Fox News has reported that the Trump presidential transition team is already being called upon to rescind its appointment of Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist, citing accusations of anti-Semitism and racism.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tweeted, “Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white-ethno nationalist propaganda mill. Trump should rescind this hire. In his victory speech, Trump said he intended to be a president for all Americans. Mr. Bannon should go.”
California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff tweeted, “Selection of Steve Bannon for senior WH role unsurprising, but alarming. His alt-right, anti-Semitic, misogynistic views don’t belong in WH.”
The Anti-Defamation League called Mr. Bannon’s appointment, “a sad day.”
As a Jewish-American who worked with Mr. Bannon for several months after my close friend Andrew Breitbart died, I believe I am in an unusual position to opine on Mr. Bannon’s feelings toward Jews and other minorities.
Mr. Bannon took over Breitbart News after Mr. Breitbart died of a heart attack in 2012, and helped transform the company atmosphere, direction and staff into something different than what many of the original journalists and editors were used to. Mr. Bannon had a very different personality than the joyful and optimistic Andrew Breitbart, who valiantly fought the far left with clever humor and amusing investigative antics.
Contrarily, Mr. Bannon had the personality of a tough, no-nonsense conservative hardliner who preferred highly educated journalists to bloggers, and professional corporatism to the creative, independent-minded atmosphere Mr. Breitbart affectionately fostered.
To many people who had spent years working for Mr. Breitbart, it was a shift, and created some controversy. Among the journalists who separated from the company, I was the first.
But this was not because of any conflict I had with Mr. Bannon.
On the contrary, Mr. Bannon made sure I left the company with dignity in a fashion that was equitable and fair, and often told me he appreciated my abilities as a journalist and a lawyer.
If Mr. Bannon were anti-Semitic, I cannot imagine he would have interacted with me in the complimentary and diplomatic fashion that he did, being a person of Jewish faith and heritage.
It also flies in the face of reason to suggest Mr. Bannon is anti-Semitic since many of the editors and lawyers working at Breitbart News were Jewish, including its founder, Andrew Breitbart.
In October 2013, one year after I left Breitbart News, I discovered Mr. Bannon was in the United Kingdom while I was working there on assignment for an international investigations firm. He offered to pick me up so that we could go together to London’s famed Foyle’s bookstore on Charring Cross Road.
Mr. Bannon, a voracious reader, spent two hours with me, scouring the current events, history, political science and philosophy sections. During that time I drilled him on his world views, personal feelings and life history.
Based on my overall personal experience with Mr. Bannon, I cannot believe he is an anti-Semite or racist. Such allegations are inconsistent with the person I know. Mr. Bannon is a staunch, pro-American patriot who believes in playing hardball with the left and his personality shows it.
One could equate his views to being nationalist, but not white nationalist. As an investigative reporter who has spent several years covering the white nationalist movement, I know the difference.
Just because white nationalists and racists support Mr. Trump does not mean the president-elect nor his staff members support them. Like Mr. Trump, the KKK also endorsed President Reagan in 1984, and I cannot imagine anyone would dare accuse Mr. Reagan of such incendiary views.
What could be said about Mr. Bannon is that he projects a bold, unapologetic attitude, and I can understand why some others who have dealt with him dislike him. I cannot defend every decision Mr. Bannon has made as I personally disagree with some of them. That night in London together, I told Mr. Bannon I was personally disappointed about the editorial direction Breitbart News had gone. As a mainstream news journalist, I felt there was too much hardline opinion that carried an angry tone.
In summary, Mr. Bannon and I do not agree on everything, and I am critical of some of his choices. But anti-Semitism and racism are serious accusations, and based upon my own personal experiences as a Jewish-American, and as a journalist and lawyer who despises prejudice, those allegations are unfounded and unfair.
• Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist and former Washington, D.C. prosecutor.
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