Outspoken British politician Nigel Farage tied the success of the Brexit initiative to the rise of President Donald Trump and called controversial former adviser Steve Bannon “a political genius” in a speech delivered Wednesday night in Spokane.
“I put it to you, that 2016 is a year that will stand out in a hundred, or 200 years’ time,” said Farage. “It was a year of political revolution.”
Farage delivered the keynote address of the Washington Policy Center, a nonprofit organization promoting free market ideas in state politics, at the downtown Davenport Grand Hotel. An audience of roughly 900 people, among them GOP lawmakers at the state and local levels, bookended with standing ovations a speech describing the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union as a catalyst, its echoes in the push that put Trump in the White House and the need to combat “the enemy within” conservative circles that Farage said put those “great victories” in jeopardy.
Farage’s speech was his second public appearance stateside this week, after appearing with Bannon at an Alabama rally Monday for U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. Moore triumphed in the Republican primary, despite Trump’s support for incumbent Sen. Luther Strange.
“What Alabama showed is that the swamp, the establishment, is still very, very powerful,” Farage said. “I did not wish – I did not want, to publicly go against the president in any way at all.”
Farage said Bannon, who left the Trump White House in August and returned to the conservative media outlet Breitbart News, “is the guy that actually is going to make the Republican Party a natural government of power in this country.”
Those among a group of about 60 protesters outside the $150-a-plate dinner, a major fundraiser for the think tank, said Farage’s endorsement of Bannon, and his British-centric policies they called racist and sexist, indicated the event was pandering to the fringes of the Republican Party.
“What I mostly want is for people of this region to realize how far right the Republican Party has drifted,” said Jerry LeClaire, a retired Spokane eye surgeon who carried a sign reading “Farage = Fearmonger.”
Among the protesters, who held signs, chanted and knelt facing away from the venue before the dinner began, was Scotland native Frank Coyle. He called Farage “a fascist.”
“He told lies to get Britain out of the European Union, and once the vote was taken and people said yes, he resigned his position,” Coyle said. “He won’t face his responsibilities, to see his program through. He abandons his people.”
Farage teased the demonstrators in his opening remarks to the crowd within.
“If that protest outside is the best you can organize, something’s going wrong,” he said, to laughter from the audience.
Before the event, local Republicans chided comparisons between Farage and Bannon and defended the Washington Policy Center’s decision to invite him.
“I think that’s an overstatement. I don’t think he’s a Steve Bannon,” said George Nethercutt, the former GOP congressman from Spokane who’s also a longtime board member for the policy center. “I think he’s a free market guy. That’s what the WPC stands for.”
Stephanie Cates, chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, called Farage “a firebrand.”
“I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a far right speaker,” Cates said. “He’s certainly a big fan of the president. He’s been part of a major event in history.”
Farage accused “the liberal media” of inventing ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians to explain Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election. He called President Barack Obama a “despicable human being” for suggesting that England would lose its privileged diplomatic status with the United States if voters left the European Union. And Farage dismissed claims that his push, as a leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, for stricter immigration policies was racist.
He also defended Trump’s controversial travel ban in the United States restricting visitors from majority Muslim countries as an effort to make the country safer.
“We reasserted our rights to believe that we should control our own borders,” Farage said. “And controlling immigration, far from being racist – as our leftwing detractors would say – is the right and sensible thing to do.”
Farage urged those in attendance to continue railing against what he called “the establishment,” especially within the GOP.
“Isn’t it time, that we in small town England, and small town America, fought back?” Farage said. “We did it in 2016. But if any of you think that the job is over, because of those great victories, you are wrong.”