Photo Credit: Nessa Kessinger
In his tax speech in Pennsylvania last week, President Trump gave a shout out to "The great Jeffrey Lord.” He went on to explain that Lord “was on fake-news CNN for a long time. He was one of my few sources of truth."
CNN severed ties with Lord after he tweeted “sieg heil,” a Nazi salutation.
Trump’s flirtation with racism is nothing new. It extends back through the campaign and into many facets of the presidency. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people” and has repeatedly refused to condemn hate groups. But the precise mechanisms by which the administration and ally media outlets like Breitbart act as bridges to normalize hate groups is becoming increasingly clear.
Last week, Buzzfeed’s massive story on right-wing provocateurs showed that Milo Yiannopoulos sent at least one major Breitbart story to a number of white supremacists to vet and edit. In a video embedded in the story, Richard Spencer and others gave a Nazi salute as Yiannopoulos sang “America the Beautiful” at karaoke. Milo even spiked a story at the suggestion of white nationalist Devin Saucier, a friend of Spencer’s.
Yiannopoulos was forced out of Breitbart after an old tape in which he appears to condone pedophila came out, but he has remained in contact with the major funders to the site, the billionaire Mercer family, which funded Milo Inc.
Steve Bannon, who had declared the Mercer-funded Breitbart a “platform for the alt-right,” left the site to run Trump’s campaign and work as a senior advisor to the White House and returned to the site when he was ousted shortly after the white nationalist terror attack in Charlottesville.
“Dude---we r in a global existentialist war where our enemy EXISTS in social media and u r jerking yourself off w/ marginalia!!!!,” he wrote to Milo. “U should be OWNING this conversation because u r everything they hate!!! Drop your toys, pick up your tools and go help save western civilization.”
For people like Bannon, “western civilization” is code for whiteness. But it is less offensive, and less likely to scare away potential converts.
In his New York Times Magazine story on Breitbart, Wil S. Hylton talked to Yochai Benkler, a professor who had been studying the site’s rise. Breitbart was three times more influential than its closest rival, Fox News, during the 2016 election. In this way, it has, according to Benkler, served as a sort of filter that helps legitimize racist ideas. Benkler told Hylton that “Breitbart is not talking about these issues in the same way you would find on the extreme right… They don’t use the same language you find on sites like VDARE and the Daily Stormer,” two sites connected to the white-nationalist alt-right movement.
The fact that they don’t use the same language as the Daily Stormer is what makes Breitbart effective as a “bridge” that, in Hylton’s words, “functioned as a legitimizing tether for the most abhorrent currents of the right wing.”
Now that we know that Yiannopoulos actually sent “his” Breitbart stories (which were actually often not written by him) to Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who works at the Daily Stormer, the bridge phenomenon comes off a bit differently.
Trump himself has often acted as a similar kind of bridge. Although he first endorsed Luther Strange to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat in an Alabama special election, Trump has now come around to fully supporting Roy Moore, the theocratic former Alabama judge twice removed from office for failing to recognize the rulings of a higher court.
But Moore is himself acting as a bridge for even more extreme figures. As Talking Points Memo reported last week, Moore’s top supporter is Michael Peroutka, whom the site described as a “hardline Confederate sympathizer with longtime ties to a secessionist group” who has “expressed beliefs that make even Moore’s arguably theocratic anti-gay and anti-Muslim views look mainstream by comparison.”
Peroutka, a secessionist and debt-collection attorney, ran for president in 2004 for the Constitution Party. In 2014, he ran for council in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and was supported by Moore, whom Peroutka has honored by naming a field on his farm for the Alabamian. In 2012, Peroutka asked attendees of a League of the South conference to “stand for the national anthem” and proceeded to play “Dixie.”
So as the President and his administration continue to throw fits about athletes “disrespecting the flag” by taking a knee during the national anthem, they are actively supporting or receiving support from racist extremists who support either the Nazis or the Confederacy. Nevertheless, in the same way that Breitbart launders the extremist views of the Daily Stormer, making them more palatable, the administration is acting as a bridge to legitimize those elements on the right that are even more extreme than Trump.