Photo Credit: screen shot / Fox NewsChannel
Time was when one could sum up the connections of Donald J. Trump, Republican Party standard-bearer and King of the Twitterverse, to avowed white supremacists and right-wing white nationalists in a few retweets from the @realDonaldTrump account. Now, with the hire of Breitbart News’ Stephen K. Bannon, it’s official: Trump sees his path to victory through the swamps of hatred and resentment inhabited by the white nationalist “alt-right.”
But that victory may have less to do with winning the presidency than winning a media empire, one for which he has cobbled together an audience from the furthest fringes of the right, combined with the more garden-variety haters who consume more generic right-wing media. Bannon knows how to build a media company, as does Roger Ailes, the ousted Fox News director, who is said to be advising Trump. (It seems somehow fitting that an alleged serial harasser like Ailes should be on the Trump team, given the candidate’s propensity for misogynist statements.)
In a new report for the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and Mother Jones, Sarah Posner tracked the intersection of Breitbart News’ Twitter followers and those of accounts with the Twitter handles of known white nationalists, and found a strong correlation between Breitbart and the white nationalists. She writes:
A Twitter analysis conducted by The Investigative Fund using Little Bird software found that these “elements” are more deeply connected to Breitbart News than more traditional conservative outlets. While only 5 percent of key influencers using the supremacist hashtag #whitegenocide follow the National Review, and 10 percent follow the Daily Caller, 31 percent follow Breitbart. The disparities are even starker for the anti-Muslim hashtag #counterjihad: National Review, 26 percent; the Daily Caller, 37 percent; Breitbart News, 62 percent.
White people who seethe with anger at the sight of non-white people may comprise a minority among U.S. whites, but it’s probably a sizable minority. According to the International Business Times, Breitbart News more than doubled its traffic during the course of the Trump campaign—to 17 million monthly unique visitors in December 2015. (The site is a premiere defender of and message-disseminator for Trump.)
And beyond the subgroup of pure haters, just look at the differences in how a generic cohort of white Americans view media and political attention to racial problems, compared with how blacks and Latinos do. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center earlier this year, 41 percent of whites told interviewers that “too much attention is paid to race and racial issues in our country today,” while only 22 percent of blacks, and 25 percent of Latinos and Latinas said the same. Sort it out by political party, and you find that 59 percent of white Republicans say that’s the case. One-third of white Americans told Pew researchers that President Obama made race relations worse in America, a conclusion likely drawn only from the fact that he’s black. Add it all up, and there’s a potential audience ripe for the picking. And it’s Trump’s audience.
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When people started noticing last year that Trump was retweeting the utterances of white supremacists, some were loath to believe he was doing so consciously. Well, one might say, maybe he didn’t know that the meme he retweeted on November 21 listing completely false crime statistics that depicted black people as a murder squad targeting white people emanated from a noxious pro-fascist account. As the Donald told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, hey, it was just a retweet. “Am I going to check every statistic?” he asked O’Reilly. “I get millions and millions of people @realdonaldtrump. All it was is a retweet. It wasn’t from me.”
But it kept happening. In March, Fortune magazine reported that, since the start of his campaign, Trump had retweeted posts from white supremacist accounts some 75 times, including the famous meme featuring a photo of Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton against a background of cash, next to a Star of David.
White supremacists, or white nationalists as some prefer to be called, often use the hashtag #whitegenocide. Among the more famous of the white supremacist websites, the Daily Stormer is run by Andrew Anglin, who wrote on January 25 that Trump “is giving us the old wink-wink.” As Fortune reporters Ben Kharakh and Dan Primack disclosed, he went on:
Where as the odd White genocide tweet could be a random occurrence, it isn’t statistically possible that two of them back to back could be a random occurrence. It could only be deliberate.
There is no way that this could be anything other than both a wink-wink-wink and a call for more publicity on his campaign. The media is going to say “Trump doubles down on White genocide” and he will just not respond to request for comment, and if it gets brought up in an interview he’ll just say “you know, we retweet a lot of people, a lot of people feel strongly about my campaign and want to make America great again, everybody likes me.”
Then there are the tweets of Trump’s own staffers. On Monday the Associated Press reported that at the lower echelons of the Trump campaign, staffers are clearly enmeshed with the alt-right and white nationalists, as evidenced by their personal social media feeds:
Donald Trump’s paid campaign staffers have declared on their personal social media accounts that Muslims are unfit to be U.S. citizens, ridiculed Mexican accents, called for Secretary of State John Kerry to be hanged and stated their readiness for a possible civil war, according to a review by The Associated Press of their postings.
The AP reports that a graphic designer for the campaign’s advance team posted a video of black man castigating other blacks for having too many children, calling them ignorant, all while eating fried chicken. Meanwhile, a field organizer for Virginia tweeted “that Muslims were seeking to impose Sharia law in America and that ‘those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight.’”
Now, with the hiring of Stephen K. Bannon, a stoker of the alt-right flame via his leadership of the Breitbart News website, as his campaign chief, Trump can no longer pretend he isn’t in league with the people who claim a white genocide is taking place in America. And what Bannon brings to the Trump campaign, according to dirty-trickster and Trump adviser Roger Stone, is “a deep understanding of the new media,” by which he seems to mean social media, and digital media over all.
“Although Donald has set the world on fire in terms of his personal Twitter account, which has become one of the great communication tools since the New York Times—but beyond that, the campaign has not been sophisticated in its use of the new media, in which Bannon is an expert,” Stone told C-SPAN on August 18.
Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos is one of Breitbart’s chief jesters. In Cleveland, during the Republican National Convention, Yiannopoulos—semi-famous for having been banned from Twitter for his racist hounding of actor Leslie Jones—presided over a party whose theme turned out to be a rhetorical bashing of Muslims featuring anti-Islam speaker Pamela Geller. Among the guests milling about, as Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery reported, were Richard Spencer, president and director of the National Policy Institute, which bills itself as a think tank “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world,” and Peter Brimelow, whose anti-immigrant site, VDARE, is rife with the rantings of white supremacists and antisemites. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as Evan Osnos pointed out in his August 2015 New Yorker article on the white nationalists supporting Trump, describes Spencer as “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Regarding the anti-immigrant Brimelow, who is himself an immigrant to the U.S. from Great Britain, SPLC authors write: “For Brimelow, immigration itself is not the problem—it’s the influx of non-whites that is destroying America.”
Posner reports that Bannon doesn’t leave all the race-baiting to his minions:
Bannon has stoked racist themes himself, notably in a lengthy July post accusing the “Left” of a “plot to take down America” by fixating on police shootings of black citizens. He argued that the five police officers slain in Dallas were murdered “by a #BlackLivesMatter-type activist-turned-sniper.” And he accused the mainstream media of an Orwellian “bait-and-switch as reporters and their Democratic allies and mentors seek to twist the subject from topics they don’t like to discuss—murderers with evil motives—to topics they do like to discuss, such as gun control.” Bannon added, “[H]ere’s a thought: What if the people getting shot by the cops did things to deserve it? There are, after all, in this world, some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.”
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s senior Washington editor. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.