Biography of Steve Bannon

A Masterful Political Strategist and Powerful Media Exec

Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon was a senior counselor to President Donald Trump. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Steve Bannon is an American political strategist and the primary architect of Donald Trump's successful campaign for president in 2016. He is a former executive at the controversial Breitbart News Network, which he once described as a platform for the alt-right, a loosely connected group of young, disaffected Republicans and white nationalists who rose to prominence on Trump's coattails. 

Bannon is one of the most polarizing figures in modern American politics and has been accused of allowing Breitbart and the Trump administration to bring racist and anti-Semitic views into the mainstream.

"Bannon essentially has established himself as the chief curator for the alt right. Under his stewardship, Breitbart has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate," states the Anti-Defamation League, which works to defend Jewish people and stop anti-Semitism.

Breitbart, however, has dismissed the alt-right, calling it a "fringe element" and a bunch of losers. “These guys are a collection of clowns,” he said in 2017. Bannon has described himself as a "strong American nationalist."

Executive at Breitbart News

Bannon took over Breitbart News when its founder, Andrew Breitbart, died in 2012. He routinely promoted stories designed to alarm readers about illegal immigration and Shariah Law. “We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Bannon told a reporter for Mother Jones in 2016.

Bannon left Breitbart and worked for Trump for a year; he returned to Breitbart in August 2017 and served as the news network's executive chairman until January 2018.

He resigned after igniting a firestorm with the Trump family by calling  Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for meeting  with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election campaign.

Strategist in Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential Campaign

Bannon was brought on as the chief executive officer of Trump's presidential campaign.in a major shakeup just months before the 2016 election. He left his job at Breitbart News but was believed to have used website popular with alt-right as a way of inciting its extreme-right audience and rallying them behind the Trump campaign.

“If you look at Stephen Bannon and what they’ve built at Breitbart, it’s win at all cost, and I really think that makes people on the left very afraid because they are willing to say and do things that others in the mainstream media wouldn’t do,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said at the time.

Top Adviser in Donald Trump White House

Bannon is largely responsible for Trump's resistance to compromise on immigration issues such as the proposed wall along the United States border with Mexico. Bannon believed compromise would not help the president gain ground with detractors, and only soften his support among Trump's base. Bannon felt the only way Trump could expand his support among Americans was to hold onto his rigid ideological beliefs.

Bannon's chief policy concern was what he called the United States' "economic war" with China and a belief that, as he put it, "globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia."

Bannon, in perhaps the clearest statements on his anti-globalist crusade, told The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner:

“We’re at economic war with China. It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow. ... To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover. ... We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”

Bannon is also quoted as saying about his agenda:

"Like Andrew Jackson's populism, we're going to build an entirely new political movement. It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution - conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."

Bannon was forced out of the job in August 2017 following Trump's botched response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent, killing one counter protester. The president was widely criticized for his response, in which he claimed "both sides" were to blame for violence. Bannon had also made disparaging remarks about some members of the Trump White House to journalists, which hastened his exit.

Bannon's exit, however, also came amid reports that he had clashed with Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, as well as other key members of the president's leadership team.

Banking Career

Perhaps the least known aspect of Bannon's career is the time he spent in banking. Bannon began his Wall Street career in 1985 in mergers and acquisitions with Goldman Sachs and was promoted to Vice President about three years later.

Bannon told the Chicago Tribune in a March 2017 profile that his first three years at Goldman Sachs was "to respond to a boom in hostile takeovers. Goldman Sachs took the side of companies under attack from corporate raiders and leveraged buyout firms. Bannon had to come up with strategies to protect companies from unwanted suitors."

He broke with the mega-firm in 1990 to launch his own investment bank, Bannon & Co., which invested primarily in movies and other intellectual property.

Military Career

Bannon served seven years in the U.S. Navy, enlisting in the Reserve in 1976 and leaving in 1983 as an officer. He served two deployments at sea and then served three years at the Pentagon working on Navy budgets.

His fellow officers saw him as something of an "investment sensei," according to a Washington Post profile of Bannon's military service. Bannon was known to scour The Wall Street Journal for investments and often advised his fellow shipmates, the newspaper reported. 

Filmmaker

Bannon is listed as being the producer of 18 ideologically driven documentaries. They are:

  • The Last 600 Meters, about the two biggest battles of the Iraq war, in Najaf and Fallujah  
  • Torchbearer, about Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson
  • Clinton Cash, an expose on the Clinton Foundation
  • Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power, a profile of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
  • Sweetwater, a drama about a "blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory"
  • District of Corruption, about government secrecy in Washington, D.C.
  • The Hope & the Change
  • The Undefeated, a profile of Sarah Palin
  • Battle for America, a political documentary about Constitutional conservatives
  • Fire from the Heartland, a documentary about women conservatives
  • Generation Zero, about the economic crisis of 2008
  • The Steam Experiment, thriller about global warming and the media
  • Tradition Never Graduates: A Season Inside Notre Dame Football
  • Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration
  • Cochise County USA: Cries from the Border, a documentary about illegal immigration
  • In the Face of Evil: Reagan's War in Word and Deed
  • Titus, a historical thriller
  • The Indian Runner, a drama about a Vietnam veteran featuring Sean Penn

Controversies

One of the biggest controversies to erupt in the Trump presidency was his use of an executive order in January 2017 to authorize Bannon to serve on the National Security Council's principals committee.

The committee is made up of the secretaries of the departments of State and Defense, the director of Central Intelligence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chief of staff to the president and the national security adviser. 

The appointment of Bannon, a political strategist, to a panel responsible for ensuring national security caught many Washington insiders by surprise. “The last place you want to put somebody who worries about politics is in a room where they’re talking about national security,” former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told The New York Times. Bannon was removed from the National Security Council in April 2017, less than three months later.

The controversy that led to Bannon estrangement from the Trumps, though, was his accusation that Donald Trump Jr's meeting with a Russian lawyer was treasonous. 

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers," Bannon is quoted as saying. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad [expletive], and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”

Bannon made the remarks to journalist Michael Wolff, who published them in the 2018 blockbuster book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Breitbart was largely silent on Bannon's departure; it issued a prepared statement from CEO Larry Solov stating: “Steve is a valued part of our legacy, and we will always be grateful for his contributions, and what he has helped us to accomplish.”

Bannon later apologized for his remarks about the president and his son.

“Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around. My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama,” Bannon said in January 2018.

Education

Here's a quick look at Bannon's educational background.

  • Class of 1972 at Benedictine High School, a Roman Catholic military school in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Bachelor's degree in urban affairs in 1976 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where he was elected Student Government Association president in 1975.
  • Master's degree in national security studies from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in 1983.
  • Master degree in business administration from Harvard University in 1985.

Personal Life

Bannon's full name is Stephan Kevin Bannon. He was born in 1953 in Richmond, Virginia. Bannon has married and divorced three times. He has three grown daughters.

Quotes About Steve Bannon

It is almost impossible not to hold an opinion on Bannon's political views, his role in the Trump White House or even his appearance. Here's a look at what some prominent figures have said about Bannon. 

On his appearance: Bannon was unlike most other strategists who worked in the top echelons of politics. He was known for his unkempt appearance, often showing up for work at the White House unshaven and wearing informal attire unlike his peers, who wore suits. "Bannon gleefully threw off the strictures of the working stiff and adopted a singular personal style: rumpled oxfords layered over multiple polo shirts, ratty cargo shorts, and flip-flops - a sartorial middle finger to the whole wide world," wrote journalist Joshua Green in his 2017 book about Bannon, Devil's Bargain. Trump political adviser Roger Stone once said: "Steve needs to be introduced to soap and water." 

On his agenda in the White House: Anthony Scaramucci, hired as Trump's communications director and fired a few days later, accused Bannon in a profanity-laden rant of trying to forward his own self-interests on the president's coattails. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the [expletive] strength of the president," Scaramucci said, suggesting Bannon was.

On his work ethic: “A lot of intellectuals sit back and write columns and let other people do the work. Steve is a believer in doing both,” said David Bossie, president of the conservative group Citizens United.

On his character: “He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition, and he will use anyone bigger than he is – for example, Donald Trump – to get where he wants to go,” said Ben Shapiro, a former editor at Breitbart.

Controversial Quotes From Bannon

On apathy and getting people engaged politically: “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.”

On racism in the alt-right movement: “Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Look, are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right? Maybe. Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe. Right? Maybe some people are attracted to the alt-right that are homophobes, right? But that’s just like, there are certain elements of the progressive left and the hard left that attract certain elements.”

On upending the Republican Party: “We don’t believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and we certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that. It’s going to be an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party.”

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Murse, Tom. "Biography of Steve Bannon." ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2018, thoughtco.com/steve-bannon-bio-4149433. Murse, Tom. (2018, February 23). Biography of Steve Bannon. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/steve-bannon-bio-4149433 Murse, Tom. "Biography of Steve Bannon." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/steve-bannon-bio-4149433 (accessed May 25, 2018).