Democrats, civil rights groups and even some Republicans slammed President-elect Donald Trump for choosing Steve Bannon as a key aide, saying it would elevate the white nationalist movement into the top levels of the White House.
Making his first appointments since last week's upset win, Trump picked Bannon as his chief strategist and counselor, and Washington insider Reince Priebus as his chief of staff on Sunday, saying the two would share the task of steering his administration as "equal partners."
The choice of Priebus was seen as a conciliatory signal of Trump's willingness to work with Congress. But critics blasted the selection of Bannon, who spearheaded a shift of the Breitbart News website into a forum for the "alt-right," a loose online group of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.
"There should be no sugarcoating the truth here: Donald Trump just invited a white nationalist into the highest reaches of the government," said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who called on Trump to rescind the choice.
"The President of the United States should condemn bigots – not give them a West Wing office and empower them to make decisions about the future of our country," Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote on Facebook. "Bannon’s appointment shows that so far President-Elect Trump is embracing the same kind of ugliness and divisiveness as he did throughout his campaign."
Even some conservatives and Republicans voiced dismay on Bannon. Evan McMullin, who ran as a conservative independent presidential candidate, wondered on Twitter if any national Republican leaders would condemn the pick of "anti-Semite" Bannon.
John Weaver, a top strategist for Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, tweeted that the "racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America." Kasich was one of 16 Republican presidential hopefuls Trump defeated in the party primaries.
Priebus defended Bannon on Monday, calling him a wise and well-educated former naval officer and saying he had not encountered the sort of extremist or racist views that critics are assailing.
"He was a force for good on the campaign," Priebus said on Fox News, adding they were in agreement on "almost everything" in terms of advising the president-elect.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's former campaign manager and a senior adviser, told reporters in New York she was offended by the reaction to Bannon, describing him as a "brilliant tactician."