White (House) supremacists

August 15, 2017

Racists in the White House are enabling racists in the streets, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

IF THERE was ever a question in anyone's mind that Donald Trump and his racist drumbeat has helped fuel the growth of the far right, just ask longtime white supremacist David Duke.

"This represents a turning point for the people of this country," Duke told Indianapolis Star photojournalist Mykal McEldowney. "We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in, that's why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he's going to take our country back. That's what we gotta do."

The murder of an antiracist protester in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Donald Trump's immediate response in its aftermath--refusing to condemn the white supremacists responsible for murder and instead denouncing violence "on many sides"--were proof positive of something many people already knew: Trump thrives on the racism and xenophobia that he stirs up, and he doesn't care who embraces this hate and how they act on it.

Among Trump's closest advisers and appointees, there is a long history of advancing white supremacist ideas.

Donald Trump presides over a White House event as Steve Bannon (right) looks on
Donald Trump presides over a White House event as Steve Bannon (right) looks on

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, is the former chief of Breitbart Media, where he rebranded old-fashioned reactionary ideas like racism and xenophobia with the shiny new label "alt-right." Before entering the Trump administration, he helped provide a mouthpiece for Islamophobes, racists, anti-Semites, and opponents of LGBT and women's rights.

When Trump appointed Bannon in November, far-right organizations and individuals celebrated--including many of the far-right groups that descended on Charlottesville last weekend. This included "Unite the Right" rally organizers, "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer and the white nationalist Traditionalist Workers Party's (TWP) Matthew Heimbach, who first gained notoriety when he was filmed at a Trump campaign event shoving a Black woman protester.

The TWP's Tony Hovater said of Bannon's appointment at the time: "What timeline are we even on anymore? We're like one or two degrees of separation away from the fucking president."

As his campaign adviser, Bannon advised Trump not to criticize alt-right racism, because Trump's relationship with the right wouldn't hurt him in the polls. Devil's Bargain author Joshua Green wrote, "It was a subject any ordinary campaign would be toxically afraid of...But it didn't produce the political dynamic Clinton expected...Bannon thought he knew why. 'We polled the race stuff and it didn't matter,' he said in late September."

PANDERING TO the right-wing fringe didn't stop when Trump got elected. Trump and Bannon continued to cater to the right--trying repeatedly to make Bannon's pet projects, such as the Muslim travel ban, into actual government policy.

Then there's Trump's deputy assistant and counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka. He's also an alum of Breitbart, as its national security editor, and was a frequent guest on a radio show hosted by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney.

Gaffney promotes the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government and that the civil rights group Council on American Islamic Relations is a "terrorist" organization. Gorka agrees.

Gorka's close ties to the far right include "co-founding a political party with former prominent members of Jobbik, a political party with a well-known history of anti-Semitism; repeatedly publishing articles in a newspaper known for its anti-Semitic and racist content; and attending events with some of Hungary's most notorious extreme-right figures," according to Forward.

Days before the murder of an antiracist protester in Charlottesville, Gorka appeared on the Breitbart News Daily radio to say that white supremacist weren't the "problem" in America--"jihadis" were.

Meanwhile, White House adviser Stephen Miller made headlines at the beginning of August when he attacked the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty--especially the part that says, "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," which he falsely claimed was "added later."

Miller also has deep ties to the far right. He met Richard Spencer at Duke University, where they bonded over "concerns that immigrants from non-European countries were not assimilating," according to Spencer. Miller attacked programs for Spanish-only speakers, claiming they made "a mockery of the American ideal of personal accomplishment."

A columnist for the conservative Duke Chronicle, Miller's beliefs raised concerns from his co-workers when he was a staffer in the office of then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general (that must be hard to do). Miller wrote in defense of unequal pay for women, called affirmative action programs "racial preferences," and defended former Education Secretary Bill Bennett for saying that crime could be reduced by aborting "every black baby in this country."

And if you thought there was no room for the unreconstructed racism of yesteryear amidst all this repackaged "alt-right" bigotry, you'd be mistaken--because Jeff Sessions, the man who called the Voting Rights Act a "piece of intrusive legislation," is still attorney general. Likewise, warhawk John Kelly, with a career of defending and carrying out anti-Muslim, anti-refugee policies, is just getting settled in as White House chief of staff.

BUT IT is Donald Trump who rightfully stands at the top of this pile.

Trump didn't just hesitate to condemn the Nazis this weekend--he has lent support to their cause every day of the week, since the moment he began his ugly, bigoted campaign for president.

From a wall to keep out "rapists" and "criminals" from Mexico to bans on Muslim "terrorists" traveling to the U.S., Trump has used the politics of scapegoating to target the most vulnerable people in society and divert anger away from the real sources of people's misery. In the process, the far right, which relies on scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims and others to convince people to join their cause, has found more fertile ground for their hate than at any time in any recent history.

It was a surprising turn of events to see the likes of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) condemn the racist terror in Charlottesville. The undeniable horror prompted even the most cynical politicians to criticize the Trump administration for not immediately condemning racism.

But it hasn't just been the alt-right "outsiders" in the Trump administration who have made racism a part of the scene in Washington. Even if it isn't as overt as what the alt-right creeps in Trump's office are saying, xenophobia and racism are familiar tactics in Washington politics.

Politicians from Republican Ronald Reagan to Democrat Bill Clinton have fanned the flames of racism with myths about "Black-on-white crime," "immigrants stealing jobs" and "welfare cheats," in an effort to convince "hard-working Americans" that Blacks and immigrants were keeping them from having decent living standards, not the corporate parasites who have profited handsomely by making the U.S. a leader in low-wage work.

If the Republican Party establishment wants to distance itself from the alt-right fringe's racism and hate, it will have a hard job erasing its own history of using racism and hate for political gain.

If, in the aftermath of Charlottesville, the Trump administration is forced to exorcise the Bannons and the Millers, it would be cause for celebration. But there will still be a long and ugly tradition of racism in Washington that we need to defeat.

The first step is the solidarity actions for Charlottesville that have been organized across the country, but it can't stop there. We need to mobilize protests wherever the far right tries to organize--and connect the dots between the white supremacists and the White House supremacists.

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