Rabbi Sue Silberberg watched a video of Richard B. Spencer, president of the alternative-right National Policy Institute, salute more than 200 attendees at the organization’s annual conference with a simple message.
“Hail Trump, hail our victory, hail our people!” Spencer said.
Silberberg, the IU Hillel executive director, said her reaction to the chant was terror.
Silberberg, along with other activist and minority groups, has been unsettled by the rise of alt-right groups such as the NPI and president-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Steve Bannon as White House chief strategy officer and senior counselor.
Bannon served as CEO of the Trump campaign starting in August 2016. He also co-founded Breitbart News, the parent company of the alternative-right wing news site, with Andrew Breitbart.
The alt-right movement is generally associated with efforts to preserve white identity and oppose multiculturalism. Some Breitbart News headlines have read “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “How to talk about global warming with our crazy ISIS relative at Thanksgiving dinner” and “Read the scary descriptions of refugees by Idaho refugee agency.”
Bannon became chief executive of Breitbart News after Breitbart’s death in 2012. Under Bannon, Breitbart News had 19.2 million visitors in October — the website’s highest traffic since its founding in 2007.
Many activist and minority groups are concerned about the role Bannon will play in the Trump administration.
IU junior Margaret Hoffman, director of social affairs for the IU Feminist Student Association, said she thinks Bannon’s chief strategy officer appointment is offensive and ridiculous.
Hoffman said the FSA executive board shares Breitbart News headlines in its GroupMe. She said they were blown away by the sexist nature of many of the headlines. Alt-right groups have been emboldened by Trump’s victory, she said.
“People now think homophobic, sexist and xenophobic views can exist out in the open,” Hoffman said. “There’s no punishment. It’s legitimized.”
Bannon has also been accused of white nationalism.
Asshar Madni, the vice president of the board of trustees for the Al-Salam Foundation, an Islamic nonprofit organization founded in 2012, in Indianapolis, said he watched one of Trump’s recent speeches and was encouraged by Trump’s message of working for all Americans. However, Bannon’s appointment directly undermines Trump’s objectives, Madni said.
“We are seeing contradictory messages,” Madni said. “Mr. Bannon’s appointment sends the wrong message to the people.”
Bannon has also been accused of anti-Semitism.
In 2007, Bannon’s ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard said in a court declaration during their child custody battle that Bannon didn’t want his two daughters to attend the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because of the number of Jewish students at the school.
“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”
Newt Gingrich said in an interview on “Face the Nation” that Bannon could not be anti-Semitic because he has served in the Navy and worked at Goldman Sachs and in Hollywood.
Silberberg said she does not believe Trump is ideological, but he’s surrounding himself with incredibly conservative and alt-right people.
“Whether he believes these things or not, he’s surrounding himself by people who aren’t moderate,” Silberberg said.
Piccard also accused Bannon of choking her and grabbing her arm in 1996.
Police responded to the altercation and found red marks on Piccard’s left wrist and on the right side of her neck, according to a police report released by Santa Monica, California, officials. The fact that he has been accused of domestic violence in the past and that he will now serve as a key advisor to Trump is the problem, Hoffman said.
“I just hope people keep their eyes and ears open and continue to read the news,” Hoffman said. “Don’t let people like Steve Bannon become normalized because he’s not normal.”
Madni said right now it is too early to say what influence Bannon will have on policy, but the Al-Salam Foundation encourages civic engagement, so they will be watching the news closely.
Eyas Raddad, president of the Board of Trustees of the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association, said he thinks Bannon will be busy working on economic policy, so he will have little influence on social issues. He said he does not believe Trump or Bannon are extreme in their views.
“I feel they are rational and pragmatic people,” Raddad said about Trump and Bannon. “However, they have abused the underlying current of racism and hate and Islamophobia to help them win the election.”
Raddad said he believes Trump and Bannon will continue to engage with the white, working-class demographic that propelled Trump to victory this year in order to win the next election.
The Trump campaign has implicitly and explicitly contributed to Islamophobia, he said. He said Breitbart News has become a platform for Islamophobes to further hostility, uncertainty and negativity toward Muslims.
Between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15, 701 incidents of hateful harassment occurred, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. About 25 percent of these incidents occurred Nov. 9, the day after the election. The majority of the acts were anti-immigrant, anti-black or anti-LGBT — about 30, 21 and 11 percent, respectively — and most occurred at K-12 schools, businesses and universities.
The FBI recorded 5,818 total hate crime incidents in 2015, which averages to 111 incidents per week. This year there has been a 532-percent increase in weekly hate crimes due to the 701 incidents following the election.
In an interview on “60 Minutes,” Trump said to his supporters committing hate crimes, “If it helps, I will say this — stop it.”
Raddad said what is most troubling for him is the lack of strong or direct repudiation of the hate crimes on Trump’s part.
“There were some statements, but nothing like what you would expect from a president who values all Americans equally,” Raddad said.
Silberberg said she has been disturbed by how Trump’s win has emboldened alt-right groups, including neo-Nazis and the NPI.
“They feel like they have an equal voice now,” Silberberg said.
Silberberg said she sees many similarities between the Trump campaign and Hitler’s rise to power in the 20th century. Both leaders laid out their plans publicly, but people did not take Hitler seriously, and the Holocaust happened, she said.
“People don’t believe what he says, but it’s scary to not believe what somebody says.” Silberberg said on Trump. “In my experience, people don’t tend to say things they don’t mean.”
Silberberg said she and many others feel powerless because they see things happening around them, like hate crimes and speeches like Spencer’s, and they don’t know how to stop it.
“It’s OK to feel powerless,” she said. “But at some stage very soon, we have to take the next step and do something about it.”
Silberberg said the final voting data is reassuring because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, which means more than half of the country does not support hate.
Clinton has surpassed two million votes more than Trump in the popular vote, according to the U.S. Election Atlas. Clinton obtained 64.4 million votes, and Trump obtained 62.3 million votes, as of Nov. 23.
No matter if Spencer continues to “hail Trump,” or hate crimes continue to occur, Silberberg said the people should know they are the ones with the power.
“We just need to remember each one of us has a responsibility to stand up and take the next step,” Silberberg said.