In the days before the January 6 insurrection, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon bragged on his podcast about his behind-the-scenes efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 presidential election.
These claims include calls and meetings he joined with conservative lawyer John Eastman and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who were then running the Trump legal team’s “war room” out of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., where allies conspired to advance crackpot legal theories and misinformation campaigns aimed at stealing the 2020 presidential election from Joe Biden. At one point, Bannon suggested the team at the Willard Hotel solicited bail on behalf of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who had been arrested in Washington, D.C., the day before the insurrection.
A subpoena issued by Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack, cited Bannon’s involvement at the Willard as relevant to the inquiry. After Bannon failed to comply, the House voted to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress and referred the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution.
A Media Matters review has found that in addition to repeatedly boasting about his involvement with and insider knowledge of the Trump legal team’s strategy to overturn the election results in Congress on January 6, Bannon previewed the events in dramatic and violent historical context and singled out then-Vice President Mike Pence as the figure who could steal the election for Trump. He also used the language of war to describe how Trump supporters should view the events of January 6 and encouraged them to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the rallies taking place that day.
The following is a reverse timeline of how Bannon used his War Room: Pandemic show to tease the unseen maneuvering of Trump allies that ultimately resulted in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.
January 5, 2021: “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen. … All I can say is strap in, the War Room posse.”
Bannon made a number of statements the day before the insurrection that hinted at his unseen role assisting the Trump legal team. On January 5, he bragged about meetings he participated in “close to” Freedom Plaza on January 4, saying there are “a lot of tough hombres down there. I saw some of them last night, where I had meetings down there, close to there, came out last night, and let’s say they were still up and going. They were still reviewing their plans for the day at like 1 and 2 in the morning.” Bannon was likely referring to the Willard Hotel, which is across the street from Freedom Plaza.
Then, seemingly referring to the same meeting from the evening prior, Bannon later said that “we put calls out last night trying to put bail up” for the leader of the Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, who had recently been arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter flag torn from a historic Black church during pro-Trump demonstrations the previous month. At least two dozen members of Proud Boys, a violent neofascist street gang, face federal charges in connection with the attack on the Capitol, including four who were charged with conspiracy. Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola was among the first of the insurrectionists to break into the Capitol by smashing a window with a riot shield he stole from a police officer.
Bannon also celebrated that eight Republican representatives from Pennsylvania would object to certification of the election, claiming they “just needed a nudge from the War Room posse” to take this position. He bragged that “after hours we’re on skyping” and making calls to “patriot groups” in Pennsylvania to spread election conspiracy theories.
He made a number of other vaguely threatening remarks on this day and took credit for his audience’s engagement in events leading up to January 6.
- Bannon told his audience: “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen, OK. It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room posse. You have made this happen, and tomorrow it’s game day.”
- He warned of a constitutional crisis that’s “about to go up, I think, five orders of magnitude tomorrow.”
- Bannon claimed, “We’re going to go through a couple of three very turbulent 24-hour periods.”
- Characterizing Pence’s purported role in the next day’s vote in Congress, he said, “It’s very simple. Are you Pontius Pilate, or are you Solomon?” Bannon was comparing Trump to Jesus Christ -- Pontius Pilate was the judge who presided over Jesus’ trial and ultimately ordered his crucification.
- Bannon told his audience, “You are not the Greek chorus. You’re an active part of this. This would not have happened. We have not -- do you think, honestly, these guys in Congress would have done anything?” He also said, “We are on the cusp of victory for only one reason. You are woke. … It’s not stopping, it’s growing in power. It’s growing in motor force.”
January 4, 2021: Trump’s “second term is going to start with a bang, OK? That we can guarantee you. And so the fight is in.”
On January 4, Bannon suggested he participated in a conference call that took place two days earlier with state legislators during which Trump joined to give an address alleging massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. This conference call was mentioned in the Washington Post’s recent investigation into the activities taking place at the Willard Hotel, but neither the article nor the press release put out by Got Freedom?, the 501c(4) group that organized it, mentioned Bannon’s involvement. On January 2, the morning of the call, Bannon announced it would take place. The press release announcement went out that evening.
In addition, Bannon suggested he had insider knowledge of the organizing taking place for Trump’s speech at the Save America rally on the Ellipse south of the White House, saying, “I know the park service is scrambling around” to accommodate the event.
Stoking the potential for violence, Bannon framed the upcoming events in terms of war, saying, “When you’re in war, step one, you must take the moral high ground.” He described his audience as the “hardest element” of the Trump movement: “The hardest populist part of it, the hardest nationalistic part of it is this wing that we talk to or talk about or talk with or give a platform to.”
Bannon also promised them that Trump’s “first term is ending with action and his second term is going to start with a bang, OK? That we can guarantee you. And so the fight is in.” These remarks were among many others he made that suggested the potential of violence and encouraged his listeners to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate.
- Bannon proclaimed that “in the fog of war” you need to “to have clarity that January 6 was going to be the day -- or one of these days and you had converge everything down to January 6.”
- He warned that “starting tomorrow, it is going to be wild.”
- He claimed “We’re hurtling towards a constitutional crisis” that is “going to be complicated and it’s going to be nasty.”
- Bannon previewed January 6 as “living history” that “you can participate in.”
- He urged “everybody in the mid-Atlantic region to come” to the capital on January 6 and warned that defeat would mean the government will be turned over to “the forces of darkness.”
- Bannon said, “Live from our nation’s capital, you're in the field headquarters of one of the small divisions of the bloodless coup.”
- Bannon guaranteed that “we’re all going to converge” on January 6 and “impose our will. It’s like in football. You have to impose your will on the opposition.”
January 2, 2021: “A massive constitutional fight is going on behind the scenes, people don’t understand.”
On January 2, Bannon hosted John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani on the podcast, both of whom were working out of the “war room” at the Willard Hotel, according to media reports and the congressional contempt resolution. Bannon dropped multiple hints as to his behind-the-scenes role advising the Trump legal team’s strategy. He described being on a conference call the evening prior with Eastman, saying, “You and I happened to be on a call last night and you were walking people through, it was so brilliant -- could you just walk people through what the framework is for this week?”
He also described Eastman as “the lead sled dog” in the effort to overturn the election, asked him about Pence’s role, and then laughed, saying, “I don’t want to put you on the spot like that, John.” In an interview with Giuliani, Bannon claimed Giuliani was “putting in 20 hours a day”and “working in the Senate” to get votes to stop the certification of the election.
Other, more vague comments further suggest Bannon’s first-hand knowledge.
- He insisted that the week of January 6 “is more important than November 3” and compared it to the fall of the Roman Republic. He then said, “We’re at that moment. And that’s what this week is.”
- Bannon announced that “there’s so much going on behind the scenes, a massive fight.”
- Bannon claimed that a “massive constitutional fight is going on behind the scenes, people don’t understand.”
December 28-29, 2020: “People are getting revved up, people are getting fired up, people are getting madder, as they should.”
In the week before the insurrection, Bannon used violent rhetoric to rile up his audience.He warned that Pence’s “moment of destiny awaits him,” declared Pence “has many alternatives” to certifying the election results, and justified the building anger of Trump supporters, saying, “People are getting revved up, people are getting fired up, people are getting madder, as they should.”