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Trump Welcomes Conservative, Far-Right Social Media Personalities To The White House

Jul 11, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump welcomed conservative and far-right social media personalities to the White House today.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to just say - because you people have a lot of courage. To each and every one of you, I say thank you very much. On behalf of the nation, thank you very much. It's very important what you're doing. You're getting the - you're getting, in many cases, the honest word out.

SHAPIRO: This event was controversial from the moment it was announced. It was billed as a White House social media summit. But Facebook, Google, Twitter - the social media platforms that most people use - were not invited. To talk about who was invited, NPR's Hannah Allam, who covers domestic extremism, is here in the studio with us.

Hi there.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Hi.

SHAPIRO: First, what was the stated goal of the summit?

ALLAM: Officially, the event was depicted as a forum for digital leaders and the opportunities of social media. But it was, essentially, a gathering of Trump supporters who say the social media giants are silencing them, are making it hard to find their content because they're manipulating algorithms. And this is a charge President Trump has repeated on several occasions without evidence. And there was a lot of talk at the event about discrimination against conservatives. Tech companies have denied accusations of political bias, but they have, in recent months, added restrictions that limit or make it harder to find posts with content they consider hateful or dehumanizing.

SHAPIRO: So I describe the people at this summit as conservative and far-right social media personalities. Who were they exactly?

ALLAM: Well, the White House hasn't released a guest list, so we only know about ones who've said publicly that they were going. Some were establishment conservatives, like Trump-supporting Republicans in Congress, the Heritage Foundation think tank. But there were several guests, also, who would have, even in just the recent past, been considered too extreme for the White House, including under previous Republican administrations.

So we're talking about people like podcast host Bill Mitchell, who's promoted this idea of a deep state conspiracy, Gateway Pundit, known for conspiracy theories and hoaxes, Scott Presler, who is a leader in ACT for America. It's an anti-Muslim group that some extremism trackers consider a hate group. One that got a lot of attention was a cartoonist who was initially invited, but then he was disinvited after Jewish advocacy groups objected over a cartoon that showed the U.S. military as the puppets of prominent Jews - of course, an old anti-Semitic trope.

SHAPIRO: So others have called these guests conspiracy theorists, hoax mongers, extremists. President Trump called them journalists and influencers who are challenging the media gatekeepers and bringing the facts straight to the American people. What has the reaction been among those who monitor extremism?

ALLAM: There's been alarm. In a - in one statement, the Southern Poverty Law Center called this, quote, "a gathering of groups and individuals who have no business at the White House." Extremism trackers like the SPLC and others - they're most worried about the president's role in mainstreaming and normalizing people and viewpoints that, really, just until his rise a few years ago, were considered dangerous. And they operated on the fringes of politics and society. And now here they are getting invitations stamped with the presidential seal. They're in the East Room of the White House, sitting with members of the Cabinet and senior members of Congress. And when Trump welcomed them today, yes, he described them as journalists. And he thanked them for their service and honesty.

SHAPIRO: And was this just a moment to celebrate the people who have been praising him or was there actually anything meant to come out of this summit?

ALLAM: Well, it was wide-ranging. It was kind of all over the place. He talked about some other accomplishments. Social media kind of took a backseat to some of the other issues he wanted to talk about, so I don't know what concrete, you know, steps will come out of this. But it just seemed like a forum to air these grievances or this idea that somehow, these tech giants were conspiring to discriminate against a conservative agenda and conservative voices.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Hannah Allam, thank you - thanks a lot.

ALLAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.