Several organizations have launched petitions calling for President-elect Donald Trump to rescind his appointment of Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon.
These pleas for Trump to reconsider his Sunday decision to select Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor focus largely on Bannon’s prominent role in the so-called alt-right movement, which critics call a mere rebranding of white nationalism.
Bannon’s defenders say the left is trying to smear both him and Trump after losing the election. But his detractors accuse him of transforming Breitbart News into an online news destination for racism, sexism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories and hate. They consider it unacceptable that a man responsible for fanning the flames of racial division is on track to be one of the country’s most powerful and influential men.
MoveOn.org, a liberal political action committee, launched a petition urging members of Congress to vehemently oppose Trump’s appointment of Bannon and use any tools at their disposal to keep this from happening. It had more than 187,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning.
But it’s not clear how much Congress could intervene. Unlike Cabinet secretaries and those in other high-profile positions, advisers like Bannon are not subject to Senate approval.
Jo Comerford, a campaign director for MoveOn.org, told Yahoo News that Bannon’s “unabashed white supremacist, misogynist, anti-Semitic leanings” and the “bigoted vein” of Trump’s campaign have no place in the White House.
“There are countless examples [of Bannon’s racism] offered to us by many media reports. The news service that he oversees is known for its white supremacist undergirding. There’s not really anywhere you can go that you don’t see Steve Bannon as the poster child for white supremacism or white nationalists,” she said in a phone interview. “And the thought that he would be a senior counsel in the White House, just down the hall, if you will, from our next president, is extraordinarily alarming.”
Comerford mentioned a MoveOn.org campaign called United Against Hate that has been encouraging people to take a stand against Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals for months. Early on, she said, the campaign argued that Trump’s statements about marginalized communities had poisoned the election and were no laughing matter.
“I’m proud that we rang that alarm bell,” she said. “I wish we had been successful in keeping him out of the White House, but I’m proud we sounded the alarm, and I do think history will tell us that it would have been best if more and more Americans had been awake to the kind of nightmarish reality our nation now faces.”
The MoveOn.org petition notes that former Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard David Duke and American Nazi Party chairman Rocky Suhayda have praised the Bannon appointment.
The civil rights-focused Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — whose similar petition had gathered more than 345,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning — has called Bannon the “main driver” for Breitbart News transforming into a “white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.”
The SPLC petition cites several Breitbart News reports that illustrate why the group considers Bannon a propagandist for racist and xenophobic ideologies. One Breitbart article called for readers to hoist the Confederate flag up “high and [to] fly it with pride,” just two weeks after a white supremacist murdered nine people at a prayer service at a historically African-American church in downtown Charleston, S.C. The right-wing news site also published an article arguing that “rape culture” is “integral” to Islam.
“Mr. Trump, during your victory speech, you pledged to be a president for ‘all Americans’ and to ‘bind the wounds of division’ in our country,” the SPLC petition reads. “If you mean what you say, you must rescind your appointment of Bannon.”
Shaindel Beers, a professor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore., also launched a Change.org petition, which has more than 80,000 supporters as of Wednesday morning, titled “Steve Bannon’s racist, anti-semitic, misogynistic views don’t belong in the White House.”
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill, such as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, have already spoken out forcefully against Bannon. Meanwhile, President Obama refused to criticize the hire, maintaining his postelection olive branch with his successor.
Amid the firestorm over Bannon, Breitbart senior editor-at-large Josh Pollack is pushing back against the accusation that Bannon is prejudiced or that their website promotes a racist agenda.
“He’s also very open to debate and challenge as long as you bring facts and data to the table,” Pollack told NPR Wednesday. “And he has no prejudices, he treats people equally, and, in fact, during my time working closely with him at Breitbart for five years, he sought out people from diverse backgrounds and gave them a voice at Breitbart.”