Since its founding in 2007, Breitbart News Network has grown to become one of the most popular news outlets on the right.
Over the past year however, the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the “Alt-Right.”
The Alt-Right is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that “white identity” is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.
Breitbart recently published a lengthy defense of the Alt-Right, claiming the white nationalists such as Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor who created the ideology “have been accused of racism,” choosing to ignore the well-documented openly-racist views.
But Breitbart’s open defense of the Alt-Right didn’t appear out of thin air.
Over the past year the media outlet has been openly promoting the core issues of the Alt-Right, introducing these racist ideas to its readership – much to the delight of many in the white nationalist world who could never dream of reaching such a vast number of people.
Breitbart has always given a platform to parts of the radical right, most notably elements of the organized anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant movements. Breitbart has also organized conferences featuring nativist speakers and published op-eds and interviews with movement leaders. But since 2015, Breitbart began publishing more overtly racist diatribes about Muslims and immigrants.
In May 2015, Breitbart published an article defending Pamela Geller for hosting a “Draw Mohammed Cartoon Contest” in Garland, Texas, a tactic viewed by many as act to incite and anger American Muslims. Two armed men with links to ISIS targeted the event and killed by police as they attempted to storm the venue.
A Breitbart article, written six days after the contest, was titled, “6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Cartoon Contest is No Different from Selma.” The article came complete with a picture of Geller alongside a photo of the late Martin Luther King Jr., as if to liken the notorious Muslim-basher with the great civil rights leader.
Earlier this year, in February, Breibart produced a short anti-Muslim video about South Carolina introducing an anti-Shariah law bill. The 51-second video pieced together video of stoning executions and harsh punishments to warn that Shariah law would undercut American justice. The claim echoed similar statements made by Anti-Muslim activists who fear that “creeping Shariah” will soon preempt the Constitution.
“Shariah Law [sic] relegates women and non-Muslims to a lesser status,” text in the video claimed, before adding that Shariah “permits primate punishments including honor-killings.”
A month earlier, Breitbart published an article resembling a white nationalist screed by longtime anti-immigrant politician Tom Tancredo titled, “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture.” In it, Tancredo warned about an “epidemic” of rape across Europe and concluded with, “The Muslim rape culture is not a ‘dirty little secret — it is widely recognized as integral to Islam as taught in the Koran and the Hadith. Like honor killings and other parts of Sharia, it will not be wished away. And like honor killings, with massive Muslim immigration on the horizon, it could be coming to a town near you all too soon.”
In September 2015, a piece on the Breitbart website attacked Pope Francis for his comments about the United States welcoming more refugees by invoking the racist novel Camp of the Saints – a popular book in Alt-Right circles.
The book depicts an invasion of France and the white Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees, characterized as horrific and uncivilized "monsters" who will stop at nothing to greedily and violently seize what rightfully belongs to the white man. The Breitbart piece lauded the book and quoted white nationalist Pat Buchanan. Just a month after the Breitbart piece was published, white nationalist Derek Turner published a similar piece titled, “The Camp of the Saints: Where Literature and Life Collide” for Radix, one of the most prominent Alt-Right websites, run by white nationalist Richard Spencer.
In January of 2016, Breitbart published a piece imploring its readership to watch an Identitarian video published by a German branch of the movement. The Identitarian strain of the Alt-Right define themselves in opposition to multiculturalism and advocate for ethnically and culturally homogenous regions. The racist video attacks German politicians for Germany’s immigration policies stating, “You preach of the diversity of cultures yet you destroy them” and “you create yourselves a new people and turn us into foreigners.”
The slow, but steady, shift toward more radical ideological content is troubling considering Breitbart’s reach. Breitbart.com is one the top 1,000 most popular websites on the Internet, and just outside the top 200 most popular websites in the United States, according to Alexa. Contrast that with Identitäre Bewegung Deutschland, the group who made the video, whose website ranks outside the top 1.4 million most popular websites worldwide and outside the top 120,000 in Germany, according to Alexa.
Another popular racist conspiracy theory that Breitbart has propagated is the trope that African-Americans are committing crimes against whites at alarming rates.
Following the August 2015 murder of a white journalist and a cameraman live on air by a disgruntled African-American former co-worker, Breitbart published the race-baiting headline, “Race Murder in Virginia: Black Reporter Suspected of Executing White Colleagues – On Live Television!” The headline is remarkably similar to ones seen on the website of the white nationalist group Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), which is dedicated to spreading the falsehood to the public about the “epidemic” of black on white crime.
Charleston shooter Dylann Roof credited the CCC website as being his gateway into white nationalism after he stumbled upon it when searching Google for information on black on white crime. Following the murder of the journalist and cameraman, the CCC’s headline was actually more benign than Breitbart’s. The CCC article, published by white nationalist Brad Griffin read, “Black Male Shoots Former White Co-Workers On Live Television.”
Breitbart’s Alt-Right primer, published at the end of March, is possibly its most disturbing piece to date. The piece ignores the racist views of the Alt-Right founders –– white nationalists Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor and others –– instead referring to them as the movement’s “intellectuals.” The piece is a striking example of the direction the network has moved over the past year.
Breitbart’s unabashed support for Donald Trump, a candidate whose campaign has helped to mobilize and mainstream racist activists online, has had internal ramifications at Breitbart. In March, a number of journalists and editor, Ben Shaprio, quit after one of its reporters, Michelle Fields, was assaulted by Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski. The former Breitbart employees were disgusted at the company's lack of support for their journalist after the incident.
But a number of journalists remain, such as Katie McHugh, who support the core tenets of the racist Alt-Right. McHugh, a journalist with Breitbart since 2014, doesn’t shy away from her racist beliefs. As a 2015 Raw Story piece revealed, McHugh’s Twitter page is full of racist rants such as calling for a ban on Muslim immigration and stating, “Indian tribes never bothered to build any kind of civilization. They killed each other and chased bison. Yawn~” McHugh also follows a number of white nationalists on Twitter including RamZPaul, an Alt-Right YouTube sensation, English anti-Muslim activist Stephen Lennon and Andrew Auernheimer, a swastika-tattooed neo-Nazi hacker.
Former Breitbart journalist Jordan Schachtel put it best in his resignation letter following the Michelle Fields incident in March, "The company no longer resembles the ideals that inspired me to start writing for them three years ago.”