The Southern Poverty Law Center reported Wednesday that the two most high-profile recent hires by the Donald Trump 2016 campaign are both members of a secret radical group of the country's most powerful white nationalists and far right operatives.
According to an SPLC statement, Breitbart.com CEO Stephen Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway -- hired as Trump 2016's CEO and campaign manager, respectively -- are members of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a highly secretive group that includes a roster of controversial white supremacists and rightwing agitators.
"The CNP is not controversial so much for the conservatives who dominate it -- activists of the religious right and the so-called 'culture wars,' along with a smattering of wealthy financiers, Congressional operatives, right-wing consultants and Tea Party operatives -- as for the many real extremists who are included," wrote SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok.
The SPLC was able to obtain the CNP's closely-guarded 2014 membership directory and found that it included "people like Michael Peroutka, a neo-Confederate who for years was on the board of the white supremacist League of the South; Jerome Corsi, a strident Obama 'birther' and the propagandist hit man responsible for the 'Swift boating' of John Kerry; Joseph Farah, who runs the wildly conspiracist “news” operation known as WorldNetDaily; Mat Staver, the Liberty Counsel leader who has worked to re-criminalize gay sex; Philip Zodhaites, another anti-gay activist who is charged with helping a self-described former lesbian who kidnapped her daughter from her former partner and fled the country; and a large number of other similar characters."
Conway and Bannon's names both appear on the CNP's 2014 membership roster. The SPLC was unable to determine their current membership status.
The Center noted that the CNP has every right to keep its membership secret, but the membership roster opens a window on how purportedly moderate Republicans meet and network with right-wing extremists in formulating their policy agenda and crafting legislation.
The CNP roster of members includes "real extremists, people who regularly defame LGBT people with utter falsehoods, describe Latino immigrants as a dangerous group of rapists and disease-carriers, engage in the kind of wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing for which the John Birch Society is famous, and even suggest that certain people should be stoned to death in line with Old Testament law,” the SPLC said.
In a May report on the shadowy organization, the rights group said, "At a time of extreme political polarization in our society, in the middle of an ugly presidential contest which has featured an almost unsurpassed record of ethnic, racial and sexual insults and lies, Americans deserve to know who their ostensible leaders are mixing with as we collectively decide our country’s future.”