Ban­non’s White House ap­point­ment draws fu­ri­ous re­bukes

Cecil Whig - - & - By EVAN HALPER

Tri­bune Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau

— Steve Ban­non was one of Don­ald Trump’s clos­est con­fi­dants and most de­ter­mined field lieu­tenants through­out the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign; now he has be­come Pres­i­dent-elect Trump’s first ma­jor post­elec­tion po­lit­i­cal prob­lem.

The an­gry back­lash against Trump’s an­nounce­ment that the Bre­it­bart News ex­ec­u­tive would serve as his chief White House strate­gist gave dispir­ited Democrats and other crit­ics of the pres­i­den­t­elect a ral­ly­ing point Mon­day. Main­stream Jewish and Mus­lim groups warned that Trump was el­e­vat­ing an en­thu­si­as­tic pro­moter of white na­tion­al­ism to a desk steps from the Oval Of­fice.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, many of whom have their own rea­sons for dis­lik­ing Ban­non, were not in­clined to de­fend him.

“I’ve never met the guy,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said on CNN, adding that “I trust Don­ald’s judg­ment.”

“I do not know Steve Ban­non,” House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said as he re­peat­edly par­ried ques­tions from re­porters at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day morn­ing.

That re­luc­tance to ac­tively de­fend Trump’s choice came as no sur­prise. Ban­non


is, after all, a man who said in a 2004 in­ter­view with the Daily Beast: “I want to bring ev­ery­thing crash­ing down, and de­stroy all of to­day’s es­tab­lish­ment.”

He re­peat­edly has made clear that he does not ex­empt the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship from that de­sired fate.

The fight over his ap­point­ment un­der­scored the con­tin­ued ten­sion be­tween the party lead­er­ship and Trump. The pres­i­dent-elect clearly val­ues Ban­non’s strate­gic ad­vice and re­lied heav­ily on him to pi­lot his cam­paign in its clos­ing months. But whether Trump can nav­i­gate the con­flict within the party — and what role Ban­non plays in do­ing so — could be cen­tral to whether the new ad­min­is­tra­tion can suc­ceed.

All that left Ban­non where he has been through­out his ca­reer — in a bunker ex­chang­ing fire with what he de­ri­sively calls the forces of “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.”

Only the stakes had sud­denly be­come much higher.

The rage that many civil rights ac­tivists and lead­ers of mi­nor­ity groups have to­ward Ban­non has been swelling for years, long be­fore Trump brought him into the in­ner sanc­tum of his op­er­a­tion.

For many, Ban­non per­son­i­fies the so-called alt-right, which the Anti-Defama­tion League in a state­ment Sun­day night de­nounced as “a loose-knit group of white na­tion­al­ists and un­abashed anti-Semites and racists.” In­deed, Ban­non’s ap­point­ment to Trump’s cam­paign this year had drawn praise from for­mer Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and neo-Nazi or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Ban­non, who has been fight­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and the coun­try club pol­i­tics of the Repub­li­can Party es­tab­lish­ment for years, has been ag­gres­sively seek­ing out rum­bles since he was a kid in Rich­mond, Va., grow­ing up in a house not far from where Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Tim Kaine lives.

His fa­ther, Martin, still lives in the neigh­bor­hood. His younger brother, Mike, re­cently re­counted to the lo­cal news­pa­per how he was con­stantly get­ting called to the neigh­bor­hood pool as a teenager to drag his brother out of a fight.

Ban­non signed up for the Navy di­rectly out of col­lege, be­came an of­fi­cer, left in 1983 for Har­vard Busi­ness School, then landed a job at Gold­man Sachs. His sub­se­quent years in investment bank­ing made him rich, and Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion cred­its added yet more in­trigue to his bi­og­ra­phy.

He picked up some­thing else, as well: His ex­pe­ri­ences with the self-sat­is­fied na­ture of Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial and cul­tural elites made him an­gry, he says.

“I went to Har­vard Busi­ness School, worked at Gold­man Sachs,” he told a Los An­ge­les Times re­porter in 2010. “I know about elites, I know about the con­tempt that they hold. They hold the ba­sic heart­land of this coun­try in con­tempt.”

Ban­non be­came a close friend and pa­tron of An­drew Bre­it­bart, and took over op­er­a­tions of his news or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2012, when Bre­it­bart died sud­denly of heart fail­ure at age 43.

At Bre­it­bart, Ban­non’s an­tag­o­nisms man­i­fested them­selves in cov­er­age that rou­tinely re­ferred neg­a­tively to Mus­lims, in­ner-city mi­nori­ties and women, among other groups. Of­ten the facts were sus­pect, as when Bre­it­bart wrote about an ex­tremely flawed poll’s find­ing that more than half of Amer­i­can Mus­lims wanted Shariah law, or sug­gested that Hil­lary Clin­ton’s aide, Huma Abe­din, might be a Saudi op­er­a­tive.

One Bre­it­bart writer de­clared, “Amer­ica has a Mus­lim prob­lem,” and made clear he was not talk­ing about ex­trem­ist Mus­lims, but all Mus­lims.

The head­line of one Bre­it­bart story screamed: “Birth con­trol makes women unattrac­tive and crazy.” An­other head­line re­ferred to Wil­liam Kris­tol, the ed­i­tor of the con­ser­va­tive mag­a­zine the Weekly Stan­dard and an op­po­nent of Trump’s, as a “rene­gade Jew.”

Jour­nal­ist Ben Shapiro, a for­mer writer for Bre­it­bart, de­scribed it as a plat­form for “white ethno-na­tion­al­ism” and a “cesspool for white su­prem­a­cist meme mak­ers.”

Ban­non’s al­lies, how­ever, call talk of racism out­ra­geous. On Mon­day, as the de­nun­ci­a­tions of Ban­non mounted, Bre­it­bart em­ploy­ees quickly signed onto what had all the ap­pear­ances of a tra­di­tional cri­sis-com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­er­cise, re­leas­ing state­ments paint­ing Ban­non as a sen­si­tive and sym­pa­thetic em­ployer — even some­one who prizes di­ver­sity.

That por­trait con­trasts with the one that emerged in court fil­ings. In 2007, dur­ing di­vorce pro­ceed­ings, Ban­non’s then-wife al­leged that he re­peat­edly made anti-Semitic re­marks as the cou­ple toured Los An­ge­les pri­vate schools for their daugh­ters.

In a de­po­si­tion, re­fer­ring to Ban­non’s re­ac­tion to an­other prom­i­nent pri­vate school, she said that “the big­gest prob­lem he had with Archer is the num­ber of Jews that at­tend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats,’ and that he didn’t want the girls go­ing to school with Jews.”

Ban­non, who ul­ti­mately sent his chil­dren to Archer for mid­dle school and high school, has de­nied ever mak­ing any such com­ments.

“This is what they will do to any­body who de­feats the left,” said Joel Pol­lak, a Bre­it­bart jour­nal­ist in Cal­i­for­nia who is an Ortho­dox Jew.

“There are no Nazis here, no white na­tion­al­ists here,” Pol­lak said, of the Bre­it­bart news­room. “If our ar­ti­cles ap­peal to peo­ple be­yond our core au­di­ence, there is noth­ing I can do about that.

“We are what we have al­ways been,” he said, “a voice for con­ser­va­tive move­ment.”

(Times staff writ­ers Michael A. Me­moli in Wash­ing­ton and Robin Ab­car­ian in Los An­ge­les con­trib­uted to this re­port.)


The ap­point­ment of Stephen Ban­non, the Bre­it­bart News CEO and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign, to chief White House strate­gist has drawn con­cerns from some groups.

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