PRESIDENT-ELECT Donald Trump said he wants to find out if and why he is “energising” white supremacists.
“It’s not a group I want to energise,” Trump said on Tuesday in a meeting with New York Times editorial staff, according to a tweet by a reporter in attendance. Trump was referring to the alt-right, a loosely knit assemblage of white nationalists, anti-globalists, anti-Semites, anti-immigration advocates and people who revile political correctness.
“And if they are energised I want to look into it and find out why.”
During the meeting, Trump was also pressed on an alt-right conference in Washington over the weekend, where participants celebrating Trump’s victory used racist language and made Nazi salutes.
Jewish and other groups had called on the president-elect to denounce the event, but while his team condemned racism, it did not directly address the conference.
However, New York Times White House reporter Julie Davis, who participated in the meeting with Trump, tweeted that when asked directly about the event, the Trump responded: “Of course … I disavow and condemn them.”
Trump also defended his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from charges that he has traded in racism and anti-Semitism.
“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him,” said Trump of Bannon, who formerly led the far-right news website Breitbart, which Bannon has called a platform for the alt-right. “I think it’s very hard on him. I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him,” Trump said.
Of Breitbart, Trump said it is “just a publication” with a conservative outlook “that has become quite successful”.
He said “a lot of people are coming to” Bannon’s defence, referring to the aggressive pushback the campaign has launched at critics of Bannon, who has earned the support of some Jewish groups on the right, including the Zionist Organisation of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Trump also said he would “love” to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, and suggested that his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could help.