Trump condemns white nationalists and defends Steve Bannon from attacks in New York Times interview

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday disavowed the “alt-right,” the group consisting of self-described white nationalists who overwhelmingly supported his presidential bid, while asserting that his White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is not among their ranks.

Tweets from Trump’s meeting with the New York Times from reporters Maggie Haberman, Mike Grynbaum, Julie Davis, and others detailed a lengthy exchange on Trump’s alt-right support and Bannon.

“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump said. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energised, I want to look into it and find out why.”

Trump rejected the notion that he energised the alt-right. The president-elect was also asked about a white nationalist conference held recently in Washington, DC, that has garnered attention.

Richard Spencer, an avowed white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right” spoke at length at the conference about Trump’s victory leading to a return to power for “Europeans” and made Nazi-esque remarks regarding Jews, with his speech ending in chants of “Heil Trump” from the crowd.

“I disavow and condemn them,” Trump said. “Of course.”

Speaking about Bannon, a top executive at Breitbart News, a website he has called “the platform for the alt-right,” Trump said: “If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.”

Bannon, accused of past anti-Semitism by his wife, has insisted he is not anti-Semitic. But his appointment was met with immediate condemnation from the left and even some on the right.

“A lot of people are coming to his defence right now,” Trump said, as his incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, voiced support for Bannon while sitting at the conference table.

“I think it’s very hard on him,” Trump said. “I think he’s having a hard time with it. Because it’s not him.”

Trump also addressed Breitbart, which he said “is just a publication.”

The outlet ran a headline Tuesday that accused him of a “broken promise” after Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway suggested he would not pursue an investigation against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The publication has also come under fire for inflammatory headlines and stories, and it has been unabashedly pro-Trump throughout his campaign.

“They cover stories like you cover stories,” he said. “They are certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than The New York Times. But Breitbart really is a news organisation that has become quite successful. It’s got readers, and it does cover subjects on the right, but it covers subjects on the left also. It’s a pretty big thing.”

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