Fired White House chief strategist Steve Bannon crowed with triumph when he returned to Breitbart.com — “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons,” he told interviewers — but after Charlottesville, he and his “alt-right” followers are now associated with the ugliest elements of the far-right fringe.
Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen said that Bannon is anxious to distance himself from the neo-Nazis, Klansmen and racist agitators who make up the so-called “alt-right,” saying in Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview that a group of bad apples on the right are getting “a free ride” by attaching themselves to President Donald Trump.
“They’re getting off a free ride off Donald Trump. They’re getting a free ride,” he protested. They’re a “small,” “vicious” minority among Trump’s followers and they “add no value.”
NPR reported on Thursday that Bannon’s extremism and his threats to primary insufficiently ideologically pure Republicans could threaten the GOP’s majority in both houses of Congress.
“Senate GOP observers privately warn” that “if far-right conservative nominees win primaries to face Democrats in other races — the Senate majority would be very much in jeopardy, which would only cause Trump more headaches, especially if the House were to flip too. That would open up unyielding investigations into the White House and possibly jump-start impeachment proceedings,” said NPR’s Jessica Taylor.
Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie said that Bannon is finding himself in a mess of his own making and that his Beltway reputation for being a strategic genius and Machiavellian power-player is a phantasm.
“His recent statements and White House record show someone skilled at self-promotion but unable to advance a coherent (or even accurate) narrative or take advantage of political opportunity,” Bouie wrote.
Back at Breitbart.com — which has lost a huge portion of its readership and 90 percent of its advertisers since the 2016 election — Bannon is struggling to create distance between himself and what Nguyen called the blog’s “scurrilous following of anti-Islamists, anti-immigrants, and Internet trolls with questionable Photoshop skills and even more questionable taste.”
However, even as he decried racists and anti-Semites to “60 Minutes,” failed screenwriter Bannon — who reportedly refused to allow his daughters to attend school alongside Jewish children — couldn’t resist throwing in a jab with decidedly anti-Semitic overtones, saying that he won’t be “lectured” about hate groups “by a bunch of — by a bunch of limousine liberals, O.K., from the Upper East Side of New York and from the Hamptons, O.K., about any of this.”
Bannon likes to think of his followers are pranksters and trolls, one associate told Vanity Fair, “Bannon sees the Pepes [Breitbart readers] as kind of like trolls, and not like the Nazis like Richard Spencer and David Duke. Everybody’s kind of struggling with it. Like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s these people, they’re kind of trollish, they make a lot of jokes or whatever, maybe we wish they were a little bit nicer.’ But that’s different, categorically, than neo-Nazis at rallies throwing Nazi salutes and throwing up Nazi flags.”
However, it was Bannon himself who christened Breitbart.com “the platform of the alt-right” at the 2016 Republican convention and, as Nguyen wrote, “For Bannon and his allies, purging extremist elements from the far-right movement is hard, because no matter how vocally they repudiate neo-Nazis and their brethren, those groups will hug back harder — especially if there’s a national platform for them to clamber on.”