The Company You Keep: Trump and His Extremist Friends

Donald Trump’s incoming administration continues to talk with dangerous far-right leaders, and everyone seems to be overlooking the implications.

On January 12th, Marine Le Pen, the notorious far-right French presidential candidate, was spotted at Trump Tower meeting with a Trump surrogate. Le Pen, who heads the extremist French National Front and is currently leading in first round French election polls, has been fined repeatedly for racist remarks and anti-Semitism. The National Front in France was founded in 1972 by Le Pen’s father and a group of Nazi sympathizers, and despite a recent rebranding initiative, the political party still relies heavily on neo-Nazi and extremist principles. Le Pen is perhaps the most notable far-right politician who has been entertained by Trump surrogates and staff, but the meeting was far from unique.

Trump transition officials claimed that no official meeting occurred between the president-elect’s staff and Le Pen. However, Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon was reportedly aware of the meeting, and Le Pen was seen drinking coffee with Guido Lombardi, Trump’s longtime friend and neighbor who has proclaimed himself the unofficial “liaison” between Trump and far-right European parties. Lombardi, who founded the grassroots campaigning organization “Citizens For Trump”, says that he has been in contact with “just about everybody” in the far-right European political sphere, including Le Pen and other members of the National Front, quasi-authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, members of the Austrian Freedom Party, and others. The National Front’s representative in the United States acknowledged extensive contact with Lombardi, stating that Lombardi was part of Trump’s network and that he was a “go-between”.

Outside of Lombardi’s unofficial channels, Trump himself met with Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s proto-fascist Northern League party, and according to Salvini, Trump endorsed the candidate and said that he wished Salvini would be “Italy’s prime minister soon” during their April meeting in Philadelphia. Trump later denied meeting or endorsing Salvini, despite a photo of the two together. After the election, Trump became bolder in his staff’s interactions with the resurgent European far-right, and in November he personally invited Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to the White House. In December, Heinz-Christian Strache announced that he had recently met with General Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, at Trump Tower. Strache is the leader of the Freedom Party in Austria, a party that was founded by exiled Nazis after World War II and narrowly lost the recent Austrian presidential runoff. Later that month, Becky Norton Dunlop, a senior member of Trump’s transition team, was among a group of visiting politicans who decided at the last minute to boycott a planned meeting with the Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely. Per the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the politicians boycotted the meeting because Hotovely forbid the attendance of Swedish far-right politican Kristina Winberg because she is “a member of a party with neo-Nazi tendencies.” The incident is another clear example of Trump’s team’s blatant and dangerous support for extremist parties across Europe.

Trump’s demonstrated affinity for far-right extremists has not been limited to European politicians. The appointment of Breitbart founder Steve Bannon served as a clear message of support to the radical so-called “alt-right” element in the United States, a movement based largely in white nationalism and neo-Nazism. Another shocking display of Trump’s support for far-right extremism occurred in December, when former US Congressman and retired Lt. Colonel Allen West was invited to Trump Tower. West met with VP elect Mike Pence and a group of Trump’s top national security appointees, amid speculation that the retired Army officer was being vetted for a top national security position in the new administration. Soon after meeting with Trump’s transition team, West (or his social media team) posted a meme on his Facebook page with a picture of Secretary of Defense appointee General James “Mad Dog” Mattis. The meme read: “Mad Dog Mattis. Fired by Obama to Please the Muslims. Hired by Trump to Exterminate Them.” The image was liked almost 50,000 times and shared 10,000 times before it was removed from Facebook amid public backlash. Astonishingly, the genocidal message didn’t seem to deter Trump’s transition team, who met with West again at Trump Tower only three days after the post.

Though some major media sources have briefly noted the individual meetings and contacts between the incoming Trump administration and an impressive array of dangerous far-right personalities, the full scale of Trump’s flirtation with proto-fascist ideologues has been largely unheeded. These interactions, understood together and in context, reveal perhaps the most concerning and unprecedented tendency of our new administration: Trump and his advisors seem to identify closely with the hateful, xenophobic, and authoritarian ideologies being advanced throughout Europe.

Trump’s semi-concealed meetings with the European (and American) far-right provide a glance into the inner sentiments of the administration and may shed light on Trump’s resolve regarding his various xenophobic and hateful policy suggestions. As many in the media continue to dismiss Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim entry into the country, his promises of deportations, and the idea of a Muslim registry as simply empty and reckless campaign promises, Trump is increasingly aligning his administration with xenophobic, racist, and proto-fascist ideologies.

Through all the incoherent rhetoric being spewed by our soon-to-be President and his subordinates, the most telling indication of Trump’s intentions may be the company he keeps.