Published on : 08/18/2017
By : Arista Asmawati
Steve Bannon was President Trump's closest connection to the alt-right movement.
WASHINGTON – Steve Bannon, perhaps the most controversial staffer in the White House since Donald Trump first occupied it, was relieved of his post as chief strategist on Friday.
Bannon was the president’s most direct tie to the alt-right, a loose affiliation of white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis seeking to preserve white Christian majority control in America.
He describes himself as an economic nationalist, but rose to political prominence at the helm of Breitbart, a website he referred to as the platform for the alt-right movement.
Hours after leaving the Trump administration, Bannon returned to Breitbart as its executive chairman, helming Friday evening’s editorial meeting armed with all he knows from seven months in the West Wing.
“The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” Bannon told The Weekly Standard magazine on Friday. “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over.”
He was more explicit to his biographer, Joshua Green, in a phone conversation: “If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war ,” he said.
Bannon has been credited with turning around Trump’s flailing general election campaign against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, by motivating Trump’s hardright base. His contributions to the campaign were both his ticket and his downfall: It earned him a seat at the table as Trump entered the White House, but ultimately irked Trump, who felt that Bannon was taking credit for his landmark November victory.
Silent in the initial hours of Bannon’s firing, Trump told his Twitter followers on Saturday to remember that Bannon only joined his campaign after he had won the Republican nomination, beating sitting senators and governors along the way.
“I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton – it was great!” Trump tweeted.
Throughout his tenure, Bannon was the source of much infighting in the West Wing – not only with the president himself, but with those he considered “New York Democrats” and “hawks” in the White House who sought to mainstream the president’s campaign agenda while in government.
Bannon will now target these White House factions from the outside, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser leading the administration’s Middle East peace effort, and Gary Cohn, a Wall Street investment banker heading the president’s National Economic Council.
Jewish-American organizations expressed alarm when Bannon was originally hired for a White House position in January, given his role in Trump’s campaign targeting the “liberal media elite,” “bankers” and “globalists” – terms that evoke classic antisemitic tropes. Just last week, the site used emoji globes to denote Cohn – a Jewish American – as a globalist.
The Anti-Defamation League, J Street and several Reform and Conservative organizations long questioned Bannon’s place in the West Wing, and called on Trump to distance himself from hate groups associated with the alt-right – especially after a white power rally in Charlottesville last weekend shook the nation.
Bannon supported the president’s widely criticized response to that rally, which saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching toward a statue of Confederate commander Robert E. Lee under swastikas, stars and bars.
The ADLâ‘s Jonathan Greenblatt said of Bannon’s original hiring: “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 antisemites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’” He tweeted on Friday he was “glad” to hear of Bannon’s departure, but hopes it is only the beginning of Trump’s effort to boot white nationalists off America’s payroll.
J Street is now calling on Trump to fire like-minded aides to Bannon, including Sebastian Gorka, a national security adviser who has reported ties to fascist groups, and Stephen Miller, architect of the president’s harshly nativist anti-immigrant policies.
Gorka’s fate is unclear, reported US media outlets on Friday, citing several White House sources confused over his precise role in the administration.