Steve Bannon invite sparks protests at Chicago university

Steve Bannon addresses the California GOP 2017 Convention in Anaheim, California on Oct 20, 2017.
Steve Bannon addresses the California GOP 2017 Convention in Anaheim, California on Oct 20, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

CHICAGO (AFP) - A Chicago university's invitation to Donald Trump's former advisor Steve Bannon to speak has sparked backlash from students and faculty urging the school to withdraw its offer.

As of early Friday (Jan 26), 44 professors at the prestigious University of Chicago - where Trump's predecessor Barack Obama once taught law - had signed an open letter calling on the invitation to be rescinded.

Hundreds of students also protested Thursday (Jan 25), shouting chants including "stop inviting fascists here," according to the university's student newspaper the Chicago Maroon, which first reported the invitation.

Business professor Luigi Zingales invited Bannon and announced that the former White House strategist had accepted - though no date had been set.

Zingales said in a Facebook post that while he did not support the views of the hard-line nationalist who sought to shake up US domestic and foreign policy, his views had nevertheless resonated and made an impact on American politics and therefore were worth hearing.

"I can hardly think of a more important issue for new citizens and business leaders of the world than the backlash against globalisation and immigration that is taking place not just in America, but in all the Western World," Zingales said.

"Mr Bannon has come to interpret and represent this backlash in America."

In the open letter, opposing professors said the invitation is misguided and threatens to legitimise positions that "represent neither reasonable speech nor evidence-based and rigorous intellectual inquiry."

"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," the letter said.

The University of Chicago released a statement saying it supported Zingales's right to invite Bannon and detractors' right to protest, "as part of our commitment to free expression."

Last August, firebrand Bannon, the architect of the Republican leader's shock 2016 presidential victory, made a high-profile exit from the White House.

He then found himself isolated after infuriating Trump by making unflattering comments about the president that were recorded in the incendiary book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff.

According to the book, Bannon said that a pre-election meeting involving Trump's eldest son Donald Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer was "treasonous."

Bannon stepped down from Breitbart and lost the support of the Mercer family, wealthy conservative power brokers.