Bannon rallies Republicans at unity dinner

Protestors gather at event

By: Eric Czarnik, Sarah Wojcik | Warren Weekly | Published November 9, 2017

Photo by Eric Czarnik

 Protesters opposing Bannon and Trump stand outside the venue.

Protesters opposing Bannon and Trump stand outside the venue.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

One year after Election Day 2016, Stephen Bannon, a formerly prominent figure in President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration, gave a populist speech on campaigning and activism Nov. 8 at a Macomb County GOP Lincoln/Reagan Unity Dinner.

Bannon began his speech, which was held before a packed hall of Republicans at Andiamo Banquet Center in Warren, by addressing the Election Day anniversary as the “the first anniversary of the high holy day of MAGA.” MAGA is a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Bannon, who previously had been executive chairman at the right-wing website Breitbart News, was picked to be the CEO of Trump’s campaign in August 2016. After Trump won the election, Bannon’s position changed to White House chief strategist. In August 2017, he departed that role to return to Breitbart while also supporting certain political candidates for 2018.

Over the course of his speech, Bannon talked about the importance of Michigan in the 2016 presidential campaign and described how Trump and his team worked hard to win the state, along with other Midwestern states, that year.

“(Trump) understood at a very deep level the problems of this country,” Bannon said. “He understood why Macomb County and certain areas of Michigan have gone from a global powerhouse in manufacturing to hollowed out. Donald Trump understood what globalization and the elites in this country and other countries had done to working men and women in the United States.”

Bannon also discussed issues like Brexit, global trade policies and defeating the Islamic State group. He also described his dissatisfaction with the news media, as well as with “elites” in Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

Bannon outlined Trump’s message of controlling immigration, bringing jobs back to the U.S., and ending “pointless foreign wars.” He called the Trump agenda a winning ticket based on “economic nationalism,” but distanced it from some of the labels that opponents have pinned to the so-called “Trump deplorables.”

“(Hillary Clinton) was smearing them as nativists and racists, right? And ethnonationalists and white supremacists. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Bannon said.

“You live here in this county. You know the hardworking, decent folks that are here. Economic nationalism is what binds us together. It doesn’t matter what your race is or what your ethnicity is or what your color is or what your religion is or what your gender is or what your sexual preference is.”

Bannon also spoke about what had happened the previous night — the electoral defeat of Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. He called Gillespie a good man who was “much more of an establishment guy,” but Bannon praised Trump supporters for doing their best to “try to push Virginia, a blue state, over the goal line.”

“Now one of the things that the Gillespie campaign has showed is you can’t fake the Trump agenda,” Bannon added. “You have to go all in.”

Bannon later added: “The people that oppose us are hardworking folks. You saw that in Virginia. This is going to get down to one thing: Who can work harder, who is more dedicated, who is more focused?”

He said Republicans in Macomb County could help lead the way to victory in the 2018 and 2020 elections if they get bigger, smarter and tougher.

“The only way we’re going to win this is if you keep your shoulder to the wheel,” he said. “I would love to come here and say we got a magic wand, that we can pat you on the head, it’s all going to be fine. It’s not going to be fine. Every day is going to be a struggle.”

Before Bannon spoke, Michigan Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell said Bannon recognized what was going on in the U.S. and helped Trump win.

“Steve did that in the face of a lot of opposition, to be honest about it,” Mitchell said.

Shelby Township Clerk Stanley Grot, who is a Republican candidate for Michigan Secretary of State, said he wanted Bannon to take a message back to Trump on behalf of the people at the dinner: “Donald J. Trump, we’ve got your back.”

After the event, an Andiamo representative said the event went smoothly and declined further comment.

On the outside

While politicians and paying guests arrived to the event, protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside amidst a strong police presence.

“We’re here to maintain a safe and secure site, so we have officers out here from the Warren Police Department, Sterling Heights, the State Police, the Sheriff’s Department, and so far we have had no problems, but we’re well-prepared to deal with any situations or problems we have,” Oakland County Commissioner Bill Dwyer said.

He declined to give out numbers of manpower, but squad cars lined a barricaded side street to the west of the venue, officers sat in idling vehicles parked throughout the restaurant parking lot, a mounted horse unit stood at attention across the street, SWAT team members stood vigil beside a Warren Police Department Emergency Response Team trailer, and a helicopter circled the area.

Robert Fidler, a Warren resident and media director for Metro Detroit Political Action Network, helped to organize a protest against the GOP’s selection of Bannon as its speaker.

“For us, the most pressing issues are policy issues (Bannon) made serving under the Trump regime as far as the persecution of Muslim people through the travel ban, the ICE raids — particularly against Chaldean citizens and residents particularly in our area in metro Detroit — and the attempted ban on transgender people serving in the military,” Fidler said.

He said he was happy with the turnout of approximately 100 people, who came out with signs, megaphones, flags representing equality, pink knit caps, and a drum and a tuba. The crowd included representatives from Refuse Fascism, Stop Trump Ann Arbor, Solidarity and Defense, the Islamic Organization of North America, and Emgage.

“The fact that someone would book Steve Bannon is so offensive to anyone with any kind of concept of equality or human decency,” Fidler said. “By coming out, this is something that we do when you are faced with a large portion of American society endorsing the white supremacy, the misogyny, the homo slash trans phobia by electing someone like Steve Bannon, who is very much the figurehead for this obscene alt-right movement.”

He said the protesters gathered to show that there is a “sizable if not more contingent (of Americans) against these hateful views.”

Vicki Edwards, a Detroit resident and a representative with Refuse Fascism, said she joined the group shortly after Trump’s election because “Trump is a fascist, and he represents a great threat to humanity, and he has to go.”

Edwards expressed trepidation about the possibility of war with North Korea under the Trump administration.

Rob Cortis, a Livonia resident and creator of the “Trump Unity Bridge,” stood on the opposite side of the protestors in front of the 30-foot, trailer-mounted bridge — a star-spangled display of pro-Trump messages. Large letters that spelled out “TRUMP,” and, below that, “COLBECK” decked the bridge, which was also lit by spotlights and was blasting music.

“We traveled over 87,000 miles nationwide. We’ve been to 32 states and over 1,500 different cities promoting the messages from the American people supporting President Trump’s agenda,” Cortis said. “We’re making huge progress with the left and the people that were against Trump, because, when they read the messages, they see their thoughts up there: ‘All Lives Matter,’ ‘Unity,’ ‘Military,’ ‘Buy American,’ ‘I Stand for the Flag,” ‘Made in USA.’”

His mission, he said, is to “make America great again.”

“I actually like Steve Bannon, because he’s supporting the agenda. I’m here to see him speak tonight because he's speaking about making America a better place, and that’s where his heart is,” Cortis said. “When they had the riots down South, both sides were wrong. … If people could find respect, integrity, courage and pride, America would be a better place, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”

James Beary, of Grosse Ile, came to the event in sunglasses and with a handkerchief over his face. He had a flashlight on one hip and a gas mask on the other because he said he got maced and suffered “four broken bones in my face” in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“(Bannon is) a white nationalist; I’m a white nationalist. I support him. I’m standing out here for my rights and my future,” he said. “‘Nationalist’ is looking out for your people. Europeans. I have no problem with (non-Europeans). I just think I have as much pride to take in myself as they have pride in who they are.”

He said his views are not racist.

“My ancestors being adventurers and explorers … it’s an economic issue,” Beary said. “Of course I’d rather be wealthy. … Everything I have is because of hard work, sacrifice and dedication.”

He said he came out because the Constitution grants him the right to free speech.

“I have my First Amendment right, just as much as they have their right and everything,” Beary said. “I disagree with what they say. OK. That’s fine.”