Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon could be next on the list for a pardon from the President who once branded him “Sloppy Steve”.
Bannon, who lasted seven months into Donald Trump’s term before being “dumped like a dog”, as Mr Trump put it, would certainly have earned it.
For four hours a day, six days a week, Bannon hosts a podcast that now serves as one of the biggest pro-Trump platforms on the internet.
Featuring regular appearances from Trump campaign lawyers and spokespeople, War Room: Pandemic, has morphed from its original focus on COVID-19 into a cross between a clearing house for election-related conspiracy theories, and an online group therapy session for millions of “deplorables” who believe the President was robbed.
“Joe Biden is not the President of the United States and Joe Biden is not going to be the President of the United States,” Bannon said during a show last week. “We will never, ever, ever back down one inch from an election that’s stolen to thwart the will of the people, okay? We’re not going to back down an inch.”
The former chairman of right-wing news site Breitbart – who turned 67 on Friday – frequently uses inflammatory, apocalyptic language hinting at civil war. This week he described Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as “like a general overseeing six different fronts, five of those being hot, right, in every aspect, the legal aspect, in other aspects”.
Madeline Peltz from left-wing media watchdog site Media Matters, who listens to Bannon’s podcast “for four hours a day, every day”, described it as having recently “devolved into a pro-beheading cesspool of election-related conspiracy theories”.
“Though he considers himself a leader and a patriot, Bannon has failed his audience by deliberately squandering the opportunity to tell them the truth about urgent matters related to the election and the coronavirus pandemic,” she wrote on Wednesday.
“Instead, he services them lies and conspiracy theories about voter fraud and other vague, random Breitbart-style brain worms. In these sputtering sunset hours of the Trump legal defence, he’s live on YouTube for four hours every day repeating some combination of the following rabbit holes and falsehoods.”
Peltz ranked Bannon’s “deranged” election conspiracy theories, from the “Great Reset” and “Hammer and Scorecard”, to the real reason “they” wanted to cancel Thanksgiving. “We’re gonna hold the line here, we are not going to buckle,” Bannon said earlier this week.
“We will never buckle. It’s going to get a little choppy. This is going to be the wildest Thanksgiving – I don’t want to do conspiracy theories but there’s no coincidence, this is one of the reasons they don’t want all the families together because they realise the conversation around the table would be about the steal, right, and how obvious the steal is.”
It comes after he was suspended from Twitter earlier this month for suggesting Dr Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray should have their “heads on pikes”.
“The second term kicks off with firing Wray, firing Fauci,” he said during the segment.
“Now I actually want to go a step farther but I realise the President is a kind-hearted man and a good man. I’d actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England, I’d put the heads on pikes, right, I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats. You either get with the program or you’re gone – time to stop playing games.”
Bannon’s @WarRoomPandemic Twitter account was suspended for violating the platform’s code of conduct. YouTube and Facebook removed the videos, but stopped short of a ban. Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg told an all-staff meeting that while the conduct came “close to crossing that line, they clearly did not cross the line”.
On YouTube, Steve Bannon’s War Room has more than 255,000 subscribers, and Bannon regularly claims to have millions of listeners around the world – the podcast is ranked 56 on iTunes in the US, and 33 in the news category in Australia – including in China, “getting around the firewall”, via Mandarin subtitles courtesy of GNews.
GNews is an outlet of GTV Media Group, a joint venture between Bannon and Miles Guo, an exiled Chinese billionaire who fled around five years ago amid corruption allegations. Guo now describes himself as a freedom fighter whose goal is “taking down the CCP” – as an apparently autotuned Guo himself sings in “Fight For Hong Kong”, which serves as the show’s theme music.
Bannon and Guo together have been accused of spreading misinformation about COVID-19, and more recently were the driving force behind a series of stories about Hunter Biden after obtaining a copy of his laptop from a computer repair shop, publishing graphic photographs depicting sex and drug use by the former Vice President’s son.
In August, Bannon was on board Guo’s $50 million yacht off Westbrook, Connecticut, when he was dramatically arrested by federal agents on fraud charges connected to a crowd-funding campaign to build a wall between the US and Mexico. Bannon and three others were charged with illegally funnelling “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in donations from the “We Build the Wall” fundraiser.
Bannon pleaded not guilty and was released on a $US5 million bond ahead of a May 2021 trial date. Mr Trump has repeatedly distanced himself from the project, saying it “ sounded to me like showboating”. Last month he tweeted again that it was “not my wall”, adding “totally unrelated, but I think Steve will be just fine”.
On Wednesday, Mr Trump issued a full pardon for former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador. Since then, Bannon’s name has reportedly been included on lists of requests for pardons, alongside the likes of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Tiger King Joe Exotic.
“Lists of people are being circulated,” Vermont lawyer Brandon Sample told The New York Times.
Florida congressman Matt Gaetz suggested Mr Trump should “wield that pardon power effectively and robustly”.
“President Trump should pardon Michael Flynn, he should pardon the Thanksgiving turkey, he should pardon everyone from himself to his administration officials to Joe Exotic if he has to,” he told Fox News on Thursday. “Because you see from the radical left a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come after the people who worked so hard to animate the Trump administration with the policies and the vigour and the effectiveness that delivered for the American people.”
Mr Trump on Thursday confirmed that he would leave the White House if the electoral college votes for Mr Biden on December 14 – the closest he has come so far to conceding. Earlier in the week, the President formally began the transition process to Mr Biden after a weeks-long standoff, despite insisting he was not conceding and that “we will prevail”.
His legal team, led by Mr Giuliani, continue to claim Mr Trump has a path to victory, either through the Supreme Court or by convincing Republican-controlled state legislatures to override the popular vote and appoint their own pro-Trump electors. With the legal avenue looking shaky, the Trump team has begun pushing the latter option through a series of hearings in front of state lawmakers, starting with Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Mr Trump phoned into that hearing to make his case, claiming Pennsylvania “was an election that we won easily”. A series of witnesses also gave evidence, including a Republican poll watcher who was ejected from a counting centre, and a computer forensic scientist who described seeing unidentified people walking around with “baggies of USBs” uploading them to voting machines.
The Arizona legislature will hold a meeting on Monday, November 30, followed by Michigan on Tuesday, December 1.