From extreme fringe to centre stage: the rise of Breitbart News

‘Alt-right’ site accused of anti-semitism and racism could now become ‘Trump Pravda’

Breitbart executive chairman and Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon: Breitbart could become, in the words of one of its former employees, Trump Pravda. Photograph: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Breitbart executive chairman and Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon: Breitbart could become, in the words of one of its former employees, Trump Pravda. Photograph: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

 

“Broadcasting live from Mordor, the Borg cube and Voldemort’s lair all at the same time.”

The gleeful introduction to Milo Yannopoulis’s weekly podcast tells you something about the sensibilities of Breitbart News Network, the right-wing website which employs him – rather implausibly - as its technology editor.

Like Yannopoulis, a shameless provocateur who was banned from Twitter last summer for his offensive trolling of Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones, Breitbart revels in its bad-boy status, with headlines such as “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture”; “The Solution to Online Harassment is Simple: Women Should Log Off” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”.

Earlier this year, the site described conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” for opposing Donald Trump.

All this white noise has been good for online traffic, which has more than doubled since 2014.

Although it still lags behind several competitors in a crowded field, its influence is growing, particularly as an amplifier and sounding board for extreme-right fans on its comment sections and on social media.

On election night, its Facebook page received the fourth-highest number of user interactions, beating Fox News, CNN and the New York Times.

Now, though, with Breitbart executive chairman and Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon installed as chief strategist to the next US president, the site has become the focus of renewed and intense attention.

A couple of weeks ago, when it seemed Donald Trump would fail to be elected president, speculation was rife that he and Bannon would use Breitbart as the springboard for a new conservative media powerhouse.

Now that Trump is president-elect, some believe Breitbart could become, in the words of one of its former employees, Trump Pravda.

Conservative polemicist

Breitbart News Network was originally founded in 2007 by Andrew Breitbart, a pugnacious conservative polemicist who had been involved in the early stages of two of the most influential new insurgent internet media companies of the internet era.

Podcast: Breitbart's rise

Following stints as an editor with Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report and a researcher on Arianna Huffington’s Huffington Post, he launched his own self-named site following a trip to Israel.

In the words of its founder, the site would be “pro-freedom and pro-Israel”, while also being “committed to the destruction of the old media guard”.

Andrew Breitbart played a significant role in breaking stories such as the sexting scandal surrounding Democratic politician (and husband of Clinton confidante Huma Abedin) Anthony Weiner.

He was also a prominent voice in the Tea Party movement which emerged following the election of Barack Obama. However, unlike some of his conservative allies, he took an inclusive position on LGBT issues and was a strong critic of the birtherism lie promulgated by Donald Trump about Obama.

At the time of his sudden death at the age of 43 in 2012, Breitbart had been developing the site further, moving it away from a links-based aggregation service to a more tabloid style, with click-friendly headlines and brash visuals.

Breitbart’s premature death led to the site’s takeover by Bannon, who has shifted it editorially towards becoming what he himself has described as “the platform for the alt-right”.

Alt-right, or alternative right, is a term for a movement of extreme conservatives who, according an article on Breitbart itself, are not racist but are “unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritises the interests of their own demographic”.

They claim not to be misogynist, but to “incorporate masculinist principles”. The same article acknowledges that neo-Nazis make up part of the alt-right.

“The alt-right supports the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and protectionist trade policies.

It opposes feminism, diversity, gay rights, globalism, gun control and civil rights,” wrote Thomas J Main, a professor at the School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, CUNY, who is writing a book on the subject.

In April, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted the shift in Breitbart’s editorial position.

“Over the past year the media outlet has been openly promoting the core issues of the alt-right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership – much to the delight of many in the white nationalist world who could never dream of reaching such a vast number of people.”

Ethno-nationalism

Breitbart’s former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro says it has now become “the go-to alt-right website, pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist meme-makers.”

Shapiro left following the controversy over Breitbart’s failure to support one of its reporters, Michelle Shields, over allegations she had been manhandled by Trump’s then campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

He says that under Bannon’s stewardship, everything humanly possible was done to make the site a subservient tool of the Trump campaign.

That strategy seems to have worked. Breitbart and Bannon have ridden the Trump wave all the way to the White House.

In so doing, they have brought ideas previously considered beyond the pale right into the centre of power. They don’t intend to stop there.

Breitbart offshoots are planned for France and Germany in the next few months, joining the already existing London branch (recent sample headline: “Climate change: the hoax that costs us $4 billion a day”).

Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, Alexander Marlow, told the New York Times on Sunday that it planned to support Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in next year’s French elections.

“So much of the media mocked us, laughed at us, called us all sorts of names,” said Marlow.

“And then for us to be seen as integral to the election of a president, despite all of that hatred, is something that we certainly enjoy and savour.”

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