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Steve Bannon invitation sparks protests at University of Chicago

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon leaves a House Intelligence Committee meeting where he was interviewed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, on Jan. 16. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

On Thursday, the morning after the student newspaper at the University of Chicago reported that Steve Bannon had been extended  — and accepted — an invitation to speak on campus, protesters rallied.

Outside the Booth School of Business protesters chanted phrases “Disinvite! Disinvite!” and “Say it loud and say it clear, stop inviting fascists here,” according to the Chicago Maroon. Local news outlets estimated the number of protesters ranged from 100 to 300 people.

The Booth School is academic home to Luigi Zingales, the business professor who invited Bannon to participate in a debate on immigration and globalization on a date that hasn’t been announced. Bannon was the chief strategist for President Trump until his dismissal in August.

He also abruptly exited his post as executive chairman of ­the far-right Breitbart News Network in January after backlash over his comments critical of Trump and his family appeared in the Michael Wolff book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

Bannon has not commented publicly on the university blowup, but the University of Chicago released a statement Thursday reaffirming its commitment to academic freedom. The statement said “any recognized student group, faculty group, University department or individual faculty member” can invite speakers to campus.

Professor Luigi Zingales of the Booth School of Business is planning an event with the tentative format of a debate on subjects including the economic benefits of globalization and immigration, and has invited Steve Bannon, former chief strategist and senior adviser in the Trump administration, to debate an expert in the field, with Zingales serving as moderator.

As of early Friday, more than three dozen faculty member had signed an open letter to the university’s president and provost that said Bannon “should not be afforded the platform and opportunity to air his hate speech on this campus” and that his appearance would undermine the university’s mission to build “a diverse and inclusive intellectual” community.

Bannon’s positions as articulated in Breitbart News and the policies he helped to promote during his tenure at the White House do not open opportunities for debate and exchange. . . . These positions represent neither reasonable speech nor evidence-based and rigorous intellectual inquiry.  He is cited as the most consequential proponent of a recent ban on immigration, which is currently embroiled in legal challenges for its discriminatory targeting of majority Muslim countries. Moreover, he is a founding board member of and, until very recently, had been an executive at the media company Breitbart, espousing the most detestable facets of the so-called “alt-right” movement . . .

Zingales, who decried Trump’s presidential bid in 2016 in a commentary in the New York Times, told WGN-Chicago that he didn’t endorse Bannon’s views. In a Facebook post Thursday, he said: “I firmly believe that the current problems in America cannot be solved by demonizing who think differently, but by addressing the causes of their dissatisfaction. Hate cannot be defeated by hate, but only by reason.”

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