Donald Trump announced Sunday that Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart News chairman who took a leave from that position to serve as the President-elect’s campaign CEO, will be his chief strategist in the West Wing.
Bannon, once a shadowy figure at the fringe of the GOP, used Breitbart to mainstream the brand of white nationalist, xenophobic and anti-feminist politics embraced by the so-called alt-right. He served a similarly behind-the-scenes role in the Trump campaign after joining the team in August, avoiding interviews and on-camera appearances while privately pushing the real estate mogul to embrace an anti-“globalist” message.
Though Trump officially named Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus to serve as his chief of staff, Bannon notably received higher billing on the press release announcing the Trump’s first West Wing staff selections.
Here’s what you need to know about the man who has the President-elect’s ear.
Bannon has a rather unusual biography for a warrior against elitism. A former naval officer and Harvard Business School graduate, he worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before he became interested in conservative politics.
While he is best known for his role at Breitbart, Bannon has taken advantage of his conventional background to promote his agenda through more traditional channels. He made a slew of documentaries including “Battle for America,” a positive portrayal of the tea party, and “The Undefeated,” a glowing review of Sarah Palin’s political career. Bannon also co-founded the Government Accountability Institute, a research organization that digs up dirt on politicians and then pitches its findings to mainstream media outlets.
The GAI’s most successful effort to date was Peter Schweizer’s “Clinton Cash,” an investigation into the Clinton Foundation that accused the former first family of offering State Department favors to donors to their charity while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. The book received heavy mainstream media play and reportedly served as the basis for a preliminary FBI inquiry into the foundation made by a group of agents at the New York office.
Bannon took over the reigns at Breitbart after the site’s founder, Andrew Breitbart, died of a heart attack in 2012. Under his supervision, the hard-right news site took on a more nativist tone and became devoted to derailing the careers of mainstream conservatives. As Bannon proudly told Mother Jones this summer, he made Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right.”
This editorial vision plays fast and loose with the facts and has a particular focus on white grievance politics. Under Bannon, Breitbart has published dozens of stories accusing U.S. Muslims of sympathizing with terrorism, questioning the citizenship of the nation’s first black President and blaming black Americans for violent crime. The site has mocked LGBTQ people, feminists and women, denied the existence of climate change, insisted that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and served as a propaganda arm for the Trump campaign. Bannon has also promoted anti-Semitic conspiracies about a globalist cabal of bankers, media figures and other elites working together to oppress U.S. citizens.
Sample headlines from the website include “DATA: Young Muslims in the West Are a Ticking Time Bomb, Increasingly Sympathising with Radicals, Terror,” “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy,” and “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage.” The latter story was published two weeks after a Confederate sympathizer and white nationalist gunned down nine black parishioners at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Bannon was charged with misdemeanor violence, battery and dissuading a witness following a January 1996 altercation with his ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard. According to police reports and court documents, Piccard said that Bannon pulled at her neck and wrist during a fight about their finances and smashed her phone when she attempted to call police. Police who arrived at the scene photographed “red marks on her left wrist and the right side of her neck.”
Piccard failed to appear in court and Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were ultimately dropped. Piccard later claimed Bannon’s lawyer threatened her, saying she wouldn’t receive child support for their twin daughters if he was jailed for the incident.
In a 2007 court declaration filed during a child custody fight, Piccard said that Bannon frequently made anti-Semitic statements. According to Piccard, Bannon didn’t want their daughters to attend the Archer School in Los Angeles because of “the number of Jews that attend.”
“He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote, according to court documents obtained by the New York Daily News.
Through a spokesperson, Bannon told the newspaper he never made such comments.
After joining Trump’s campaign as CEO in August, many of Bannon’s pet issues and conspiracies became central to the then-Republican nominee’s message. Bannon broke with former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s efforts to reign in the bombastic candidate, instead allowing him to appeal directly to the anger of his white working class base. He urged Trump to keep up his fiery rhetoric accusing Mexican immigrants of crime and to tie his “populist” campaign to the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom.
Under Bannon, Trump’s rhetoric about a “rigged” system of global elites working to undermine his campaign and the lives of working-class Americans intensified. He helped craft an October speech blaming a “global power structure” for putting “money in the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” The speech served as the audio for Trump’s closing ad, which the Anti-Defamation League condemned for relying on anti-Semitic tropes.
Bannon also encouraged Trump to publicly trash House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other Republicans who failed to embrace his candidacy. At Breitbart, Bannon reportedly saw Ryan as “the enemy” because of the speaker’s hawkish, traditionally conservative views. Trump, already smarting from Ryan’s refusal to campaign with him, spent his final two months on the campaign trail mocking Ryan as a “weak” and “ineffective leader.”
Ryan told CNN he has “no concerns” about a man who labeled him “the enemy” now having an official role in the White House.
Trump’s decision to grant Bannon an official White House post has been met with condemnation from individuals and groups across the ideological spectrum.
John Weaver, a GOP strategist who oversaw Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, said his appointment meant “the racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office.” Conservative third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin called Bannon an “anti-Semite” and asked for national elected GOP politicians to condemn the decision.
Kasich’s Weaver calls Bannon ‘racist, anti-semite’ after Trump names Bannon ‘chief strategist & sr counselor’ –> pic.twitter.com/wpa73wbhRt
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) November 13, 2016
ADL president Jonathan Greenblatt wrote that the group opposes Bannon’s selection, saying “he & his alt-right are so hostile to core American values.” The Southern Poverty Law Center also criticized the choice, saying Trump’s appointment of Bannon “makes a mockery” of his pledge to “be the president for ‘all Americans.’”
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) November 14, 2016