Ben Shapiro is a [neo]conservative columnist, former Breitbart editor-at-large, and Never Trump–er who’s now facing anti-Semitic threats from the alt-right. On The Gist, he spoke with Mike Pesca about Donald Trump’s election and what Steve Bannon really means for this country. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Is Steve Bannon an anti-Semite?
No, I have no evidence that Steve’s an anti-Semite. 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.
Is that anti-Semitism?
I want to be careful about attributing personal anti-Semitism to him. I will say that it is appeasement of anti-Semitism, which in my book is certainly not a good thing.
So whatever he has in his heart, he countenances it for either political or media gain.
He certainly did with the alt-right, for sure. And that doesn’t mean that Breitbartitself has been anti-Israel—it hasn’t been. It’s a very right-wing site when it comes to Israel. It also doesn’t mean that Jews who work there, like Joel Pollak for example, have been discriminated against, because they’ll say they haven’t, and I wasn’t when I was working there.* What it does mean is that he allowed the site to be taken over and used by a bunch of alt-right people who are not fond of Jews, are not fond of minorities.
Is this basically the comments section? I have heard him talk about how important it was to let the comments bubble up and drive the direction of the site.
I’m talking about that. I’m also talking about the relationship that he’s had with some of the popularizers of the alt-right, people who wouldn’t consider themselves overtly alt-right but have made a big deal out of providing popular appeal to it. People like Milo Yiannopoulos or the folks who they call the Meme Team who traffic in alt-rightness.
For folks who don’t know what the alt-right is, it might be worthwhile to just sort of start at the beginning and talk about what the alt-right is—because there are a lot of these various definitions floating around, nearly all of which are wrong.
Basically, the alt-right is a group of thinkers who believe that Western civilization is inseparable from European ethnicity—which is racist, obviously. It’s people who believe that if Western civilization were to take in too many people of different colors and different ethnicities and different religions, then that would necessarily involve the interior collapse of Western civilization. As you may notice, this has nothing to do with the Constitution. It has nothing to do with the Declaration of Independence. It has nothing to do actually with Western civilization. The whole principle of Western civilization is that anybody can involve himself or herself in civilized values. That’s not what the alt-right believes—at least its leading thinkers, people like Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor and Vox Day. Those kind of folks will openly acknowledge that this is their thought process.
Richard Spencer was just in a big alt-right conference, and his speech ended with a bunch of arm salutes, people yelling “Sieg Heil!” and him winking and quoting in the original German, and criticizing the press using a Nazi phrase.
Yeah, they’re not good people, I think that’s fair to say. Those people have been given this new intellectual veneer by folks like Milo Yiannopoulos. Milo wrote this piece called “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” It was given heavy play over Breitbart, and that piece basically made the case that these are just intellectuals who have made common cause of folks like paleo-conservatives—Pat Buchanan and other folks of that ilk.
What the alt-right is trying to do, and what they’ve been trying to do now ever since Donald Trump came to prominence, is a couple of things. One is they’ve been broadening the definition of alt-right; I just wrote this piece for National Review for the print edition this week. They’ve been trying to broaden the definition of alt-right so they can suck people into believing they’re alt-right even though they don’t believe the central tenets of the alt-right. So they’ll say things like, “Well if you just don’t like Paul Ryan, that means you’re alt-right,” or “If you just like memes, that means that you’re alt-right,” or “If you think that the Republicans are too weak-kneed, that means you’re alt-right.” No, that doesn’t mean that you’re alt-right; it means that you’re not an establishment Republican. I’m not a big Paul Ryan fan, per se, but that doesn’t make me alt-right. I’m their No. 1 target, according to the Anti-Defamation League, this year.
So they’ve tried to broaden the definition so they can suck people into believing they’re alt-right, and then make themselves seem indispensable by saying, “Look at all these alt-right people. They’re all out here, and if the Republican Party pushes them to the side, then they’re going to pay an electoral price for that.” And then you have people winking and nodding at them because they think they’re an important constituency. So it’s a couple-step process, and glomming onto Trump has been part of that because Trump, I don’t think, is alt-right. I don’t think that Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. I think that more than anything, Trump is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage. So if the alt-right, which worships at the altar of Trump—if they provide him good coverage, he’s willing to wink and nod at them and not wreck them.
How much does Steve Bannon subscribe to those notions of European centrism? At what point will he stop?
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