Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — On Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump announced two additions to his incoming administration — Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor.
While Priebus has been in the public eye as the Republican National Committee chairman, Bannon, 62, worked behind-the-scenes as Trump’s presidential campaign CEO. Despite the chief of staff being historically the “gatekeeper” to the president, Bannon actually got top billing on the press release.
Top Democrats in Congress and prominent anti-defamation groups decry Bannon’s appointment and point to his rhetoric and leading role with Breitbart News that as an indication that he holds white nationalist and anti-Semitic views.
Since inheriting the website from founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012, critics say Bannon used his position as executive chairman to promote the alt-right, “alternative right,” movement. The alt-right is defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.
Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart has published articles with the headlines, “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.”
In an interview with ABC News’ “Powerhouse Politics” podcast, a former Breitbart spokesman, Kurt Bardella, described conference calls with Bannon similar to “attending a white supremacist rally” and accused Bannon of holding “nationalism” ideals and “hatred for immigrants.”
Bardella was one of a few staffers who left Breitbart in March following its handling of former reporter Michelle Fields’ allegations that then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted her.
In a Buzzfeed report, some Breitbart employees accused the site of having a financial agreement with Trump to publish positive coverage of his campaign.
Members of Trump’s presidential campaign and new hires to his administration defended Bannon Monday against the accusations.
“Well look first of all I don’t know where they are coming from. This is not the Steve Bannon I know,” Trump’s newly appointed chief of staff, Priebus said in an interview Monday on “Good Morning America.” “I have sat with him for months and I have never ever experiences that and I think these people are taking it way too far.”
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager who was hired at the same time as Bannon, argued that people “should look at the full resume.”
And Bannon himself said that the alt-right appeal to racists was happenstance.
“Look, are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right? Maybe,” he told Mother Jones. “Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe. Right? Maybe some people are attracted to the alt-right that are homophobes, right? But that’s just like, there are certain elements of the progressive left and the hard left that attract certain elements.”
Bannon is known as the former head of Breitbart, but he has had a variety of careers, including serving in the Navy. In the 1980s, he worked for Goldman Sachs. In the 1990s, he started an investment bank working with media companies. Before joining the campaign, he resided mostly in Los Angeles and this decade he switched focus to making conservative films. In 2011, he made the movie “The Undefeated” about Sarah Palin, which first got him notice with the tea party movement and Andrew Breitbart, the founder of Breitbart.com who died in 2012 .
According to a Politico report published in April, Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and battery in 1996. Bannon pleaded not guilty and the charges were eventually dropped due to the lack of witnesses. In the complaint obtained by Politico, Bannon’s then-wife said he “pulled at her neck and wrist” and smashed the phone when she tried to call the police after a dispute over money.
A spokeswoman for Bannon told ABC News that he has a great relationship with his ex-wife and their children.
Despite his controversies, Bannon will have continue to have a direct ear to the president-elect as chief strategist and senior counselor.
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