Steve Bannon

Stephen Kevin Bannon (born November 27, 1953) is an American political aide, and former media executive and film producer, who is currently the White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration. In this capacity, he attended the Principals Committee of the U.S. National Security Council from January 28, 2017 to April 5, 2017.

On August 17, 2016, in the later months of the campaign, Bannon joined the Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid, taking the position of chief executive officer. Prior to taking a leave of absence in August 2016, he had been executive chair of Breitbart News, a far-right news, opinion, and commentary website which he described in 2016 as "the platform for the alt-right".

Bannon was previously a US Navy officer, a Goldman Sachs banker, a radio host, a research director, a film producer and then a media executive. He was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as well as at the Pentagon. After his military service, he worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the Mergers and Acquisitions Department. When he left the company, Bannon held the position of vice president. In 1993, he was made acting director of the Earth-science research project Biosphere 2. In the 1990s, he became an executive producer in the Hollywood film and media industry and has produced 18 films since 1991.

Steve Bannon by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Steve Bannon by Gage Skidmore.jpg

Early life, family and education

Stephen Kevin Bannon was born on November 27, 1953, in Norfolk, Virginia, to Doris (née Herr), a homemaker and Martin Bannon, who worked as an AT&T telephone lineman, later in middle management. His working class, Irish Catholic family was pro-Kennedy, pro-union Democrat. Bannon attended Benedictine College Preparatory, a private, Catholic, military high school in Richmond, Virginia graduating in 1971.

After graduation from high school, Bannon attended Virginia Tech and served as the president of the student government association. During the summers, when Bannon was attending Virginia Tech, he took a job working at a local junk yard, often coming home so dirty his mother made him rinse off with a hose before being allowed into the house.

Bannon graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in urban planning and holds a master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. In 1985, Bannon received a Master of Business Administration degree with honors from Harvard Business School.

Service as naval officer

Bannon was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a surface warfare officer in the Pacific Fleet and, afterwards stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon. Bannon's job at the Pentagon was, among other things, handling messages between senior officers and writing reports about the state of the Navy fleet worldwide. While at the Pentagon, Bannon attended Georgetown University at night and obtained his master's degree in national security studies.

Upon his departure he was ranked as a lieutenant (O-3).

Business career

Investment banking

After his military service, Bannon worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in the Mergers and Acquisitions Department. In 1987, Bannon relocated from New York to Los Angeles, to assist Goldman to expand their presence in the entertainment industry. He stayed at this position with Goldman in Los Angeles for two years, leaving with the title of vice president.

In 1990, Bannon and several colleagues from Goldman Sachs launched Bannon & Co., a boutique investment bank specializing in media. In one of Bannon & Co.'s transactions, the firm represented Westinghouse Electric which wanted to sell Castle Rock Entertainment. Bannon negotiated a sale of Castle Rock to CNN, which was owned by Ted Turner at the time. Instead of a full adviser’s fee, Bannon & Co. accepted a financial stake in five television shows, including Seinfeld, which was in its third season. Bannon still receives cash residuals each time Seinfeld is aired. Société Générale purchased Bannon & Co. in 1998.

Earth science

In 1993, while still managing Bannon & Co., Bannon was made acting director of the Earth-science research project Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. Under Bannon, the closed-system experiment project shifted emphasis from researching human space exploration and colonization toward the scientific study of earth's environment, pollution and climate change. He left the project in 1995.

Entertainment and media

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Bannon in 2010

In the 1990s, Bannon ventured into the entertainment and media industry. He became an executive producer in the Hollywood film and media industry. Bannon produced 18 films, from the 1991 Sean Penn drama The Indian Runner to Julie Taymor's 1999 film Titus. Bannon became a partner with entertainment industry executive Jeff Kwatinetz at The Firm, Inc., a film and television management company.

In 2004, Bannon made a documentary about Ronald Reagan titled In the Face of Evil. Through the making and screening of this film, Bannon was introduced to Reagan's War author Peter Schweizer and publisher Andrew Breitbart, who would later describe him as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement. He was involved in the financing and production of a number of films, including Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman, The Undefeated, and Occupy Unmasked.

Bannon persuaded Goldman Sachs to invest, in 2006, in a company known as Internet Gaming Entertainment. Following a lawsuit, the company rebranded as Affinity Media and Bannon took over as CEO. From 2007 through 2011, Bannon was the chair and CEO of Affinity Media.

In 2007, Bannon wrote an eight-page treatment for a new documentary called Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Facism (sic) in America. The outline states that "although driven by the “best intentions,” institutions such as the media, the Jewish community and government agencies were appeasing jihadists aiming to create an Islamic republic". In 2011, Bannon spoke at the "Liberty Restoration Foundation" in Orlando, Florida about the Economic Crisis of 2008, the Troubled Assets Relief Program and their impact in the origins of the Tea Party movement, while also discussing his films Generation Zero and The Undefeated.

Bannon was executive chair and co-founder of the Government Accountability Institute, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, where he helped orchestrate the publication of Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Peter Schweizer's book Clinton Cash, from its founding in 2012 until he left in August 2016. For the years 2012 through 2015, he received between $81,000 and $100,000 each year; the organization reported that he worked an average of 30 hours per week for the organization. He has also worked as vice president of Cambridge Analytica's board, a data-analytics firm owned largely by the Mercer family; said family are also co-owners of Breitbart News.

In 2015, Bannon was ranked No. 19 on Mediaite's list of the "25 Most Influential in Political News Media 2015".

Bannon also hosted a radio show (Breitbart News Daily) on the SiriusXM Patriot satellite radio channel.

Breitbart News

Bannon was a founding member of the board of Breitbart News, an online far-right news, opinion and commentary website which, according to Philip Elliott and Zeke J. Miller of Time, has "pushed racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic material into the vein of the alternative right".

In March 2012, after founder Andrew Breitbart's death, Bannon became executive chair of Breitbart News LLC, the parent company of Breitbart News. Under his leadership, Breitbart took a more alt-right and nationalistic approach toward its agenda. Bannon declared the website "the platform for the alt-right" in 2016. Bannon identifies as a conservative. Speaking about his role at Breitbart, Bannon said: "We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly 'anti-' the permanent political class."

In 2016, Ronald Radosh claimed in The Daily Beast that Bannon had told him earlier, in a book party on November 12, 2013, that he was a Leninist, in that "Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment". While Snopes considers this claim unproven, other media such as Time magazine and The Guardian have reported or discussed it.

In a 2014 speech to a Vatican conference, Bannon made a passing reference to Julius Evola, a twentieth-century, Nazi-linked Italian writer who influenced Mussolini's Italian Fascism and promoted the Traditionalist School, described by a New York Times writer as "a worldview popular in far-right and alternative religious circles that believes progress and equality are poisonous illusions." In referring to the associated views of Vladimir Putin, who is influenced by Evola follower Aleksandr Dugin, Bannon stated “We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what he's talking about as far as Traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism." He has likewise quoted French anti-Enlightenment writer Charles Maurras approvingly to a French diplomat.

Starting in 2015, Bannon has frequently referenced controversial, racist 1973 French novel The Camp of the Saints, which depicts immigration destroying Western civilization.

Political career

Donald Trump campaign

On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Donald Trump's presidential campaign; he left Breitbart, as well as the Government Accountability Institute and Cambridge Analytica, to take the job, and shortly after the chairman of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, was dismissed.

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Protests against Bannon's appointment

Following Trump's election, on November 13 Bannon was appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump. This appointment drew opposition from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Council on American–Islamic Relations, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and some Republican strategists, because of statements in Breitbart News that were alleged to be racist or antisemitic.

Ben Shapiro, David Horowitz, Pamela Geller, Bernard Marcus of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Morton Klein and the Zionist Organization of America, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach defended Bannon against the allegations of antisemitism. Alan Dershowitz first defended Bannon and said there was no evidence he was antisemitic, but in a later piece stated that Bannon and Breitbart had made bigoted statements against Muslims, women, and others. The ADL said "we are not aware of any anti-Semitic statements from Bannon", while adding "under his stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate." Shapiro, who previously worked as an editor-at-large at Breitbart, said that he has no evidence of Bannon being racist or an antisemite, but that he was "happy to pander to those people and make common cause with them in order to transform conservatism into European far-right nationalist populism", an assertion supported by other sources and by gestures like his alluding to Front National politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as "the new rising star".

On November 15, 2016, U.S. Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island released a letter to Trump signed by 169 Democratic House Representatives urging him to rescind his appointment of Bannon. The letter stated that appointing Bannon "sends a disturbing message about what kind of president Donald Trump wants to be", because his "ties to the White Nationalist movement have been well documented"; it went on to present several examples of Breitbart News' alleged xenophobia. Bannon denied being a white nationalist and claimed, rather, that he is an "economic nationalist."

On November 18, during his first interview not conducted by Breitbart Media since the 2016 presidential election, Bannon remarked on some criticisms made about him stating that "Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing." The quote was published widely in the media.

Trump responded to the ongoing controversy over Bannon's appointment in an interview with The New York Times by saying "I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him."

Trump administration

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Bannon and other advisors watching Trump sign an executive order.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and WH Chief Strategist Steve Bannon shake hands at 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).jpg
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon shake hands with WH Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at 2017 CPAC

Several days after Donald Trump's inauguration, Bannon told an American newspaper, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. I want you to quote this: the media here is the opposition party. They don't understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

Breitbart editor Julia Hahn followed Bannon to the White House, where she was appointed as Bannon's aid, as well as Special Assistant to President Trump.

Bannon, along with Stephen Miller, was involved in the creation of Executive Order 13769, which resulted in restricted U.S. travel and immigration by individuals from seven countries, suspension of the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, and indefinite suspension of the entry of Syrians to the United States.

At the end of January 2017, in a departure from the previous format of the National Security Council (NSC), the holder of Bannon's position, along with that of the Chief of Staff, were designated by presidential memorandum as regular attendees to the NSC's Principals Committee, a Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering national security issues. The enacted arrangement was criticised by several members of previous administrations and was called "stone cold crazy" by Susan E. Rice, Barack Obama's last national security adviser. In response, White House spokesman Sean Spicer pointed to Bannon's seven years experience as a Navy officer in justifying his presence on the Committee.

'Bannon Says Corporatist Global Media Opposed to Economic Nationalist Agenda' video from Voice of America, recorded at the Conservative Political Action Conference 2017

In February 2017, Bannon appeared on the cover of Time, on which he was labeled "the Great Manipulator". The headline used for the associated article was "Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?", alluding to Bannon's perceived influence in the White House. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Bannon analogized his influence to that of "Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors".

Bannon reportedly speaks often with Trump donor Sheldon Adelson, and has been alarmed at a push for a renewed Middle East peace process.

As White House Chief Strategist, Bannon had reportedly opposed the 2017 Shayrat missile strike, but was overruled by Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner.

Bannon was removed from his NSC role in early April 2017 in a reorganization by U.S. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, who Bannon had helped select. Some White House officials said Bannon's main purpose of serving on the committee was as a check against former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, who had resigned in February 2017 for misleading the vice president about a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Hence, with Flynn gone, Bannon was no longer needed. Bannon reportedly opposed his removal from the council and threatened to quit if president Trump went forward with it, although Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer urged him to stay. The White House said Bannon had not attempted to leave, and Bannon said any indication that he threatened resignation was "total nonsense". Bannon had only attended one NSC meeting.

It has been reported that he has intentionally published stories to undermine H.R. McMaster. Bannon has allegedly done this by leaking information to the alternative media, including alt-right writer Mike Cernovich.

Personal life

Bannon has been married and divorced three times. He has three adult daughters.

His first marriage was to Cathleen Suzanne Houff. Bannon and Houff had a daughter, Maureen, in 1988 and subsequently divorced.

Bannon's second marriage was to Mary Louise Piccard, a former investment banker, in April 1995. Their twin daughters were born three days after the wedding. Piccard filed for dissolution of their marriage in 1997.

Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness in early January 1996 after Piccard accused Bannon of domestic abuse. The charges were later dropped when his now ex-wife did not appear in court. In an article in The New York Times Piccard stated her absence was due to threats made to her by Bannon and his lawyer:

Mr. Bannon, she said, told her that "if I went to court he and his attorney would make sure that I would be the one who was guilty" ... Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, she said, "threatened me," telling her that if Mr. Bannon went to jail, she "would have no money and no way to support the children." ... Mr. Bannon’s lawyer ... denied pressuring her not to testify.

Piccard and Bannon divorced in 1997. During the divorce proceedings, Piccard alleged that Bannon had made antisemitic remarks about choice of schools, saying that he did not want to send his children to The Archer School for Girls because there were too many Jews at the school and Jews raise their children to be "whiny brats". Bannon's spokesperson denied the accusation noting that he had chosen to send both his children to the Archer School.

Bannon's third marriage was to Diane Clohesy; they divorced in 2009.

Lebanese-American author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, neoreactionary blogger Curtis Yarvin and conservative intellectual Michael Anton have been pointed out as three of the main influences in Steve Bannon's political thinking, alongside the William Strauss and Neil Howe book The Fourth Turning (which directly inspired Bannon's film Generation Zero).

Filmography

Bannon has been a producer, writer or director on the following films and documentaries:

Year Title Credited as Notes
1991 The Indian Runner executive producer
1999 Titus co-executive producer
2004 In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed director, co-producer, writer based on the 2003 book Reagan's War by Peter Schweizer
2005 Cochise County USA: Cries from the Border executive producer
2006 Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration executive producer
2007 Tradition Never Graduates: A Season Inside Notre Dame Football executive producer
2009 The Chaos Experiment executive producer
2010 Generation Zero director, producer, writer based on the 1997 book The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe
Battle for America director, producer, writer
Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman director, producer, writer
2011 Still Point in a Turning World: Ronald Reagan and His Ranch director, writer
The Undefeated director, producer, writer about Sarah Palin
2012 Occupy Unmasked director, writer
The Hope & The Change director, producer, writer
District of Corruption director, producer
2013 Sweetwater executive producer
2014 Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power executive producer
2016 Clinton Cash producer, writer based on the similarly titled Peter Schweizer book Clinton Cash
Torchbearer director, producer, writer features Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson

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