The 2017 Values Voter Summit drew to a close on Saturday. This year’s edition, as in years past, was full to the brim with wingnuttery. We saw Donald Trump loudly proclaiming his fealty to Judeo-Christian values, even though he himself doesn’t even begin to uphold them. Hours later, Roy Moore openly called for the Supreme Court justices who voted for marriage equality to face impeachment.
In most years, there would a healthy debate over whether either of those two speeches was the looniest of all. But this year, the mere fact that one of the speakers was even on hand was by far the looniest moment. How do you get crazier than Trump declaring that it isn’t politically correct to say “Christmas,” or loonier than Moore claiming that the Supreme Court has no right to allow LGBT people to marry? Quite easily, as it turns out–by giving the microphone to the man we now know to be the nation’s most notorious peddler of hate, Steve Bannon.
For those of you keeping score, it has been more than a week since Buzzfeed uncovered evidence that proved beyond any doubt that Bannon and his friends at Breitbart News actively worked to normalize hate, bigotry, and racism–even to the point of collaborating with racists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and white supremacists. Less than 24 hours after this explosive story went live, the Family Research Council, which organizes the Values Voter Summit, announced that Bannon would speak at the following week’s gathering.
Long before Buzzfeed went to press, there were already numerous reasons why Bannon had no business at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. After all, Bannon has documented ties to white supremacists and white nationalists at home and abroad. He frequently quotes from a staggeringly racist book, and several of his former staffers say that he not only let the comment sections turn into steaming piles of hate, but conducted editorial meetings that sounded like white supremacist rallies. And of course, he fostered the environment that allowed Milo Yiannopoulos to turn into one of the most noxious trolls on the Internet.
But Bannon could have theoretically talked his way out all of this. However, he would not have been able to explain why he weaponized Milo and other writers in his effort to “save western civilization.”
To be sure, the FRC and its president, Tony Perkins, have joined the religious right in bowing down to Trump. That alone proves just how low Perkins’ standards are. But you would think allowing a guy with Bannon’s dossier on stage would be a bridge too far even for Perkins–especially considering that the religious right is working overtime to wedge minorities away from the Democrats. You would think that Perkins would show the leadership that Trump failed to show and tell Bannon to take a hike.
Well, you thought wrong. Bannon took the stage on Saturday. Not only that, he brought another former member of the White House’s “Breitbart faction,” Sebastian Gorka, with him. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got clips of their speeches; watch here.
Gorka took the stage first. For those who don’t know, he served as Breitbart’s national security editor before joining the White House as a counterterrorism adviser. He was pushed out in August as part of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s effort to clear out alt-right influence from the West Wing, but is still trumpeting Trump’s agenda as chief strategist for the MAGA Coalition, a pro-Trump super PAC.
While trumpeting that work before the crowd, Gorka said that he and Bannon had “declared war on the RINO class,” and wanted to send them a message in 2018–“we have had enough!” He claimed that many Republicans don’t believe in “objective truthsaid that he and his team at the MAGA Coalition intended to “take on every swamp-dweller” in Washington. He also hinted that he still talks to Trump, despite Kelly’s efforts to control access to the Donald.
“Does anybody in this room think that the only people that the president talks to are people who have a government ID badge? I can tell you he doesn’t just talk to those people.”
Bannon took the stage near the tail end of the session. He claimed that a lot of people were scared of those attending the summit because they knew “you’ve had a bellyful of it and you’re taking your country back.” He also warned Mitch McConnell that the donor class saw the way the wind was blowing, and knew the base was mad.
He then reiterated his vow to go after every Republican Senator running for reelection in 2018, and presumably 2020–and warned that no one except Ted Cruz would be spared because no one came to Trump’s defense when Bob Corker put Trump on blast. Bannon, for those who missed it, believes that Corker’s attacks border on treason because they came while we have troops in the field.
Bannon claimed that evangelical and right-wing Catholic support for Trump was “the key that picked the lock” for Trump’s upset victory. He urged the attendees to join him in “a season of war against the GOP establishment.” He closed with an obvious dog whistle.
“We keep winning, and good things are gonna happen. We keep winning, and your country is going to be saved. We keep winning, and you folks–you–are gonna be the people who saved the Judeo-Christian West.”
Standing by themselves, these speeches were relatively mild stuff by the standards of religious right gatherings. But it says a lot that Bannon and Gorka were even there at all. If Perkins had even one iota of decency, he would have declared them and anyone else with longstanding ties to Breitbart were personae non gratae. But he didn’t.
Apparently Perkins, like the nation’s other so-called moral guardians, is so desperate for power and influence that he’s willing to give anyone who makes the right clucking noises a platform–including people who have no qualms about collaborating with some of the worst people in the world. In so doing, Perkins has proven that he, like the rest of the religious right, is morally bankrupt.
(featured image courtesy Gage Skidmore, available under a Creative Commons BY-SA liceense)