News US Election 2016

Thursday 8 December 2016

Steve Bannon: Who is Donald Trump's chief strategist and why is he so feared?

Harriet Alexander

Published 14/11/2016 | 07:48

Steve Bannon, campaign CEO for President-elect Donald Trump, leaves Trump Tower, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Steve Bannon, campaign CEO for President-elect Donald Trump, leaves Trump Tower, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

He has been described as “the most dangerous political operative in America.” Now he is one of the most powerful.

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Steve Bannon has been announced as Donald Trump's chief strategist. On Sunday night Mr Trump’s team confirmed that Reince Priebus had been appointed chief of staff.

But, in a telling twist, Mr Bannon, 62, was named first on the list, and described as Mr Priebus’s “equal” - a word that may be causing alarm in the capital.

The appointment marks the pinnacle of a remarkable career that has seen Mr Bannon stage a series of Gatsby-esque reinventions – transforming himself from working class Navy man to Goldman Sachs financier, Hollywood producer and then king of America’s right-wing media.

Mr Trump described Mr Bannon and Mr Priebus as “highly qualified leaders.”

But while Mr Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, was seen as a reassuringly safe pair of hands, Mr Bannon’s appointment was greeted by some with horror.

Marchers approach a freeway onramp guarded by police during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard
Marchers approach a freeway onramp guarded by police during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard
Police detain a demonstrator during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
People take part in a protest against Republican president-elect Donald Trump at the Washington Square park in the neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, U.S., November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
People take part in a protest against Republican president-elect Donald Trump at the Washington Square park in the neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, U.S., November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
People take part in a protest against Republican president-elect Donald Trump at the Washington Square park in the neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, U.S., November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Protesters lock arms during a standoff with a police car along the pipeline route during a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in St. Anthony, North Dakota, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
People take part in a protest against Republican president-elect Donald Trump at the Washington Square park in the neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, U.S., November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Paul Watts, of Graffiti Removal Services, works for free on clean up after a protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
People take part in a protest against Republican president-elect Donald Trump at the Washington Square park in the neighborhood of Manhattan in New York, U.S., November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Paul Watts, of Graffiti Removal Services, works for free on clean up after a protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola TEMPLATE OUT
A pedestrian walks by a boarded up business after a protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Pedestrians walk by a boarded up business after a protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
A motorist who was caught in the middle of a riot threatens a demonstrator with detergent during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
A motorist who was caught in the middle of a riot threatens a demonstrator with detergent during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
Demonstrators push over a fence during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard
A demonstrator sits in the street during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard
A demonstrator sprays graffiti during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard
A demonstrator performs a burnout during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Cole Howard ES
A demonstrator sets a news rack on fire as another wields a baseball bat (R) during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
Demonstrators break a shop window during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
Police block a freeway entrance during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 11, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
Smoke rises during a protest against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/William Gagan
Interstate 84 eastbound into the city is shut down as a result of protests against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States, in Portland, Oregon, U.S. November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

“The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office,” tweeted John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who was John Kasich’s chief strategist. “Be very vigilant America.”

Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, noted: “Nation exhales because white nationalist only gets second most influential job in White House.”

Yet Mr Trump will be delighted to have Mr Bannon by his side. If the president-elect really was looking for someone to shake things up in Washington, he has found it with Mr Bannon.

“If there’s an explosion or a fire somewhere,” said Matthew Boyle, political editor for Mr Bannon’s website, Breitbart, “Steve’s probably nearby with some matches.”

Demonstrators chant slogans in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Demonstrators chant slogans in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Protesters are stopped by Los Angeles Police officers during a protest and march against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 11, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters are surrounded by Los Angeles Police Department officers before they were detained in Grand park across Los Angeles City hall after a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters are detained by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
California Highway Patrol officers are deployed at the entrances of the 110 freeway in an attempt to stop protesters getting on the freeway to block traffic during a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles during march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters take part in a march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles during march and rally against the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Several hundred protesters are arrested by Los Angeles Police Department officers after a march and rally in protest to the election of Republican Donald Trump as President of the United States in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 12, 2016. Photo: REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
Protesters march in the street to demonstrate against the election of President-elect Donald Trump in Atlanta, Friday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Michael Moore joins demonstrators in New York during a protest against the election of Donald Trump (AP)
Police detain a demonstrator at a protest in Portland, Oregon, against the election of Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
People gather at Portland City Hall to protest of the election of president-elect, Donald Trump. Photo: Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP

Born into a poor family in Norfolk, Virginia, Mr Bannon grew up in sight of the naval yard and signed up on leaving college, spending four years at sea aboard a destroyer. Deployed to the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf in 1979, he found his faith in the commander in chief, Jimmy Carter, fading.

So Mr Bannon left the Navy and studied for an MBA at Harvard Business School, landing a job at Goldman Sachs. Mr Bannon threw himself into investment banking – loving the long hours and camaraderie, and likening it to being in the nerve centre of a warship.

In 1990 Mr Bannon left Goldman Sachs to start up his own investment firm with a couple of former colleagues, and Bannon & Co was born.

The boutique investment bank specialised in the media, realising, ahead of the curve, that film studios and archives could be valuable assets. His company ended up working on MGM’s studio financing, and handling the acquisitions when Polygram Records moved into the film business.

Along the way, Mr Bannon ended up with a stake in a fledgling television show: Seinfeld.

By then he was rich, and moved into Hollywood productions himself – becoming an executive producer of films including Anthony Hopkins’s 1999 Oscar-nominated Titus. He started making his own films, specialising in political stories inspired by the September 11 attacks and his own disillusionment with President Carter when he was a sailor.

“I come from a blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats,” Mr Bannon told Bloomberg.

“I wasn’t political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter ------ things up.

“I became a huge Reagan admirer. Still am.

“But what turned me against the whole establishment was coming back from running companies in Asia in 2008 and seeing that Bush had ------ up as badly as Carter. The whole country was a disaster.”

He made a Reagan-celebrating documentary in 2004, In the Face of Evil, and grabbed the attention of the American right wing; he appeared regularly on Fox News, produced a documentary about Sarah Palin, and made films celebrating the Tea Party.

Through this introduction to politics he then transformed, yet again – this time taking over the Breitbart website, after its founder Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack in March 2012, aged 43.

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

Its headlines both delight and enrage America – “World Health Organisation report: Trannies 49xs higher HIV rate”; “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews” and “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy.”

It was Breitbart which first exposed the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal – which was to surge back into the headlines with just days to go until the election, and seriously harm the Clinton campaign.

The site had been tipped off about the then-Congressman’s proclivity for sexting with female admirers, so paid trackers to follow his Twitter account 24 hours a day and eventually intercepted a crotch shot Weiner inadvertently made public.

Mr Bannon appears to revel in the controversy.

Dressing frequently in cargo shorts and flip flops, he is a fast-talking showman with a penchant for the word “dude”.

Thrice-married, his second wife Mary Louise Piccard accused him of domestic abuse and anti Semitism.

“The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” said Ms Piccard in a statement to the court. “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.” Mr Bannon has denied the accusations.

The website took a strongly pro-Trump stance; Mr Bannon is zealous in his attacks on Mrs Clinton and the establishment. Paul Ryan, the speaker, has been a particular target of Mr Bannon’s ire, with Breitbart staff members alleging their boss told them to attack him at any opportunity.

In August Mr Bannon was made manager of Mr Trump’s campaign; a fact celebrated by David Duke, the former KKK leader who was running for senate in Louisiana.

Mr Bannon was described as “a street brawler”, but his no-holds-barred style appealed to Mr Trump.

“Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon,” wrote Ben Shapiro, a former editor-at-large of Breitbart, who resigned in disgust at the site’s fawning coverage of Mr Trump.

“He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies.  “Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination.”

Mr Shapiro, who wrote in August about his shock at the appointment, savaged his former boss and issued a dire warning.

“Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not,” he wrote. “He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition.”

Telegraph.co.uk

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