The Wing­man

Face to face with the con­spir­acy the­o­rist run­ning the White House

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Jonathan Kay

Face to face with the con­spir­acy the­o­rist run­ning the White House

In this month’s Wal­rus cover story, Peter Nor­man goes on a week-long Caribbean cruise head­lined by con­ser­va­tive fire­brand Ezra Le­vant, whose web­site, the Rebel, fea­tures such sto­ries as “Lib­er­als Are ISIS” and “Gen­der Iden­tity and Is­lam: Wag­ing War on Free Speech in Canada.” Some may ask: Why fo­cus at­ten­tion on such a fringe el­e­ment of Canada’s po­lit­i­cal spec­trum?

By way of an­swer, al­low me to roll back the clock seven years — to the in­au­gu­ral Na­tional Tea Party Con­ven­tion in Nashville, Ten­nessee. It was a year into the pres­i­dency of Barack Obama, a time when what we now call Amer­ica’s “alt-right” was still in its em­bry­onic state. Don­ald Trump was then just a re­al­ity-show en­ter­tainer who pe­ri­od­i­cally de­clared bankruptcy.

A big star at the event was An­drew Bre­it­bart, founder of the epony­mous web­site that’s be­come the go-to mouth­piece of Amer­ica’s ex­treme Right. In his speech, Bre­it­bart gushed about the next speaker — a one-time Gold­man Sachs banker who’d made a doc­u­men­tary link­ing Amer­ica’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis to the cul­tural ex­cesses of the 1960s.

That film­maker was Stephen Bannon. Then the ex­ec­u­tive chair of Bre­it­bart News, he went on to be­come the CEO of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and now serves as chief strate­gist at the White House. Bre­it­bart de­clared that Bannon’s film, Gen­er­a­tion Zero, was a “hor­ror movie” that would leave true pa­tri­ots un­able to sleep.

Bre­it­bart, who died of heart fail­ure in 2012 at the age of forty-three, was a dem­a­gogue and hys­teric, but also an ef­fec­tive speaker — very much an Amer­i­can ver­sion of Le­vant. By com­par­i­son, Bannon is dour and cranky. Af­ter com­ing to the podium, he de­clared flatly that Amer­ica was in the throes of a cri­sis akin to the Civil War or Great De­pres­sion.

Like just about ev­ery­one at that con­fer­ence, Bannon paid homage to Ron­ald Rea­gan. But while Rea­gan is re­mem­bered for his op­ti­mistic style, Bannon in­voked the man as a prop for his own scathing ha­tred of lib­eral elites. “That man [ Rea­gan] was called a wing nut, a fas­cist, and a racist — and he was called a mo­ron,” he de­clared. “And if you think that sounds [fa­mil­iar], I started to hear those same names [used for] our move­ment...the more you’re vil­i­fied, and the more you’re ac­cused of all th­ese things, trust me, that means you’re do­ing the right thing.”

That last line stuck with me af­ter I re­cently went back and lis­tened to my record­ing of Bannon’s Nashville speech: Was there ever a more con­cise sum­ma­tion of Trump’s cam­paign mes­sage?

Bannon also of­fered high praise for an­other key­note speaker: Joseph Farah, a Vir­ginia-based evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian whose web­site pub­lishes bizarre ar­ti­cles with head­lines such as “Soy Is Mak­ing Kids ‘Gay.’” Farah’s claims that Obama wasn’t born in the United States were so pre­pos­ter­ous that even Bre­it­bart re­port­edly com­plained about them. Bannon, I ob­served, was even more rad­i­cal than Bre­it­bart him­self.

At one point, the riled-up con­fer­ence crowd turned to­ward the me­dia sec­tion at the back of the room and screamed “USA! USA!” Few of the re­porters had ever seen any­thing like this. And in our in­no­cence, we found it shock­ing. Just seven years later, such ha­tred of the me­dia em­anates from the mouths of White House of­fi­cials them­selves. Bannon him­self de­clared in late Jan­uary that the me­dia needs to “keep its mouth shut.”

I’d love to tell you that af­ter com­ing home from Nashville, I rushed to warn read­ers of this up­wardly mo­bile dem­a­gogue. But I didn’t: the idea of a crank like Bannon ever gain­ing real power was be­yond the imag­i­na­tion of main­stream jour­nal­ists. In this sense, those Tea Partiers were right: the me­dia truly was out of touch. We be­lieved such men to be con­tam­i­nants within pol­i­tics, not a gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing.

And yet, here we are. The United States is now a na­tion led by un­re­pen­tant wing nuts who spout fake news, tar­get mi­nor­ity groups, and sig­nal-boost hate­mon­gers. As Stephen Marche and Michael Coren ar­gue else­where in th­ese pages, the en­tire move­ment is a dis­grace to Amer­ica.

Which brings us back to Ezra Le­vant. Many of my Cana­dian me­dia col­leagues snick­ered when Le­vant launched his me­dia com­pany on a shoe­string two years ago. (By way of dis­clo­sure: he has en­gaged my mother, Bar­bara Kay, as a con­trib­u­tor). But his web­site, the Rebel, now racks up mil­lions of hits on Youtube ev­ery week and has more edi­to­rial staffers than The Wal­rus. Could Le­vant be­come Canada’s Stephen Bannon — a con­sigliere to a Con­ser­va­tive ver­sion of Trump? If he does, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.