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Steve Bannon Swaps His Podcast Studio for a Prison Cell – Mother Jones

Steve Bannon Swaps His Podcast Studio for a Prison Cell – Mother Jones
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Steve Bannon at the 2023 CPAC conference, in National Harbor, Maryland.Mark Peterson/Redux

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It was a Tuesday morning in May and the mood on War Room, Steve Bannon’s twice-daily talk show, was characteristically grim. “The pre-kinetic part of the Third World War is happening,” the thrice-indicted former Trump advisor declared, alleging that the Chinese Communist Party, Qatar, and George Soros were secretly conspiring to seed unrest on college campuses. 

Standing up at his desk in a cramped West Palm Beach studio, dressed in a black button-down shirt over another black shirt, his gray hair swept up dramatically like a paranoid Beethoven, Bannon warned that things were about to get worse. “If you think times are tough now, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.

But there was some good news for those who stuck around. MyPillow’s Mike Lindell was about to join him. And he was offering a great deal on socks.

When Bannon reported to a federal prison in Connecticut on Monday to serve a four-month sentence for contempt of Congress, it brought an end, at least for now, to his tenure as the daily host of one of the most influential programs on the political right. Launched during the first Trump impeachment in 2019, War Room has aired for the last four years on Real America’s Voice, a fledgling right-wing channel that has become a destination for conservatives who are fed up with what Bannon calls the “Murdoch News Network”—Fox News. 

Even as his legal troubles mounted, and even after he called for Anthony Fauci to be beheaded, his show remained a destination for leading Republicans such as Elise Stefanik and Matt Gaetz. It boosted operatives like Caroline Wren, the conservative consultant who helped organize the rally that preceded the January 6 attack on the Capitol. And it gave a platform to the Republicans who drove Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy from power. While Bannon does his time in Danbury, some of those congressional allies are reportedly set to fill in behind his desk.

Bannon billed the program as a running strategy session, with himself in the role of field marshal. But when I tuned in recently, to watch what added up to more than a dozen hours of segments over the course of six days, I was struck by something else. The partnership with Lindell belied the show’s not-so-hidden function. It was a frenzied on-air marketplace, where people, agendas, and products were relentlessly pitched. Bannon was always selling something—and there was often something in it for him. This was MAGA distilled to its essence: the Home Shopping Network from hell.

Despite the fact that the show and its host had the aesthetic of something smuggled out of a fallout shelter, or perhaps because they did, War Room was weirdly captivating. Bannon’s show was governed by a rigid, clipped style guide. The date was always “7 May,” never May 7th. He never used 21st-century nomenclature when he could sound like a 19th-century imperialist: Iranians were “the Persians”; the West Bank was “Judea and Samaria.” He was always going on about “Eurasia.” During the week I tuned in, in the midst of nationwide police crackdowns of campus protests against the Israeli attack on Gaza, Bannon spent a large part of the time insisting that the protests were a form of “irregular warfare.” It was what an AI would talk like if you trained it on Newt Gingrich and back issues of Soldier of Fortune.

The guests, in the War Room format, were largely furniture upon which Bannon could toss his accumulated theories, often simply appending someone’s name at the end of a long rant in lieu of a question. I was constantly encountering names from the past I thought I’d never see again. There was former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was identified as “Dean, Robertson School of Government Professor” at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. (“A great secretary of state or secretary of defense, we’ll figure it out,” Bannon promised, when she wrapped up.) There was former Virginia Rep. David Brat, War Room’s “tennis pro and philosopher-in-residence,” who once beat Eric Cantor and is now the vice provost for engagement at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

There was no such thing as a minor story in the Bannon-verse. In the case of the campus protests, as with seemingly everything else, Bannon’s working theory was that this was a classic Chinese government tactic to destroy the United States. “This is how Mao and the Cultural Revolution started—with the students,” he told the former Devin Nunes staffer Derek Harvey. It was “a neo-Marxist and a Shariah-supremacist combo platter.” When another guest, billionaire mercenary Erik Prince, confirmed to Bannon that getting teenagers to camp on quads seemed like something Qatar would do, the host demanded that House Republicans hold hearings: “Wouldn’t that be a logical outgrowth of your predicate, sir?”

Every War Room scandal, as I came to understand, required three key ingredients. The first was an act of villainy, usually cooked up by some combination of the “illegitimate Biden regime” and the Chinese Communist Party. The second was an act of cowardice, perpetrated by one or several of “the Murdochs and Fox and the Republican establishment and the donor class and the political operatives and the Frank Luntz pollsters.” Last were heroes—a band of brothers that included Trump, Bannon’s guests, and most importantly, the “War Room posse” itself, as Bannon referred to his audience. “Your confidence has created a reality and that confidence, that optimism, that subjective reality, you’ve made an objective reality,” he said. “Think about that for a minute.” Or try to. 

Listen to enough of this, as I did, and you will grasp something essential about the movement to which Bannon has so firmly attached himself. MAGA is like a bus with a bomb strapped to it, and if it slows down, it dies. The War Room posse was reared on perpetual combat. Bannon would sometimes recite the casus belli like a catechism, whenever it seemed there was nothing else to say: “Where are your 81 million votes? Where are they? Where are your 81 million votes? Where are they?” The election had to be stolen. Mike Johnson had to be on the verge of a great betrayal. You cannot have a War Room in peacetime—that’s just the logical outgrowth of the predicate. 

And Bannon’s posse needed to stay prepared. Conservative media, particularly TV and radio, has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with its sponsors. Alex Jones and Ben Shapiro pitched brain pills. Glenn Beck sold gold. Sean Hannity sold gold. Rush Limbaugh sold gold. Bannon, of course, sold gold—in fact, he and Shapiro had the same gold guy. But was not another right-wing messaging show periodically interrupted by right-wing ads. The advertisers were often indistinguishable from the programming.

Prince, for instance, was not just there to talk about Qatar and the need to “de-cartelize the Pentagon.” The chyron identified the mercenary mogul and Trump confidante as the founder of Unplugged.com, which is billed as a phone for people mad about Big Tech surveillance. Prince explained that the phone has an operating system that blocks apps from collecting and selling your data, or from turning on your GPS without your permission.

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“10,000 just arrived,” he said, holding up a device. “It’ll ship next week.”

The phone market was a competitive space on War Room. “Chris Hoar, it’s a time of turbulence, it’s a Fourth Turning,” Bannon said coming up for air one day. “You’re always here for the audience to come up with new deals, what have you got for us, brother.”

Hoar works for a company that sells satellite phones—a must-have for the civil unrest to come. “Steve, anybody else in the country is gonna charge you $1,000 for this phone,” he said, holding up his own sample. His company was offering it free to the War Room posse, if they signed up for a phone plan.

Most of the products were rooted in the same sense of looming conflict that gave the show its name. Listeners who followed up with Bannon’s precious metals guru, Philip Patrick of Birch Gold, received a free Bannon eBook called The End of the Dollar Empire. Bannon was not selling an abstract notion of financial insecurity; he would flat-out say that the “fecklessness” of the current Republican leadership, and the freezing of Russian assets in American dollars, was going to eventually lead to the end of the US dollar as the default global currency.

“It’s the reason I’m so adamant about the motion to vacate on Johnson,” he told Patrick during an on-air interview.

That sense of impending collapse extended to medical care. “There’s something seriously, seriously wrong—nobody can quite put their finger on it but seriously wrong about the supply chain on medicines and drugs,” he said. “This is more than hurricanes hitting, this is more than cyber, but something seriously wrong.” War Room viewers would know, of course, that the threat posed to medical supply chains by China was a Bannon bugaboo. So it was time to stock up on antibiotics at Jase Medical, a War Room advertiser that sells online antibiotics.

If you have ever looked at Bannon and wondered “what’s his secret?” you were in luck too. “Wanna see how I get jacked up in the morning? Did you like it today? Were these rants good? Did they work?” he asked, after a long complaint about Trump prosecutor Matthew Colangelo. “The reason I’m on fire is Warpath coffee.” 

Coffee, like nicotine and fear, is a bit of a growth area in right-wing circles. So are supplements. “SacredHumanHealth.com for the grass-feed beef liver,” Bannon said, continuing. “Greatest concentration of nutrients known to man. That’s how you start the day: A big pot of coffee and a grass-fed beef liver. So go ahead and do it, that’s a combo platter.” 

The show would just continue like this for several hours every day—one minute you’d have Naomi Wolf talking about how “evildoers” in the media covered up the dangers of vaccines. (“Thank God for the posse, because without you, no one would know what we know,” she said.) The next, ”Katherine O’Neil from Meriweather Farms” would be on the screen to “let the posse know the latest deals” on “old-fashioned franks.” When Bannon started talking, you never really knew if he was going to end with a call to arms or a great deal on meat. But the point, for posse members, was that they both added up to the same thing. They had a man on the inside who could help them bypass or navigate the system, whether it was feckless leaders or price-gouging middlemen. They had his back, and he had theirs. In an earlier episode, according to the Washington Post, Bannon told his audience they would be rewarded by “divine providence” if they patronized MyPillow.

All of this hustling underscored something essential about Bannon. Yes, he believes a lot of this stuff. He did want to overturn the election. He does look like someone who subsists on coffee and beef livers. But it was always a hustle too. He started the show after he found himself in exile, outside the White House inner circle. With War Room, Bannon bought cachet and influence again, and so did his guests. In 2022, New York state indicted Bannon for his alleged involvement in a scheme to siphon funds from a border-wall fundraiser—a cause he promoted on the War Room at the time. As my colleague Dan Friedman has reported, Bannon’s war against the Chinese Communist Party has been incredibly lucrative. The alleged Chinese fraudster Miles Guo paid him more than $1 million, and Guo’s company, Gettr, shelled out $50,000 a month to War Room to promote the social media site. All that raving about a “proto-kinetic war” comes with some major strings attached.

In the context of the show’s militancy, I came to appreciate those moments, several times a day, after Lindell would first appear on screen but before Bannon would let him speak; you never knew what was going to be in stock. And for once, neither Bannon nor Lindell really attempted to connect the product to the message. No one tried to argue that in a societal collapse foot hygiene is the first to go. Lindell had simply bought up the entire stock of Made in the USA socks, and he had done it all for you. 

“These are the best socks I ever wore in my life,” Lindell promised. “I’m telling you there’s nothing better.”

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Pairs started at $3.75. Operators were standing by.



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