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President Bannon?: Racist, Islamophobic Breitbart Leader Consolidates Power in Trump White House

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President Trump took the unprecedented step of giving Bannon a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council last week. Bannon has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the White House. On Tuesday, The New York Times ran an editorial posing the question “President Bannon?” The Times wrote, “We’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon—nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.” For more, we speak with Josh Harkinson, senior reporter at Mother Jones. His recent article is headlined “The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s 'Muslim Ban.'”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As protests continue across the country and globe over Donald Trump’s order closing the borders to refugees and citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations, we turn to look at the man largely credited with writing the executive order: Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. Over the first two weeks of the Trump administration, Bannon has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the White House. On Tuesday, The New York Times ran an editorial posing the question, “President Bannon?” The Times wrote, quote, “[W]e’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon—nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence,” unquote.

Bannon is the former head of Breitbart News, a site that’s been described as online haven for white nationalists. He left the job in August to run Trump’s campaign. Last week, Trump took the unprecedented step of giving Bannon a full seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council. While Bannon has given few interviews since Trump’s election, many journalists have been scouring the archives of Breitbart, where Bannon once hosted a radio show. In a piece today, The Washington Post highlights a program from 2015 when Bannon questioned Republican Congressman Ryan Zinke, who’s now Trump’s nominee to be interior secretary. This is Steve Bannon.

STEPHEN BANNON: There’s a level of frustration and anger here in the United States that we’re not prosecuting this war, and we’re actually in discussions about bringing over Muslim refugees into this country, with a president who’s now mocking, you know, the talk radio people, mocking the audience on talk video, mocking the sites like Breitbart, that are bringing up these issues. What say you?

REP. RYAN ZINKE: Well, I think we need to do two things—or three things. One is we need to put a stop on refugees until we can vet. You know, we’ve been through a number of classified briefings.

STEPHEN BANNON: Why stop until we vet? I don’t understand. What do you mean, vet? Why not—why not just—why not—why not just stop? Why not—why—why—why—why are you going through this thing on vetting, the opportunity cost of vetting?

REP. RYAN ZINKE: Well, because—well, vetting is important, because we don’t know—

STEPHEN BANNON: Why? No, you only vet—stop—commander, you only vet if you’re going to let them in. Why even let them in?

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Stephen Bannon interviewing Ryan Zinke in 2015. In another program from 2015, Bannon interviews Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to be the attorney general. Sessions praised a 1924 immigration law which imposed a racist quota system. This is Stephen Bannon.

STEPHEN BANNON: As it exists today, with the current laws on the books, right? This is not passing Gang of Eight, correct? This is what—this is what our current laws on the books would actually allow to happen, that we would have, at the end of this time period, 50 years—you’d basically have an increase in the population of what? A hundred and fifteen million people, 14 million basically from the native-born population, and 103 million would actually come from—from outside.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: In seven years, we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans non-native born since the founding of the republic. And some people think, “Well, we’ve always had these numbers.” But it’s not so. This is very unusual. It’s a radical change. And in fact, when the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly. And we then assimilated through the 1965 and created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America. And then we passed this law that went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, and we’re on a path now to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who now could be voted to be the attorney general, being interviewed by Steve Bannon in 2015.

To talk more about Bannon, we’re joined by Josh Harkinson, senior reporter at Mother Jones, his recent article headlined “The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s 'Muslim Ban.'”

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Josh.

JOSH HARKINSON: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you lay out who Stephen Bannon is? And then we’ll ask you about Stephen Miller.

JOSH HARKINSON: Well, I think, at heart, Stephen Bannon is a nationalist who—you know, he turned Breitbart News into an empire that is really one of the preeminent platforms for the “alt-right,” as he told us back this last summer. And, you know, he is deeply opposed to Islam, on many levels. But, you know, he is basically a demagogue in the mold of those from past eras. And I, you know, think he’s risen to power within the Trump administration based on his ability to inflame racial fears and xenophobia.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened this weekend, the ban, through two executive orders, that now the press secretary, Sean Spicer, is saying is not a ban, although he, himself, used the term many times, as did President Trump.

JOSH HARKINSON: Right. And if you look, as we did at Mother Jones—you know, we looked at his radio interviews, shortly after he became Trump’s campaign manager back last summer. And he has a long history of interviewing anti-Islam activists and promoting this paranoid vision of Islam as a religion bent on the destruction of Western civilization. And so, I think, in that context, there is no doubt that this policy is really about preventing Muslims from coming into the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a talk that Stephen Bannon delivered via Skype in a conference held inside the Vatican in 2014. He talked about the crisis that capitalism confronts in the West in the war against Islamic fascism.

STEPHEN BANNON: I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis. And it’s really the organizing principle of how we’ve built Breitbart News to really be a platform to bring news and information to people throughout the world, principally in the West, but we’re expanding internationally, to let people understand the depths of this crisis. And it is a crisis of—both of capitalism, but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West and our beliefs. We are in an outright war against jihadists, Islam, Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing almost far quicker than governments can handle it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there is Stephen Bannon in an address in a conference inside the Vatican a few years ago. The significance of, Josh Harkinson, of what he’s saying here?

JOSH HARKINSON: Well, you know, as you’re probably aware, President Obama declined to even use the term “Islamic terrorism,” but here you have Stephen Bannon framing the battle against terrorism as a religious war, which is exactly what radical terrorists want. They want to present themselves as the representatives of Islam, when in fact it is a religion of millions of people that is very moderate. And, you know, that’s evident in our allies in the Islamic world, in their approach to governance. But Stephen Bannon is really, in this sense, playing into the hands of actual terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you about this most recent information that has come out, that he has been made a principal on the National Security Council, what exactly this means, this man who came out of Goldman Sachs, who was the head of Breitbart News, a news haven for white supremacists and nationalists. What is he doing on the National Security Council? And the significance of this, as well as the demoting of two of the traditional positions on the National Security Council—the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, as well as the director of national intelligence, currently—those two positions?

JOSH HARKINSON: Right. This is really unprecedented. You know, David Axelrod, Obama’s political adviser, sometimes sat in on these meetings, but he had nothing close to a permanent position. And Bannon’s elevation, while these other officials are demoted, really tells us that he’s going to be playing a key role here on this council, which should be deeply disturbing, not just because of his radical ideology, you know, his views on Islam, but also because he’s a political operative, and his MO has always been to use policy as an arm of politics, his arm of winning over his adversaries. And so, it’s scary. I mean, he could start a war just for political gain.

AMY GOODMAN: It was interesting to hear David Axelrod’s response to Sean Spicer, who had said, “He is being no different than David Axelrod for Obama, who was his political adviser. He had walked in and out of NSC meetings. We’re just making ourselves transparent,” to which David Axelrod responded, “It’s amazing to go to sleep and wake up as an alternative fact.” He said, “I did not participate in these meetings. Sometimes I would go in to hear what people were saying, for example, about Afghanistan. But,” he said, “it’s certainly very different from being a principal at the table.”

JOSH HARKINSON: Right, and I think that’s the key point. You know, Bannon is really—I mean, look at his behavior at Breitbart News, where he had no qualms about using xenophobia to gain readers and clout. And, you know, I think his behavior—he also has a famously confrontational style, where he loves to—he views himself at war with his adversaries. He has a very black-and-white view of the world. And so, you know, this suggests that he will encourage Trump to clash even more than he already does with foreign leaders around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to comments Bannon also made about the media in that interview last week with The New York Times, where he said, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Bannon added, “I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” Very quickly, Josh?

JOSH HARKINSON: Yeah, so this war against the media is, you know, a classic authoritarian tactic, discrediting the people who tell you what’s going on in the world, questioning their authority to give you the facts, which causes basically the people to not know what’s up and what’s down, to question, you know. And so, then that allows him to do whatever he wants, with impunity, ultimately.

AMY GOODMAN: And quickly, Stephen Miller, who exactly he is, this former head—chief of staff of Senator Sessions, who’s now one of the top advisers to President Trump?

JOSH HARKINSON: Yeah, Stephen Miller is an interesting guy. You know, he’s very young. He’s 31 years old. He was formerly Jeff Sessions’ top aide and, you know, has been described as having a mind meld with Sessions, you know, is very much opposed to multiculturalism and is a nativist in the Sessions strain. And, you know, he has a history, from his earliest days in politics at Duke University, where he was a columnist at the campus newspaper, of writing these op-eds that are just very far-right and, you know, appealing to—basically, he is a mini Steve Bannon. He’s a demagogue in training, essentially.

AMY GOODMAN: And his relationship with Richard Spencer, the well-known white supremacist?

JOSH HARKINSON: Exactly. So, he and Richard Spencer, you know, who I spent a lot of time with a few months ago, were both members of the Duke Conservative Union. And they worked together to bring Peter Brimelow, a very influential white nationalist, the head of the group VDARE, to campus to talk about immigration issues. And, you know, Spencer told me, basically, that he thought he was a mentor to Miller. Miller vehemently denies this, but other members of the Duke Conservative Union told me that they did work together on this event.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Josh Harkinson, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re certainly going to link to your piece at Mother Jones. The piece is headlined “The Dark History of the White House Aides Who Crafted Trump’s 'Muslim Ban.'”

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