How Breitbart News Began the Mainstreaming of the Alt-right

With Trump placing Breitbart News chair, Steve Bannon, in charge of his campaign and with the resignation of Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign is signalling an embrace of the alt-right base. This is an unprecedented move by a Republican presidential candidate and is itself tied to Breitbart News‘ shift from conservative Andrew Breitbart’s vision for his conservative media empire to Bannon’s recently evolved alt-right vision.  The story of Breitbart News‘ evolution from Tea Party conservative powerhouse under the direction of the late Andrew Breitbart to the home of the alt-right is reflected in The Hill‘s recent article entitled “How Breitbart turned on Ted Cruz.”

While Bannon began as a supporter of Ted Cruz, he reportedly became enraged with Cruz and began to shift his support toward Trump, while trying to “destroy” Cruz along the way.

The Hill reports:

In late January, Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon was tipped off about a story that he hoped would damage Ted Cruz.

Bannon, who this week became CEO of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was told that a radio advertisement would be landing in Iowa aimed at hurting Cruz with evangelical voters — the very constituency the senator was depending on to win the state’s caucuses on Feb. 1.

The line of attack, which was being pushed by Cruz’s presidential rival Mike Huckabee, was that Cruz had donated only a small fraction of his income to his church, not enough to fulfill his tithing duties of 10 percent.

Bannon was excited by the story, stating that it could spell the end of Cruz’s candidacy. He told his reporters to chase the story hard, though their efforts turned up nothing new.

Bannon didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Hill, but a spokeswoman for the conservative news sight downplayed any work Breitbart’s reporters did on the tithing story.

“With regards to your question on Ted Cruz: Breitbart did virtually zero reporting on this,” Breitbart spokeswoman Alexandra Preate said.

Preate would not comment further, however, and did not deny that Bannon was pushing reporters to pursue the storyline.

In the early stretch of the presidential campaign, Breitbart was seen as a staunch supporter of Cruz, with Bannon leading the charge. Coverage of the Texas senator was favorable, with Breitbart at one point getting an exclusive look at Cruz getting his children ready for bed.

But Breitbart’s allegiances shifted as Trump’s campaign caught fire.

The Hill notes that “the story of how that happened, which has never before been told in such detail, provides a vivid illustration of how Trump’s rise has changed the balance of power in the conservative media, and by extension, the entire Republican Party.”  And it does so, additionally, because it helps illuminate the power shift we’ve seen from limited government Tea Party conservatives to the nihilistic, “burn it all down,” racist and anti-Semitic alt-right.

As Bannon himself moved more towards Trump, his directives to subordinates indicated that Breitbart News would follow suit.  While this caused a lot of Andrew Breitbart’s original team to leave the site, the new focus on Trump—and on relentlessly attacking Ted Cruz, as Trump’s most formidable challenger—transformed the former conservative powerhouse site into what has been disparagingly called “Trumpbart” or “Trump Pravda.”

The move was not instantaneous.  Initially bristling at a couple of Cruz’s moves, Bannon began to seethe with resentment and anger towards the senator from Texas.

The Hill continues:

The first strike against Cruz came in July 2014, when Cruz joined Bannon’s sworn enemy, the conservative radio host Glenn Beck, on a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. Cruz’s staff described the trip as a “humanitarian” mission to help a church provide supplies to needy families.

Bannon thought the trip painted Cruz as soft on illegal immigration, and Breitbart ran a story titled, “Ted Cruz Joins Glenn Beck for ‘Soccer Balls and Teddy Bears’ Event.”

“Steve was still ranting about that trip six months later,” said a source who worked with Bannon at the time.

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined to comment for this story.

The second strike against Cruz came in April 2015, when the senator signaled his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the fast-track legislation needed to push it through Congress.

Making matters worse, Cruz promoted his support for fast-track authority in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Bannon made clear to Breitbart staffers that he wanted to destroy Ryan’s political career and what he called his “globalist” agenda. Shortly after Ryan became Speaker last October, Bannon began instructing reporters to look for ways to take him down. That effort culminated earlier this month in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Ryan in his Wisconsin primary, with the challenger heavily promoted in Breitbart coverage.

Cruz ultimately walked back his support for trade promotion authority, voting against fast-track legislation and explaining his decision in an exclusive for Breitbart News. But that conciliatory gesture wasn’t enough to win back Bannon, or at least not enough to overcome his growing affection for Trump.

“Steve has always been basically an anti-trade guy,” said a second source who worked closely with Bannon at the time. “That’s one of the fissures with the Trump and Cruz support.

As this unfolded, Breitbart News began running with the invented “issue” of Cruz’s status as a natural-born citizen.  Although Trump himself had stated earlier that he didn’t think there was an issue, that’s exactly the rabbit hole Trump’s band of merry conspiracy theorists went down to the raucous cheers of the formerly-fringe alt-right who had been nursing conspiracy theories and wild-eyed ideas about Obama’s eligibility for the better part of a decade.

This is an alt-right meme Trump very famously tried to parlay into a viable presidential campaign in 2011.  To quote Amanda Carpenter, Trump in 2011 was “an Alt-Right internet troll who appeared in human form on cable TV.”  And he was quickly dispatched.  Trump didn’t have a venue in 2011 for his alt-right ass hattery.

By 2016, however, there were a handful of conservative outlets willing to listen to the alt-right message . . . and to get on board with it.  Among them, Bannon’s Breitbart News.  Dragged out of the dark corners of the internet usually reserved for Alex Jones and his anti-Semitic, white nationalist, tin-foil hat-wearing ilk, the alt-right subculture suddenly had an accepted “right stream” media outlet.  Even the alt-right knew that only their fellow fringe true believers listened to Alex Jones or spewed their venomous bile on obscure internet discussion boards, but the entire conservative movement read Breitbart News.  In Bannon’s Breitbart News, they had a legitimate voice, and in Trump, they had a candidate they could get behind.

Again from the Hill:

In January, When Trump began raising questions about Cruz’s Canadian birthplace and his eligibility to be president, Breitbart jumped on the storyline.

Bannon ultimately scored a concession out of the Cruz camp. When the Cruz campaign decided to release the birth certificate of the senator’s mother, it did so by giving it exclusively to Breitbart.

. . . .  The same source defending Bannon pointed out that Breitbart never supported the “birther” movement questioning President Obama’s birthplace. The source defended the coverage of Cruz’s citizenship and said that the Breitbart chairman simply wanted Cruz to explain the issue to voters.

Bannon’s antipathy for Cruz was apparently fueled by Cruz’s counter attacks against Trump.

Bannon’s underlings felt that he’d hitched his wagon to Trump by the time of the first Fox News debate in August — the one where Trump had a famous confrontation with co-moderator Megyn Kelly.

And by January 2016, when Cruz stopped praising Trump and started attacking him as a liberal, Bannon became increasingly enraged and instructed his reporters to hammer Cruz.

Throughout this period, Breitbart staff made no secrets of their close ties to the Trump campaign.

Bannon kept colleagues abreast of his near constant contact with Trump and Corey Lewandowski, who was then Trump’s campaign manager.

This is not a case of as goes Breitbart News, so goes the conservative movement because the alt-right is proudly and avowedly not conservative.  This is, to use former Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro’s words, a “take over of the GOP” that was enabled, in part, by Breitbart News and Trump’s own existing, if shifting, alt-right positions on a handful of issues dear to the alt-right movement.

Shapiro pinpoints a day when Breitbart News‘ seismic shift to and embrace of the alt-right became crystal clear.  He writes:

But it wasn’t until March 29 that Breitbart’s full embrace of the alt-right became clear. That’s the day the site featured Yiannopoulos’s lengthy piece glorifying the alt-right. Yiannopoulos had already given interviews in which he stated that “Jews run the banks” and “Jews run the media,” dismissing anti-Semitic memes as merely “mischievous, dissident, trolly.” He wrote, along with co-author Allum Bokhari, this insane sentence: “There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence.”

. . . . If Republicans aren’t careful, [Bannon]’ll inflict similar damage on their party now that he’s the top man running their standard-bearer’s campaign. If they don’t know it yet, the alt-right surely does. As one of its own, Richard Spencer, explained: “Breitbart has elective affinities with the alt-right, and the alt-right has clearly influenced Breitbart. In this way, Breitbart has acted as a ‘gateway’ to alt-right ideas and writers.” There’s now a path for this same kind of thinking to infiltrate the GOP.

This “gateway” to alt-right ideas is a gateway to everything that conservatives stand against.  The alt-right, like any segment of a political party or movement isn’t monolithic, but there are some key elements beyond rampant anti-Semiticism and white nationalist isolationism that compose the majority of the alt-right’s ideology and agenda.  For example, they almost unanimously sneer at conservatives for being “principled,” for supporting legal immigration, for focusing on the Constitution (a document they see as a barrier to their own white nationalist-isolationist agenda), and for working to change the GOP from within rather than “blowing it up.”

Warning that one of the primary goals of the alt-right is to crush conservatism, Shapiro writes:

Constitutional conservatives can’t stand the alt-right. Conservatives — real conservatives — believe that only a philosophy of limited government, God-given rights and personal responsibility can save the country. And that creed is not bound to race or ethnicity. Broad swaths of the alt-right, by contrast, believe in a creed-free, race-based nationalism, insisting, among other things, that birth on American soil confers superiority. The alt-right sees limited-government constitutionalism as passé; it holds that only nationalist populism on the basis of shared tribal identity can save the country. It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.

Bannon, ensconced apparently in alt-right ideology, has an agenda that he thinks Trump has missed.

Ken Stern, writing for Vanity Fair, explains:

On the surface, Bannon at least has the benefit of being politically sympathetic with Trump; Breitbart, under his leadership, after all, has become “Trump Pravda,” as one former staffer described it to me. But when I talked with Bannon, he expressed a wariness about the political genuineness of the Trump campaign persona. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” he told me earlier this summer. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”  It is likely that Bannon’s political calculus here, if not Trump’s, will be less about winning an election that seems a bit out of hand and more about cementing an American nationalist movement.

The Hill concludes by noting that Bannon has not given up on Cruz and his “future” (presumably in the new alt-right nationalist party—with or without Trump) and that he hopes Cruz “will come around.”

My guess is that Cruz will most certainly not come around to the Bannon-Trump alt-right worldview . . . even as we see many former Tea Party members and conservatives tentatively embrace the rising alt-right.

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