In two weeks time, far-right demagogue Steve Bannon appears in Edinburgh at a BBC-endorsed event called News Xchange. On Conter, several contributors have written extensively about why defeating the far-right through amicable discourse is impossible. Following Nicola Sturgeon’s withdrawal from appearing at the event, David Mitchell’s petition to the BBC to withdraw their endorsement has already garnered over a 1,000 signatures. He writes about Bannon and why he’s so dangerous, calling on as many activists to sign as possible…
Will Steve Bannon be applauded onto the stage when he appears in Edinburgh in two weeks time? Will Sarah Smith, representing our national broadcaster, welcome him, shake his hand and thank him for attending? What message will that send to the world about Steve Bannon? And what message will it send about Scotland?
BBC Scotland are a host partner of the prestigious News Xchange 2018 event, which bills itself as “the news industry’s most provocative and most insightful experience”. The conference brings together journalists, bloggers, experts and ‘thought leaders’ with the aim of cross pollinating ideas and examining current issues within the media landscape. The First Minister was due to attend but withdrew upon learning of Steve Bannon’s inclusion, citing concerns about normalising far-right, racist views. The event organisers have since issued a statement justifying his inclusion, describing him as a “key influencer in the rise of populism”. The BBC have followed suit, stating their remit is “asking tough questions and understanding what is happening in the world and why”.
However, these explanations show a wilful blindness to the problem at hand. Yes, Steve Bannon is a key influencer, and yes, he’s an astute media operator, but if you were to give a one sentence summation of Bannon you wouldn’t describe him as either of these things. A phrase you’d more likely reach for would be: “The man most directly responsible for plunging the world’s largest democracy into a tailspin of poisonous politics, race-hate and mass-shootings.”
While we can’t lay all of America’s problems at Bannon’s door, nobody should ignore he’s highly culpable, and he now intends to take Europe in the same direction. Given his clear intentions BBC Scotland should understand what is at stake and show better judgement and withdraw support for the event immediately. The fires of fascism are once again lit across Europe. Brazil has succumbed to a dark political path. The BBC believe this is the time to hear from Steve Bannon, but it seems evident to everyone else this is the time to reject him, and those like him, wholesale.
Admittedly, the alt-right ringleader’s appearance will likely pass without him saying anything particularly controversial – that’s not his style. As part of his current quest to unite the nationalist right around Europe he ensures his own rhetoric stays within broadly acceptable limits. He bemoans the inability of the liberal elite to cope with the worst excesses of globalisation. He rallies against immigration. He calls for curbs on the power of the tech giants while he was himself a senior board member of Cambridge Analytica.
The solution Bannon proposes is a reworked nationalism, where the nation is re-established as the largest organisational structure. Countries take care of their own people and their own interests. Any supranational structures, be they corporations or governmental bodies (like the EU), are to be dismantled, diminished, and greatly reduced in power and influence. These “common sense” proposals are designed to appeal to the many who’ve been left behind by globalisation, or those who feel threatened by immigration. The parties of the far right see these policies as the ideal Trojan horse for their own long-held racist, nationalistic, authoritarian views. And it’s within these parties Bannon can also find sympathy for his true beliefs, using their new found influence as a platform for his own apocalyptic ideology.
A review of Bannon’s documentary films to date give shockingly clear picture of his world view. According to Bannon, the West is now in the opening salvos of a war with radical Islam and by extension the whole Islamic faith. In order that the West and ‘Christian values’ prevail we must wage this war without exception. Anything which challenges traditional Christian views jeopardises the battle with potentially catastrophic results. This righteous war is, and has always been, the duty of the West and a necessary, cyclical part of history required to establish a new age of prosperity.
It’s this unhinged ideology that drives Steve Bannon and all his work. This is why he’s allied with the alt-right. This is what guided the poisonous output of Breitbart news, and what led to the notorious “Muslim ban” he encouraged Trump to implement. By included Steve Bannon at the News Xchange event, this is the view BBC Scotland are ultimately legitimising and helping to propagate.
It’s for these reasons I’ve created a petition asking BBC Scotland not to endorse Steve Bannon. I must be clear: boycotts and no-platforming are never my preferred option. I’m uneasy about restricting discourse even when views are ridiculous or repugnant. I believe bad ideas can be confronted and defeated. This principal might work sufficiently well if and when viewpoints are left to find their natural level – when what liberals call the “marketplace of ideas” is a meritocracy and the institutions we trust (and fund) can show good judgement in selecting how much prominence various views are given. Increasingly, the BBC are proving themselves incapable of doing this – perhaps most notably with their instance on giving disproportionately airtime to Nigel Farage, UKIP and even Tommy Robinson.
Steve Bannon has the right to promote his world view in his own space, but there’s scant justification for BBC Scotland to platform him. I assume if an attendee at News Xchange 2018 begins screaming racist abuse or wild conspiracy theories they’ll be quickly ejected. Yet a man who’s done the same thing on the grandest of scales is to given an interview and Q & A slot. Anti-fascist and anti-racist groups are already planning their own protests at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where he appears on November 14, but we should send a clear message to the BBC that they as an institution shouldn’t welcome him in the first place. Please sign the petition below calling on BBC Scotland not to endorse Steve Bannon.