Bannon’s War

View film

NEWSCASTER: There’s a brand-new team in charge of the White House, a brand-new staff to keep the wheels turning.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump wakes up with a busy day ahead.

NEWSCASTER: This is just the beginning of what is going to be a very busy day for Donald Trump.

DAVID URBAN, Trump Campaign: This president came to this town with a mindset after the election he was going to shake things up. He was going to move at a much more rapid pace and shake the government up.

NEWSCASTER: We’re also expecting him to head to the Pentagon─

NARRATOR: On his seventh day in office, President Donald Trump headed to the Pentagon. It was time for action.

NEWSCASTER: ─depart the White House and head to the Pentagon.

BEN SHAPIRO, Fmr. Editor-at-Large, Breitbart: I do think that they wanted to have a flurry of activity at the beginning to demonstrate that Trump is what he said he was. He’s not going to wait. He’s not going to take his time. He knows what to do, and he’s going to fix everything and he’s going to set the world right immediately.

NEWSCASTER: ─opportunity for him to meet with his secretary of defense, James Mattis─

NARRATOR: It was the first time the new president had been to the Pentagon.

NEWSCASTER: ─would not offer details, but President Trump is expected to─

NEWSCASTER: The president is asking the military to─

NARRATOR: At Trump’s side, his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon.

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post: Trump has told me multiple times that he actually loves to fight. In Bannon, he saw someone who was just like him, someone who loved to fight.

NARRATOR: Bannon had engineered a sweeping executive order aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise to restrict Muslims from entering the United States.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: That’s Steve Bannon’s idea, is to just throw everybody else off balance, knock them back before they have a chance to resist.

NARRATOR: Until this moment, the order’s details had been a well kept secret in Washington even among Trump’s own team.

JOSHUA GREEN, Bloomberg Businessweek: They wanted to rush this thing through and get it out there, and essentially take a shock and awe approach to changing immigration policy.

PETER BAKER: Defense Secretary Mattis knew very late in the process that this was what was going to be done during this visit.

JOSHUA GREEN: Bannon didn’t want other agencies to have a chance to see what was in this executive order and say, “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Slow down.     This might not be something we’d want to do.”

PETER BAKER: John Kelly is the new secretary of Homeland Security, a retired four-star general. He’s on the phone being briefed on a helicopter while they’re doing this announcement.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: ─protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States. Big stuff!

DAVID URBAN: The president’s first and most important responsibility to the American people is to keep the homeland safe. And so I think that that’s what the president was shooting for there, is to─ is to protect the homeland.

NARRATOR: Bannon and the new president had sent a message─ change had come.

ROBERT COSTA: That was in the eyes of Bannon the way to rupture the establishment. They knew it was going to be disruptive. They wanted the disruption. Bannon sees disruption as power.

PROTESTERS: Refugees are welcome here! No hate! No fear!

NEWSCASTER: A scene of outrage at JFK airport in New York─

NEWSCASTER: Protests all across the country, reaction from around the world after the president signed his executive order─

ROBERT COSTA: They knew that the protests would come. They knew the media would erupt. It’s what they wanted.

NEWSCASTER: Swift reactions from around the country─

NEWSCASTER: Now protests, outrage and backlash from─

PROTESTERS: Sanctuary for all! No ban! No wall!

JOSHUA GREEN: One senior Trump official said the fact that it came out on a Friday afternoon with no warning was no accident because Bannon knew the people who were opposed to this policy would be enraged, and most of them would have Saturday and Sunday off from work, so they could get out there and they could protest and they could get angry. And TV cameras would come and film these protests. It would be all over the news.

NEWSCASTER: Seattle police actually dispersed some crowds with pepper spray─

JOSHUA GREEN: And it would send the message to Trump’s voters that Trump was keeping the promises that he made on the campaign trail.

NEWSCASTER: Six more were arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina.

NARRATOR: It had been a Steve Bannon production.

KURT BARDELLA, Fmr. Spokesman, Breitbart: Bannon thinks, “This is great. We’re killing it. We’re winning. We’re doing everything that we said we would. We are beating down the establishment and the liberals into submission. We are literally making America great again.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now! From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first! America first. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.

NARRATOR: A strategist, a revolutionary, a provocateur, Steve Bannon helped create a movement intent on transforming the country.

STEPHEN BANNON: Thank you very much, Benjamin─

NARRATOR: But Bannon himself rarely talks publicly about the worldview at the heart of his politics.

STEPHEN BANNON: We’re speaking from Los Angeles today, right across the street from our headquarters in Los Angeles.

NARRATOR: One exception, this video at a Vatican conference less than three years before he entered the White House.

URI FRIEDMAN, The Atlantic: He comes onto the screen. He’s via Skype. It’s this grainy video image. And he gives this speech where he talks about how Islam is a threat to Judeo-Christian civilization.

STEPHEN BANNON: I believe the world and particularly the Judeo-Christian West is in a crisis.

BEN SHAPIRO: The threat that Bannon sees post-9/11 to the Judeo-Christian West is that radical Islamic theology is metastasizing into more mainstream Islamic communities.

STEPHEN BANNON: We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict. We are in an outright war against jihadist Islam, Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing almost far quicker than governments can─ can─ can handle it.

NARRATOR: Bannon describes himself as a combatant in what he believes is an epic war.

MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: Steve Bannon sees America’s dilemma at this stage in its history as really part of a civilizational battle between the forces of the West and faith and democracy versus that of Islam and terrorism. And he has kind of reduced all of the conflicts of modern society to that essential face-off between the terrorists and the Americans.

NARRATOR: For Steve Bannon, his view of the world began to form decades earlier, back in the 1950s.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Old South─

ROBERT COSTA: To really understand Steve Bannon, you just need to think about Richmond, where he grew up. He grew up in a working class household in Richmond, Virginia. And he thinks his whole worldview comes back to his experience.

NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The familiar man in the tent is splicing. It is both the typical skill of the telephone man and─

NARRATOR: His father was a telephone company lineman who taught Bannon the value of hard work─

TELEVISION COMMERCIAL: Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Ken-ned-y for me!

NARRATOR: ─and was a strong supporter of Democrat Jack Kennedy.

MATT VISER, The Boston Globe: His dad knocked on doors for John F. Kennedy, Irish Catholic to the core. I spoke with his brother, and his brother talked about, you know, sort of every Irish Catholic kid at that time grew up thinking that they could be JFK, you know? And it wasn’t different in the Bannon family.

NARRATOR: In high school, he attended an all-male Catholic military academy. He earned a reputation as a brawler. In college at Virginia Tech, he worked during the summers to pay the bills.

MATT VISER: Steve Bannon worked at the junkyard when he was coming home from college. And his mom would spray him outside before he could come in, you know, with the─ with the hose.

NARRATOR: It was during those years that Bannon had his first experience with politics as an anti-establishment candidate for student government.

JOSHUA GREEN: He made an insurgent run for student class president when he was a junior. It was very Trump-like.

READER: “Washington Bureaucrats are not going to change the policies that deprive us of a normal human lifestyle.”

JOSHUA GREEN: He attacked his opponents for being tools of the administration, establishment people. And he was an outsider.

NARRATOR: He pulled off an unlikely victory, winning by a landslide. Then Bannon joined the Navy. He told shipmates it was a stepping stone for a career in politics.

On the USS Foster in the Gulf of Oman, Bannon first saw what he came to believe was a gathering storm in the Middle East.

NEWSCASTER: Good evening. The U.S. Embassy in Tehran has been invaded and occupied by Iranian students. The Americans inside have been taken prisoner─

JOSHUA GREEN: Weeks go by and months go by, and this is a story dominating America’s news and headlines night after night after night.

Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Late yesterday, I canceled a carefully planned operation─

NARRATOR: Bannon would later say that President Carter’s failure to rescue the hostages was his political turning point.

Pres. JIMMY CARTER: Two of our American aircraft collided on the ground.

JOSHUA GREEN: He was aboard the ship when the mission went bad. He blamed Jimmy Carter for this failure, for hurting American prestige.

NARRATOR: After seven years, Bannon left the Navy. He enrolled at Harvard Business School. It was a ticket into a world far from working-class Richmond. He landed a coveted job at Goldman Sachs. But rather than stay on Wall Street, he headed to Hollywood to make deals.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker: He took a different path than a lot of the people at Goldman Sachs. He felt the kids that had gone to prep schools had kind of easier entrees socially, and he was very aware of it and edgy about it.

NARRATOR: At Goldman, and then on his own, Bannon financed movies and TV shows. By his late 40s, Bannon was wealthy, but he still seemed to be searching for a purpose. Then everything changed for Steve Bannon.

NEWSCASTER: KFI news time 6:09, 63 degrees here in Los Angeles─

NEWSCASTER: Good morning, everybody. This is Bill Handle, and a pleasure to have you with us. If you have not yet heard, a few minutes ago, a airplane crashed into one of the World Trade Centers, followed by─

NARRATOR: The lurking danger from the Muslim world that he had first seen in the Navy had now arrived in America.

JOSHUA GREEN: It confirms all his fears, all his suspicions. Here are the same forces of Islam that seized American hostages in 1979 and 1980. Now they’ve reached all the way over to the United States. They’re coming here. They’re killing Americans. He viewed that as a civilizational war.

NARRATOR: It was a fight Bannon wanted to join. He did, first as a documentary filmmaker.

[“In the Face of Evil”]

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: In the traditional motion picture story, the villains are usually defeated, the ending is a happy one. I can make no such promise for the picture you are about to watch.

NARRATOR: Alarmed by September 11th, Bannon produced a film about his hero, Ronald Reagan.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN: We’re at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars.

ANN HORNADAY, Film critic, The Washington Post: The first word that leaps to mind is apocalyptic. He had a very alarmist, urgent filmmaking style. The tone is febrile. The visual style is lurid.

NARRATOR: Bannon’s film identifies a dark threat he calls “the beast.”

FILM NARRATOR: The beast embodied Nietzsche’s will to power, stopping at nothing to achieve its ends.

JULIA JONES, Co-Writer, In the Face of Evil: His belief in the beast was so real. It was very real, the whole idea of the beast. I mean, you’re either for the beast or you’re against the beast. You know, there’s no in between.

NARRATOR: The film portrays Reagan as a political warrior willing to fight “the beast.” But Bannon did more than glorify Reagan. At the film’s end, he issued a warning.

JULIA JONES: There’s a note to myself in the script, “Steve, I know you have your own ideas about what to do with the coda.”       Well, what happened was he went into the editing room and the coda suddenly─ the beast still lives.

FILM NARRATOR: The wolf had not passed by the door. War had not been wished away.

JULIA JONES: Suddenly, the narrator is talking about the beast and we see Muslims praying.

FILM NARRATOR: Reaching out first to convert, then turning into destroy. That was the nature of the beast.

JULIA JONES: And then we see people jumping out of the World Trade Center and falling to their death.

NARRATOR: Increasingly, Bannon was a man on a mission─ reading, studying, trying to understand history and how to change it.

ROBERT COSTA: He really has the persona of a college professor. He’s constantly carrying around books. He’s talking about different philosophers he reads. When you sit down with Steve Bannon, it’s really sitting down for two or three hours.

JULIA JONES: Free spirit. He was very happy to discuss the ideas of Giordona Bruno, Chinese philosophy and Plato. He had his own room, but there were so many books on the bed, he couldn’t sleep in it.

NARRATOR: And he had become fascinated by one particular book.

DAVID KAISER, Historian: Steve Bannon calls me and just introduces himself as someone who is very interested in the works of Strauss and Howe, Generations and The Fourth Turning, and who’s making a movie about them.

NARRATOR: That book, The Fourth Turning, argued that historical cycles predict the future and that another crisis was looming.

READER: “History is seasonal, and winter is coming. The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically or succumb to authoritarian rule.”

NARRATOR: Bannon was so drawn to this grim prediction about the future, he made a film about it, Generation Zero.

[“Generation Zero”]

FILM NARRATOR: This is the trigger that lets loose a chain of events which pushes society in a new mood and a fundamentally different direction.

NARRATOR: And Bannon seemed to believe that he knew what would happen next.

DAVID KAISER: One part of the conversation that I vividly remember is about the possibility of a huge war comparable in scope to the Second World War as part of the coming crisis. This was something that he clearly believed was likely to occur.

He wanted to get me to say on camera that I thought it was likely to occur. He wasn’t impolite about it, but the thing I remember him saying, “Well, look, you know, we have the American revolution. Then we have the Civil War. That’s bigger. Then we have the Second World War, That’s even bigger. So what’s the next one going to be like?”

ANN HORNADAY: Bring on the apocalypse. There’s an almost fetishistic desire to see everything blow up. It’s almost like he’s inviting a cleansing fire to just raze the edifice, raze the institutions. I think it’s that dramatic.

NARRATOR: The films didn’t have the impact he hoped for. Bannon still saw America in crisis, and in his films, he began to look for a new political warrior to save the country. In 2011, he believed he’d found her.

ROBERT COSTA: We’re sitting there in 2011, in Pella, Iowa. And he says, “Costa, one day, someone like Sarah Palin, perhaps even in 2012, is going to be president of the United States.”

NARRATOR: The occasion was the premiere of a documentary Bannon had made about Palin.

ROBERT COSTA: I said, “What are you talking about, Steve? How could Sarah Palin become president?”

ALEX MARLOW, Editor-in-Chief, Breitbart: Steve gravitates towards countercultural conservative figures that have an ability to resonate with middle America.

NARRATOR: Inside the theater, Bannon unveiled the film he called, The Undefeated.

[“The Undefeated”]

TRAILER: Like a Marine, she runs toward the danger. On day one, Governor Palin made it absolutely clear that this was a different governor. If we have government still invading our house, then, you know, the women stand up and we start invading the government. And that’s what we don’t see in any politician. She was a champion of our ideals.

NARRATOR: Bannon had spent a year producing the film, but he could not convince Palin to actually run.

ROBERT COSTA: Bannon was disappointed Palin didn’t run. Bannon saw it then. He was just ahead of his time. It wasn’t going to be Palin and it wasn’t going to be 2012. But populism, the populism he saw then, it was on the rise.

NARRATOR: And in Hollywood, that insight made Bannon a player among conservatives.

JOSHUA GREEN: And that kind of thrusts him into this small circle of Hollywood conservatives that includes Andrew Breitbart. And that is sort of how Bannon makes his way from Hollywood all the way over into right-wing politics.

NARRATOR: Andrew Breitbart was a one-of-a-kind force.

ANDREW BREITBART: [expletive] you, John Podesta!

NARRATOR: He worked at The Drudge Report, helped start the HuffingtonPost, and now he had his own site.

ANDREW BREITBART: What’s in your closet, John Podesta?

BEN SHAPIRO: Well, Andrew’s an iconoclastic guy. He was a controversial guy, but mostly because he took no prisoners─

ANDREW BREITBART: ─because we’re playing to win.

BEN SHAPIRO: ─meaning he would kind of say whatever came to mind. He thought of himself─ and I think he was, in many ways, a real truth teller.

ANDREW BREITBART: We’ve been drinking. We’ve had, like, a couple beers. Sex and gambling─

NARRATOR: Somehow, bombastic Breitbart and bookish Bannon were drawn to each other.

ALEX MARLOW: There certainly was a chemistry and an energy between the two of them, where you could see that they were both thinking, “This is a person who could get me to the next level.”

JOSHUA GREEN: Breitbart immediately recognized Bannon as a fellow traveler, as someone he could conscript into this war against Islam, but also against secular culture in the United States.

NARRATOR: Breitbart needed Bannon’s business savvy, and he needed an infusion of money. Bannon knew where to get it─ conservative mega-donors, the Mercers.

JANE MAYER: Bob Mercer is a computer scientist who applied his genius to the stock markets and just started minting money. So he is a self-made gazillionaire.

NARRATOR: Bannon cultivated Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah. She was new to politics and looking to make an impact.

JANE MAYER: Bannon starts becoming their political adviser, kind of like a personal political strategist to the family. Some people have worried, who’ve known the family, that he’s become kind of a Svengali to the whole family.

NARRATOR: Now Bannon told them that investing in Breitbart was the perfect way to take on big government.

JANE MAYER: Steve Bannon wrote up a business plan that called for the Mercers to put $10 million dollars into Breitbart. And it’s at that point it starts growing into a force.

NARRATOR: The deal had another provision─ Steve Bannon would officially join Breitbart’s board of directors. But then, shocking news.

NEWSCASTER: Well-known conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart has died─

NEWSCASTER: Breitbart reportedly collapsed last night, and the coroner says he died of natural causes.

ALEX MARLOW: I got the news at 3:30 in the morning, like it was out of a movie, a horrifying moment. And it was Steve on the other line. And he gave me the bad news very quickly and I had a delayed response. I couldn’t process it at that moment.

NARRATOR: With the Mercers’ support, Bannon took over. Breitbart changed dramatically from emphasizing Hollywood culture to Washington power politics.

BEN SHAPIRO: Bannon is very, very into the inner workings of power in Washington, D.C. You can see that the Web site starts to push political narratives that are D.C.-centric a lot more than it probably would have if Andrew had been alive.

NARRATOR: In Washington, Steve Bannon set up operations in a townhouse he called “the Breitbart embassy.”

KURT BARDELLA, Fmr. Spokesman, Breitbart: I actually met Steve for the first time at the so-called Breitbart embassy. Steve is a very engaging, charismatic person. I found him to be actually very charming. He had a clear sense of vision and objective. He wanted Breitbart to be, you know, the most dominant voice in the Republican Party space.

NARRATOR: Other than Bannon himself, almost everyone at the embassy was under 30.

ROBERT COSTA: You go into the Breitbart Embassy, and it’s 25-year-old after 27-year-old after 25-year-old and 30-year-old, talking with Bannon, talking about history, reveling that they’re the outsiders and pointing fingers at the insiders as clowns or as fools who don’t get it, who don’t understand the populism that’s really on the rise in the country.

MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: So from a house on Capitol Hill, a number of people who are kind of on the fringes of the Republican Party come together and build what appears to be the roots of a movement.

NARRATOR: Now Bannon molded Breitbart around his worldview. He called it “populist nationalism.”

EMILY BAZELON, The New York Times Magazine: It’s “America first” in the most literal sense, that it’s the country’s responsibility to look out for ourselves. And the best way to look out for ourselves is to be, if necessary, hostile to other countries.

NARRATOR: Breitbart’s readers embraced stories on black crime, Islamic terrorism, violence by immigrants, stories of a corrupt globalist elite, a culture under assault.

JANE MAYER: It’s kind of a nativist voice that comes out of Breitbart. And it’s not something that’s never happened in America before because we’ve had waves of nativism. But it’s─ it’s bringing nativism to a digital platform where it’s reaching the whole country.

READER: [Breitbart reader comments] “Hispanic and black thugs tend to attack Asians”─

READER: “Blacks are incapable for being responsible for themselves.”

NARRATOR: Breitbart’s comment sections became notorious gathering places for extreme viewpoints.

READER: “The towel heads are taking over because we let them.”

READER: “Gayness is a cancer”─

KURT BARDELLA: I mean, it reads like you’ve walked into a hate club gathering of some kind.

READER: “How stupid are women? Let’s find out”.

KURT BARDELLA: They were appealing to the segment of the population that are racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, really the worst among us, creating this congregating space every day where people from that worldview can go and rally around one another, to find content that validates their worldview. And I think that’s what they were building, ultimately.

NARRATOR: The articles and comments fueled questions about Bannon’s own beliefs.

ROBERT COSTA: I’ve never heard Steve Bannon say racist things, but that doesn’t mean Breitbart hasn’t encouraged some of these racist elements within the Republican Party. As much as Bannon says himself that he has never embraced these people, Breitbart in some respects has given these people a voice, has normalized elements of the conservative right.

NARRATOR: The site was booming, with millions of readers. At the embassy, they shrugged off criticism.

ALEX MARLOW: If you are seen as the most powerful right of center person in America, or one of the two or three most, you’re going to get called a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an Islamophobe. And there’s not much you can do about it.

NARRATOR: But Bannon didn’t just want readers, he wanted to fundamentally change Washington.

NEWSCASTER: It is the most aggressive push for immigration reform─

NARRATOR: And in 2013, as the Republicans began to work with democrats on immigration reform─

NEWSCASTER: ─pushed the bipartisan immigration reform plan.

NEWSCASTER: You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don’t say, “You got to go home.”

NARRATOR: ─Bannon decided to take on the GOP leadership.

NEWSCASTER: ─viewed as a victory for the GOP when it comes to immigration reform─

NARRATOR: And to do so, he made an alliance with a 27-year-old Senate staffer, Stephen Miller.

JOSHUA GREEN: Miller was this little ideologue. I mean, everybody on the Hill knew who he was because, you know, he was very active, and he would blast you in the media. And he would blast reporters with press releases day and night. And a lot of reporters considered this spam.

NARRATOR: Miller was made to order for Steve Bannon. He was a top aide to controversial Republican senator Jeff Sessions. From the right wing, Sessions was an outspoken opponent of immigration reform.

ROBERT COSTA: He shaped Sessions on immigration as much as Sessions shaped Miller. Miller was there with Sessions day in, day out.

NARRATOR: Miller connected Sessions and Bannon. They built a formidable alliance.

EMILY BAZELON: Stephen Miller quickly becomes a go-between. Miller is setting up happy hour meetings between Breitbart staffers and the staffers in Sessions’s office. And Breitbart really elevates Sessions with its coverage. He becomes a kind of standard bearer for this part of the far right.

READER: [Breitbart headlines] “Sessions─ immigration bill will hammer Americans.” “Sessions comes out swinging against secretive House immigration push. “Sessions: Breitbart doing great work getting truth out about immigration bill.”

KURT BARDELLA: It was very clear that Steve and Breitbart, with Stephen Miller, were playing a very hands-on role in trying to advise Senator Sessions.

TALK RADIO: Republicans in Washington are not on the same page as their voters.

NARRATOR: Populist anger in the GOP base boiled over.

TALK RADIO: Liberal Republicans need to be punished, and they need to be thrown out of office.

JOSHUA GREEN: All of a sudden, Republicans who thought they wanted to pass this thing were getting phone calls and getting picketed by furious constituents that say, “How can you be doing this? You have to stop.”

NEWSCASTER: Immigration reform is all but dead in the water, at least until─

NARRATOR: Immigration reform collapsed.

NEWSCASTER: The end of immigration reform─

NARRATOR: Bannon, Sessions and Miller realized they had tapped into something powerful.

ALEX MARLOW, Editor-in-chief, Breitbart: It was a big victory for our audience because they thought that this was putting─ putting the interests of the permanent political class in Washington ahead of the common people throughout the country. That was a significant moment in our development, and realizing we can get results.

NARRATOR: His influence was growing, and now Bannon renewed his search for a political warrior who could transform the country.

KURT BARDELLA: Bannon, I feel like, has been someone who’s been looking for a figurehead to attach himself to for a very long time.

NARRATOR: And in New York City, there was a Breitbart reader who was just the person Bannon was looking for.

JOSHUA GREEN, Bloomberg Businessweek: Trump was reading and digesting Breitbart News as long ago as 2013, 2014, and internalizing these things. And nobody paid any attention because nobody cared about Donald Trump and politics in 2014.

NARRATOR: Bannon had been introduced to Trump by David Bossie, a producer on many Bannon films and the head of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United.

JANE MAYER: Bossie and Bannon are friends, and Bossie says to Bannon, “Come on over and meet Donald Trump. He’s thinking of running for president.” So they all meet up at the Trump Tower in New York and they talk about it.

DAVID BOSSIE, President, Citizens United: I’ve known Steve Bannon for about 10 years, worked with him on a lot of projects, one of the greatest strategic minds that I’ve ever been around.

JANE MAYER: And Trump continues to keep a relationship going with Bannon from that point on.

NARRATOR: In Trump, Bannon had found a fighter who matched his own instincts.

BEN SHAPIRO: So Breitbart, Palin, Trump all are sort of anti-establishment figures, and I think that that appeals to Bannon. It was more about destroying enemies, and that’s where he and Trump I think really meet. I think that they’re very much into destroying enemies.

NARRATOR: By 2015, as Trump launched his campaign for the presidency, he echoed Breitbart’s headlines, painting an alarming picture of illegal immigrants.

DONALD TRUMP: So many people have been so badly hurt.      The other day in California last week, a woman 66 years old, a veteran, was killed─ raped, sodomized, tortured and killed by an illegal immigrant. We have to do it. We have to do something. We have to do something.

NARRATOR: And all the while behind the scenes, Trump turned to Bannon for advice. Although he was not officially on the campaign, Bannon wrote this email to his old friend, Julia Jones, about his connection to Trump.

JULIA JONES, Friend: Steve told me he was Donald Trump’s campaign manager in August of 2015. But I think it was kind of like a metaphor. I mean, he was behind the scenes.       I said, “Oh, congratulations.  That’s wonderful,” you know, because I knew it was what he’d always wanted. You know, now, you know, it’s the big time. This was it. This was─ he’d made it.

NARRATOR: To Jones, Bannon boasted, “Don’t you ever read Breitbart? It’s Trump central.” Now Bannon was increasingly on the attack, going after Trump’s opponents one by one.

BEN SHAPIRO, Fmr. Editor-at-Large, Breitbart: The reason that I quit Breitbart is because they were working so closely with Trump. When a news outlet decides that it is more important to maintain close ties with a particular candidate or politician than it is to maintain the integrity of their journalists, that is no longer a journalistic organization. It is now a propaganda platform.

NARRATOR: During that time, six Breitbart staff members resigned.

KURT BARDELLA, Fmr. Spokesman, Breitbart: I just realized I don’t want to be a part of this anymore. And I think that there were a lot of reporters who didn’t sign up to be the voice of the Trump campaign. If I wanted to be involved in a specific presidential campaign, I would─ I would have gone and done so.

NARRATOR: While Bannon worked from the embassy, Stephen Miller signed on to Trump’s campaign as a senior policy adviser and speech writer.

STEPHEN MILLER: Donald J. Trump, ladies and gentlemen, is going to stand up to the bullies and fight for you!

MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: Stephen Miller would literally go out on stage before Trump and get the crowd riled up with a red meat recitation of all of the ills that were affecting America.

STEPHEN MILLER: Are you ready to fight the terrorists? Are you ready to stop the onslaught of radical Islam? And are you ready to─

MARC FISHER: Going well beyond where Trump was, rhetorically. But eventually, their messages began to merge and they began to have this fairly consistent worldview that matched not only that of Steve Bannon but also that of Jeff Sessions.

NARRATOR: Jeff Sessions himself was the first United States senator to give Trump a crucial endorsement.

Sen. JEFF SESSIONS (R), Alabama: Make America great again!

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump is the projected winner of the New Hampshire primary.

NEWSCASTER: He regains his front-runner status in a crowded field─

NEWSCASTER: He’s pulling ahead in virtually every Super-Tuesday state.

DONALD TRUMP: We love Nevada! We love Nevada! Thank you!

NEWSCASTER: This makes back-to-back victories for─

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump is a professional political wrecking ball.

NARRATOR: As he headed into the general election─

NEWSCASTER: Trump adding Breitbart executive Steve Bannon as campaign CEO.

NARRATOR: ─Trump officially brought Bannon into the campaign.

NEWSCASTER: ─firebrand conservative Breitbart news boss Stephen Bannon as chief executive─

KURT BARDELLA: Steve is the guiding right hand, the Karl Rove, if you will, of the Trump campaign. He’s orchestrating it all─ the Mercers, funders of Breitbart, benefactors of Trump. David Bossie, close friend of Bannon. Sessions and Miller, that relationship starts with Bannon and Breitbart. They’re all Breitbart-Bannon-orchestrated personnel. So that tells you who’s really running the show and what’s going on at that point.

NEWSCASTER: We begin tonight with that breaking news from the campaign trail. Donald Trump’s lewd remarks about women eleven years ago─

NARRATOR: But then a shocking revelation─

DONALD TRUMP: When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, grab them by the [expletive] .

NARRATOR: ─the emergence of the Access Hollywood videotape.

NEWSCASTER: The Trump camp has swiftly launched into disaster mode─

MATT VISER, The Boston Globe: People were revoking their endorsements. Republicans were all coming out against Trump. And we know now, internally, Reince Priebus was urging Trump to consider getting out of the race.

NARRATOR: Rather than give up, Bannon wanted to fight back.

MARC FISHER: Bannon recommends that Trump hit back 100 times harder, change the topic just enough so that the emphasis goes from Donald Trump’s wayward transactions with women to Bill Clinton’s activities decades earlier with women.

NARRATOR: They kept their plans a secret until two days later, at the second presidential debate, when Bannon executed the counterattack.

DONALD TRUMP: These four very courageous women have asked to be here─

NARRATOR: Standing in the back of the room, Steve Bannon.

JUANITA BROADDRICK: Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.

NARRATOR: It was the type of event Andrew Breitbart would have loved.

JOEL POLLAK, Senior Editor-at-Large, Breitbart: The real Breitbart touch there was recognizing you had to surprise the media, that the media would all move in one direction and you had to give them something they couldn’t anticipate.

DONALD TRUMP: OK.     Thank you all very much.     We appreciate it.

REPORTER: Mr. Trump, did you touch women without their consent?

REPORTER: Mr. Trump, why did you say you touched women without consent, Mr. Trump?

PAULA JONES: Why don’t y’all ask Bill Clinton that? Why don’t you all go ask Bill Clinton that? Go ahead and ask Hillary, as well!

NEWSCASTER: Donald Trump canvassing the country as the election nears─

NEWSCASTER: ─finds Donald Trump still stumping for every last vote─

NEWSCASTER: Trump making his rounds today on the campaign trail─

DONALD TRUMP: We will make America great again!

NARRATOR: Bannon encouraged Trump to travel the country─

DONALD TRUMP: We are going to drain the swamp of corruption!

NARRATOR: ─to reach out to what he called the “forgotten,” the angry and disaffected─

DONALD TRUMP: We are going to re-negotiate our terrible trade deals!

NARRATOR: ─delivering the nationalist message─

DONALD TRUMP: And we will keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country!

NARRATOR: ─Bannon had been developing for more than a decade.

DONALD TRUMP: We will build a great wall!

MARC FISHER: Bannon sees in Trump a vehicle for his perspectives. He understands that Trump is not one who studies policy, and so he’s able to insert into Trump’s basic message and language a lot of the core messages that Bannon has been working on for years.

DONALD TRUMP: We are led by very stupid people!

ROBERT COSTA: When I first started covering Trump at the start of his campaign, he was a candidate of gut instincts. It wasn’t until Bannon came on in August of 2016 that you really saw Trump, working with Sessions and Bannon, start to put policy to his gut instincts. But by the end of his campaign, he had in many respects adopted Bannonism.

NEWSCASTER: The world is watching our country today─

NEWSCASTER: Trump is set to become America’s 45th president today─

NARRATOR: On inauguration day, Steve Bannon’s strategy paid off, helping secure a victory that many called impossible.

DONALD TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear─

NARRATOR: Bannon was named chief strategist and senior White House counselor.

DONALD TRUMP: ─protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.

JOHN ROBERTS, Chief Justice, United States Supreme Court: Congratulations, Mr. President.

NARRATOR: Now Bannon’s ideas would become the essence of the president’s inaugural address.

ROBERT COSTA: Bannon crafted the speech. This was a Bannon speech. And it was in the president’s hands, but it was a Bannon speech.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now!

JULIA JONES: The line about “carnage in America”─ I think that was Steve. Like, every now and then, I hear things─ and I’m, like, Oh, that’s─ OK, that’s Steve.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first! America first. God bless America!

NARRATOR: The speech was just the beginning.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Thank you. God bless America.

JANE MAYER: Bannon is on a kind of a kamikaze mission to just get as much done as he can because he knows people with ideas that are as powerful and controversial as his, you know, may not last in Washington.

NARRATOR: And as they put the administration together, Bannon’s allies took key positions─ the first cabinet appointee, Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

PETER BAKER: If you’re Steve Bannon, the job you want to care about most probably is attorney general. It’s a job that oversees so many of the big issues that matter to you.

NARRATOR: Stephen Miller was appointed senior adviser to the president. And from Breitbart, Bannon recruited 25-year-old writer Julia Hahn and the national security editor, Sebastian Gorka.

ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER, The Washington Post: You have all of these people who were never taken seriously by the establishment now are the establishment.

PETER BAKER: There have always been people like Bannon and Miller in and around government, people who saw the darkest possible construction of things, people who wanted to tear down some of the institutions because they felt they had become corrupt.      But the difference is now they’re in the West Wing.

NEWSCASTER: Over the weekend, the first family and White House staff─

NARRATOR: In that first week, Bannon wanted Trump to act quickly using the president’s executive power.

NEWSCASTER: ─the presidency up and running on day one.

DAN BALZ Trump got elected to disrupt Washington. And if it took a lot of executive orders and controversial executive orders to do it, so be it. They wanted to make that clear.

NEWSCASTER: Trump’s advisers have teed up more than 200 possible executive orders─

NARRATOR: The White House issued a raft of executive actions on “Obama care’─

NEWSCASTER: ─executive order, this one associated with “Obama care”─

NEWSCASTER: He’s speeding up environmental reviews and─

NARRATOR: ─the environment, immigration and the border wall.

PETER BAKER: Steve Bannon’s theory was, “Bam, bam, bam, keep Washington off balance,” a new order, a new order, boom, boom, boom. In fact, at one point, he wanted to do hundreds all in a single day.

NEWSCASTER: ─Trump also signed five more executive actions today─

ROBERT COSTA: Bannon has these whiteboards in his office. He calls it his war room inside of the White House, promises that Trump made, promises they want to make sure that Trump keeps.

NEWSCASTER: President Trump signed two executive orders, one on─

NARRATOR: One of Bannon’s top priorities, doing something about the danger he’d been warning of for years, radical Islam.

NEWSCASTER: Breaking news, a freeze on refugees coming to the United States, a source telling CNN─

EMILY BAZELON: The first travel ban on January 27th─ it was a political document, not a legal document, written to send a message.

THOMAS WRIGHT, Brookings Institution: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” I think that was their intention, was to show this was a tough, harsh action that was sort of displayed, with a statement of intent by the Trump administration.

NEWSCASTER: Liberals across the country digging in against President Trump’s latest executive orders─

NEWSCASTER: ─the criticism has been fierce─

NARRATOR: As the executive actions dominated the headlines, at the White House, Bannon’s influence was growing.

NEWSCASTER: Trump signed three new executive orders─

PETER BAKER: In the early days, Steve Bannon is everywhere. He’s in every meeting he wants to be in. He is always at the side of the president. And he has access to any policy he wants to influence.

NEWSCASTER: Stephen Bannon was given a seat at the table─

NARRATOR: Bannon was even given a seat on the National Security Council.

NEWSCASTER: ─to the National Security Council─

DAN BALZ: He has no particular foreign policy or national security experience. He was the provocateur of provocateurs in that group. And so what’s the reason for that, other than kind of the aggrandizement of Steve Bannon as a way to say, “I’m all-powerful”?

NARRATOR: Bannon’s moment had arrived.

PETER BAKER: It seems like this is everything you could have wanted as an insurgent. Suddenly, you’re in charge. Suddenly, the levers of power are in your hands and the hands of the president that you helped get there.

NEWSCASTER: Key players in the Trump administration will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference─

NARRATOR: By the end of the first month, Bannon headed out of Washington─-

NEWSCASTER: ─National Harbor, Maryland. Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon─

NARRATOR: ─to make a rare public appearance, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

NEWSCASTER: Controversial adviser to the president, Steve Bannon, will also address the group.

NARRATOR: He had abandoned his suit and tie for the rumpled look he’d worn on the campaign trail.

PETER BAKER: Now, the CPAC speech is really the apogee of Steve Bannon’s moment in the Trump White House.

STEPHEN BANNON: ─you know, I can run a little hot on occasions─

DAN BALZ: What Bannon basically said was, “We are going to be in your face, you the establishment, you the media, you the Democrats. If you think we are going to play by your rules, you are wrong. We are going to do everything we can to take your power away and move it somewhere else.”

STEPHEN BANNON: They’re going to continue to fight. If you think they’re going to give your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day─ every day, it is going to be a fight!

PETER BAKER: For him to show up there sort of in this triumphal mode, you know, “We’re in charge now,” was quite a moment for him.

STEPHEN BANNON: If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason, and that is the deconstruction of the administrative state. And if you─ [cheers and applause]

NARRATOR: But to some observers, this moment and the publicity that followed looked like the beginning of the end for Steve Bannon.

ROBERT COSTA, Moderator Washington Week: Bannon made himself vulnerable in that moment. A lot of Bannon’s rivals inside of the White House were watching Bannon very closely at CPAC. By going to CPAC, by stepping out, he became even more of a political celebrity. And you know who was paying close attention to that? President Trump.

NEWSCASTER: Steve Bannon is getting the lion’s share of the credit.

NARRATOR: In the days just before and after the event, the buzz about Bannon was growing.

NEWSCASTER: He has been called everything from President Trump’s brain to President Bannon.

NEWSCASTER: Stephen Bannon pulling the strings behind the scenes─

NEWSCASTER: ─Bannon’s worldview and his impact on the presidency─

NARRATOR: “Time” magazine branded him “the great manipulator.” On Twitter, they called him “President Bannon.”

NEWSCASTER: ─has been called Donald Trump’s brain, even President Bannon─

[“Saturday Night Live]

ALEC BALDWIN: I’m ready to start this briefing.


NARRATOR: And then there was “Saturday Night Live.”

ALEC BALDWIN: I can’t start without Steve Bannon.

KATE McKINNON: He’s walking in right now.

MIKEY DAY: Sorry I’m late. [audience laughter]

ALEC BALDWIN: That’s OK, Steve. You look great!

MATT VISER, The Boston Globe: The narrative of Bannon being the hand that’s in the puppet, you know, is not necessarily a good one for Bannon.

MIKEY DAY: Can I have my desk back?

ALEC BALDWIN: Yes, of course, Mr. President. I’ll go sit at my desk. [audience laughter]

DAN BALZ: No president, and I think probably President Trump in particular, likes to have it look as though some adviser is pulling all the strings. The president was going to put him in his place and remind people, “I’m the president and he works for me.”

NEWSCASTER: Tensions growing behind the walls of the Oval Office as the power struggle─

NARRATOR: And Bannon’s agenda was in a tailspin.

NEWSCASTER: ─denied in a major setback for Donald Trump’s travel ban─

NARRATOR: That travel ban was stuck in the courts.

NEWSCASTER: So President Trump’s approval ratings at record lows─

NARRATOR: The president’s approval ratings were sinking.

NEWSCASTER: ─wild day at the Trump White House─

NARRATOR: There were reports of chaos and infighting at the White House.

NEWSCASTER: And a lot of chaos and controversy─

NARRATOR: And the president’s legislative agenda seemed to be stalled in Congress.

NEWSCASTER:   ─replace “Obama care,” the clock is ticking. The objections are─

DAN BALZ: Bannon was in an environment that was new to him. He’d never worked the legislative process. He may have done things in Hollywood or he may have done things at Goldman Sachs. And you think, “OK, I know how to operate and get people to do things.”

NEWSCASTER: ─and trying to get conservatives on board as many groups─

DAN BALZ: But dealing in the legislative environment is different.

NEWSCASTER: The self-proclaimed “closer” couldn’t close the deal.

NEWSCASTER: Tonight, a major defeat for President Trump─

NARRATOR: At the White House, they waited for Trump’s reaction.

MARC FISHER, The Washington Post: Every executive who’s ever worked for Donald Trump and succeeded has very quickly absorbed the lesson that, in all things Trump, if something succeeds, the credit goes to the boss. And if something fails, the blame is distributed to the nearest available target.

NEWSCASTER: The turmoil that is brewing inside the White House─

NEWSCASTER: ─and whether Steve Bannon has a future─

NARRATOR: Increasingly, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, pointed the finger at Bannon.

DAN BALZ: The degree to which there was competition between Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, the president was going to, in one way or another, put Bannon down and be responsive to his family.

ROBERT COSTA: What rattled Bannon was that the so-called globalists, the financial types from New York who are close with Jared Kushner, were moving the administration in a more mainstream Republican direction.

NEWSCASTER: The president is now firing warning shots at Steve Bannon─

PETER BAKER, The New York Times: And Bannon is feeling isolated. He’s definitely losing allies, like Stephen Miller, who’s now sort of talking to the Jared Kushner/Ivanka Trump wing.

NEWSCASTER: We are watching the fate of Steve Bannon─

NARRATOR: Then as Trump seemed to walk away from some of Bannon’s hard-line positions, humiliation. The president publicly down-played Bannon’s role.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Steve is a guy who works for me. He’s a good guy. But I make my own decisions. I don’t have people making decisions.        What people don’t realize is that Steve only joined very late. You know, Steve joined just before I had beat Hillary─

NEWSCASTER: Trump adding fuel to the fire of speculation that Steve Bannon may soon hear “You’re fired.”

NARRATOR: Finally, the president decided Bannon would be stripped of his seat on the National Security Council.

NEWSCASTER: Breaking news. Bombshell from the White House. Stephen Bannon has been removed from the National Security Council.

NARRATOR: In Washington, it was seen as a sign Bannon and his ideas were on their way out.

NEWSCASTER: ─comes amid West Wing clashes, Bannon warring with the president─

NEWSCASTER: If they fire Bannon, they could make an enemy of a man who knows all their secrets.

NARRATOR: Then a surprise as the president headed out of Washington on his 100th day in office.

NEWSCASTER: ─campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So what does his base say about the first 100 days─

NARRATOR: Walking before the cameras, joining him on Marine One, his chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

PETER BAKER: Nobody else speaks to his base as powerfully as Steve Bannon does. And that’s not something Jared Kushner can do. That’s not something Ivanka Trump can do.

NEWSCASTER: ─President Trump to rally his supporters on his 100th day in office─

NEWSCASTER: ─Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he’s got thousands of supporters waiting eagerly to hear his speech. And we’re going to bring it to you live─

NARRATOR: It had all the elements of trump’s campaign stops, a huge crowd waiting─

NEWSCASTER: He’ll be at a rally with supporters in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

NARRATOR: ─and a speech that was pure Bannon.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: One by one, we’re finding the illegal immigrant drug dealers, gang members and killers, and removing them from our country! And they will not let them back in! They’re not coming back!

JOSHUA GREEN, Bloomberg Businessweek: If you look at public opinion polls, the people who voted for Trump think that he’s doing just fine. That is Steve Bannon. That is the effect of Steve Bannon saying, “You, Mr. Trump, are going to keep your eye on the ball. You’re going to keep saying these things. You’re not going to be swayed by these establishment people in Washington who don’t have your own interests at heart.”

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: So let me state this as clearly as I possibly can. We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country!


NARRATOR: It was a Steve Bannon production.

That night, as they returned to Washington on Marine One, Steve Bannon was seated right next to the president. And Bannon was by his side in the weeks that followed as the White House was gripped by one crisis after another.

NEWSCASTER: Two words, shock and surprise─

NEWSCASTER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump has fired FBI director James Comey─

NARRATOR: The administration faced its biggest challenges so far.

NEWSCASTER: FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo─

NEWSCASTER: ─Justice Department appointed a special counsel to─

NARRATOR: They responded with the combative strategy that had brought them to power, fighting back against the media─

NEWSCASTER: ─denying a bombshell new report─

NARRATOR: ─the critics─

NEWSCASTER: Reports in the media are not an accurate portrayal─

NARRATOR: ─the establishment.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP: Look at the way I’ve been treated lately. You have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up!

NARRATOR: Bannon’s war continued.

ROBERT COSTA: Bannon sees an amazing and probably last in his lifetime opportunity to really have his worldview come to the fore in American politics. He wants to see this out as much as he can, to see what can actually be accomplished with a populist president.

NEWSCASTER: It comes without warning and is sending shock waves across Washington─

People wait to receive bread in Kabul
Afghanistan Undercover
An undercover investigation into the Taliban’s crackdown on women in Afghanistan.
August 9, 2022