WASHINGTON – NAACP President Cornell William Brooks on Wednesday called on African-Americans and Jews to unite against the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in the United States, which he said has been propagated by the White House and Steve Bannon.
“When [Bannon] is appointed to a high position in the White House as a presidential adviser, that suggests to me that there is an office of legitimacy for the alt-right in the West Wing of the White House,” Brooks said. “Let’s be clear about this. If you profit on anti-Semitism, if you profit on racism, if you give rise to racism and anti-Semitism and it is a part of your business model, you don’t belong in the White House under any circumstances.”
Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist, previously served as CEO of Breitbart News, which he has described as a “platform” for the alt-right. The movement has been linked to both white nationalist and populist sentiment.
Bannon, who was instrumental in Trump’s victory, was removed from his unprecedented seat on the principals committee of the National Security Council earlier this month by the White House.
“We can’t ignore the racism and anti-Semitism in our midst,” Brooks said at Georgetown University. “The relationship between blacks and Jews cannot be a matter of nostalgia. It must be a matter of ‘now’ priority.”
Brooks, who was sworn in as president of the NAACP in 2014, is a Yale Law School graduate, civil rights attorney and ordained minister.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets sent between July 2015 and August 2016, with 19,000 directed at Jewish journalists. Brooks said the trend is the result of a “deeply divisive” presidential campaign that was filled with racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and a White House that is committed “to taking us backward.”
“The NAACP in the Twitter-era civil rights movement is poised to respond, and we do so by calling on our history,” Brooks said. “We can’t ignore the racism and anti-Semitism in our midst.”
He described Bannon as the architect for the alt-right, or “white supremacy sanitized,” and said the U.S. has entered a period where civil liberties are being checked and challenged on every front.
Brooks reeled off a list of controversial deaths of African-Americans: Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was killed by George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012; Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Missouri in 2014; Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by Cleveland police officers in 2014; and Sandra Bland, a woman whose apparent suicide following an arrest sparked outrage in Texas in 2015.
“Blacks Lives Matter is the moral predicate to the ethical conclusion that all lives matter,” Brooks said, referring to the movement that has gained momentum as those events unfolded. “Unless the first is true, the second can never be true.”
As an example of solidarity between blacks and Jews, Brooks cited the NAACP’s August 2015 march from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C. The 1,000-mile, 43-day America’s Journey for Justice march included various ministers and pastors from the south, as well as 200 rabbis. The group marched for criminal justice and voting rights reform, the latter which Brooks said is the most important aspect to democracy.
“In terms of public policy issues, I rank voting rights as No. 1,” Brooks said. “Because if we don’t secure the ballot box, nothing else matters.”