TORONTO - A Canadian crowd laughed derisively at former White House strategist Steve Bannon on Friday and police made several arrests as protesters delayed the start of a controversial debate featuring Bannon and conservative commentator David Frum.
Toronto Police tweeted there had been “a number of arrests” but no reported injuries. The debate was delayed for about a half hour and Bannon was interrupted by a protester during his opening statement.
Many in the crowd of 2,700 at the Munk debate groaned and laughed at Bannon when he said he hasn’t seen a bad decision by President Donald Trump yet.
When Bannon earlier called it a very tough crowd, one audience member responded “No, smart.”
“Trump’s economic nationalism doesn’t care about your race, your ethnicity or color,” Bannon said to a jeering crowd at another point.
The protester that interrupted the debate unfurled a banner that read “No Hate. No Bigoty. No Place for Bannon’s White Supremacy.”
When one audience member loudly clapped for Bannon, he quipped “Thanks Mom.”
New Yorker festival
Last month New Yorker Editor David Remnick withdrew an invitation for Bannon to speak at the magazine’s festival this month after facing widespread criticism. That set off a fierce debate about whether it was better to challenge or to shun Bannon.
Bannon thanked the people of Toronto and the organizers for having him and the protesters outside for exercising their freedom of speech rights to protest.
Debate: Populist vs liberal
Frum and Bannon debated whether “The future of Western politics is populist, not liberal.” Frum argued populism offers nothing but anger and fear and said he had faith in voters.
“I know the fear that many feel,” Frum said. “This is not the first time that democracy has faced thugs, and crooks and bullies and would-be dictators and those who would seek to build themselves up by tearing others down. This is not the first time that people have puffed themselves as the wave of the future. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.”
Frum called the rise in populism the most dangerous challenge that liberal democratic institutions have faced since the end of communism.
“It’s not a question of whether populism is on the rise and whether populism is going to be the political future,” Bannon said. “The only question before us: Is it going to be populist nationalism or populist socialism?”
Bannon played a central role in the 2016 campaign of Trump. Bannon said next week’s midterms are critical test of the populist movement but said they are just in the first inning of it. He believes the Republicans will hold the Senate but it will be a dogfight for the House.