Saturday 10 December 2016

Bannon is 'most dangerous political operative in the US'

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Notorious media figure: Steve Bannon
Notorious media figure: Steve Bannon

If Donald Trump's critics took any comfort from his moderate pronouncements after he was elected, they were quickly dispelled by his choice this week of the Irish-American Steve Bannon as his Senior Counsel and Chief Strategist in the White House.

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Bannon, a notorious media figure from the far right of the spectrum, has been described as "the most dangerous political operative in America".

Now he is one of the most powerful insiders and will only be a few steps away from the Oval Office.

The man who helped to spearhead Trump's aggressive campaign against Hillary Clinton first gained notoriety after he took over as boss of the Breitbart website in 2012.

The site, which attracts 21 million hits a month, has been described by Bloomberg as "a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained".

Bannon was denounced this week as a champion of racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic views.

Depending on the outlook of readers, Breitbart's headlines either amuse or enrage - "Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy"; "World Health Organisation report: Trannies 49xs higher HIV rate"; "There's no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews."

Breitbart described one Republican opponent of Donald Trump, Bill Kristol, as a "renegade Jew", and likened the services of an abortion provider to the Holocaust.

The site urged female victims of online harassment to "just log off" and stop "screwing up the internet for men".

And it accused Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin of being a Saudi spy.

Bannon has described himself as coming from a "blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats".

He grew up in Virginia as the son of Martin Bannon, a telephone lineman. The Bannons were a devout Catholic family, taking up a whole row at their local church where young Stephen was an altar boy.

He has moved a long way from the Kennedy heritage and even some conservative Republicans find it hard to stomach his shock-jock right-wing political outlook.

"The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office," tweeted John Weaver, a Republican political consultant, when he was appointed. "Be very vigilant America."

The appointment marks the peak of a career that has seen Bannon stage a series of reinventions described by one commentator as "Gatsby-esque" - ranging from Navy man to Goldman Sachs financier, to Hollywood producer.

He is seen by his admirers as someone who will shake things up in Washington.

"If there's an explosion or a fire somewhere, Steve's probably nearby with some matches," said one of his former colleagues at Breitbart.

With his somewhat dishevelled appearance, he stands out among the sober-suited, conservative Republicans. Dressing frequently in cargo shorts and flip flops, he regularly refers to others as "dude".

He became disenchanted with the presidency of Jimmy Carter when he was in the US navy.

"I wasn't political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter f**ked things up. I became a huge Reagan admirer. Still am," he said in an interview:

After the navy, he studied at Harvard Business School before going into banking with Goldman Sachs.

After Bannon started his own investment firm, he ended up with a stake in the US sitcom Seinfeld, which became a huge hit.

He appeared regularly on Fox News, produced a documentary about Sarah Palin, and made films celebrating the right-wing Tea Party.

Thrice-married, his second wife, Mary Louise Piccard, accused him of domestic abuse. But the domestic violence case never went ahead when she did not appear for a court date.

Ms Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon did not want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.

Bannon has denied the accusations.

He appears to revel in controversy, and this helped his website to gain a huge audience. His hard-hitting, no-holds campaign for Trump has seldom been seen before in mainstream politics, plumbing new depths, but it was remarkably successful.

It remains to be seen if he can continue to be successful with this approach in the White House.

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