The Night Steve Bannon Came to Toronto - 2018-11-05
In the days leading up to last Friday's Munk debate in Toronto between Steve Bannon and David Frum, an expanding roster of politicians and activists declared Bannon a "fascist" and "Nazi" who was beyond the pale of public engagement. Charlie Angus, an NDP MP, called on the Munk foundation to cancel its invitation "out of respect for the victims" of the October 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. For Nigel Barriffe and Cynthia Levine-Rasky, of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, Bannon's appearance "undermines democratic principles" and "encourages white nationalist violence." Naomi Klein tweeted that the debate was "fuel" for Toronto's "crisis of rising white supremacy." If any of the event's attendees had missed those criticisms, there was no missing the chants of hundreds of protestors outside Roy Thomson Hall.
Bannon is widely reviled for stoking xenophobic fears at Breitbart News, where he was executive chairman, and, when he was chief strategist for Donald Trump, for urging the president to carry out, among other things, an executive order banning immigrants from Muslim-majority countries. Critics also accuse him of aggressively promoting the brand of right-wing extremism currently ascendant in Brazil, Hungary, and Italy. Bannon's opponent, and the clear hometown favourite, was David Frum, a staff writer at The Atlantic who, over the last couple of years, has emerged as a fierce critic of Trumpism. But, far from being seen as the antidote to Bannon, Frum—the former George W. Bush speechwriter who minted the phrase "axis of evil"—was caricatured on social media as a warmonger and the moral equivalent of his opponent.
For those in favour of the event, however, the "dangerous" nature of Bannon's views was the very reason he needed be heard and debated—even by someone right leaning, such as Frum. Michael Enright, a veteran CBC broadcaster, conceded that Bannon may be a "glib, well-dressed fascist" but believed a civil confrontation with him would represent "a symbol of our ability to tolerate words and thoughts we despise."