On January 1, 1996, a Santa Monica mother of twin girls dialed 911 on a phone that was immediately ripped from her and thrown against a wall, where it shattered into pieces. Moments earlier, the mother reportedly requested a divorce from her assailant. According to the police report released by POLITICO, she was seen with “red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck,” evidence of struggling to escape domestic violence. The Santa Monica District Attorney’s office later filed a complaint for “misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness.” The last count was issued sometime after August 12, 1996, when the “victim/witness” was “unable to be located,” and consequently failed to testify. The case was ultimately dismissed, allowing current White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon to settle five months later over divorce legal fees.
In 2010, after matching finding a sponsor who had come into some royalty money off the hit television series Seinfeld, Citizens United Productions released a film entitled Battle for America. It is reported to be a documentary covering “one of the most consequential and dangerous times in [America’s] history… how the Obama Administration and the Democratic majority in Congress have failed the American people.”
In addition to Battle for America, Citizens United Productions has produced documentaries about the rise of Reagan and his righteous war against communism, The Undefeated: a chronicle of Sarah Palin’s pre-political life, and most recently, Torchbearer, which highlights Islamic Terrorism through the eyes of the prophet Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty’s main television star. They typically play on fears of foreign encroachment, declining rates conservative representation with a simultaneous surge in secular anarchy, while ultimately seeking members to the far-right, evangelical population for a solution, and indeed, a guiding torchbearer. The writer and director behind all these movies: Steve Bannon.
Interestingly, the rhetoric throughout the plot summary of Battle for America emphasizes how a failed democratic coalition has “reenergized” local grass-roots conservative movements. Movements known to most as the Tea Party and the Alternative Right. The notion of these movements having a particular “energy” is nothing new. In fact, President Trump himself has condemned the alt-right movement, claiming, “it is not a group I want to energize.” At the same time, he goes on to say about Bannon: “If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him” (emphasis added). Comments like these lead one to believe there are parts of Bannon the President—and readers— remain(s) unaware of.
“If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things, the terms we could use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him” - Donald Trump
But, what Bannon is most commonly known for is being the former Editor-In-Chief of Breitbart News, which is an online news organization he has gone on record touting as a “platform for the alt-right.” With origins in the internet trolling industry of 4chan and 8chan, the alt-right movement has garnered a lot of attention in the run up to President Trump’s election. It has ties to Richard Spencer, founder of alternativeright.com and former contributor to the National Policy Institute, a self-described organization “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States;” it promotes people like Milo Yiannopoulos, who’s been suspended from twitter for saying—in the wake of the Orlando Nightclub shooting—“mainstream muslim culture,” is responsible for violence against women and the LGBTQIA community, and again for repeatedly harassing the new Ghostbusters star, Leslie Jones, calling her a “black dude,” as well as “fat and ugly, ugly, ugly, fat.”
Why mention these films? What’s the connection between Bannon’s filmography, his archives with Breitbart News, ties with the alt-right, and the 1996 domestic violence case against him? They all help fill in commonly associated characteristics of Bannon, the man, rather than Bannon, the political strategist.
Politically, his stances are clear. During a 2014 conference held at the Vatican, Bannon called for a return to “Pax Americana,” a time during the mid-20th century of prosperous economic wealth, but few civil rights. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bannon believes that America entered into a “crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” Through orienting these crises around a rise in Islamic values coupled with a fall in Judeo-Christian values, Bannon has been able to speak to the heart of the religious Tea Party factions of America, as well as tap into the nationalist exceptionalism of the alt-right with his advocacy of another Pax Americana.
“Either [people on the Left] want female emancipation and it wants gay rights or it wants Islam.” - Milo Yiannapolous
The energy generated by Bannon’s fearmongering has taken on a life of its own. Trump’s presidency is evidence enough of the consequences of right-wing revitalizing. According to the Guardian, 58 percent of white voters voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Trump was able to get 68 percent of the vote from specifically white men, and 67 percent on the non-college educated white male vote. These trends speak not only to Trump’s ability to toe the populist line, but also to the demographic whose voice his vision for America resonates with most. A demographic that, respectively, benefited best from Bannon’s Pax Americana.
The Guardian’s exit polls also indicate Bannon no longer needs to be front and center for his political energies to travel. This may be why readers haven’t seen much of Bannon in headline news recently. Except, of course, when it comes to him being given a permanent seat on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council (NSC). For those who aren’t aware, the NSC comprises the “president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense and, as of 2007, secretary of energy,” as well as the “Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of National Intelligence,” according to PolitiFact. It has been responsible for finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, the unification of Germany, as well as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Iran-contra affair. The Principals Committee is simply the same, just minus the president and vice president.
Bannon’s appointment to the Principals Committee came during a public outcry over Trump’s executive order on January 27. In addition to the increased vetting from nine different countries of majority muslim population, Trump signed off on a Presidential Memorandum which effectively gave Bannon the permanent seat. Regardless of Trump’s knowledge on the matter, Bannon is an opportunist. (Recall his dissuading his own ex-wife from showing up in court). With the newfound influence he’s gained among the nation’s top military and foreign intelligence agencies, he’s bound to create a pet project for himself and his Pax Americana. One that stands separate independent of the president, allowing him unilateral oversight.
In fact, the Foreign Policy reports he already has. It’s called the Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG). The SIG is a sub-committee within the Principals Committee mentioned, that is tasked, “not to make but to inform policy, helping guide a new president unfamiliar with the levers of power in Washington, D.C., and bridge the gap between the White House and industry.” Divided into “task forces,” the SIG is said to cover initiatives involving cybersecurity, veterans affairs, and U.S. manufacturing. Some call it an internal think tank, with links to titans like General Motors, Goldman Sachs, and national security pundit Sebastian Gorka. While Gorka deserves an article all to himself, for now, it will suffice to acknowledge he believes America is at war; our enemy: “the global jihadi movement.” He currently serves as Deputy Assistant to the President.
With Bannon’s worldview driving the agenda of the SIG, one can only theorize the priorities he and his team put forth. They will surely confront challenges like navigating the federal bureaucracy, approaching the legislative feasibility limits of their grandiose plans (see muslim ban), as well as making sure not to undermine the President himself too much. Already, Trump has become defensive about the public opinion Bannon has ensued, tweeting to the public: “I call my own shots, largely based off an accumulation of data.” This is in response to the internet now referring to the new President Bannon for policy updates.
For more information on Bannon and the possibility of his pulling the strings in the Trump administration, see Vox’s article on “President Bannon” here.