(CBS News) – Democrats and activist groups are speaking out against President-elect Donald Trump’s recently-appointed chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. Bannon, who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, led conservative site Breitbart for almost five years before joining the Trump campaign as CEO earlier this year.
Critics allege Bannon has helped encourage the “alt-right movement,” a fringe conservative movement that has been defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as people who believe that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces.
Behind the scenes, Bannon is one of the most powerful people in the Trump’s inner circle, but he’s also one of the most controversial.
“His appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief White House strategist is proof of the ugly direction Mr. Trump intends to take this country,” Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota said.
The appointment of Bannon reverberated Monday, reports CBS News correspondent Chip Reid.
“I’m personally offended that you think I would manage a campaign where that would be one of the going philosophies. It was not,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said.
A Navy veteran, Bannon earned his wealth as a Goldman Sachs banker and later as a Hollywood investor, reportedly acquiring partial rights to the “Seinfeld” series.
In 2012, Bannon took over conservative website Breitbart after the death of founder Andrew Breitbart. Bannon boasted about turning the site into “the platform for the alt-right.”
“Bannon has been the leader of this splinter group of Republicans,” said Joshua Green, who profiled Bannon for Bloomberg Businessweek with the title: “This man is the most dangerous political operative in America.”
“That was the role he sort of enjoyed, poking the establishment with a stick and being as deliberately provocative, and even offensive, as I think he could be,” Green said.
Reportedly drawing more than 20 million viewers a month, Breitbart is known for inflammatory headlines, including one calling conservative commentator Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew” and another saying that “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”
Bannon’s personal life has also been mired with controversy. In 1996 he was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and battery when his now ex-wife alleged he grabbed her by the throat and arm. The case was dropped when she did not show up to court.
In 2007 during divorce proceedings, she accused Bannon of blocking their children from attending a school because “he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.” Bannon has denied that accusation.
As chief executive of the Trump campaign, Bannon was responsible for several attention-grabbing moments including the pre-debate press conference with multiple Bill Clinton accusers.
“I think Bannon understands deal-making and he understands power, but his main role…is going to be as the guy who keeps Trump honest, who keeps the flame burning and who keeps Trump positioned as somebody who is distinctly outside the political system,” Green said.
In response to a CBS News inquiry about Bannon’s connection to the alt-right movement, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said: “Nothing could be further from the truth…he’s worked with people of all backgrounds and has embraced diversity throughout his career.”
Bannon has defended the alt-right movement in the past, admitting that while white nationalists may be attracted to certain philosophies of the alt-right, he believes there are elements of the hard left that attract certain extremists as well.