Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

Before he joined Trump, Bannon bragged he made Breitbart the home of the "alt-right." Now he's back.

››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

Stephen Bannon, former White House chief strategist and restored executive chairman of Breitbart.com, orchestrated and supported many of the worst elements of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. Before, during, and after his direct involvement with Trump’s political ambitions, Bannon used his experience -- and his extensive and complicated financial connections to the far-right billionaire Mercer family -- to stoke the flames of nativist anger, encourage Trump’s most racist and misogynistic rhetoric, support far-right political candidates across the globe, and attack all perceived enemies of Trumpism, potentially including Trump himself.


Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

1. Bannon’s imprint on the Trump campaign and administration

2. Breitbart with and without Bannon

3. Mercer family connection

4. What to expect from “Bannon the Barbarian” and his return to Breitbart

Stephen Bannon leaves the Trump White House to reassume chairmanship of Breitbart.com

NY Times: “Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside, Prepares His Enemies List.” Ousted from his position in President Donald Trump's administration, Stephen K. Bannon returned to Breitbart.com, where he “will be free to lead the kind of ferocious assault on the political establishment that he relishes,” The New York Times reported on August 18. From the article:

Stephen K. Bannon has always been more comfortable when he was trying to tear down institutions — not work inside them.

With his return to Breitbart News, Mr. Bannon will be free to lead the kind of ferocious assault on the political establishment that he relishes, even if sometimes that means turning his wrath on the White House itself.

Hours after his ouster from the West Wing, he was named to his former position of executive chairman at the hard-charging right-wing website and led its evening editorial meeting. And Mr. Bannon appeared eager to move onto his next fight.

“In many ways, I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on,” he said Friday. “And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with.”

[...]

Mr. Bannon’s long enemies list will include anyone he deems hostile to the nationalist, conservative agenda that he viewed himself as the guardian of in the White House. And his most personal causes will involve some the biggest fights that lie ahead between President Trump and Congress. [The New York Times, 8/18/17]

Bannon’s imprint on the Trump campaign and administration

Bannon joined the Trump campaign as chief executive on August 17, 2016. The Wall Street Journal reported on August 17, 2016, that Bannon “will assume the new position of campaign chief executive” of the Trump campaign, allegedly at the suggestion of Trump's friend and adviser Roger Stone, a noted racist and conspiracy theorist. Prior to being hired by the campaign, Bannon had reportedly been counseling Trump to “run more fully” as an “unabashed nationalist.” Bannon’s hiring came at a time when, according to the Journal, “Mr. Trump’s campaign [had] fallen further behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in most national and battleground-state polls.” [The Wall Street Journal, 8/17/16; Media Matters, 8/17/16, 8/17/16]

Trump’s “war with the mainstream media” hinted that Bannon’s hiring was “inevitable.” Trump’s choice of a “renegade, far-right news executive to lead his campaign was an inevitable culmination of a candidate’s war with the mainstream media and his embrace of his party’s most incendiary voices,” the Los Angeles Times reported. A Media Matters analysis of Trump’s Twitter account also identified 186 times Trump shared Breitbart.com content on Twitter, from January 2012 to mid-August 2016. Trump used Breitbart content to, among other things, bolster his racist birther conspiracy about then-President Barack Obama, brag about his polling performances in the Republican primary, and express support for hardline immigration policies, including via a 2014 “exclusive” editorial claiming that “a country that cannot protect its borders will not last.” [Media Matters, 8/21/16, 8/19/16

Days after Bannon joined the campaign, Trump called for a special prosecutor against Hillary Clinton. Trump said during an August 22 campaign rally that “an expedited investigation by a special prosecutor” into the Clinton Foundation -- specifically into claims of “coordination between the pay-for-play State Department and the corrupt Clinton Foundation” -- is required because the FBI and Department of Justice “certainly cannot be trusted to quickly or impartially investigate Hillary Clinton’s crimes.” Trump’s statement was based off of the book Clinton Cash, by the discredited Clinton-obsessed author and Breitbart editor-at-large Peter Schweizer. [Media Matters, 8/22/16]

Bannon encouraged Trump’s Bill Clinton whataboutism after Trump was caught bragging about sexual assault in 2005. After a 2005 video showing Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women surfaced in 2016, Trump responded by bringing up old allegations of sexual assault made against former President Bill Clinton. According to Michael Kirk, director of a PBS Frontline documentary called “Bannon’s War,” after the tape was released, “it was Bannon who said, ‘Let’s get Clinton’s women. The people who said that Clinton had raped them and other horrible things.’’’ Kirk added that “Trump was 100% there” with Bannon on their response strategy. [The Washington Post, 10/8/16; Politico, 10/9/16; Vanity Fair, 5/22/17]

Trump’s October speech about “global financial powers” conspiring against him was reportedly co-written by Bannon. On October 13, Trump gave a speech pushing the conspiracy theory that the media, corporations, and “global financial powers” such as banks were conspiring against the United States and him personally to install Clinton as president. Bannon reportedly co-wrote the speech, which multiple journalists noted played on anti-Semitic tropes, and which featured language regularly used by Breitbart and other far-right websites. Bannon had already been accused of anti-Semitism during his time at Breitbart, when the website repeatedly peddled anti-Semitic language, and Bannon himself reportedly did not want his children associating with Jewish people. [Media Matters, 10/14/16]

White nationalists cheered Bannon’s direct involvement with Trump’s campaign and his administration. White nationalist and VDARE editor Peter Brimelow welcomed Bannon’s hiring by the campaign, calling it “great news,” while infamous white supremacist Richard Spencer highlighted Bannon’s “elective affinities” for white nationalism, The Daily Beast reported. When Bannon was brought into the Trump administration, white nationalists were similarly elated. One radio host declared that “with Trump, every day is Christmas.” Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke also praised Bannon’s hiring in November, saying on his radio show that “Bannon has really been right on about a lot of issues facing European-Americans.” As the Southern Poverty Law Center put it, “with Bannon’s appointment, white nationalists felt they had a man inside the White House.” [Media Matters, 8/17/16, 11/14/16, 2/15/17]

Bannon was the co-author of the first, and most extreme, iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban. According to reporting from CBS News, Bannon helped write Trump’s first Muslim ban. CNN reported that Bannon and fellow Trump adviser Stephen Miller “were running point” on it and “giving directives regarding green cards,” a reference to the significant controversy that the executive order also technically prohibited legal green card holders from entering the country. Bannon and Miller ultimately decided that the Department of Homeland Security would allow green card holders to enter the U.S. on a “case by case basis.” [CBS News, 2/2/17; CNN, 1/30/17

Early on, Bannon attempted a Breitbartification of the Trump presidency. As president, Trump’s first attempt at issuing an executive order temporarily banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. included a clause stating that the federal government will release biannual reports detailing terrorism-related offenses and gender-based violence and honor killings that foreign nationals committed in the U.S. A subsequent clause also required the weekly publication of “a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens” in so-called “sanctuary cities.” While data did not back up the implicit notion that foreign nationals disproportionately commit crimes, including terrorist attacks, these clauses suggested Bannon was the nexus point for this strategy; Breitbart regularly published racist and anti-immigrant content, with article tags including “black crime,” “honor killings,” and “female genital mutilation.” [Media Matters, 1/30/17]

Bannon cheered Trump’s comments on violence in Charlottesville, called them a “defining moment” when Trump chose “his people” over the “globalists.” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump asserted that “there [was] blame on both sides” of a white supremacist rally and terrorist attack the previous weekend in Charlottesville, VA, “abandoning his precisely chosen and carefully delivered condemnations of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis from a day earlier,” The New York Times reported. According to Axios, Bannon saw Trump apportioning “blame on both sides” “as a ‘defining moment,’ where Trump decided to fully abandon the ‘globalists’ and side with ‘his people.’” Axios also quoted an anonymous source saying that Bannon was “proud” that Trump had “stood up to the braying mob of reporters.” [The New York Times, 8/15/17; Axios, 8/16/17]

Breitbart with and without Bannon

Breitbart under Bannon

Trump reportedly arranged a “pay for play” scheme with Breitbart to guarantee “fawning headlines” for him. Breitbart.com may have accepted “financial backing” from Trump in exchange for “fawning headlines” about him, BuzzFeed reported in August 2015. According to the article, “management strongly denied” the charge, but four Breitbart sources told BuzzFeed that “editors and writers at the outlet have privately complained since at least [2014] that the company's top management was allowing Trump to turn Breitbart into his own fan website -- using it to hype his political prospects and attack his enemies.” An unnamed editor of the site also told BuzzFeed that “he was told by an executive [in 2014] that the company had a financial arrangement with Trump,” and yet another source claimed that “he knew of several instances when managers had overruled editors at Trump's behest.” An outsider who worked closely with Breitbart told BuzzFeed that one staffer “claimed to have seen documentation of the ‘pay for play.’” [Media Matters, 8/10/15]

Bannon gave Breitbart “explicit orders” to “destroy” House Speaker Paul Ryan. According to internal Breitbart emails published by The Hill on October 11, shortly after Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) election to speaker of the House in 2015, Bannon told Breitbart staff in an email that the “long game is [Ryan] gone by spring” of 2016. A former Breitbart staffer also told The Hill that “Bannon has Alex Jones-level paranoia about Paul Ryan,” referring to the Trump ally and conspiracy theorist radio host, that he would frequently describe Ryan as “the enemy,” and that he thought “Paul Ryan is part of a conspiracy with [billionaires] George Soros and Paul Singer, in which elitists want to bring one world government.” As The Hill noted, Bannon’s hostility to Ryan was obvious: under his direction, Breitbart had been attacking Ryan since at least 2013, and in 2016 the site alone labeled him a “desperate” “saboteur,” accused him of acting as a “double agent” for Clinton’s campaign, and said he wanted to “admit Muslim migrants” to the U.S. and “sue President Trump” over the Muslim ban. [Media Matters, 10/11/16, 10/12/16]

After Trump's campaign manager allegedly assaulted a Breitbart reporter, Bannon and Breitbart leadership sided with the Trump campaign. On March 9, 2016, Politico reported that then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski “forcibly grabbed” then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields as she was trying to ask the candidate a question (Lewandowski was eventually charged by Florida police for assault, although the charges were later dropped). Rather than support his own employee, according to Politico, Bannon “made several disparaging remarks about [Fields] in conference calls with company leadership.” Breitbart’s Washington political editor, Matthew Boyle, texted Lewandowski about the incident soon after it happened, saying he wanted to “make sure this doesn’t turn into a big story,” and assured him twice that “it sounds ... like it was a misunderstanding.” BuzzFeed reported that Joel Pollak, Breitbart senior editor, told employees, “You may wish to defend your colleague, and that is commendable — but keep in mind that when you do so, you are also putting other colleagues under direct public pressure, so you are actually hurting some to help another.” Fields told then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly that Breitbart management saw the grabbing incident as “a good thing because we would get more access to Donald Trump.” [Media Matters, 3/11/16, 8/17/16, 3/14/16; CNN, 3/30/16]

Bannon’s Breitbart concealed the potentially illegal ownership of its D.C. “Breitbart Embassy” by an Egyptian businessman. On March 25, USA Today explained that a Capitol Hill town house repeatedly described as both Bannon’s Washington, D.C., residence and the “Breitbart Embassy” was actually owned by an Egyptian politician and businessman named Moustafa El-Gindy. El-Gindy, who purchased the property in 2009 and has rented it to Breitbart since 2011, was quoted in Breitbart articles at least four separate times without any disclosure of his relationship to Bannon or the outlet. El-Gindy has also been “receiving a homestead deduction on the property, a $72,000 tax credit that requires the owner to maintain residence in the building,” even though El-Gindy was on the record saying he was “just a landlord” and actually lived elsewhere. The Daily Beast later reported that “as the 2016 presidential campaign kicked into gear,” a former Breitbart writer complained to the Department of Justice that the “Breitbart Embassy” was “an illegal influence operation for its Washington, D.C. landlord.” [Media Matters, 3/25/17, 3/29/17]

Bannon’s Breitbart was a reliable home for vile anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, and anti-immigrant vitriol. With Bannon at the helm, Breitbart became infamous for its vitriolic headlines, frequently espousing anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and Islamophobic language. Examples include “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” “Big Trans Hate Machine Targets Pitching Great Curt Schilling,” “Gabby Giffords: The Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield,” “Planned Parenthood’s Body Count Under Cecile Richards Is Up To Half A Holocaust,” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy,” “The Solution To Online ‘Harassment’ Is Simple: Women Should Log Off,” “Trump 100% Vindicated: CBS Reports ‘Swarm’ On Rooftops Celebrating 9/11,” “Why Equality And Diversity Departments Should Only Hire Rich, Straight White Men,” and “Multicultural Surrender Has Turned Britain Into A Third-World Country.” [Media Matters, 8/17/16, 11/16/16]

Post-Bannon Breitbart

Bannon’s Breitbart legacy included online harassment of women. Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown Law professor who wrote an article in Foreign Policy about potential consequences of Trump’s presidency, became the target of online harassment after Breitbart wrote up her article with the headline “Ex-Obama Official Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.” The “alt-right” internet responded to Breitbart’s reimagining of the article, prompting a wave of sexist death threats against Brooks, including several threatening calls made to her employers. Breitbart’s central role in this harassment campaign was underlined by earlier comments that Bannon made on Breitbart radio that “the best thing we ever had was both the comments section at Breitbart and the callers, the great audience we’ve got here at SiriusXM, to call and share every day what their feelings were.” [Media Matters, 2/7/17, 2/3/17]

Breitbart reluctantly let Milo Yiannopoulos resign for “condoning pedophilia,” only to heavily promote his book several months later. Gay far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was forced to resign from his position as a senior editor for Breitbart in February after a video surfaced of him “condoning pedophilia.” Breitbart leadership briefly tried to salvage Yiannopoulos’ employment, blaming the controversy on a “coordinated hit” from liberals who “normalized behavior similar to what Milo described.” Yiannopoulos had effectively primed his own resignation; two months before the pedophilia allegations, he attracted widespread condemnation for organized campaigns of harassment against transgender college students. Despite all of the controversy, Breitbart still heavily promoted Yiannopoulos’ book Dangerous when it was released, The Daily Beast reported. His former employer published an excerpt from the book (titled “Why Muslims Hate Me”), reported on the “twists and turns of Yiannapoulos’ glorious book tour,” and even hosted him for a “sycophantic chat” with Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow on his radio show. [Media Matters, 2/21/17, 12/16/16; The Daily Beast, 7/13/17

After Trump’s election, Breitbart wanted to spread its influence overseas. After the 2016 election, Breitbart announced ambitious plans to expand its presence into France, Germany, and potentially Italy, with the hope of enabling anti-immigrant far-right parties across the continent. Breitbart London used its very close relationship with the nativist United Kingdom Independence Party to support the 2016 Brexit referendum. Following the success of Brexit, Breitbart backed the failed presidential campaign of French far-right political leader Marine Le Pen, as well as Geert Wilders, a Dutch member of parliament known as the “Dutch Trump” for his years of anti-immigrant rhetoric, who was running for prime minister of Netherlands. Both Le Pen and Wilders lost their elections. [Media Matters, 1/23/17, 3/15/17]

Breitbart tried and failed to get Senate press credentials. After the 2016 election, Breitbart reportedly came before the Standing Committee of the Senate Press Gallery seeking permanent Capitol Hill credentials. As Media Matters argued in an open letter to the standing committee, Breitbart resoundingly failed the committee’s standards for editorial independence. In December 2016, a Breitbart editor said Republicans should fear the website if they crossed Trump. In March, Trump promoted a Fox & Friends segment featuring Peter Schweizer, Breitbart senior editor-at-large and president of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), attacking Clinton using material published on Breitbart under his and Bannon’s bylines, underscoring Media Matters’ argument that Breitbart could serve as a state-allied propaganda outlet. Media Matters also investigated the complex web of self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and corruption surrounding Bannon, Breitbart, and the extremely wealthy Mercer family, which bankrolled Breitbart and Schweizer’s GAI. After Breitbart and the president undermined Breitbart’s attempts to get press credentials, the standing committee finally rejected the site's bid for permanent credentials on April 25 -- and revoked the temporary ones it had previously issued to Breitbart reporters. [Media Matters, 11/28/16, 12/21/16, 3/28/17, 4/21/17, 4/25/17]

Mercer Family Connection

The Mercer family is a partial owner of Breitbart.com. Robert Mercer is the billionaire co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. The Mercer family, according to Breitbart CEO Larry Solov, owns part of the website Breitbart. In 2011, the family invested at least $10 million in the website. Though Breitbart has lost more than 2,500 advertisers since the election, according to City University of New York professor Jeff Jarvis, “it probably wouldn't matter” if Breitbart lost all its advertisers, because the site is supported by Mercer. [Media Matters, 4/21/17, 8/21/17; The Washington Post, 6/8/17]

The Mercers also supplied critical funding to the Trump campaign. Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah “were among the earliest and strongest backers of Donald Trump while other elite donors still disdained him,” The Atlantic reported. For her loyalty, Rebekah Mercer was rewarded with a spot on the executive committee of the Trump presidential transition team. Additionally, Trump’s preferred super PAC, “Make America Number 1” (also known as “Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC”), counted Robert Mercer as “the primary funder,” according to its own spokesperson. The Mercer family is also among the top donors to GAI, which helped Schweizer circulate false and misleading claims against Clinton during the 2016 election. [Media Matters, 4/21/17, 6/23/16, 4/21/15]

Robert Mercer owns a data firm under congressional investigation related to the Russia inquiry. According to a May 18 report by Time magazine, data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica -- owned by Mercer -- is under congressional investigation, along with Breitbart, for any connections they may have had to efforts by the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Cambridge Analytica had previously threatened to sue the British newspaper The Guardian for publishing articles investigating its similarly complex links to the Brexit campaign. [Media Matters, 5/18/17, 5/17/17]

The Mercers have deep ties to Bannon. During his first tenure at Breitbart, Bannon served as the Mercer family’s “political adviser, assessing the impact of think tanks, policy groups and super PACs they were considering financing,” according to The Washington Post. Newsweek also reported that Rebekah Mercer “pushed Trump” to hire Bannon for the campaign. Bannon was also chairman of the Mercer-backed GAI from 2012 to 2016 and chairman of the film production company he founded with the Mercers, Glittering Steel LLC, until 2016. Glittering Steel reportedly serves as a “front for Bannon” and was responsible for an obscure faith-based film heavily promoted by Breitbart. As of April, Bannon still held an ownership stake in Glittering Steel worth between $100,001 and $250,000, though reports indicated he wanted to sell the stake. [Media Matters, 4/21/17, 4/21/17]

Bannon and the Mercers have an extremely complex and potentially illegal financial relationship. A Media Matters investigation of Breitbart-related public records found a series of questionable issues surrounding Bannon and the Mercers. Even though Bannon has lived all over the world, one address -- 8383 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1000 in Beverly Hills, CA -- repeatedly shows up in financial paperwork. The payments by Mercer-backed super PAC Make America Number 1 to Mercer-owned Cambridge Analytica were routed through Bannon’s Beverly Hills address, as were the super PAC’s payments to Glittering Steel. This shady arrangement drew a complaint from campaign finance watchdog Campaign Legal Center of alleged “illegal compensation to Stephen Bannon by Mercer-backed super PAC.” [Media Matters, 3/14/17]

What to expect from “Bannon the Barbarian” and his return to Breitbart

Breitbart employees celebrated the return of their “populist hero.” Breitbart hailed the news of Bannon’s return to the website with the headline “‘Populist Hero’ Stephen K. Bannon Returns Home To Breitbart.” On the day of Bannon’s return, Breitbart Editor Matthew Boyle told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that “we’re in a loud bar celebrating the return of our captain!” [Breitbart.com, 8/18/17; Twitter, 8/18/17]

Breitbart promised “war” with any media outlet or Republican opposed to its agenda, including impeaching Trump if necessary. Upon his return to Breitbart, Bannon referred to himself as “Bannon the Barbarian” and said he was “jacked up” and eager to “crush the opposition.” Bannon also claimed, “I have my hands back on my weapons,” and he promised to use Breitbart to “‘rev up’ for what Joel Pollak, the site's editor-at-large, described in a hashtag on Twitter as “‘#War.’” Bannon told The Weekly Standard that “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over,” but he promised to “make something” of a presidency that he predicted “West Wing Democrats” and congressional Republicans would attempt to moderate. A “high-level Breitbart staffer” similarly told Vanity Fair that “we’re prepared to help Paul Ryan rally votes for impeachment” of Trump if he deviates too far from the hard-right positions he campaigned on. [The New York Times, 8/20/17; The Weekly Standard, 8/18/17; Vanity Fair, 8/20/17]

Bannon’s departure from the White House signaled a deepening right-wing media civil war, as well as significant media hostility toward less-extreme administration members. Although Bannon and Breitbart appeared to take his departure in stride, some far-right trolls and pro-Trump outlets -- including Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, and Infowars -- blamed it on a “deep state” coup led by Vice President Mike Pence. The New York Times reported that Breitbart has a “target list” of Trump’s opponents to attack. The names in the list included Matt Drudge, founder of the Drudge Report, economic adviser Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and even potentially Fox News, assuming, according to the Times, that “Mr. Bannon [would] move to create Breitbart Television with the financial support of a backer like Robert Mercer.” [Media Matters, 8/18/17; The New York Times, 8/20/17]

Mainstream media previously tried to sanitize Bannon’s bigoted image; they cannot afford to do it again. After the 2016 election, mainstream media outlets published a wave of profiles of Bannon and Breitbart that attempted to sanitize their extremist rhetoric. Multiple newspapers completely ignored Bannon’s connections to white nationalism or dramatically underplayed them in headlines and articles. Journalists on right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, flatly denied that Bannon was a white supremacist. An NPR profile of Breitbart’s Pollak allowed him to repeatedly downplay the site’s significant history of white nationalist and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and ABC’s This Week described Bannon’s “alt-right” ties as “alleged,” even though Bannon has been quoted, on the record, as having called Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right.” The New York Times described Bannon as “combative [and] populist” in a headline even though the article explained that he believes in a theory of “genetic superiority.” [Media Matters, 11/14/16, 11/15/16, 11/17/16, 11/20/16, 11/28/16]

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