Controversial political figure and former presidential chief strategist Steve Bannon will make an appearance in New Mexico on Thursday in support of the Republican U.S. Senate candidate.
Mick Rich’s campaign confirmed that Bannon will speak on behalf of his political group Citizens of the American Republic in Roswell, stumping for the Albuquerque construction contractor and political newcomer. The Rich campaign said the event is sponsored and paid for by Citizens of the American Republic and Rich will appear as a guest.
Nick Gerard, a staffer with the Mick Rich campaign, said Bannon’s appearance is notable for both the campaign and the Republican Party.
“A lot of people nationally kind of look at New Mexico and just assume it will forever and always be a Democratic state and that’s not the case on the ground,” Gerard said. “And it takes people like Steve Bannon coming in and people on the ground like Mick who believe in the state, who believe in its values to give us hope for 2018 and beyond.”
Bannon gained national attention when he became the head of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and later became Trump’s chief advisor and strategist. In 2017, Bannon left his job at the White House and returned to his role of executive chair of Breitbart News.
Bannon has been surrounded in controversy throughout his career, going back to his time at the the news site which he called a “platform for the alt-right.” Bannon was reportedly a key figure in Trump’s now-infamous travel ban which prevented people from seven Middle Eastern countries from traveling into the United States. Federal courts would eventually block the executive order.
Bannon reportedly advised Trump not to criticize far-right activists at the 2017 Charlottesville rally, where a white supremacist drove a car into a group of counter-protesters and killed one, because they were part of Trump’s base.
Bannon has also been accused of being a racist and a supporter of white nationalism. While Bannon has denied ties to or support of white nationalist groups, but did tell a crowd in France, “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”
Bannon was speaking at the convention of the National Front party, a far-right, anti-immigration, nationalist, political party. The party recently rebranded.
Democratic Party of New Mexico chairwoman Marg Elliston called for Rich to not show up to the event scheduled for Thursday.
Bannon also once referred to news media as the “opposition party.”
“Let me be clear: There is no place for Steve Bannon or his hatred in New Mexico,” Elliston said in a statement. “Mick Rich should immediately cancel his appearance and apologize.”
Rich’s Libertarian opponent Gary Johnson’s campaign issued a statement critical of Bannon, but did not call for the event to be cancelled.
“He’s attacked the state’s largest faith, the Catholic Church, for its views toward immigrants, and thinks separating children from their parents at the border is good policy,” Johnson’s spokesman Joe Hunter said. “There are a lot of Republicans in New Mexico who aren’t on board with those kinds of beliefs. We can only hope that spending a little time in the state might temper his views.”
Indeed, Bannon made disparaging remarks about the Catholic Church and its views on immigration. Rich has stated in interviews and public debates that he is a devout Catholic, but has also campaigned on more border security.
Rich’s campaign said Bannon’s appearance will help to bolster Republican ideas and values.
“It’s really important because the Republican Party in New Mexico needs to understand that its ideas are valuable, that its people are valuable and that it matters,” Gerard said.