- Richard Cohenpresident of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center are slamming President-elect Donald Trump for naming Stephen Bannon to become his chief strategist, we speak with SPLC President Richard Cohen about Bannon’s role as former head of the right-wing news outlet Breitbart Media and as Trump’s campaign manager. “Two weeks after the Charleston massacre, [Breitbart News] ran an article talking about how people should proudly fly the Confederate flag,” Cohen says. He argues that the alt-right that Breitbart is associated with “is nothing more than the rebranding of white supremacy, white nationalism, for the digital age,” and calls on President-elect Trump to “speak out forcefully against all forms of bigotry, and then he has to follow talk with the walk.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Marrakech, Morocco, here at the U.N. climate summit, but we’re covering events closely that are taking place in the United States, and we’ll soon bring you voices of protest from the front lines in New York.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center are slamming President-elect Donald Trump for naming Stephen Bannon to become his chief strategist. Bannon is the former head of the right-wing outlet, news outlet, Breitbart Media. He took over as Trump’s campaign manager in August. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said, quote, “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the 'alt-right'—a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists—is slated to be a senior staff member in the ’people’s house,’” unquote.
The Southern Poverty Law Center accused Bannon of becoming, quote, “the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill,” unquote. Even former Breitbart employees have spoken out about what the site became under Bannon’s watch. The site’s former editor-in-chief, Ben Shapiro, recently said that staffers are now openly pushing white ethno-nationalism. Donald Trump announced Bannon would become chief strategist on Saturday. Trump has also tapped RNC Chair Reince Preibus to serve as his chief of staff.
Steve Bannon has also faced questions about domestic abuse. He was charged in 1996 with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. A Santa Monica, California, police report said Bannon grabbed then-wife Mary Louise Piccard “by the throat and arm” and threatened to leave him with—to leave with the couple’s twin daughters. Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were dropped later that year when Piccard did not appear in court. Piccard claimed in divorce proceedings that Bannon pressured her not to testify. Piccard also said in a sworn 2007 court filing that Bannon made anti-Semitic comments when the two argued over whether to send their daughters to a private school. According to one document, Piccard said, quote, “He said 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,” unquote.
Joining us in New York is Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
So, Richard Cohen, you got the news, with everyone else, that Steve Bannon would be the chief strategist for Donald Trump. Your thoughts?
RICHARD COHEN: Well, it was incredibly disheartening, Amy. You know, the night that Trump was elected, he said that he was going to be the president for all Americans, that he was going to bind the wounds of division—wounds, of course, that he had caused. And now we see him doing the opposite, you know, appointing someone who was very proud to give a platform to the alt-right. And, you know, the alt-right is nothing more than the rebranding of white supremacy, white nationalism, for the digital age. So, Trump says one thing the day he’s elected, does something else at this point. It’s really discouraging, really disheartening. And, you know, it doesn’t portend well for his administration, I’m afraid.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard, describe more fully what is the alt-right. What is the Breitbart News website and the significance of Bannon now being the number two man for President—soon-to-be President Trump?
RICHARD COHEN: You know, when—Breitbart traditionally was a very conservative website. But under Bannon, it’s become a cesspool for white supremacy, according to one of his former colleagues. You know, the alt-right is white nationalism. It rejects multiculturalism. It’s opposed to immigration. You know, the godfather of the alt-right is a fellow named Richard Spencer. His motto is “All men are created unequal.” He believes that black people are intellectually inferior. He calls for, you know, the peaceful ethnic cleansing of our country. He was ecstatic when Trump was elected, and, I’m sure, equally ecstatic now that Bannon is in the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Bannon’s background. Talk about his operating of Breitbart News.
RICHARD COHEN: Yeah, you know, look, I don’t want to talk about Bannon’s personal background. I’ll just talk about what he’s done at Breitbart News. I mean, anyone can go and look at the archives there and see unbelievable stuff. Two weeks after the Charleston massacre, for example, you know, they ran an article talking about how people should proudly fly the federal—the Confederate flag. They’ve talked about Islam as a religion of a rape culture. He mocked women who are, you know, the victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s obsessed with kind of, you know, the so-called scourge of black-on-white crime. It’s racist. It’s misogynist. It’s anti-Semitic. It’s everything that this country should not be.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Breitbart employees have spoken out. This is the site’s former editor-in-chief, Ben Shapiro, who wrote, quote, “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.” This is Shapiro speaking to CNN earlier this year.
BEN SHAPIRO: Steve likes to think of himself as the big bear tearing everybody else down because he’s a big power player. And, look, it’s got him where he is now. I think that, again, Steve Bannon—I tweeted this morning, imagine that one of the worst people you know is heading up a presidential campaign, and that’s pretty much, you know, where I’m at this morning.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to—Richard Cohen, your response?
RICHARD COHEN: Trump knew what he was doing. You know, he ran a racist campaign from the first day that he came down the escalator at Trump Tower. You know, he vilified Mexicans. He vilified Latinos. He vilified women, black communities, Muslims. And of course, you know, he brought Steve Bannon in because Steve Bannon reflected his views. And unfortunately now, he hasn’t pivoted, despite his words after the election, and he’s continuing to embrace Bannon. I wish he would change.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Cohen, as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, you know, I asked you first about Bannon. What about Donald Trump and his election, and what this means, and the report that you’ve put out, Richard, through the Southern Poverty Law Center, of the number of attacks this week on vulnerable people, and, overall, your response?
RICHARD COHEN: Well, look, the—you mentioned 200 attacks. The number is well over 300 now. And, you know, they’re happening everywhere. A lot are happening in schools. We’re seeing them in places like Wal-Mart, Starbucks. We’re seeing them, you know, just at traffic stops, where people are being—you know, people of color are being harassed by people who are passing them and screaming “Trump!” You know, it’s an ugly, incendiary thing.
Last night, Donald Trump was on 60 Minutes, and he said, “Stop it.” And, of course, he also said it only happened one or two times. He terribly downplayed it. You know, so Trump needs to say more than “stop it.” He needs to speak out forcefully against all forms of bigotry. And then he has to follow talk with the walk. He has to stop putting people like Bannon in the administration. He has to throw them out and assure the American public that no one with hate crime ties, no one with hate in their hearts, is going to have any role whatsoever in our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: So these reports around the country of these assaults, of people marching through schools and saying “Build that wall” or “Make America white again,” the reports we have from Philadelphia to Boston, something unprecedented, where the schools are sending counselors into the classrooms because these kids are so frightened—
RICHARD COHEN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —after the election of Donald Trump.
RICHARD COHEN: Look, they were frightened before the election. They were frightened by the rhetoric that Donald Trump was spewing during the election. We did a big survey during the election asking teachers what was happening in their schools. We never used Trump’s name in the survey, but we didn’t have to. Thousand teachers wrote back and talked about the horrible things that were happening in their school, you know, an incredible increase in bullying, an incredible increase in ugly—in ugly talk, heartbreaking stories of young children in elementary schools really being fearful, coming up to a teacher every day saying, “Has he built the wall yet? Are my parents going to be deported?” So, you know, this is just a continuation of what we saw in the campaign, but it’s really been quite intensified since the day of the election.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Cohen, is there anything you want to add before we go to the voices of the streets of New York, tens of thousands of people continuing to protest? This was before the appointment of Steve Bannon to be the number two man for a President Trump.
RICHARD COHEN: You know, I would just urge people to stand strong, be careful, don’t give up hope. One of the sad things of the election was, you know, 43 million Americans who were eligible to vote did not. That’s 100 million people. I don’t know how those 100 million people would have voted, but I think our democracy will be healthier when everyone speaks. And so I hope this energy that we’re seeing in these demonstrations translates into increased political participation in our country.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Richard Cohen, finally, how Donald Trump has responded to the attacks on people of color, on immigrants around the country?
RICHARD COHEN: He hasn’t done enough. He has minimized the number of attacks. He said there’s one or two; there have been hundreds. His alter ego at Breitbart has said that they’re all just a hoax and a fraud. He needs to do much, much more, if America is, you know, going to be a country that embraces all of its citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Richard Cohen, I want to thank you for joining us from New York. Democracy Now! is in Marrakech, Morocco, for the U.N. climate summit. But I can tell you every other word out of people’s mouths here from around the planet is “Donald Trump.”
RICHARD COHEN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Another issue, of course, is his climate denial, of deep concern to people here at the U.N. climate summit. Richard Cohen is president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. We’ll link to his latest report at democracynow.org. When we come back, though, voices from the streets, protests in the United States. Stay with us.