BRIDGEWATER, New Jersey — US President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon dismissed the white supremacist movement, whose march on Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend led to deadly violence, as “losers,” “a fringe element” and “a collection of clowns.”
In an interview with The American Prospect posted online Wednesday, Bannon talked about purging his rivals from the Defense and State departments and told the liberal publication that the US is losing the economic race against China.
Bannon also said there’s no military solution to the threat posed by North Korea and its nuclear ambitions, despite the president’s recent pledge to answer further aggression with “fire and fury.”
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Bannon, a campaign adviser reportedly under internal pressure in the White House, is largely seen as having played a key role in the rise of the so-called alt-right movement of white nationalists, white supremacists and other racist groups that rallied in Virginia Saturday, many of whom turned up in neo-Nazi regalia and bearing shields and burning torches to defend a statue of Civil War general Robert E. Lee — a hero of the slave-holding Confederacy..
But in the interview, Bannon seemed to dismiss the groups as fringe elements, and blamed the media for giving them outsized coverage.
“Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more,” he’s quoted saying. “These guys are a collection of clowns.”
Trump has come under fire at home and abroad for insisting that white supremacist groups and those who opposed them were both at fault for deadly violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. The statements, including a contentious Tuesday press conference during which he insisted that “both sides” were at fault, have been widely seen as giving support to white supremacist groups, many of whose leaders have expressed satisfaction with the president.
According to a report from insider news platform Axios, Bannon has been delighted by Trump’s statements — dubbing them a victory for the nationalist camp in the White House over the “globalists” he fears are trying to drag the president towards a conventional line.
As the head of the Breitbart news organization, Bannon gave white nationalism a high-profile platform, and his senior position with Trump is regarded as a sign of close ties between the movement and the administration.
A forceful but contentious presence in a divided White House, Bannon has drawn fire from some of Trump’s closest advisers, including son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The president is under renewed pressure to fire Bannon, who has survived earlier rounds of having fallen out of favor with Trump.
At the Tuesday press conference, the president also passed up an opportunity to offer a public vote of confidence in Bannon. Trump said he’s a “good person” and not a racist, adding that “we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
Much of the interview was devoted to Bannon’s platform of economic nationalism and tensions with North Korea.
In the interview, Bannon mused about getting rid of administration officials who disagree with his strategy toward China and North Korea and replacing them with “hawks.”
“We gotta do this. The president’s default position is to do it, but the apparatus is going crazy,” Bannon said. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s like, every day.”
“There’s no military solution (to North Korea’s nuclear threats), forget it,” Bannon added. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
Trump tweeted earlier Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “made a very wise and well-reasoned decision” by backing down after heightening fears of nuclear conflict in a series of combative threats, including against the US territory of Guam.
Bannon also outlined his push for the US to adopt a tougher stance on China trade, without waiting to see whether Beijing will help restrain Kim, as Trump has pressed China’s leader to do. Trump also has lamented US trade deficits with China.
“The economic war with China is everything,” Bannon said. “And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, 10 years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.”
AFP contributed to this report.