Who Is Steve Bannon?
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 August 2016, Bannon served as a senior counselor to the president following Trump's Election Day victory, before returning to Breitbart in August 2017. After the release of excerpts from a book about the Trump White House, in which he was quoted as disparaging the president's family, Bannon was forced out of his role as executive chairman of Breitbart in January 2018.
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).
Breitbart News Chairman
Meanwhile, 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 surfaced with 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. 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.
Bannon reportedly clashed often with other White House advisers and Trump family members during the tumultuous early months of the administration, which saw the resignations of key staffers like National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Priebus. On August 18, 2017, Bannon also left his role in the administration, following what the White House called a mutual agreement between Bannon and new Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Outside the White House
On the same day of his departure from the White House, Breitbart announced that Bannon would resume duties as executive chairman of the organization, and he immediately returned to lead an editorial meeting. “If there’s any confusion out there, let me clear it up: I’m leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America,” Bannon said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Pushing his populist message, Bannon went all-out to campaign for former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in a special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat, even as Trump backed the establishment pick, former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Moore's win in the Republican primary was spun as a "victory for Trumpism," and the president himself eventually came around to back the fiery candidate. However, Moore was derailed by accusations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls before losing a close race to Democrat Doug Jones in December 2017, an outcome that raised questions about Bannon's political clout.
Trump Book and Departure From Breitbart
Bannon found himself on even shakier ground to start 2018 with the publication of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff. In the book, Bannon referred to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic."
The president subsequently excoriated his former adviser via a strongly worded statement. "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," he said.
Bannon tried to patch things up with the Trump clan, calling Don Jr. a "patriot and a good man," but his comments had also angered powerful Trump supporters like Breitbart investor Rebekah Mercer. On January 9, 2018, Breitbart announced that Bannon was stepping down from his role as executive chairman and would work with the company on a "smooth and orderly transition."
Special Counsel and House Testimonies
Around that time, it was revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Bannon to testify before a grand jury for his investigation into connections between Trump's associates and Russian agents. It was the first time Mueller was known to have subpoenaed a member of the president's inner circle.
Additionally, Bannon was summoned to appear on January 16 before the House Intelligence Committee, which was conducting its own Russian investigation. The 10-hour meeting reportedly turned contentious, with Bannon repeatedly citing executive privilege in lieu of providing answers. Afterward, House Democrats accused the White House of pressuring the former presidential adviser to keep quiet.
Bannon took his time in returning to face the House Intelligence Committee, and when he finally did a month later, he frustrated members from both sides of the aisle by only answering 25 pre-written questions that had been approved by the White House. That same week, he spent approximately 20 hours over the course of two days with special counsel Mueller's team, reportedly cooperating with the questioning.
Documentary and 'War Room' Radio Show
Bannon spent much of the next year rallying support and promising political candidates, both domestically and abroad, to back his populist agenda, a process captured in the 2019 documentary The Brink, by director Alison Klayman.
That October, as the impeachment inquiry of President Trump was gaining steam in the House of Representatives, Bannon launched a new radio show, War Room: Impeachment, from the basement of his Capitol Hill home. As co-host of the daily program, Bannon aimed to push the president and his allies toward adopting a more aggressive, focused approach to combat the serious charges raised by House Democrats.
Arrest and Pardon
In August 2020, Bannon and three others were arrested when federal prosecutors in New York charged them with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Bannon and others were accused of defrauding donors of more than a million dollars during a fundraising campaign reportedly aimed at supporting Trump's border wall.
On January 19, 2021, just hours before he was set to leave office, Trump pardoned Bannon.
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