WASHINGTON ― Six years after using Donald Trump as the “vessel” to effect his own far-right agenda, podcaster and onetime top White House aide Steve Bannon was slapped with handcuffs Monday and briefly detained in his continued service to his former boss.
“We’re taking down the Biden regime,” Bannon told reporters outside FBI headquarters as he turned himself in following last week’s indictment on charges of criminal contempt of Congress, based on his refusal to comply with a subpoena by the House committee investigating the Trump-incited assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Not long afterward, his podcast mates expressed their outrage that U.S. marshals had forced him to wear handcuffs while he awaited his first appearance before a federal judge.
“It’s heinous to treat somebody like that,” said Raheem Kassam, a Briton who worked for Brexit proponent Nigel Farage. “Stay strong. Hashtag ‘stand with Bannon.’”
Peter Navarro, a top aide to Trump who supported using the military to help the then-president stay in power after he lost the 2020 election, said handcuffs would not faze the long-ago naval officer. “He’ll wear those things like bracelets and laugh at these people,” Navarro said, calling Bannon a “trained warrior.”
The trained warrior, though, dropped the combative tone in court by Monday afternoon as he appeared before a federal judge who told him he had to report in weekly with court officials, surrender his passport, notify the court of any travel outside of Washington and get court permission before leaving the continental United States. No bail would be required for the two misdemeanor charges, each bringing as much as a year in prison and a $100,000 fine if he’s convicted.
When Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather asked if he understood those conditions, Bannon said simply and quietly: “Yes, your honor.”
Back outside afterward, his bombast returned. “What we’re doing is taking on the illegitimate Biden regime,” he said, repeating the lie that President Joe Biden had not won the 2020 election.
“Joe Biden ordered Merrick Garland to prosecute me from the White House lawn,” he added, accusing the president of instructing the U.S. attorney general to enforce a sanction that federal law already demands in contempt of Congress cases. “I’m never going to back down. They took on the wrong guy this time.”
Pouring The Far-Right Into Trump
In the summer of 2015, after Trump entered the 2016 Republican primary, Bannon essentially took the businessman under his wing with repeated appearances on his Sirius XM radio show. Trump knew little about far-right orthodoxy, but Bannon coached him through the appearances, he boasted later, telling anyone who would listen that Trump was merely “a vessel” for the ideas he had been pushing for years as head of Breitbart News, which he once described as a platform for the “alt-right.” He said that he and Stephen Miller had plotted to find a candidate to push their anti-immigrant themes in the 2016 primary to force the mainstream GOP candidates to at least acknowledge the issue, never dreaming that their chosen candidate would actually win.
Bannon’s involvement with Trump’s campaign became more direct a month after Trump became the nominee in July 2016, when Bannon became the “CEO” of the operation. After Trump won, Bannon became the “chief strategist” in the White House and delighted in showing off his agenda, written out on a whiteboard in his office, checking items off as Trump signed executive orders, implemented rules or withdrew from international agreements.
But Bannon lasted only seven months in the job. He was forced out by a new chief of staff, John Kelly, who sought to bring rationality and order to the Trump White House. Not long afterward, Trump himself issued a lengthy statement lashing out at Bannon, even calling him “Sloppy Steve,” after seeing Bannon criticize Trump and take credit for his policies in a 2018 book.
Bannon said at the time he was glad to be on the outside and claimed he had more power there, anyway. But it wasn’t until Trump’s impeachment two years later for trying to extort Ukraine into helping his reelection effort that Bannon’s voice regained prominence with the start of his show “War Room: Impeachment,” which became a clearinghouse for pro-Trump propaganda.
Trump’s acquittal coincided with the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, and Bannon changed the show’s name to “War Room: Pandemic,” which in its first months offered actual news mixed in with conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.
All Election Lies, All The Time
Today, Bannon’s podcast ― which is also streamed on the internet and is carried on a smattering of radio stations in Virginia and Atlanta ― has become the go-to source for Trump’s election lies, anti-vaccine propaganda and an open defense of those arrested for their participation in the U.S. Capitol riot.
Indeed, his aggressive dishonesty about the election and his encouragement of Trump supporters coming to Washington on Jan. 6 to take “action” to give Trump a second term formed the basis of the House select committee’s subpoena. That document noted his Jan. 5 show, in which he promised that “all hell is going to break loose” the following day, as well as his involvement in a “war room” that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a frequent guest on Bannon’s program, had set up at a downtown Washington hotel to plot the efforts of Jan. 6.
“One hundred percent on brand,” said Kurt Bardella, who worked for Bannon at Breitbart News, said Monday. “He truly believes he is above the law and above Congress.”
Bannon has remained uncharacteristically quiet on his show about the subpoena, the House vote to hold him in contempt and the grand jury indictment.
Friday afternoon, just after the indictment was unsealed, Bannon made no mention of it, except perhaps for the cryptic reference: “There’s no whining, no tears in the War Room.”
On Saturday morning’s show, Bannon again did not discuss the indictment but did spend the hour advancing the conspiracy theory that Jan. 6 was a federal intelligence operation and that those at risk for arrest were not just the ones who tried to help Trump overthrow the republic that day, but also every Trump supporter across the country. Bannon even featured a woman raising money for those in jail awaiting trial. “Adopt a ‘One-Sixer,’” she said.
Monday afternoon’s episode, though, with Bannon free without having to post bail, featured an aggressive attack on the House Jan. 6 committee as well as the prosecution against him. “Kind of an active day,” he said following a video of his comments to reporters after the court hearing. “We’re not just going to sit there and take punches. We’re going on the offense.”
The new federal charge against Bannon is the second one in two years. Bannon was arrested and charged with fraud for raising money for a privately funded wall along the southern U.S. border but then siphoning off more than $1 million for himself. Trump pardoned him on that charge in the final hours of his presidency, but the former president is not in a position to help Bannon this time.
What’s more, the House’s willingness to hold subpoena-defying witnesses in contempt and the Department of Justice’s readiness to seek criminal indictments against them could help persuade others considering that option not to take it.
“No one is above the law,” select committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a joint statement last week. “We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”
Bannon’s next court appearance is set for Thursday, when he is scheduled to be arraigned before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Trump appointee.