11 Dangerous Right-Wing Kooks, Cranks and Operatives Surrounding Donald Trump
This article has been updated. See editor's note at end.
Since the 1980 takeover of the Republican Party by its right wing, backstage passes to party proceedings and hijinks for its kooks, cranks and stealth operatives has been the norm. Think professional woman-hater Phyllis Schlafly writing the 1996 GOP platform. Or Roger Stone organizing a near-riot in 2000 at the Miami-Dade election board during the recount of presidential election returns, effectively stopping the proceedings.
With the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, however, no kook is deemed too crazy, no crank too cranky, no dark ops too dark for public view—as long as their efforts serve the candidate’s quest to foment fear and mayhem. But don't take our word for it. Here's Stuart Stevens, who ran the GOP's 2012 presidential campaign, talking to Bloomberg Businessweek's Joshua Green this week: “Trump is a nut, and he likes to surround himself with nuts. It’s a disaster for the Republican Party.”
Here we present a list—by no means comprehensive—of the fear-mongering, conspiracy-spinning and violence-inciting characters surrounding the Republican Party’s standard-bearer.
1. Stephen K. Bannon. The CEO of Breitbart News LLC is many things: a former special assistant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, a former Wall Street player, a moviemaker, and holder of a stake in the wildly popular comedy show “Seinfeld,” whose syndication royalties helped make Bannon the wealthy man he is today. Now he’s added something new to the list: he's the newly named chief of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Gannon has coalesced a right-wing propaganda and investigative operation around himself that includes right-wing news named for its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, as well as the Government Accountability Institute (an investigative nonprofit) and Bannon’s own media forays: a radio program on SiriusXM and his output of propaganda films, several of them for Citizens United.
In 2015, Bloomberg Businessweek headlined its profile of Bannon: “This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America.” In the right-wingosphere, Bannon is credited with the exit of former House Speaker John Boehner from Congress, and at least since last year, he’s set his sights on Hillary Clinton.
It was Bannon the coolly calculating operative who advanced the ongoing mudslinging narrative suggesting a too-cozy relationship between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. But it was also Bannon the over-the-top filmmaker who wrote the script for Torchbearer, the “Christian war movie” starring Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” that features footage of murders by members of ISIS and Boko Haram. Bannon also directed the film, which he screened in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention.
Bannon also co-wrote the screenplay for the film Clinton Cash, based on a book commissioned by his Government Accountability Institute. The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival where, shockingly, it did not win the Palm d’Or.
2. Roger Stone. This operative, message-maker and dirty trickster has a long history in the GOP, going back to the small part he played in the Watergate scandal. Now he appears to be managing the messaging for the Trump campaign, despite having officially left the campaign last year, reportedly over a disagreement with Trump and then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski over Trump’s Twitter assault on Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Stone, however, maintained ties to the campaign, running a pro-Trump super PAC dubbed Committee to Restore America's Greatness. Ultimately, he outmaneuvered Lewandowski by convincing Trump to hire Stone’s old business partner, Paul Manafort, as a fixer for the campaign, a move that led to Lewandowski’s ouster. (Update: In an apparent zap of instant karma, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign today, either because of news reports of his dealings with the ousted pro-Putin former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, or his apparent demotion when Bannon came on board, or both.)
He is also credited with getting Trump to appear on the InfoWars radio show and podcast of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has proven to be a very useful tool for Trump, organizing inhabitants of the right’s fever swamps and spreading conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton that Trump often references without confirming their veracity.
Although Stone reportedly no longer works directly for the campaign, when he apologized for his late arrival at a rally he co-hosted with Jones in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, he told the audience he had been delayed by meetings with the Trump campaign staff.
Read more about Stone on AlterNet.
3. Alex Jones. In Donald Trump, Jones has found the best friend he ever had, a bona fide major-party candidate for the top job in the nation to confer legitimacy on his truly insane enterprise.
Working from Roger Stone’s playbook, Jones is seeding conspiratorial narratives about the state of Hillary Clinton’s health and organizing so-called “poll-watchers” for Trump (no intimidation there!) via his video podcast, which had 7.4 million global unique views over the last month, according to Quantcast. During the RNC, Jones hired planes to fly over Cleveland trailing a banner reading, “Hillary for Prison.”
At the rally in Cleveland, his audience was bedecked in T-shirts bearing the same slogan, which Stone lauded from the stage. Later that evening, the convention floor erupted in chants of “Lock her up!” As despicable as all of that is, it doesn’t begin to touch the depth of crazy Jones represents.
In 2011, Alexander Zaitchik reported on Jones for Rolling Stone, visiting Jones in his studio in the days following Jared Loughner’s mass shooting at a meet-and-greet conducted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in her Arizona congressional district—an assault that took the lives of six people and left Giffords with a catastrophic head wound.
From Zaitchik’s article:
Jones being Jones, he's not sure the Tucson rampage is as simple as a psychotic snap. Turning over the possibilities sends the tendrils of his anti-government imagination into wild motion. "The whole thing stinks to high heaven," he says. "This kid Loughner disappeared for days at a time before the shooting? My gut tells me this was a staged mind-control operation. The government employs geometric psychological-warfare experts that know exactly how to indirectly manipulate unstable people through the media. They implanted the idea in his head by repeatedly asking, 'Is Giffords in danger?’”
In December, at the urging of Stone, Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ show, during which Jones heaped praise upon the candidate, comparing him to George Washington. Trump returned the favor: "Your reputation's amazing,” Trump said. “I will not let you down."
4. Phyllis Schlafly. While it might seem surprising at first for an old Cold Warrior like Schlafly to support a candidate so cozy with a former KGB chief, it’s important to remember that what Schlafly opposed was communism, not authoritarianism. Trump surely fits the latter bill, as does Vladimir Putin, who is no longer a communist, having seen the light to become an oligarchist.
Schlafly cut her political teeth working on the 1964 Goldwater campaign, hoping to make a career in foreign policy. When the men of the New Right failed to let her into that club, she found her calling in the right’s ladies’ auxiliary, spearheading—and winning—the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment.
Since then, she’s been a stalwart in every fight against women’s equality, and was instrumental in seeing a no-exceptions anti-abortion plank added to the Republican Party platform. As Right Wing Watch’s Brian Tashman describes Schlafly's relationship with Trump:
In an April appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Trump said he wanted to change the GOP anti-abortion plank to include exceptions for the life of the woman, as well as for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The right-wing backlash to those comments apparently taught him a lesson because Schlafly ultimately won the day on the plank.
At a luncheon hosted by her organization, Eagle Forum, in Cleveland during the RNC, Schlafly assured attendees that Trump was on the same page as they are when it comes to opposing a woman’s right to choose.
Schlafly opposes equal pay for women, and has said she actually hopes the pay gap widens. In April 2012, AlterNet reported that she told a room full of college students at George Washington University that the reason women don’t earn as much as men is that they don’t want to do the kind of work that would get them dirty.
On Monday, after Trump called Schlafly to wish her a happy 92nd birthday, she tweeted that she expected to be at his inauguration in January.
5. Ann Coulter. Much like Donald Trump, right-wing author Ann Coulter will say anything to get attention. She has said she opposes women’s suffrage, that women who claim to have been raped are mostly “girls trying to get attention,” and once described abortion clinic workers gunned down by right-wing zealots as having “had a procedure performed on them with a rifle.”
Coulter was an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy, going back to the primaries, because in her mind, it was apparently all about her. Trump, she said, gleaned his anti-immigrant rhetoric from her writing.
.@AnnCoulter's new book-- "Adios, America! The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole"-- is a great read. Good job!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1432675218.0
6. Pamela Geller. Best known for her opposition to the opening of a mosque near the site in lower Manhattan where the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place, Geller boarded the Trump train once the candidate jumped aboard her anti-Islam caravan. It took the Donald a minute to get on the same page with Geller: In 2015 he chastised her for conducting a contest for artists to draw images of the Prophet Mohammad, which is anathema to Muslims.
During the fight over the mosque, often referred to as Park51 (referencing the Park Place address it was slated to occupy), Trump offered to buy out the investor in the building who had made the deal with the religious community behind the Islamic community center they meant to build there, but his offer was deemed by many to be little more than a publicity stunt. (It was not accepted.)
On the May 4, 2015 edition of the morning television show “Fox & Friends,” Trump said: “I watched Pam earlier, and it really looks like she’s just taunting everybody. What is she doing drawing Muhammad? I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “Isn’t there something else they could be doing?”
Geller has since forgiven Trump, persuaded by his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. In June, she endorsed her fellow New Yorker, saying, “Trump must win for this nation to survive.”
7. Milo Yiannopoulos. Described by Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery as “the gay enfant terrible” of the right, Yiannapoulos, who works for Breitbart, is Donald Trump’s LGBT champion. At a rally in Cleveland sponsored by Roger Stone and Alex Jones during the RNC, Yiannapoulos offered this outpouring, according to Montgomery’s report: “I might be a dick-sucking faggot, but I f**king hate the left.”
In what was viewed on the alt-right as a public relations coup, Yiannopooulos received word during the Republican National Convention that Twitter had banned him for violating its terms of service because of his racist tweet-hounding of "Ghostbusters" actor Leslie Jones. Two nights later, he hosted a Gays for Trump party (headlined by Pamela Geller), which was described by journalists who covered it as a Muslim-bashing extravaganza that drew white supremacists Peter Brimelow and Roger Spencer for the free booze and bon mots.
8. Pat Buchanan. A longtime ally of Phyllis Schlafly, the former Reagan White House communications director has made no secret of his contempt for non-white people. His essay, “A Brief for Whitey,” asserts that slavery was good for African Americans and they should be grateful that it brought them Christian salvation. In 2012, he was fired from his commentator position at MSNBC for chapters in his book, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?, that were widely regarded as homophobic, antisemitic and racist.
Buchanan is himself a former presidential candidate, though he never won his party’s nomination, even after winning the New Hampshire primary in 1996. His candidacy, however, did threaten a rupture in the GOP, so much so that control of the platform was given over to his campaign officials—Schlafly and Buchanan’s sister, Bay—in order to keep him from marching his delegates out of the convention and into the waiting arms of the U.S. Taxpayers Party (later rebranded as the Constitution Party).
In a recent essay, Buchanan darkly warns of a brewing “revolution” should Donald Trump lose the 2016 presidential election. In his screed, “Yes, the System Is Rigged,” Buchanan quotes President John F. Kennedy, writing: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Kennedy was referring to the authoritarian governments of Latin America at the time, which stood to protect the interests of landed families.
9. Rev. Pat Robertson. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and the now-defunct Christian Coalition is having a major bromance with Donald Trump, promoting the GOP presidential candidate on his television program, “The 700 Club,” and elsewhere.
Robertson is famous not only for building a network of politically motivated right-wing evangelicals, but for his fanciful explanations for various natural disasters and horrors. He said Hurricane Katrina was evidence of God’s wrath for the way in which the topic of abortion was addressed during the nomination hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and that Haiti’s 2011 earthquake was “divine retribution for Haitian voodoo doctors enlisting the help of Satan to free their country from the French some 200 years ago,” as reported by Time magazine. He’s said an aim of feminism is to make women practice witchcraft, and claimed that Satanism and homosexuality “go together.”
Trump, nonetheless, has sought Robertson’s blessing, sitting in February for an interview with the rev at Robertson’s own Regent University. “You inspire us all,” Robertson told Trump in that interview.
In July, Robertson told his CBN viewers that Trump would win in a landslide. Then, on August 10, as Trump grappled with the backlash following his apparent invitation to violence against Hillary Clinton during a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, Robertson signed onto the Trump campaign’s spin that its candidate had been misunderstood—or his words deliberately misinterpreted by the media.
As reported by Right Wing Watch:
These supposed lies about Trump and himself, Robertson explained, are inspired by the same source: Satan.
“Every time they’re going to twist the words, I know what it’s like, he has my profound sympathy but these people are profound liars and they’re set up as liars,” he said. “The devil is a liar and the father of lies, according to the Bible.”
10. Ralph Reed. Once known as the boy-genius at the helm of Pat Robertson’s then-mighty Christian Coalition, and now known simply as a besmirched, middle-aged political operative, Reed signed on to the Trump cause the minute the thrice-married, foul-mouthed, authoritarian showman won the GOP nomination. Say what you will about Reed, who now runs a non-profit outfit called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, he always knows where the power lies. And the money. (Reed still runs a for-profit political consulting firm, Century Strategies.)
Reed’s reputation as a Christian choirboy took a beating in the 1990s, when it was revealed that he took part in the scandal that brought down lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Essentially, Reed was paid to organize evangelicals opposed to gambling to block gaming operations that would have gotten in the way of the casino interests who were paying him.
Trump being a casino guy himself, he likely doesn’t have a problem with this.
11. Al Baldasaro. While not a particularly significant player, it's hard not to include Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative, on this list, since he’s the only one—so far—in Trump’s orbit known to be under investigation by the Secret Service for a threat against the life of Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
After leading the charge against same-sex marriage in the Granite State, Baldasaro won some limelight in the Trump campaign during that mess over whether or not the candidate ever contributed any of the cash he collected at a fundraiser for veterans’ organizations to any actual veterans’ organizations.
A former U.S. Marine, Baldasaro also made some news in his home state when he lauded the negative audience response, during a 2012 presidential town hall, to a gay Marine who submitted a question about the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy on sexual orientation. "I thought the audience, when they booed the marine, I thought it was great,” he told reporters.
In a radio interview conducted during the Republican National Convention, Baldasaro, who is described as one of Trump’s “key advisers” on veterans’ issues, called for Hillary Clinton to be “put in the firing line and shot for treason” because of the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The conclusions of the Secret Service investigation have not been released, and Trump has yet to condemn Baldaraso’s remarks.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this aritcle misstated the number of people killed by Jared Loughner in his attack on the congressional district meet-and-greet hosted by then-U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords in Tucson on January 8, 2011. Loughner killed six people, not three.