Since President-elect Donald Trump named Steve Bannon as his White House chief strategist, there has been a concerted effort by many to understand the man who has led the controversial website Breitbart.
Bannon’s allies claim that media outlets have unfairly vilified him and say he is a Harvard-educated naval veteran who achieved real success in the financial sector and the movie industry. The following nuggets about Bannon were gleaned from The New York Times and The Boston Globe over the weekend:
1. Friends defend Bannon as not racist, saying he's just exploiting a business opportunity
People who grew up with Bannon insist that his past political beliefs do not match the anti-establishment, far-right creed he championed at Breitbart. Friends from school have said he wore his conservative attitudes on his sleeve, but they did not think of him as a fanatic.
Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of Dailywire.com, who previously worked as an editor at Breitbart, believes Bannon has mainstreamed the far right for political purposes, according to the Times.
But some classmates of Bannon from his Harvard days told the Boston Globe that they think their former colleague has merely been exploiting a business opportunity, profiting off a neglected demographic: the poor, white-working class.
One former classmate told the Globe: "There’s a strong argument to be made that he was doing whatever any good business leader would do, which is serving his customers and providing a product.”
2. He was inspired by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl
Bannon does not hide his affinity for propaganda. He has cited as an inspiration Nazi propagandist and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. She famously directed “Triumph of the Will,” a film commissioned by Adolf Hitler in 1933 that portrays Germany as a country returning to world power.
Bannon and Breitbart have been denounced by Democratic leaders and civil rights groups for promoting racist attitudes. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Breitbart a “white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill.”
Breitbart is without question the project that elevated Bannon to political relevance and eventually the White House. In January, Bannon described his website as “virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”
3. He has been accused of expressing extremist views on voting rights
Some people who have crossed paths with Bannon say they have heard him express extreme ideologies, including on voting rights. A film colleague of Bannon's, Julia Jones, told The New York Times he had once said that voting rights should be limited to those who own property, as was the case in the early years of the United States.
"I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.'"