even more influence to push his conservative political agenda on the public.
So around the same time that Bannon took over Breitbart News, he founded a nonprofit group called the Government Accountability Institute to “investigate and expose crony capitalism, misuse of taxpayer monies, and other corruption and malfeasance.” The group hired investigative reporters to dig up serious stories and “dirt” about Bannon’s political enemies, like Hillary Clinton.
Government Accountability Institute would then feed that research to mainstream media outlets, like The New York Times, who would publish a damaging story about Clinton. Here’s Green talking about how the set-up worked:
“He could go over to Breitbart and they could run these rolling narratives saying, look, it’s not just us saying that Hillary is nefarious and evil and corrupt. Here’s The New York Times saying it over here and here’s a story from The Washington Post and here ‘60 Minutes.’ And he could both excite the right-wing populist base while at the same time disillusioning Hillary Clinton’s core of support.”
Last week, he had a more straightforward message, telling The Times the media needed to “keep its mouth shut.”
Amy Julia Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amyjharris.