If you think about it, the pardon bestowed on former White House aide Stephen K. Bannon by former president Donald J. Trump seemed almost inevitable, despite the reported battle between staffers over the idea, and Trump’s reported indecision.
You’ll recall that Bannon fell out of favor with the Trumps with the publication of Michael Wolff’s book, “Fire and Fury,” in which the former White House chief strategist is quoted saying mean things about Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. Those quotes lost Bannon the public patronage of Robert and Rebekah Mercer, major funders of Bannon’s projects at Breitbart News during his tenure as the right-wing propaganda site’s CEO from 2012 to 2018, and his ironically named Government Accountability Institute, which produced the since-debunked book, “Clinton Cash,” smearing Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, with innuendo and some free-floating, fact-flouting dot-connecting.
Mainstream media picked up the book’s claims after The New York Times and the Washington Post cut deals for pre-publication access that led to news stories centered on the book’s attempt to link Clinton to a Russian energy company.
After Bannon fell from his patrons’ grace, it didn’t take long before he found himself a new sugar daddy in the form of Guo Wengui, the fugitive Chinese businessman who poses as a champion of Western values while his minions target actual Chinese dissidents and democracy activists for harassment. With the apparent patronage of Guo (aka Miles Kwok or Miles Guo), Bannon embarked on a propaganda campaign to tar Joe Biden, then the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and his son Hunter as being in league with the Chinese Communist Party. Perhaps Bannon was rusty, or media had tired of his schtick, but this time, the ruse didn’t work.
That didn’t stop Bannon from trying to win his way back into the then-president’s ear, most recently with his role in the so-called Stop the Steal campaign, in which he acted as a wrangler of conspiracy theorists promulgating fictional narratives of an election ostensibly stolen by Democrats—Black Democrats, especially. Several Stop the Steal activists have long been in Bannon’s orbit.
Ali Alexander, the 2020-2021 Stop the Steal organizer, is a minor star in the constellation of malevolent characters who belong to Bannon World, and Bannon himself hosted a Facebook page titled “Stop the Steal,” whose name he quickly changed to “Own Your Vote” when pressure mounted on Facebook to purge disinformation and calls to violence. Although Facebook had purged other Stop the Steal pages and pages linked to Bannon, the former Cambridge Analytica executive proved he knew his way around Facebook; his nomenclature trick allowed “Own Your Vote” to escape scrutiny until very late in the day. (Bannon has been ordered to appear before the Federal Trade Commission under oath regarding his role in Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, for which Bannon served as campaign CEO in its final months.)
On Jan. 5, the day before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to Vice, Bannon posted this to his “Own Your Vote” page: “TAKE ACTION. THEY ARE TRYING TO STEAL THE ELECTION.” The “Own Your Vote” page was finally purged by Facebook after an organized tactical force was joined by a fired-up MAGA mob to breach the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of Electoral College votes that unequivocally added up to Biden’s win. In a speech by Trump at the final Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6, he gave the crowd marching orders to join what had been billed as the “Wild Protest” at the Capitol. Some of those involved in the breach reportedly intended to abduct key congressional leaders. The mob was rife with cries of “Hang Mike Pence!” because the vice president refused their demand that, in his ceremonial role as vice president presiding over the certification, he stop the democratic process. Trump was said to have been pleased by the breach as he watched it on TV—until it started to look bad on him. The Washington Post reported that Trump failed to act in the moment because he was having fun.
“[T]he president himself was busy enjoying the spectacle,” wrote the Post’s Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Philip Rucker. “Trump watched with interest, buoyed to see that his supporters were fighting so hard on his behalf, one close adviser said.”
During campaign season and after the election, Bannon brought to his podcast a parade of fabulist pro-Trump attorneys and acolytes—including Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani—to drop specific-sounding details of the many means through which they claimed the 2020 presidential election had been stolen by Biden, whom they laughably painted as a communist. (You can bet they were laughing in Beijing.) Even after Bannon’s podcast, “War Room: Pandemic,” was kicked off such major platforms as YouTube and Twitter when he called for the decapitations of infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI Director Christopher Wray, adding that their heads should be mounted “on pikes” on the White House grounds, it continues to be carried by Apple Podcasts.
Another presence on Bannon’s podcast in the ramp-up to the insurrection, was Jack Posobiec, the dirty-trickster and host at One America News Network (a right-wing webcasting outfit) who worked with Alexander on the Stop the Steal effort, which brought at least six rallies to Washington, D.C. in the weeks between the election and the inauguration. Posobiec was also an enthusiastic pusher of the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy theory that is at the root of today’s QAnon movement. (Alexander has been booted from Twitter but, as Right Wing Watch reported, Posobiec continues to use the platform to push disinformation.)
In August, Bannon was arrested for wire fraud, a federal crime. He was captured off the coast of Connecticut, aboard Guo’s yacht. The former presidential strategist was charged with defrauding Trump supporters who donated to a fund run by Bannon that was ostensibly dedicated to building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Federal prosecutors charged that Bannon and three co-defendants were using the donated money for their personal use; Bannon is said to have taken $1 million to support his high-flying lifestyle. True to form, We Build the Wall appears to have been a giant grift. Bannon was released on $5 million bail; the trial was scheduled for May.
This posed an unforeseen problem for Trump. What if prosecutors negotiated with Bannon for a lighter sentence in exchange for spilling whatever dirt he had on Trump? Bannon had already proven his lack of absolute loyalty in the “Fire and Fury” debacle, and he had kind of cooperated with the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into links between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian operatives after the hack of Clinton campaign email accounts by the security services of the Russian Federation.
Yet, once unfettered by a pardon, could Bannon be trusted not to spill the goods? Quite a conundrum.
In the weeks before he won his clemency, Bannon and Trump spoke by phone multiple times, according to Bloomberg News. One can only imagine those conversations—Bannon regaling Trump with all he had done to try to keep Trump in power over the last two years, and Trump reminding Bannon of that time disrespected the family Trump, not to mention his cooperation with Mueller. Then there was that time he called The Trump Organization “a criminal enterprise.”
In the end, Trump bet on a Bannon at liberty. It remains to be seen just which of the two will ultimately win this round, if either of them does. Each is certain he is smarter than the other. Each revels in violence. Each specializes in busting things up—government institutions, international alliances, democracy, and the Republican Party. Something tells me this story ain’t over.