After President-elect Donald Trump sat down for a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday, rumors began swirling about who Trump will take with him to run the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. CNN and The New York Times are reporting that Breitbart chairman Steven K. Bannon could be chief of staff in the Trump administration. This wouldn't be the first time he worked with Trump — Bannon served as CEO of Trump's campaign. If you're not familiar with Bannon and his particular brand of alt-right, race-baiting conspiracy theories, hang on tight. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Bannon made a name for himself as the outspoken publisher and one of the public faces of Breitbart News, a conservative website that Bannon proudly labeled "the platform for the alt-right" in a July interview with Mother Jones. Prior to joining the Trump campaign in mid-August, Bannon had been running Breitbart for four years, after the death of the site's founder, Andrew Breitbart. Under Bannon's leadership, the already-conservative site took a hard turn to the right, consistently elevating white supremacist voices, anti-Obama conspiracy theorists, and xenophobic fear-mongering. Before he took the helm at Breitbart, Bannon built his conservative credentials as a documentary filmmaker, producing films like Generation Zero (which blamed the financial crisis on "decades of social changes"), Michelle Bachmann biopic Fire from the Heartland, and his 2011 documentary about Sarah Palin, The Undefeated.
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow dedicated more than a quarter of her Aug. 18 episode to digging into Bannon's professional history. Let her break down the terrifying trajectory that could bring Bannon to the White House:
Ben Shapiro, a former editor-at-large at Breitbart and himself a staunch conservative, quit the site in March once he realized that Bannon's "loyalty to Donald Trump outweighed loyalty to [Breitbart's] own employees," he wrote in an August column for conservative outlet The Daily Wire. Shapiro said he came to the realization after watching Bannon help Trump attack one of Breitbart's own reporters, Michelle Fields, after she claimed that former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted her during a rally. He continuously denied the claims and called Fields "delusional." In an op-ed for The Washington Post in August, Shapiro laid the blame squarely at Bannon's feet for helping to "transform a mainstream conservative website into a cesspool of the alt-right."
By choosing Bannon as his campaign CEO — and now by reportedly considering Bannon for the influential chief of staff position — Trump helped to legitimize what was once a fringe conversation within the broader conservative movement. Two days after the election, The Daily Beast ominously warned that Bannon, Breitbart, and its equally outlandish offshoot, InfoWars, are now poised to become "Trump's new media establishment." And coming on the heels of a campaign that saw Trump repeatedly mock reporters, throw out journalists who dared to ask questions, and promise to revoke press freedoms protected by the First Amendment, any administration post going to Bannon is likely to have a ripple effect.
If Bannon becomes chief of staff over others being considered for the position, like longtime Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, it will be the clearest indication yet that a Trump administration has no intention of "playing nice" with those who rejected the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that defined the campaign.