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  • Published in Opinion
Steve Bannon speaking at a Conservative Political Action Conference, February 2017. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Steve Bannon speaking at a Conservative Political Action Conference, February 2017. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Steve Bannon has gained international notoriety for his role as Trump's chief strategist. Sean Ledwith examines his role in organising the transatlantic alt-right

Sickening scenes in London this summer of fascists on the rampage and trade union officials being attacked have provided an appalling reminder of the renewed menace of the far right. Apart from the spectacles of 15,000 racists demanding the release of former EDL leader Tommy Robinson in June and then RMT representative Steve Hedley being glassed outside a pub this month, the other sinister element of these events has been the presence in the city of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist.

Bannon makes no secret of his agenda to establish a network of the Western world’s most despicable and sociopathic alt-right forces. Just days after Robinson’s cohorts had put Steve Headley and his partner in hospital with an unprovoked attack, Bannon went on London radio to demand the release of the new icon of the fascist right. In an expletive-ridden rant off-air, he defended Robinson who has been rightly jailed for contempt of court:

Don't you f***ing say you're calling me out. You f***ing liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country… I don't think Tommy's a bad guy, I think he's a solid guy, and I think he's got to be released from prison.

Alt-rightists assemble

On the same weekend that Robinson’s supporters latched onto a ‘Trump Welcome’ rally in Trafalgar Square, Bannon was hosting a conference in a Mayfair hotel of some of the most odious figureheads of Europe’s right-wing fringe. Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen’s boyfriend and Ben Harris-Quinney from the Bow Group think tank were among those assembling to attend Bannon’s ‘war room’. The convergence of the international alt-right had also been visible at the ‘Free Tommy’ event in June addressed by a range of infamous Islamophobes such as Geert Welders from Holland’s People Party and Debbie Robinson from Australia’s Liberty Alliance.

To cap the toxic cocktail, Raheem Kassam, a former colleague of Bannon at the Breitbart News agency, hosted the event. The latter has presented itself since its creation in 2007 as the voice of an insurgent, anti-establishment movement, intent on taking on vested interests in the name of the people. The reality is that, like Bannon himself, Breitbart is a cat’s paw of America’s super-rich and that the real targets of its atavistic rage are the authentic forces of emancipation on the left.

Birth of Breitbart

Breitbart is named after its founder who created the organisation in the first decade of this century. Andrew Breitbart bizarrely believed the US Democrat Party had been hijacked by progressive forces and was veering too far to the left. His inchoate angst was aimed at an illusory liberal elite he claimed were undermining traditional American values:

I would not be in your life if the political left weren't so joyless, humorless, intrusive, taxing, anarchistic, controlling, rudderless, chaos-prone, pedantic, unrealistic, hypocritical, clueless, politically correct, angry, cruel, sanctimonious, retributive, redistributive, intolerant...

Steve Bannon was one of the early recruits to Breitbart’s media factory of manipulation. Like Breitbart, he was a disillusioned Democrat supporter who felt the party had excessively embraced the civil rights agenda of the 1960s. Bannon’s unhinged world-view was also influenced by his service in the US Navy when, among other things, he witnessed at close quarters the impact of the Tehran hostage crisis of 1980. When an attempted rescue mission by the US military went disastrously wrong, Bannon’s interpretation of the event was that American power had been humiliatingly brought to its knees by what he absurdly termed ‘Islamo-fascism’.

Bannon in Hollywood

Following this experience, he spent time at those other epicentres of the US plutocracy: the Harvard Business School and Goldman Sachs. Contacts in these places helped him secure a position as an executive producer in Hollywood and US television. Bannon used this media experience to produce a bizarre series of documentaries in the 2000s, presenting his world-view but with negligible effect on audiences at the time. ‘In the Face of Evil’ tried to resurrect the Reaganite agenda of tax cuts for the rich and depleted welfare provision for the poor. ‘Fourth Turning’ peddled the message that something called Judeo-Christian civilisation was under attack from Islam in a modern version of the Crusades. His third film, ‘Undefeated’, was a reality-defying effort to present the execrable Sarah Palin as a suitable person to be US President.

This whole series of lamentable documentaries featured overblown imagery and commentary designed to foster paranoia among the conservative right about the forces of darkness supposedly threatening US power. As Obama served out his two-term Presidency, Bannon’s demented and quasi-fascist scheme of things seemed out of step with the globalist, neoliberal agenda favoured by the higher echelons of the US elite.

From Palin to Trump

In the second decade of the century, however, resistance from the right wing fringe mounted to Obama’s modest social policy reforms such as federalised healthcare and the legalisation of gay marriage. Sarah Palin’s Vice Presidential campaign of 2008 was a disaster for the Republican establishment but fired up the embryonic alt-right elements in the base of the party. The Tea Party emerged in the 2010 midterms as the organisational voice of the far right of the Republican Party. Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012 allowed Bannon to position himself as the dominant personality in the news agency and transform it into an explicit mouthpiece for the forces converging around Palin and the Tea Party. When the former declined to run for the Presidency in 2012, Bannon turned to another icon of the Republican right, albeit one who seemed even more unelectable - Donald Trump.

Shock and Awe Playbook

Breitbart News in the original version of its founder had been notionally independent of party allegiances. Bannon, however, reconfigured the organisation into a propaganda weapon for the Orange Abomination’s campaign following his gratuitous launch ceremony in Trump Tower in 2015. The infamous reference to Mexican rapists was straight out of the Bannon shock and awe playbook of inflammatory rhetoric. This was too much even for some reporters in Breitbart News who quit over Bannon’s undisguised support for Trump. Resigning in 2016 as Trump’s campaign descended into racism, sexism and just about every other form of prejudice, one of them, Kurt Bardello commented:

Steve ran the site and controlled the content as a dictator, not only limiting the expression of his journalists but also purposefully changing the narrative to increase vitriol, playing to the fears of his readers. Some may wonder if Donald Trump is purposeful in delivering his insensitive and often-bigoted comments that tend to serve as fodder for his supporters. With Steve there is no question, he is deliberate in his language and antagonism and promotes something beyond anti-establishment sentiment that borders on anarchism.

Chicanery

The first senior Republican to come out in support of Trump in 2015 was Alabama Senator, Jeff Sessions. Bannon forged links with Stephen Miller, a right-wing ideologue on Sessions’ staff and together they ensured that America’s immigration debate remained deadlocked by whipping up a campaign of hostility towards Republican politicians seeking a bipartisan approach.  When Trump’s campaign appeared to be hit below the water-line following the release of the ‘Pussygate’ tapes in October 2016, a classic piece of Bannon-style chicanery deflected the attention of the media. Acting as Trump’s campaign manager, Bannon arranged for four women who had been allegedly assaulted by Bill Clinton to lead off Trump’s first press conference in the aftermath of the tapes. As the women turned the spotlight on a former President, as opposed to a prospective one, Bannon could be seen smirking in shades at the back of the room.

Fake insurgency

The 2016 Republican campaign was premised on the myth of a grassroots insurgency against the American elite. By this time, however, Bannon had secured massive financial funding for Trump from some of the richest people in the US, most notably the Mercer family. Hedge fund manager, Robert Mercer, in association with his daughter Rebekah, poured $10 million into Breitbart News, allowing it to propagate their pro-gun and anti-abortion brand of social conservatism. Other members of the super-rich to come on board with Bannon’s link-up with Trump included the money pit of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest people in America and the 16th richest on the planet. For all of Bannon’s rhetoric about reclaiming America for the ‘left behind working class', the truth is his politics are all about the most reactionary elements of the US ruling class consolidating their grotesque wealth at the expense of virtually everyone else.

Bannon’s ban

Following Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 Presidential Election, Bannon moved quickly as newly appointed White House chief strategist to implement the alt-right agenda he had been hatching for decades. The inauguration speech with its hyperbolic references to ‘American Carnage’ and ‘America First’ was primarily Bannon’s handiwork. It was his idea to cynically manipulate the news cycle by launching Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban on a Friday, knowing opponents would be free at the weekend to organise protests at US airports. The subsequent scenes of disruption at check-ins played to the paranoia of the right-wing fringe about a country supposedly under siege by the militant left.

Evil genius

It was also Bannon’s advice that led Trump to infamously blame both sides at the Charlottesville protest in August 2017, despite the fact that trade union activist Heather Heyer was mowed down by a right-wing fanatic. This incident, plus satire show Saturday Night Live’s relentless lampooning of Bannon as the evil genius behind Trump’s buffoonery, proved too much for the more traditional elements of the Washington elite and Bannon was expelled from the White House shortly after. The revelations of the shambolic First Hundred Days of the Trump administration in Michael Wolf’s book,‘Fire and Fury’ forced even Breitbart itself to ditch Bannon earlier this year.

Odious Orchestrator

It is his fall from power in both the White House and Breitbart that has led Bannon to take on his current role as international orchestrator of the alt-right. He may be currently out of favour with the revivified globalists in Washington but we should be in no doubt that other powerful financial and political forces will continue to fund Bannon’s fake anti-establishment crusade when it suits them. The prospect of the likes of Bannon, Farage and Tommy Robinson receiving massive cash support from overseas is one that should send shivers down the back of anyone committed to an anti-racist, anti-sexist and multicultural society. The best means to combat the new menace of the faux anti-establishment on the streets is with authentic radical politics on the streets. 

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History and Politics at York College, where he is also UCU branch secretary. Sean has also written for Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, Historical MaterialismPolitical Studies Review and Reviews in History 

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