(CNN) — President-elect Donald Trump denied Tuesday that he did anything to energize the “alt-right” movement through his presidential campaign and sought to distance himself from it, even though many of the movement’s leaders have sought to tether their political views to Trump’s rise.
“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump told a group of New York Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters in New York.
“It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why,” he added, according to one of the Times reporters in the room, Michael Grynbaum.
Trump offered up the condemnation of the alt-right, a far-right political movement rife with white nationalist, anti-Semitic and racist ideologies, after The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet asked Trump if he feels he did things to energize the alt-right.
Trump’s comments come days after Richard Spencer, a white supremacist and leading figure in the alt-right, delivered a racist and anti-Semitic address to a gathering of the group’s members in which he declared, emphatically, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”
Spencer’s chants prompted some audience members to raise their right hand in an apparent Nazi salute.
White supremacists have consistently expressed their support for Trump during the presidential campaign — pointing in part to his hardline positions on immigration — and critics contended that Trump was too slow to reject the support of those groups during his campaign.
Trump also took flak recently after he tapped his campaign CEO Steve Bannon to be one of his top two advisers in the White House. Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, touted the website as “the platform for the alt-right.” Bannon rejected the anti-Semitic and racist elements of the alt-right in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week and declared himself an “economic nationalist.”
Trump defended Bannon in his New York Times meeting, saying that he’s known him for “a long time” and that the allegations of anti-Semitism and connections to the alt-right are “not him.”
“If I thought he was racist, or ‘alt-right’ … I wouldn’t even think about hiring him,” Trump said Tuesday.