Confirming his critics' worst fears, President-elect Donald Trump has named the former CEO of Breitbart, who has an open history of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, as his chief strategist.
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Since Donald Trump won the United States presidential race last Tuesday, hate-driven acts have been committed across the nation against members of the marginalized populations that he and his supporters demonized throughout his campaign. Swastikas have been drawn on walls, black students have been added to "n*gger lynching" groups on Facebook, and youth have begun chanting "build the wall" at school. Then, this weekend, Trump announced that Stephen Bannon will become his "chief strategist and senior counselor." Bannon was Trump's campaign head and, previously, the man behind Breitbart, an online publication that is considered by many to advocate for white supremacy and has been accused of publishing Trump propaganda.
Criticisms of Bannon's appointment come from the Democratic elite as well as leading civil rights organizations. Jeff Merkley, a senator from Oregon, wrote in a public statement, "Donald Trump just invited a white nationalist into the highest reaches of the government." His observation is not isolated: As reported by Politico, a representative of Democratic Senate minority leader Harry Reid stated, "It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide." Reid reportedly plans to make a speech on Tuesday elaborating on his condemnation of Bannon's appointment.
Despite the fact that some of those who vociferously criticized Trump during his campaign are now congratulating him, many Americans who dreamt this country was on the path toward equality feel that they've woken to a living nightmare, as a group of extremists seems to have taken power. Trump's election was a chilling declaration to people of color, women, and LGBT people in the United States. During his rise, Trump madly lied about Mexican immigrants, claiming they're rapists and murderers, promised to form a deportation force to remove 11 million immigrants from the US, said he'd imprison his political opponent, called for a ban on Muslim immigrants, said women who have abortions should be punished, and opposed marriage equality. (Though Trump used these hateful tactics to garner support from his roaring followers, he has wavered on several positions. For example, he later said women who get abortions don't need to be punished, and has recently said he's not going to bother with trying to imprison Hillary, or overturning marriage equality. But Trump's true intentions have never been clear, and many fear his conflicting statements mean little about his future actions.)
"Just yesterday morning, we received reports that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States are up by a full two-thirds—by 67 percent," says Mark Potok, an expert on extremism and senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a leading civil rights organization dedicated to tracking hate groups. Potok and the SPLC state with certainty that this rise of hate crimes is attributable in large part to the Trump campaign's divisive rhetoric. The SPLC have also documented at least "200 incidents of hateful harassment or intimidation since election day," and civil rights activist Shaun King claims to have received in surplus of 10,000 reports of hate-driven discrimination and violence from people around the country.
It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion.
"Our fear is that this kind of rhetoric will continue to drive up violence and hatred in this country," Potok says. "It seems perfectly clear that's already happened."
He further explains that Bannon oversaw Breitbart news through its decline from conservative publication into a site that openly advocates racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and white supremacist views. "We certainly do consider Bannon to be representative of those things," Potok says. Breitbart is now known as the mouthpiece for the alt-right movement, which Potok says is nothing more than the rebranding of "the old racist right for the digital age." The alt-right movement shares many of the same beliefs as neo-Nazism and the KKK, but they package it differently, Potok explains, so there's no white robes or racial slurs, which makes their hateful message more palatable to the American public.
It is already known that the white supremacist movement has been infiltrating the US government and law enforcement for a long time. The Washington Post recently profiled a young man named Derek Black, a former rising star in the white nationalist movement, who rejected the cause after experiencing a multicultural education. But back when he was an ardent white nationalist, Black outlined the movement's mission to take over the country through politics: "We can infiltrate. We can take the country back," Black said.
"There is a natural hesitancy on the part of many Americans to call the President-elect of the United States a racist, and I understand that fully," Potok says. "Nevertheless, the facts are as they are. The campaign has been a front of racism, of bigotry, of anti-Semitism, and misogyny. So much as we would like to see this all disappear, I think that's reality."
Many public figures and political leaders who were once critical of Trump seem to have capitulated to him since his win, calling for people to "give Trump a chance," as if his hate-driven actions thus far, and his appointment of an individual who has been accused of supporting white supremacy to political office, are not somehow relevant to his performance as Commander in Chief. Beyond Bannon, many members of Trump's transition team are troubling to equal rights, as they've been part of legislation that harms minority groups.
Potok believes that people must resist this turn toward normalizing Trump's platform of hate. "It's critically important for Americans to realize what is happening," he says, "hopefully to effectively demand the ouster of Stephen Bannon, and other extremists on the Trump campaign."