TUCSON — Breitbart editor and former White House strategist Steve Bannon credited Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, in part, to the death of an Arizona Border Patrol agent, claiming it highlighted the need for stronger border security.
“Brian Terry will live in history as a historical figure,” Bannon told a 380 attendees at the annual Brian Terry Foundation dinner on Saturday.
“He brought to the attention of the American people, he put a human face on it, he put a hero’s face on it, on what was exactly at risk at the southern border of our country,” he said.
The foundation invited Bannon to deliver the dinner’s keynote speech, and also presented him with its Courage in Journalism award for Breitbart’s coverage of Operation “Fast and Furious” — the gun-walking operation that was exposed by Terry’s 2010 death.
During his 15 minute speech, Bannon largely focused on his role in the presidential campaign, crediting himself for leading Trump to victory on Election Day while jabbing at indicted former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“Trump had the right message,” he said. “But the campaign was a little disorganized… They didn’t have a lot of organization, as you can see from Paul Manafort.”
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges he laundered money through overseas shell companies, charges brought by a special prosecutor probing contact between Trump’s campaign and Russians seeking to influence the election.
Bannon also took credit for the campaign’s emphasis on border security, including Trump’s call for a crackdown on illegal immigration and a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Near the end of his speech, Bannon praised Trump’s first year in office but warned Trump’s achievements to date are under threat from the “resistance” — including progressives and the Republican establishment.
“President Trump needs your backing now more than ever,” he told the largely receptive crowd. “This nullification project that is under way, this nullification project that is trying to take away the 2016 victory from the American people and the Trump supporters has to be stopped.”
Since leaving the White House in August, Bannon returned to Breitbart where he’s used that platform to take on establishment Republicans who aren’t sufficiently supportive of Trump’s agenda. His efforts include supporting challengers to defeat establishment Republicans.
He has endorsed former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the race for Arizona’s now-open Senate seat in 2018. Ward attended the dinner, and took the stage to present Bannon with the award.
“As others sit on sidelines,” Ward said. “Steve is out there actively working to fulfill President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.”
The Brian Terry Foundation also presented an award to John Dodson, the agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who blew the whistle on the connection between Terry’s death and “Fast and Furious.” The operation allowed thousands of guns to flow from the U.S. to Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to trace them to criminal figures.
Investigators traced two of the rifles used to gun down Terry to the failed operation.
Protesters gather outside hotel
Nearly 200 protesters gathered outside the resort Saturday afternoon to protest Bannon’s appearance.
Carrying signs and chanting, “Whose town? Our town,” they lined the main route to the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort.
Edward Cott, of the immigration activist group LUPE, said he was pleased with the number of protesters and the message it sent to the man they see as a main architect of Trump’s nativist and anti-immigrant policies.
“They shouldn’t be bringing someone that hates immigrants to a city and region where 50 percent of the population (is Latino),” Cott said of the Brian Terry Foundation. “Our communities are here, our families are here, and are being directly affected and separated and criminalized by the policies that he represents.”
MORE: Steve Bannon’s Tucson visit for Brian Terry Foundation creates tension
The protesters were members of a number of progressive groups in southern Arizona. But it also attracted individuals of all ages who said they felt compelled to raise their voice against intolerance.
“I am the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Steve Bannon has made it very clear that he is in favor of Nazi ideology and white-supremacist ideology,” Tucson resident Mollie Mesaros said. “I felt I needed to make my voice heard to stand up for the people who weren’t able to stand up for themselves in the 1930s in Germany and today.”
Some protesters directed their message to the Terry family, expressing concern and sorrow that they would associate themselves with Bannon.
Terry’s family, which acknowledged this week that they knew Bannon would be a controversial choice to attend the event, had asked protesters not to disrupt the fundraiser.
After initially saying they would not staff the event, the Tucson Police Department appeared to spare no effort to ensure the safety of protesters and those attending the event.
The protest was peaceful, and in addition to the officers peppered throughout the resort and surrounding streets, the Police Department also had dozens more officers on standby in the resort parking structure.
The hotel also stepped up security, setting up several checkpoints to allow in only hotel guests and event attendees.
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