The knives are officially out between Steve Bannon and President Donald Trump. And if Bannon, who once described his website Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right,” thought that the loose network of white nationalists, misogynists, and neo-Nazis were going to have his back, he was mistaken.
“To us, Bannon has been done as an ideological force for a long time,” wrote Evan McLaren, the executive director of the National Policy Institute, the group founded by alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer. “Bannon is only relevant to the extent he makes money flow, to causes and candidates.”
On Wednesday, New York Magazine dropped an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s highly-anticipated book about the inner workings of the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury.” As it turns out, the former Trump campaign and White House strategist has been speaking quite freely with Wolff, both before and perhaps after he was fired in August and returned to his perch as editor of Breitbart.
The most headline-grabbing bit revealed so far is the fact Bannon described the infamous meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer as “treasonous.”
In response, the president released a sharp-worded statement. “Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency,” Trump wrote. “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”
But rather than rally around Bannon, the so-called alt-right appear to have turned on him.
“Meeting with a Russian to discuss politics is not illegal or treasonous, and Don Jr. did nothing wrong,” wrote Spencer on Twitter. “Bannon is living in some cartoonish, Cold War fever dream, or else he’s creating scapegoats to cover for his own failures.”
Bannon also lost the racists on 4chan.
“Bannon is too chummy with media kikes,” wrote one person, using a Jewish slur. “Trump talks to them but then he is the frontman and he also has the personality to not get steered by then. For all his talk, Bannon didn’t really understand that the media is the enemy”
One expressed anger that Bannon was leaking to the media and damaging Trump. “Hats off to every anon who said Bannon is a leaking shit.”
Another took Bannon to task for condemning white nationalism on display in Charlottesville in August. “Bannon disavowed Unite the Right,” the person wrote. “Trump at least put blame on the left for Charlottesville.”
But some figures within the alt-right said that Bannon was never really their friend to begin with. “The positions and ideologies of Bannon and the alt-right were always distinguishable, ” said Thomas J. Main, a professor at Baruch College who charts the rise of the alt-right in his upcoming book.
Main notes that individuals in the alt-right, like Richard Spencer, Mike Enoch, and Andrew Anglin, as well as “alt-right” websites like the Daily Stormer and the Right Stuff, have no problem in being explicitly racist. Anglin, for example, said that “Jews, Blacks and lesbians will be leaving America if Trump gets elected,” and he’s happy about it. “This alone is enough reason to put your entire heart and soul into supporting this man.”
Breitbart, on the other hand, shrouds itself in a veneer of legitimacy. “The tone of Breitbart is hell-raising, offensive, transgressive, vulgar, nasty,” said Main. “But you don’t see explicit rejections of political, racial egalitarianism on Breitbart.”
To alt-right thought-leaders, Bannon has been a disappointment.
“He was always limited ideologically to begin with,” McLaren said. “He might have represented a chaos agent, in relation to Conservatism, Inc. (a moniker for the establishment Republicans), similar to Trump. But if you look at what he actually has to say, he’s never been aligned with us. He specifically disavows what he understands as racial or ethnic nationalism — his ideology is wholly economic and civic.”
Alt-right personalities were also put out after Bannon washed his hands of Paul Nehlen, the far-right activist challenging Rep. Paul Ryan for his Wisconsin congressional seat. Nehlen, whose anti-immigrant views made him a Breitbart darling, declared online that he was reading a book that is widely considered to be anti-semitic and also tweeted “It’s okay to be white.”
That was a little too far for Bannon. “Nehlen is dead to us,” Bannon’s adviser told CNN last week.
McLaren said his break with Nehlen was indicative of their ideological differences, “even though Nehlen was not very wise or discrete with how he proceeded.”
Others in Spencer’s circle expressed similar sentiments. “Bannon is self-serving and will say or do anything as long as it appeals to the mass of his ‘base’ — whatever that may be,” said Cameron Padgett, the Georgia university student helping Spencer organize his “college tour.” “I don’t think he really speaks how he truly feels.”
Experts say the marriage of the alt-right and Steve Bannon was one of convenience rather than a genuine ideological kinship. He was a vehicle for the alt-right to get as close as was realistically possible to the mainstream — and to the White House. And for that reason exactly, Main isn’t surprised the alt-right aren’t throwing Trump under the bus.
“They’re not saying ‘Bannon was our boy and now he’s out, that proves Trump is no good,” Main said. “It sounds like they’re trying to maintain a relationship with Trump.”