Stephen Kevin Bannon born November 27, 1953 is an American media executive, political figure, strategist, former investment banker, and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News. He served as White House Chief Strategist in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump during the first seven months of Trump’s term.
Bannon was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After his military service, he worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker, and left as vice president. In 1993, he became acting director of the research project Biosphere 2. In the 1990s, he became an executive producer in Hollywood, and produced 18 films between 1991 and 2016. In 2007, he co-founded Breitbart News, a far-right[i] website which he described in 2016 as “the platform for the alt-right”.
In August 2016, Bannon was named the chief executive officer of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Appointed Chief Strategist in the Trump administration, he left this position on August 18, 2017 and rejoined Breitbart. After leaving the White House, Bannon opposed the establishment Republican party and supported insurgent candidates in Republican primaries. After Roy Moore, supported by Bannon, lost the 2017 United States Senate election in Alabama, Bannon’s reputation as a political strategist was questioned. In January 2018, Bannon was disavowed by Trump for critical comments reported in the book Fire and Fury and left Breitbart.
After leaving the White House, Bannon declared his intention to become “the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.” Accordingly, he has supported various national populist conservative political movements around the world. These include France’s National Front, Hungary’s Fidesz, Alternative for Germany, the Sweden Democrats, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Italian Northern League, the Freedom Party of Austria, the Swiss People’s Party, the UK Independence Party, the Flemish Vlaams Belang, the Belgian People’s Party, Spain’s Vox, the Finns Party, the pan-European identitarian movement, the Brazilian 2018 Jair Bolsonaro presidential campaign, and the Israeli Likud, Bannon believes that the aforementioned movements – along with Japan’s Shinzo Abe, India’s Narendra Modi, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman, China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and America’s Donald Trump, as well as similar leaders in Egypt, the Philippines, Poland, and South Korea – are part of a global shift towards nationalism.
A self-described economic nationalist, Bannon advocates for reductions in immigration, restrictions on free trade with China and Mexico, and an increased federal income tax for those earning incomes of over $5 million a year. Bannon is a skeptic of military intervention abroad and has opposed proposals for the expansion of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Syria, and Venezuela. He has been described by some as a white nationalist but rejects the description. According to conservative commentator David French, Bannon has “done more than any other person to introduce the … alt-right into mainstream American life”.
Stephen Kevin Bannon was born on November 27, 1953 in Norfolk, Virginia, to Doris née Herr, a homemaker, and Martin J. Bannon Jr., who worked as an AT&T telephone lineman and as a middle manager. His working class, Irish Catholic family was pro-Kennedy and pro-union Democrat.
Bannon graduated from Benedictine College Preparatory, a private, Catholic, military high school in Richmond, Virginia, in 1971, and then attended Virginia Tech, where he served as the president of the student government association. During the summers he worked at a local junk yard, and often came home so dirty his mother made him rinse off with a hose before allowing him into the house.
He graduated from Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies in 1976, with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning. While serving in the navy he earned a master’s degree in national security studies in 1983 from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. In 1985, Bannon earned a Master of Business Administration degree with honors from Harvard Business School.
On August 17, 2016, Bannon was appointed chief executive of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Bannon left Breitbart, as well as the Government Accountability Institute and Cambridge Analytica, to take the job. Shortly after he assumed the chief executive role, the chairman of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, was dismissed.
On November 13, following Donald Trump’s election victory, Bannon was appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to the President-elect. His appointment drew opposition from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Council on American–Islamic Relations, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and some Republican strategists because of statements in Breitbart News that were alleged to be racist or anti-Semitic. A number of prominent Jews, however, defended Bannon against the allegations of anti-Semitism, including Ben Shapiro, David Horowitz, Pamela Geller, Bernard Marcus of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Morton Klein and the Zionist Organization of America, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Alan Dershowitz at first defended Bannon, saying there was no evidence he was anti-Semitic, but then in a later piece stated that Bannon had made bigoted statements against Muslims, women, and others. The ADL stated “We are not aware of any anti-Semitic statements from Bannon.” Shapiro, who previously worked as an editor-at-large at Breitbart, said he had no evidence of Bannon being racist or an anti-Semite, but that he was “happy to pander to those people and make common cause with them in order to transform conservatism into European far-right nationalist populism”. Bannon had referred to Front National politician Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as “the new rising star”.
On November 15, 2016, U.S. Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island released a letter to Trump signed by 169 Democratic House Representatives urging him to rescind his appointment of Bannon. The letter stated that appointing Bannon “sends a disturbing message about what kind of president Donald Trump wants to be”, because his “ties to the White Nationalist movement have been well documented”; it went on to present several examples of Breitbart News’ alleged xenophobia. Bannon denied being a white nationalist and claimed, rather, that he was an “economic nationalist.”
On November 18, during his first interview not conducted by Breitbart Media since the 2016 presidential election, Bannon remarked on some criticisms made about him, saying, “Darkness is good: Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” The quote was published widely in the media.
In an interview with The New York Times in late November, Trump responded to the controversy over Bannon’s appointment, saying, “I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use, I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.”
Bannon’s employment in the White House ended on August 18, 2017, less than a week after the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally which degenerated into violence and acrimony. Whereas members of both political parties condemned the hatred and violence of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists, The New York Times noted that Trump “was the only national political figure to spread blame for the ‘hatred, bigotry and violence’ that resulted in the death of one person to ‘many sides'”. The decision to blame “many sides” was reported to have come from Bannon. The NAACP released a statement saying that while they “acknowledge and appreciate President Trump’s disavowment of the hatred which has resulted in a loss of life today”, they called on Trump “to take the tangible step to remove Steve Bannon – a well-known white supremacist leader – from his team of advisers”. The statement further described Bannon as a “symbol of white nationalism” who “energized that sentiment” through his current position within the White House.
Some sources stated that White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly asked Bannon on August 18, 2017, to submit his immediate resignation in lieu of being fired. Bannon, however, stated he was not fired but rather submitted his two-week resignation notice on August 4, 2017. He reminded The Weekly Standard that he’d joined then-presidential candidate Trump’s campaign on August 14, 2016, and said he’d “always planned on spending one year,” but that he stayed a few more days due to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In an official statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “… John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”
The same day, Breitbart News announced that Bannon would return to the site as executive chairman. Several weeks after his departure it was reported that Trump still called Bannon using his personal cell phone, and only calling when chief of staff Kelly was not around. The Washington Post reported in October 2017 that Trump and Bannon remained in regular contact.
Bannon has been married and divorced three times. He has three adult daughters. His first marriage was to Cathleen Suzanne Houff. Bannon and Houff had a daughter, Maureen, in 1988 and subsequently divorced.
Bannon’s second marriage was to Mary Louise Piccard, a former investment banker, in April 1995. Their twin daughters were born three days after the wedding. Piccard filed for dissolution of their marriage in 1997.
Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness in early January 1996 after Piccard accused Bannon of domestic abuse. The charges were later dropped when Piccard did not appear in court. In an article in The New York Times Piccard stated her absence was due to threats made to her by Bannon and his lawyer:
Mr. Bannon, she said, told her that “if I went to court, he and his attorney would make sure that I would be the one who was guilty” … Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, she said, “threatened me,” telling her that if Mr. Bannon went to jail, she “would have no money and no way to support the children.” Mr. Bannon’s lawyer denied pressuring her not to testify.
Piccard and Bannon divorced in 1997. During the divorce proceedings, Piccard alleged that Bannon had made antisemitic remarks about her choice of schools, saying he did not want to send his children to The Archer School for Girls because there were too many Jews at the school, and Jews raise their children to be “whiny brats”. Bannon’s spokesperson denied the accusation, noting that he had chosen to send both his children to the Archer School.
Bannon’s third marriage was to Diane Clohesy; they married in 2006 and divorced in 2009.