[T]he biggest danger to the president and to Breitbart may be their fellow travelers on what Bannon once called “the alt-right,” as became especially clear after Charlottesville. And Bannon was itching to distance himself from the white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that have rallied under Trump and supported his agenda. “They’re getting off a free ride off Donald Trump. They’re getting a free ride,” he exploded, his eyes red, calling them a “small,” “vicious group” that “add[s] no value.” As he condemned them, though, he took a characteristic swipe at the media for continuing to blur the lines between racial extremists and his movement. “I don’t need to be—I don’t need to be lectured—by a bunch of—by a bunch of limousine liberals, O.K., from the Upper East Side of New York and from the Hamptons, O.K., about any of this.”
Prior to Trump’s surprising election, Bannon’s Breitbart pursued, essentially, a no-enemies-on-the-right policy, with a disparate group of believers in its big tent. For years, as Breitbart cultivated a scurrilous following of anti-Islamists, anti-immigrants, and Internet trolls with questionable Photoshop skills and even more questionable taste, Bannon defended his collection of deplorables as people who were simply united by their hatred of the establishment, whatever it was at any given moment. In August 2016, Bannon called Breitbart “the platform of the alt-right,” yoking his site to an ugly strain of American politics at the expense of his own allies. “I’ve talked to people who work with him, and they said, ‘They don’t know why he said that,’” said Morton Klein, echoing several other Bannon associates I’ve spoken to over the past several months. He rolled with it, however, and tended to dismiss complaints about some of the constituencies as political correctness. (Bannon did not return a request for comment.)And then in August, Charlottesville happened. The nation watched in horror as a group of white supremacists, toting guns and chanting neo-Nazi slogans, chose to defend a statue against liberal protesters by ramming a car into the crowd, injuring 19 and killing one. Whether he deserved it or not, Bannon got swept into the narrative when he was ousted from the White House shortly afterward, just days after Trump claimed that both the supremacists and the antifa were to blame for the violence.
Charlottesville brought to a head something that had been bubbling for a while. Back in April, I reported that the members of Bannon’s ideological world were coming to realize that associating with the “alt-right”—a term also used by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer to describe his own movement—was poisonous to their cause. Though Bannon had counseled the president to stick to his guns over Charlottesville, people close to him say that he’d known for a while that an association with open racialists was a major threat to the rise of populist-nationalism. In fact, said right-wing raconteur-turned-reporter Mike Cernovich, virtually everyone in the upper echelons of the organized Trump base were in agreement that the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the anti-Semites, and the rest of them, all had to go.
But when I asked what Bannon and his movement would do to get them out, Cernovich sighed. “Yeah, that’s the issue,” he said. “I don’t know if anybody has the answer about that.”
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