President-elect Donald Trump has asserted that he would fire his newly appointed chief strategist, Steve Bannon, if he actually believed that he was truly a member of the alt-right, an anti-Semitic white nationalist movement.
Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart News, served as the Trump campaign CEO in the final months of the presidential race. His appointment as Trump's chief White House strategist has drawn protest, with critics accusing the controversial Trump adviser of having ties to the alt-right.
On Nov. 22, Trump addressed the controversy over Bannon during a sit-down with The New York Times.
"If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, ... I wouldn't even think about hiring him," Trump said.
Trump recently disavowed the alt-right after a disturbing video of its founder, National Policy Institute president Richard Spencer, used Nazi symbolism and rhetoric to praise the incoming administration.
On Nov. 19, the alt-right National Policy Institute gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate Trump's victory Nov. 8. Spencer took to the podium and described Trump's election as a return to white nationalism, using deeply anti-Semitic rhetoric while attendees hailed Trump using Nazi salutes, The Hill reports.
"America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity," Spencer said. "It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us."
Shortly after video of the incident emerged, Trump transition spokesman Bryan Lanza issued a statement condemning the alt-right.
"President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he [was] elected because he will be a leader for every American," Lanza said.
Trump also defended the controversial website Breitbart News, which Bannon once told Mother Jones was "the platform for the alt-right."
"It's just a newspaper, essentially," Trump said. "It's a newspaper. … Breitbart really is a news organization that's become quite successful, and it's got readers and it does cover subjects that are on the right, but covers subjects on the left also."
The president-elect concluded that he would swiftly fire Bannon if he had proof that the chief strategist held alt-right views, but "in the meantime, I think he's been treated very unfairly."
One of Bannon's fiercest critics is former Breitbart editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, who quit the news outlet over the summer. Shapiro believes that Bannon does not share the alt-right's views but has deliberately helped elevate the fringe movement into the mainstream for political gain.
"I think Steve's a very, very power-hungry dude who's willing to use anybody and anything in order to get ahead, and that includes making common cause with the racist, anti-Semitic alt-right," Shapiro told Slate.
The former Breitbart editor added that he believed Bannon would cease making overtures to the alt-right "if it becomes politically convenient for him to stop."