Protesters gathered to voice their opposition to Steve Bannon as he used an appearance in New York to praise Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban and Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.
Speaking at a live debate at the Open Future festival organised by The Economist in New York, the former White House chief strategist applauded the leaders for trying to safeguard the “sovereignty” of their nations.
“These individuals, these populist national movements across Europe, are trying to get the sovereignties of their countries back,” Donald Trump’s former aide said.
Demonstrators outside the New York office brandished banners saying “Don’t normalise Bannon!”, “Racism destroys humanity”, “Would you invite Joseph Goebells to speak?” and “No platform for hate”.
Mr Bannon’s appearance at the festival prompted musician Emmy the Great to pull out of the event.
“I worried that not speaking up would be inaction that I would regret later in life, after his dangerous ideas had proliferated further, and that performing as planned would be tantamount to helping him build respectability and mainstreaming his ideas,” she said.
“One friend said that inviting him to speak was treating his politics like an intellectual exercise, rather than the real threat that they are, and I agreed.”
Mónica Ramírez, a lawyer and social activist, also decided to withdraw from the event over Mr Bannon’s appearance.
She said: “Power comes in many forms and can be exercised in a multitude of ways. Among these, power resides in the ability to decide when to speak, where to speak and with whom we speak alongside. Last week when I withdrew from speaking at The Economist’s event, I exercised this power.
“I believe in having critical conversations, challenging our own thinking and trying to reach common ground, which is what The Economist’s Open Future Festival seeks to accomplish, but I also believe that there are times when trying to have reasonable conversation with people who have made abundantly clear that there is no room to negotiate can have a negative impact and actually result in ceding ground and harming the communities that we seek to uplift.”
Mr Bannon refused to brand as racist Mr Orban, who has described refugees as “Muslim invaders”, and Mr Salvini, who has launched a hardline crackdown on migrants.
He said: “These people are trying to make their countries better. I certainly do not condemn Viktor Orban and Salvini.”
The magazine’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes said in a letter the publication had asked many different kinds of people to participate in the event, including those "with views we agree and disagree".
She wrote: "Mr Bannon stands for a worldview that is antithetical to the liberal values The Economist has always espoused.
"We asked him to take part because his populist nationalism is of grave consequence in today's politics.
"He helped propel Donald Trump to the White House, and he is advising the populist far-right in several European countries where they are close to power or in government. Worryingly large numbers of people are drawn to nativist nationalism. And Mr Bannon is one of its chief proponents.”
Mr Bannon, the former executive chairman of far-right site Breitbart News, resigned from his White House role after rumours of in-fighting in the West Wing last summer.
He returned to be head of the outlet, with the publication proclaiming the return of their “populist hero” on its homepage hours after his departure became public.
But in January, it emerged Mr Bannon was stepping down from his role as executive chairman, which he held before joining Mr Trump's team.
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