WASHINGTON — The appointment of ultra-conservative provocateur Stephen Bannon as one of the top figures in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House drew fierce opposition from the Anti-Defamation League and top Democrats Sunday, who decried the elevation of the former Brietbart News chief accused of harboring anti-Semitic and white supremacist views.
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Just hours after Trump’s team made its dual announcement Sunday that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus would be the new chief of staff and Bannon the senior counselor and chief strategist – the latter taking top billing in the statement – ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Bannon’s promotion.
“It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’” Greenblatt said.
Under Bannon’s tenure, the Brietbart News website pushed a nationalist agenda and became one of the leading outlets of the so-called alt-right — a movement often associated with white supremacist ideas that oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.”
“It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide,” Adam Jentleson, spokesman for top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid, said in a statement late Sunday, referring to the Ku Klux Klan.
California Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Bannon’s “alt-right, anti-Semitic & misogynistic views don’t belong” in the White House.
A recent Anti-Defamation League report found a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic harassment of journalists during the election was carried out by self-identified alt-right Trump backers.
Bannon has been dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism from an ex-wife since joining Trump’s team as CEO in August.
Court documents from 2007 revealed his ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard said that Bannon did not want their daughters attending a private school in Los Angeles — the Archer School for Girls — because he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews. According the court filings, Piccard stated: “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats.’”
Bannon denied Piccard’s claim. “Mr. Bannon never said anything like that and proudly sent the girls to Archer for their middle school and high school education,” he said through a spokesperson in a statement issued to The Guardian.
The Breitbart editor grew close to Trump in the final weeks of the election campaign after his site was among the few staunchly conservative online outlets that sided with Trump unambiguously, while much of the conservative media and Republican leadership remained queasy about Trump’s candidacy up until election day.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus arrives in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on November 11, 2016. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
In announcing the appointments, Trump said Priebus and Bannon would work as “equal partners” — effectively creating two power centers in the West Wing. The arrangement is risky and could leave ambiguity over who makes final decisions.
Major media reported that Priebus and Bannon were Trump’s two final candidates to become chief of staff, the president’s top aide at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who largely controls access to the Oval Office and can set the president’s agenda.
“Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory,” Trump said in a statement. “Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again.”
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaking at the ADL Annual Meeting in Los Angeles on November 6, 2014. (Courtesy ADL)
While Bannon has been a vehement critic of the Republican establishment, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, RNC chief Priebus has close ties to the party’s Congressional leadership, with which Trump must work in order to advance his agenda in the coming years.
Greenblatt’s statement commended the selection of Priebus to his slot, saying he has had “a long career in politics and public life.”
The Trump transition team remains on a tight deadline to make a host of crucial decisions about the incoming president’s top staff and cabinet, which consists of the heads of 15 executive departments. They must also hire more than 4,000 people — roughly 1,000 of whom will require Senate confirmation.
AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.