Trump strategist Steve Bannon has resurfaced in an unlikely place: the tech conference circuit. He is currently scheduled as the keynote speaker at the 15th International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology (or ACE2018), to be hosted at the University of Montana in December. The conference is co-located with the Fourth International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots, although Bannon does not have any apparent connection to that gathering.
The broader scientific community is already pushing back against the invitation. A number of associated academics have pulled out of the conference in the wake of the keynote, as reported by Motherboard. Springer, a leading scientific publisher, has declined to publish the technical proceedings, citing the low quantity of submissions.
Bannon has an often-overlooked background in the tech entertainment industry as the former head of a World of Warcraft gold farming company, but his keynote will focus on more familiar issues of immigration and nationalism. According to organizers, Bannon’s speech will address “how economic nationalism will help minorities (blacks, hispanics, etc.) to obtain more high tech jobs.” Bannon has particularly opposed H-1B visas for foreign workers, resulting in the suspension of expedited processing for the visas shortly after Trump came to office. Bannon has often cited minority unemployment as a justification for the policy in the past, most recently in a speech to a conference for black entrepreneurs in December.
In recent months, that message has become more focused on the tech industry. “We’re not going to solve the problems in this country economically until all classes and races get full access to high value-added technology jobs,” Bannon told GQ in February. “We shouldn’t allow the rest of the world to come and compete for them.”
Those views often extend beyond specific visa clauses and into a general hostility for foreign-born tech workers. “I have a big problem with foreign nationals coming into the country to be to be CEOs of companies,” Bannon said in the same interview. Google’s Sundar Pichai and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella were both born in India, although both men are US citizens. Bannon has also falsely claimed that “two-thirds or three-quarters” of Silicon Valley CEOs are from Asia.
Bannon was also a key figure responsible for the “Muslim ban” executive order in January 2017, which caused widespread protests at US airports as border agents sought to block any entrants from eight majority-Muslim countries. The ensuing chaos extended to tech companies, with Google abruptly ordering more than 180 employees to return to the US for fear of visa issues in the immediate aftermath. Hostility toward guest workers has also bubbled up into violence, as in the case of Garmin engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was killed in a hate crime in Kansas the month after the executive order.
Adrian Cheok, who organized the conference, says he expects Bannon’s stance on H-1B visas to be relevant to many of the attendees. “You’ve got a billion people in China and nearly a billion people in India. Obviously, the tech companies are going to be able to get highly experienced workers at lower cost, so there’s not as much incentive to train minority workers,” Cheok told The Verge. “I’m half-Malaysian-Chinese. I have nothing against Chinese people. But it’s simple mathematics.”
Still, that logic may not sit well with the conference’s sponsors, Samsung and Tencent, which are based in Korea and China, respectively. The Verge reached out to both companies for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. Bannon also did not respond to a request for comment.