So Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser and current podcaster, got indicted on federal charges again. Last time he was charged with defrauding desperate MAGA donors with a scam called "We Build the Wall" that siphoned off a million dollars to cover his own personal expenses. With no care for his duped followers, Donald Trump granted Bannon a full pardon on his last day as president. Now Bannon stands accused of contempt of Congress for his refusal to respond to a congressional subpoena. He turned himself into authorities today — and it's probably one of the best days of his life.
"We're taking down the Biden regime," he said with a sly smile facing a camera live-streaming his surrender in front of a D.C. courthouse. Bannon went on to promote Monday's lineup for his War Room: Pandemic podcast before addressing his followers directly: "I want you guys to stay focused and stay on message. Remember. Signal not noise. This is all noise. That's signal."
The bipartisan congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot subpoenaed Bannon because of the massive amounts of evidence that point to him being involved in plotting the attempted coup and his possible advanced knowledge of the insurrection. As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa point out in their book "Peril":
"Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.
"'People are going to go 'What the [expletive] is going on here?' Bannon believed. 'We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.'
"If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden's victory on January 6, Bannon said, it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again.
"'We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib,' he said."
Sure, Trump may have persuaded himself that the election was stolen from him and believes it will be the rallying cry that will get him back to the White House in 2024. And it's possible that Bannon had some advanced knowledge of some group like the Oath Keepers planning to invade the Capitol to stop the count. There's no public evidence for that, however, except for his typically overwrought, macho-dude, rhetoric on his podcast the day before:
"All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's gonna be moving. It's gonna be quick. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow it's game day."
If you listen to his podcast, however, that's how he talks about everything.
Steve Bannon may or may not have thought that Trump could strong-arm Vice President Mike Pence to go along with their daft plan to refuse to certify the electoral votes of several states and send the issue to the House which would then certify the election for Trump. If he did, he almost certainly expected that the streets would immediately be flooded with angry Democratic voters, possibly leading to confrontations with police and maybe the military. And he wouldn't be crazy to think so. But predicting the storming of the Capitol? That's much more of a stretch. I'm not saying he couldn't have known of some master plan but I haven't seen any evidence of that.
Steve Bannon is not a stupid person. I suspect his goals were less dramatic, more strategic —and possibly even more consequential. He said it right out: The Big Lie makes it hard for Biden to govern because it denies him legitimacy in the eyes of half the country. This isn't just about restoring Trump. It's about destroying Biden's presidency and delegitimizing democracy. It's about creating chaos. And Bannon's been agitating for that for many years.
I think we all thought he had been banished from American politics once Trump kicked him to the curb after he got too much attention and bad-mouthed Trump to Michael Wolfe for his book "Fire and Fury." Bannon tried to make himself into a kingmaker during the 2018 primaries but saw dismal results so he spent the next couple of years wandering around the world, connecting up with leaders of other authoritarian regimes, acting as something of an alt-right entrepreneur. Nothing much came of it, at least institutionally. Bannon's ballyhooed global far-right movement he branded with an exceptionally catchy name, "The Movement," failed to ever get off the ground. Likewise, his hopes to start a far-right Catholic political academy in an 800-year-old monastery in Italy were thwarted last March when The Council of State ruled against it after years of court battles. Bannon was designing the curriculum for the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West for Catholic activists in which, as The New Yorker's Ben Munster put it, "a new class of right-wing 'culture warriors' would be trained." Bannon told Munster that he saw it preparing the next generation of Tom Cottons, Mike Pompeos and Nikki Haleys, which sounds wholly unimaginative to me. Surely there are boatloads of young influencers and podcasters champing at the bit to get media training and learn all about "Cultural Marxism, Radical Jihad, and the C.C.P.'s Global Information Warfare" and "The Early Church as a Business Enterprise."
Bannon's philosophy has been written about quite a bit, including by yours truly, because it is extremely radical and very, very weird. It's all wacky mysticism mixed with antediluvian, pre-enlightenment, authoritarianism posing as nationalism based upon the writings of an obscure French writer named René Guénon from the early 20th century and the teachings of one of his followers (and Mussolini adviser) Julius Evola. (If you're interested in going deep, these articles will fill you in.) The school of thought is called "Traditionalism" and it is like no tradition you've ever heard of. But Bannon is not alone with this philosophy. It's held by members of far-right leaders' inner circles throughout Europe and in places like Brazil and Russia. If there is an intellectual rationale for Trumpism beyond the Dear Leader cult of personality, this "traditionalism" is it.
It's hard to know if Bannon has some kind of overarching plan or if he's just winging it. He always sounds like he knows where he's going but he never seems to get there and his foray into defrauding MAGA followers certainly gives credence to those who say that he's just another Trumper on the grift. But it doesn't really matter. Bannon being a "political prisoner" martyr to the cause works for him either way. He can make a mockery of the law with his antics and potentially turn any trial into a spectacle in order to foment more chaos and disillusionment in the country while, no doubt, making a tidy profit at it. As I said, from his perspective, being indicted for defying Congress is the best thing that ever happened to him. It's made him relevant again.