Born and raised in Virginia, Steve Bannon became a naval officer before finding success in entertainment finance. After creating a series of politically charged documentaries, in 2012 he took over as executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News Network. Named CEO of Donald Trump's presidential campaign in 2016, he became senior counselor to the president following Trump's Election Day victory.
Early Years and Military Service
Stephen Kevin Bannon was born on November 27, 1953, in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised in nearby Richmond. The third of five children born to parents Doris and Martin, a telephone lineman, he later referred to his household as a "blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats."
Bannon attended the all-boys' Benedictine High School and then Virginia Tech, where he showed a penchant for disrupting the political status quo by winning a heated race for student body president as a junior.
After graduating in 1976 he moved on to the Navy, serving as an auxiliary engineer and a navigator. He later became a special assistant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, and earned his master’s degree in national security studies through nighttime classes at Georgetown University.
Finance and Entertainment Mogul
Bannon graduated from Harvard Business School in 1985, and then became a mergers and acquisitions banker with Goldman Sachs. In 1990, he founded Bannon & Co., a boutique investment bank that specialized in media. He soon brokered a deal that landed him an ownership stake in a then little-known TV program called Seinfeld, which eventually generated massive profits through syndication.
After selling his company in 1998, Bannon became a partner in an entertainment production and management company called The Firm. He also devoted more time to his own creative interests, adapting a book about Ronald Reagan into a 2004 biopic called In the Face of Evil.
Bannon became the CEO of an online gaming company, but found his interest shifted to political matters, particularly in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008. He released a series of politically charged documentaries, including Battle for America (2010), about the rise of the Tea Party, and The Undefeated (2011), a profile of 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Additionally, he founded a conservative research organization called the Government Accountability Institute (GAI).
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon had grown close to Andrew Breitbart, a conservative writer and editor who founded his own website in 2007. Bannon joined the board of Breitbart News Network in 2011, and following the sudden death of its founder, he took over as executive chairman in 2012.
Breitbart made a noticeable shift under Bannon's watch, tracking farther to the right to publish anti-immigration pieces, mock political correctness and bash Republican elites, including former House Speaker John Boehner. Along with inflammatory headlines, the site included a comments section in which white nationalists unabashedly expressed their views.
While off the mainstream radar, Breitbart continued to grow its audience through social media and expansion overseas. In 2015, Bannon began hosting the radio talk show Breitbart News Daily, which became a forum for alt-right grievances and often featured Donald Trump, then in the early stages of his upstart presidential campaign.
In August 2016, Bannon was introduced to a wider public audience as CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign. Although the move was viewed with skepticism, Bannon sharpened Trump's populist message, helping to hammer home fear of open borders and distrust of the opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. His strategy was a success, as Trump surprised the mainstream media with his stunning Election Day victory in November.
Named senior counselor to the new president, Bannon helped determine cabinet nominees and reportedly spearheaded many of Trump's initial executive orders, including the controversial halt of immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Additionally, in January 2017, he found his way onto the powerful National Security Council, a post that had traditionally been off-limits to presidential advisers. However, he was removed from his permanent seat in a reorganization in April 2017, although he maintained his security clearance.
In a rare public appearance, Bannon spoke at the conservative political conference CPAC on February 23, 2017, alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Bannon outlined the Trump administration’s agenda as focusing on “national security and sovereignty,” “economic nationalism” and “deconstruction of the administrative state.” He also railed against the mainstream media as “the opposition party” and stated that the Trump administration was dedicated to implementing the president’s campaign promises. “He's laid out an agenda with those speeches with the promises he made and our job every day is to just to execute on that . . . he's maniacally focused on that,” Bannon said.
(Photo: MIKE THEILER/AFP/Getty Images)
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