ATLANTA—President-elect Donald Trump is again distancing himself from the alt-right movement as its white supremacist members claim his election as a boon for their agenda.
“I disavow and condemn them,” Trump said Tuesday during a wide-ranging interview with staff members of The New York Times.
It’s the latest attempt from Trump to separate himself from groups and individuals widely condemned for their advocacy of white supremacy in American culture.
The Republican president-elect added that he does not want to “energize” the groups, one of which garnered viral headlines this weekend with a gathering in Washington, where organizers and attendees evoked Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich with cries of “Heil Trump” and reprisals of the Nazi salute.
The Times has not yet released a full transcript or video of the meeting, but participants used Twitter to share his remarks throughout the exchange.
Richard Spencer, an alt-right leader who convened the weekend gathering sponsored by his National Policy Institute, told the Associated Press he was “disappointed” in Trump’s comments. But Spencer said he understands “where he’s coming from politically and practically,” adding that he will “wait and see” how the real estate mogul’s administration takes shape.
Still, Spencer argued Trump needs the alt-right movement and should be wary of shunning it because of a few news cycles of bad publicity “that do not define what we’re doing.” Spencer said Trump needs people like him “to actualize the populism that fueled his campaign.”
Trump’s denunciation also comes amid continued criticism over Trump tapping Steve Bannon, who managed the final months of the billionaire businessman’s presidential campaign, as chief White House strategist. Bannon was previously the leader of Breitbart News, an unapologetically conservative outlet that Bannon has described as a “platform for the alt-right.”
At the Times, Trump said Breitbart “is just a publication” that “covers subjects on the right” and is “certainly a much more conservative paper, to put it mildly, than The New York Times.”
Before Trump’s latest denunciations, Spencer told AP earlier Tuesday that he doesn’t see either Trump or Bannon as members of his movement, though “there is some common ground.”
He said he and like-minded “identitarians”—his preferred label for white identity politics—see Trump’s election as validating their view that the United States is flailing because it has embraced multiculturalism and political correctness at the expense of its European heritage.
Spencer said “without an intellectual vanguard” that white nationalists can provide, Trump would have a “meaningless” tenure mired in the “mainstream conservative movement” that he’s railed against. “The whole promise of his campaign was that he wouldn’t do that,” Spencer said.
Throughout his campaign, white nationalists have embraced Trump’s hard-line approach on immigration and other issues. He sometimes used his Twitter account to distribute comments and links from white supremacist accounts, including a famous quotation from Benito Mussolini, the 20th century fascist leader of Italy.
The president-elect’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also became a flashpoint by using social media to distribute imagery with xenophobic or racist connotations. In September, the younger Trump posted a doctored image of himself, his father and several other prominent Trump allies next to Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character that Spencer chose as a mascot for his movement. Trump Jr. also retweeted an academic who argued that anti-Semitism is a “logical” response to a belief that Jews control the world’s banks.
In February, the elder Trump refused during a CNN interview to denounce the Ku Klux Klan and one of its former leaders, David Duke, saying he “didn’t know anything” about Duke. Initially, he said a faulty ear piece left him unable to hear the questions clearly, but days later he issued a clearer condemnation.
“David Duke is a bad person,” he said in an MSNBC interview. “I disavowed the KKK,” he added. “Do you want me to do it again for the 12th time?”