Ralph Terry was shocked when he heard there would be protests over Steve Bannon being the keynote speaker and award recipient at the Brian Terry Foundation annual award dinner.
The Foundation chose Steve Bannon as keynote speaker and recipient of the Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award because of Breitbart’s reporting on “Operation Fast and Furious,” a botched U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms gunrunning investigation into the movement of guns to Mexican drug cartels during which U.S. officials lost track of the guns.
Brian Terry was a Border Patrol agent who was shot in 2010 while looking for members of a suspected drug cartel. A semi-automatic rifle recovered at the scene was tracked back to a gun lost during the Fast and Furious investigation.
The Foundation is not a political group, said Ralph, the foundation’s president and Brian’s uncle. He hadn’t thought about Bannon being called a white nationalist, but that he was “a key player in President Trump’s election,” Ralph said during an interview with the Tucson Weekly.
“It’s unfortunate when any group has to start putting labels on people—‘white nationalist,’ ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We all matter,” he said.
The Foundation raises money for the families of Border Patrol agents killed on duty and toward scholarships for people pursuing careers in law enforcement or criminal justice. It has awarded 40 scholarships, and Ralph says he hears from people that it changed their lives.
The Terry family had a hard time finding closure after Brian’s murder because the government was not forthcoming with information, Ralph said.
“Mr. Bannon kept right on top of that for us and kept it in the public eye, and we appreciate that,” he said. “To smear the Foundation because they may or may not agree with that person’s politics is below the line that I want to go.”
At the Starr Pass Marriott resort last night, there were a few protesters holding signs calling Bannon a Nazi, but shuttles whisked guests of the foundation right past them with little disturbance.
It took the family 18 months to get information about what happened to Brian, said former Congressman Ron Barber, who spoke at the Foundation’s first luncheon and presented a Congressional Badge of Bravery to the family. Barber said the Foundation does great work, but the choice to give Bannon an award is another matter.
“I do not support that Steve Bannon should receive an award or be at the event,” he said. “I, personally, would think he doesn’t deserve an award of any kind.”
He said Bannon is an “advocate of white nationalism” and a “symbol of divisiveness, bigotry and hate,” and inviting him takes away from the Foundation’s work and could cast a shadow over Brian’s memory.
At the event, speakers presented a video and slideshow about Brian’s life, mainly about his work with Border Patrol. Fox News reporter William La Jeunesse talked about the job being a thankless one that secures the nation’s freedom. And Kelli Ward, a former Republican state lawmaker who is now running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat, introduced Bannon at the end of the evening.
“If you listen to the mainstream media, you might get the wrong idea about Steve,” she said. “Steve is one of the few people in this world who could actually steal the title from the guy in the Dos Equis commercial as the most interesting man in the world.”
Although Ralph Terry says the group is not political, the evening certainly was. When Ward listed Bannon’s accomplishments, she mentioned Breitbart (the alt-right news outlet where Bannon is executive chairman) as being a “platform that challenged the liberal-dominated mainstream media.”
“Steve has an innate sense of what the grassroots voters want and need,” she said, referring to Bannon as “hand of the king.” (Trump’s the king in this Game of Thrones scenario).
She reminded the crowd that Bannon advised Trump to pull out of the Paris climate accords (to loud applause), renegotiate “new and better” trade deals and “investigating 'Chiiiiina' over intellectual property values.” She pronounced China with a mocking drawl, perhaps meant to imitate Trump’s pronunciation of the word.
“Back at Breitbart, Steve is continuing to lead the charge against the Republican establishment, the obstructionist Democrats and the special-interest power brokers in Washington,” she said. “People don’t like that, but I like it.”
The crowd went wild. And when Bannon entered the stage, it was to a standing ovation. The central thrust of Bannon’s speech was that Trump was elected because of his stance on illegal immigration, which Bannon called the biggest issue facing the United States.
“In 2016, Donald Trump cut through the entire best generation of politicians we’d ever seen,” Bannon said about Trump’s primary campaign. “He cut through them like a scythe through grass.”
And the issue that sharpened his scythe, according to Bannon, was the promise of a wall. And Bannon told the crowd last night that he has pushed Trump to keep the momentum focused on “stopping mass illegal immigration and addressing the issue of legal immigration to get our sovereignty back."
Bannon went on to read a list he called Trump’s 10-point plan: build a “great wall”—an “impenetrable barrier”—on the southern border; end catch and release; allow “zero tolerance for criminal aliens—we will deport them all”; end sanctuary cities; end DACA; suspend visas from countries with no screening; “force countries to take their people back when visas run out”; and a biometric visa systems. The room applauded some more.
Bannon told Trump that if he focused on the 10-point plan during his campaign, he would have “100 percent metaphysical certitude” of winning.
Toward the end of Bannon’s speech, he turned to the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“President Trump needs your backing now more than ever,” he said. “This nullification project that’s underway, this nullification project that’s trying to take away the 2016 victory from the American people and the Trump supporters, has to be stopped, as much for the people outside protesting tonight. Because if we allow any one sector of our country to nullify a presidential election, we’ll be doing this back and forth for the foreseeable future.”