It’s Already Getting Orwellian: The Battle over Bannon and the “White Nationalist” Label

“White nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of non-whites,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s not a stretch for many to assume that category includes the self-styled alt-right, a movement of angry young white men, and its clearinghouse Breitbart.com.

The tension between the labels “white nationalist” and “alt-right” (the latter being something of a rebranding for the former) has become a focal point for journalists in the days since Trump announced his chief strategist position would go to Steve Bannon. Bannon is best known for his stint as executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, the parent company for Breitbart.com, a proudly right-wing news and commentary website that has a tag for “black crime” and called Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew”.

It’s a tricky situation for journalists, because Breitbart’s headlines are often inflammatory and full of dog-whistles — which is why it has become a clearinghouse and meeting spot for for white nationalists. (Bannon himself proclaimed the site to be “the platform for the alt-right” earlier this year.) But generally it’s been smart enough not to publish openly white nationalist material. Nevertheless, Bannon, in sworn court documents, was said to have expressed personal distaste for Jews, and many Jewish organizations and other progressive and multicultural groups are lobbying hard for Trump to change courses and refuse to appoint him.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-12-50-51-pm

Even people like Jonah Goldberg are distancing themselves from Bannon, while Glenn Beck is using the terms “racist” and “white nationalist.”

And now, Bannon’s website is threatening to sue a “major media organization” over calling it a white nationalist. “Breitbart News Network, a pro-America, conservative website, is preparing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a major media company for its baseless and defamatory claim that Breitbart News is a ‘white nationalist website,’” reads the statement sent to the Hill. Rather than real news, this threat is essentially a way for Breitbart.com to try to influence the narrative. Whether or not there is any basis to such a lawsuit  — it’s doubtful that the private correspondence of the website would withstand the scrutiny of discovery, and many prominent lawyers have vowed to fight such libel cases — isn’t the point; this will create a chilling effect among an already-weakened media, post Gawker demise, who don’t have the bandwidth to fight back.

In fact, it’s already happened. Think Progress describes headlines using words like “loyalist” and “outsider” for Bannon, while a NPR interview with a Breitbart writer soft-pedaled him on the matter of racial ideology. Even the New York Times, which has been excellent at covering Bannon’s views, has gone for words like “populist” and “firebrand” to describe him in headlines.

Meanwhile, how are racists reacting to Bannon’s hire? Well, CNN interviewed quite a few of them, from actual Nazis to pseudo-Nazis, and they were all extremely excited. “You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who’s basically creating the ideological aspects of where we’re going,”said a delighted David Duke. The Chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky J. Suhayda was one of many avowed white nationalists who also supported the hire in public. “I think it’s amazing,” avowed white nationalist Peter Brimelow said.

If it looks like a duck and talks like a duck, and ducks are applauding it, sometimes it’s a duck.