President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for leadership posts threaten national unity and promise to turn back the clock on progress for racial, religious and sexual minorities, civil rights leaders and others said Friday after his nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general.
Comments attributed to Trump’s picks, also including alt-right architect Stephen Bannon as senior adviser and chief strategist and former Army Lt. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, serve to embolden everyday Americans to lash out at members of minority groups, they said.
Sessions, of Alabama, was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 after hearings in which he was accused of making racially charged remarks as a U.S. attorney. According to transcripts, Sessions was accused, among other things, of joking that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was OK” until he learned they smoked marijuana, and of calling a black assistant U.S. attorney “boy.” During the hearing, Sessions denied making some of the comments and said others were jokes taken out of context.
“Every American should be concerned about the direction of the U.S. Department of Justice and oppose any nominee who threatens to turn back the clock on civil rights by 50 years,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial.
Bannon led the Breitbart website, which has widely condemned as racist, sexist and anti-Semitic. In a 2011 radio interview, he said conservative women infuriated liberals because they “would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children,” contrasting that against a slur for lesbians.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has called the accusations against Bannon “very unfair.”
Lennie Gerber, an 80-year-old resident of High Point, North Carolina, who led the fight against her state’s ban on same-sex marriage, said she worried Trump’s appointments will further incite such sentiments among the public.
“Saying that kind of thing incites the racism and the anti-gay feelings in everybody else and says you’re free to express these things,” Gerber said. “These people who’ve been suppressed by the positive transformation that has gone on over the last few years are now feeling free to express themselves.”
Civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to rescind Sessions’ nomination or for the Senate to reject him. Sessions requires Senate confirmation as attorney general, as does Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director, but Bannon and Flynn do not.
In August, Flynn spoke at an event in Dallas for the anti-Islamist group Act for America, calling Islam, a religion with 1.6 billion adherents, “a political ideology” and “a cancer.”