CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper had a rare dispute with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday while discussing Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump’s incoming chief strategist.

“He’s got as his strategic adviser someone who’s a white supremacist,” Warren argued.

“Wait a minute, there’s no evidence he’s a white supremacist,” Cooper interjected. “Obviously, there are people who are white supremacists who support Donald Trump and support Breitbart or Steve Bannon.”

This has become a key dispute for those evaluating Bannon, executive chair of Breitbart News: Is he himself a racist, or does he just receive support from the white nationalist movement?

Many Trump supporters argue that Bannon relies on the support of the so-called “alt-right” movement without actually embodying its white nationalist ideals. Julia Jones, a former coworker of Bannon’s, told The New York Times that Bannon was “using the alt-right—using them for power.”

But in the same interview, Jones shared other information about Bannon that may be troubling. The Times reports:

Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’ ” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’ ” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’ ”

In the wake of Trump’s decision to include Bannon on his staff, Bannon has become the subject of intense scrutiny.

A video from 2011, in which he spoke at the Liberty Restoration Foundation, has resurfaced and put a spotlight on Bannon’s controversial remarks. Near the end of his speech, he discusses the Civil War and America’s “sacred duty” to pass on its traditions.

“Here, Bannon places the blame for the Civil War on Lincoln rather than the South’s support of slavery, asserting that the South should have been able to determine their own destiny,” says Peter Lynds, analyzing the video in a post on the website Medium. “In other words, Bannon thinks slavery should have remained legal.”

Bannon has staunch defenders. One of his strongest proponents is Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband.

“When Mr. Bannon was recently accused of anti-Semitism and of promoting white supremacist views and conspiracy theories, Mr. Kushner reassured the Trump team,” The New York Times reports. “He called Mr. Bannon a man of character and said the widespread criticism was a smear, according to a senior Republican official, speaking about private discussions on the condition of anonymity.”

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that while Bannon may not have been overtly racist when running Breitbart, he is “more complicated, a whole new political beast.”

“So even if we give Bannon the benefit of the doubt on racism, he’s still presided over a website that deliberately indulges in race-baiting, presumably to build its audience. Is that better or worse? You decide,” Drum wrote.

Trump has repeatedly defended Bannon and disavowed the white nationalist “alt-right” movement. In a recent sit-down with The New York Times editorial staff, Trump seemed perplexed at the focus on racism and concerns over white nationalism.

When asked about neo-Nazi support for his presidency, Trump remarked, “Boy, you are really into this stuff, huh?” He added:

I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him. …

Now, I’ll tell you what, I know him very well. I will say this, and I will say this, if I thought that strongly, if I thought that he was doing anything, or had any ideas that were different than the ideas that you would think, I would ask him very politely to leave. But in the meantime, I think he’s been treated very unfairly.

Despite Trump’s praise, the focus on Bannon’s character won’t be going away any time soon. On Tuesday, Kellogg Company pulled its advertising from Breitbart, citing concerns that the website is not “aligned with our values as a company.”

Meanwhile, protests over Bannon’s future position in Trump’s administration continue. Last week, people in more than 30 cities participated in a “Day of Jewish Resistance” to protest his appointment as chief strategist.

—Posted by Emma Niles

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