President-Elect Donald Trump for the first time disavowed the alt-right movement while speaking with The New York Times today.
Trump met with The Times on Tuesday for an on-the-record conversation, which was live-tweeted by those in attendance and with updates being posted on the Times’ website. When pressed about the alt-right, Trump denounced this group’s behavior.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump said. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
The alt-right is a fringe movement which grew on the Internet and which is characterized in part by white nationalism and anti-Semitism. It is made up of a wide range of individuals, but for some, the movement is essentially rebranded neo-Nazism. A few days ago, alt-right speakers gathered for an event in Washington, D.C., and Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute think tank, delivered a speech which invoked Nazi propaganda language.
“Hail Trump!” he shouted. “Hail our people! Hail victory!”
After Spencer finished speaking, several members of the audience gave a Nazi salute. Spencer, who originally coined the term “alt-right” (short for “alternative right”), openly advocates for a society of only white people.
While speaking with The New York Times today, Trump was asked about this D.C. meeting specifically. He responded by saying, “I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”
Trump’s transition team issued a statement on Monday in response to the meeting in Washington, saying that Trump has continued to denounce racism in all forms, but the statement made no mention of the alt-right movement specifically. Tuesday’s New York Times interview is the first time Trump has ever disavowed this ideology by name, although he denied that he has done anything to aid in its growth.
Richard Spencer disagrees, saying that Donald Trump’s presidency has helped to legitimize white nationalism.
“I think one thing he’s saying is just, ‘We don’t want that here,'” Spencer said in an interview with Vice. “I think identity does play a role in this. He’s basically saying that if you are a nation, then at some point you have to say ‘There is an Us, and there is a Them. Who are we? Are we a nation?’ In that sense, I think it’s really great.”
Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor is Steve Bannon, the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website which Bannon himself described as “the platform for the alt-right” in an interview with Mother Jones. Bannon later said that Breitbart provides an outlet for a variety of viewpoints including the alt-right but that he has zero tolerance for racism and anti-Semitism.