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Donald Trump again disavows so-called alt-right supporters

In an interview with The New York Times Tuesday, president-elect Donald Trump once again claimed to 'disavow and condemn' the 'alt right' white supremacists celebrating his victory.

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Kellyanne Conway, from left, President-elect Donald Trump, New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and vice chairman of The New York Times Company Michael Golden appear during a meeting with editors and reporters at The New York Times building, Tuesday.

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times/AP

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President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced once again the so-called alt-right movement that his campaign has brought out of the shadows and into the national spotlight. 

"I disavow and condemn them," Mr. Trump responded when asked during a meeting with staff members of The New York Times about a conference this weekend at which members of the white supremacist movement gathered to celebrate his victory with cries of "Heil Trump" and Nazi salutes.

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It was not Trump's first attempt to distance himself from white supremacists. Earlier this year, after initially refusing to denounce former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on television, saying he "didn't know anything" about him, he later appeared on MSNBC to call Mr. Duke a "bad person" who he "disavowed." His campaign denied ties with Duke again in August. 

But the association has proven difficult to shake, and grown even more so in the wake of the election as white supremacists publicly celebrate Trump's presidential victory and the appointment of Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart, a "platform for the alt-right," as his chief strategist. 

While the so-called "alt-right" has existed in shadowy corners of the internet for years, observers credit Trump's campaign for bringing the movement into mainstream politics, as Patrik Jonsson reported for The Christian Science Monitor in August: 

As the New York mogul has driven some of his base away – including, significantly, suburban white women – he has had to reach deeper and deeper into the conservative movement for fans. He has landed on a strain of American politics that may be as vexing as it is apparently ascendant. That became obvious as Trump struggled to ease his tough immigration rhetoric  this week – key to the alt-right's support – while not seeming to ease it...

But whether it ultimately plays into Trump’s gambit, the alt-right’s emergence on the political scene is indisputably having an influence, one which will be hard to ignore as the country gets ready to retire its first black president.

"These ideas and these strains ... have been around since the beginning of the republic. But they were atomized in the past because we didn't have the communications vehicles that we have now," said Norman Ornstein, co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism," in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm.

"Now," he continued, "with social media, you can organize and create a community that reinforces itself and I think ... Donald Trump gives this a legitimacy now that allows them both to speak out and to organize in ways that we hadn't seen before." 

Richard Spencer, coiner of the term "alt-right" and head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute, told the Associated Press that he was "disappointed" in Trump's disavowal of the alt-right, but that he understands "where he's coming from politically and practically." He added that he will "wait and see" how the Trump administration shapes up.

Mr. Spencer said on Tuesday that he does not consider Trump to be part of the alt-right movement, though the two find "some common ground" on certain issues. But he has credited the president-elect with giving the movement greater momentum and a louder voice.

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"Trump brought us from zero to 1," Spencer told Mother Jones in October. "He brought us from a movement that was very interesting but ultimately marginal – ultimately disconnected from reality, you could even say. We were talking to ourselves, talking to our own ideas. Now we are still doing that, but we are connected with a campaign, connected with attacking liberals. We've come so far."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.