Prologue: A Revolution In The Parking Lot
The first time I meet Steve Bannon, he is on the hood of his car attempting to enter it by smashing the windshield with a lacrosse stick. “I have to do this every time I need to drive to a place,” Bannon explains to me as he shatters his windshield with an overhead blow from the lacrosse stick. “If I unlock the doors for even a second, you never know who could climb into my car. I have to enter stealthily through the windshield by smashing it.”
Bannon crawls through the shattered windshield and into the driver’s seat. Once he’s buckled his seatbelt, he stretches a sheet of Saran Wrap over the space where his windshield used to be. He starts the car and then begins to drive away. After driving about 15 feet, he stops the car, tears a hole in the Saran Wrap windshield, crawls out through the hole, and then sets the car on fire with a Bic lighter. “I have just defeated my car in a big war,” Bannon explains to me.
He then invites me to walk 60 miles with him to the White House, where President Donald Trump has requested his presence for a one-on-one meeting.
In other words, Steve Bannon is a pretty big deal.
But how did he become that size? How did a simple journalist and filmmaker transcend his humble beginnings to become the chief strategist for the president of the United States? Over the past three weeks, I was granted exclusive access to Bannon in an attempt to answer this question.
In my time with Bannon, I discovered the story of an unorthodox maverick who went from running a fringe news website to occupying one of the most powerful offices in the world. It’s the story of how a man with a bold vision for a new world found himself with the influence necessary to make that vision a reality through nothing but rugged determination and a simple love of yelling. It’s a story of how, sometimes, even the most tired-looking people can actually have enough energy to end up in the White House.
This is the story of the rise of Steve Bannon.
Chapter 1: Steve Bannon Conquers Hollywood
As flames continue to consume Bannon’s car, the two of us begin our long walk to the White House for Bannon’s meeting with President Trump. As we walk, Bannon reaches into his coat pocket and starts pulling out Komodo dragon eggs and throwing them into the woods. “These scaly fucks kill every goddamn animal they see,” says Bannon as he throws five Komodo dragon eggs at a time deep into the forest.
“When these eggs hatch, they’ll eat almost all of America’s wildlife. Soon the only animals left in American forests will be Komodo dragons and bald eagles, just like in the age of Andrew Jackson. You’re witnessing the beginning of the great Forest Revolution, which I started. I’m the Johnny Appleseed of invasive reptile eggs.” He is then silent as he continues to scatter the eggs.
We continue our trek down the highway. Bannon is mostly quiet, except for one moment where he mumbles the words, “Jaws is the only Christian shark,” to himself.
Suddenly, Bannon and I are blown back as a helicopter descends from the sky. It lands right in front of us on the side of the highway. A man wearing a T-shirt with the NBC logo on it steps out of the airplane and hands Bannon a whole roasted turkey. “On behalf of NBC, I present to you this delicious bird. Jerry Seinfeld has had a Royal Bannon Supreme,” the man says. He then climbs back into the helicopter, which quickly disappears into the sky.
Bannon turns to me, holding the roasted turkey by one of its legs. “Back in the ’90s, I purchased a stake in Seinfeld,” he explains. “I don’t get any money. Instead I receive a whole roasted turkey every time a network airs a syndicated episode of Seinfeld where Jerry has sex. Also, in the Seinfeld universe, Jerry Seinfeld refers to orgasms as ‘Royal Bannon Supremes.’ It’s a crucial part of the character’s backstory.” Bannon then buries the turkey in a hole on the side of the road. “Don’t let me forget that that’s there,” he says to me as he continues walking down the highway toward the White House.
“I’m the Johnny Appleseed of invasive reptile eggs.”
Bannon’s ties to Seinfeld might be surprising for people who are only familiar with the Steve Bannon of the Trump White House. But Bannon’s rise to power actually began in the entertainment industry, and in addition to holding a stake in Seinfeld, he has also written and produced several big-budget Hollywood movies. Bannon first arrived in Los Angeles in 1994 to make Conservative action movies and right-wing erotic films, but his desire to champion red-state causes all started one fateful day, 25 years earlier.
Stephen Bannon officially became a Conservative ideologue on May 16, 1970, after he got his head stuck in a picket fence and President Jimmy Carter didn’t come to help him for over an hour. As soon as Carter heard that there was an American citizen with his head stuck in a fence, he left the Oval Office in the middle of a meeting with the shah of Iran, commandeered a truck at gunpoint, and traveled the 600 miles to help Bannon, reportedly screaming, “Help is on the way! Here comes Carter!” over and over again as he drove.
Sadly, by the time President Carter arrived to free Bannon’s head from the picket fence, Bannon had lost patience with the Democratic president and had become a far-right political fanatic. “That was when I completely lost faith in liberal politics,” Bannon tells me. “As a man who constantly gets my head stuck in picket fences and pickle barrels and holes in the ground with signs next to them that say, ‘Warning! Poisonous Viper Pit! Do Not Stick Head In Here!’ I knew that I had to dismantle the entire Washington political establishment and rebuild it from the ground up. Otherwise, it was going to take forever for the president to come save me the next time my head got stuck.”
On that day, Bannon swore that he would dedicate his life to reducing the American political system to rubble and rebuilding it in his image.
In order to spread his new political philosophy, Bannon walked 3,000 miles from New York to Hollywood to start making right-wing action movies. He had to walk because he had recently blown up his car in order to scare socialists away from his driveway. It took him nearly 25 years to arrive in Hollywood because he kept forgetting his wallet back in his Manhattan apartment and had to turn back dozens of times, even one time when he was almost through Arizona. When he finally arrived in L.A., the first thing he did was turn the “H” in the Hollywood sign upside down as a symbolic warning that he was literally going to turn the old Hollywood establishment on its head.
While in Hollywood, Bannon made his historic Seinfeld deal and produced a movie called Bannon’s Vengeance. In the movie, a muscular spy named Steve Bannon walks around his neighborhood while dragging a Radio Flyer wagon filled with handguns. The main plot of the movie focuses on a 5-year-old Muslim boy who is secretly an al-Qaeda operative attempting to engineer a new strain of pneumonia that kills Republicans but makes Muslims better at singing. Bannon defeats the Muslim boy by showing him his big wagon filled with guns. The boy sees all of Bannon’s guns and says, “I love how many guns there are. I am a Christian now.” The boy then walks into the desert and finds a tent with Ronald Reagan inside. Ronald Reagan teaches the boy how to play guitar and then eats the boy as punishment for trying to commit a terrorist attack.
In the movie’s closing scene, President Andrew Jackson drives down the highway in a Porsche convertible and tells Bannon, “I came back to life to see all your guns. I love you.” Bannon then climbs into Jackson’s car, and their heads fly off of their bodies and ascend to heaven, while their bodies remain in the Porsche and drive in circles around Washington, D.C., for all eternity as the credits roll.
Bannon’s Revenge was extremely popular among the portion of the American population that suspected that Muslim children were secretly trying to engineer new diseases to help Muslims win singing competitions. This turned out to be one of the largest demographics in America. The movie became the highest-grossing spy movie to ever feature a Radio Flyer wagon and helped spread Bannon’s political viewpoints to a more mainstream audience.
Hollywood had treated Steve Bannon well, but he was forced to leave after he was caught trying to plunge Hollywood into chaos by replacing one of the O’s in the Hollywood sign with a slightly larger “O.” So he took all the money he had made in Hollywood and left. He was searching for a new pulpit from which to preach his wild politics. He needed a new outlet with the capability to reach millions of people all over the world.
Steve Bannon needed to enter the digital age.
Chapter 2: The Breitbart Years
In 2007, a Conservative writer named Andrew Breitbart launched a blog called Breitbart.com, a website he named after himself so that he wouldn’t forget its name. Sadly, he kept forgetting it anyway and spent the first four years of his blogging career typing the words, “What is my website called?” into the address line of Outlook Express emails that he never sent to anybody. Breitbart knew that his blogging career was doomed unless he could find someone to remind him constantly that his website’s name was the same as his own last name. He needed a hero.
He found Steve Bannon.
Bannon first met Andrew Breitbart at a lecture Breitbart gave at the 2008 Republican National Convention called, “I’m Standing Here Weeping Because I Don’t Know What My Website Is Called.” The presentation consisted of Breitbart sobbing onstage while everyone in the auditorium gave him a standing ovation. By the end of his presentation, Breitbart was receiving high praise from many prominent Republicans, including Nancy Reagan, who once referred to Breitbart as “The goblin who will roast me in hell.”
Steve Bannon watched Breitbart’s presentation from the back of the room, and he didn’t just see a frightened, sobbing man receiving a standing ovation from the Conservative elite. He saw a man who could help him change the world.
“Andrew Breitbart was the kind of man who was brave enough to never stop crying until a larger person helped him use the internet,” Bannon tells me as we continue our march down the highway. “I was that larger man.”
“I knew that I wanted to work with Breitbart,” Bannon continues, “so I climbed onstage in the middle of his speech, picked him up, and carried him outside to the parking lot. I strapped him to the hood of my car and drove to his house. I said to Andrew Breitbart, ‘I’m your boss now,’ and Andrew Breitbart said to me, ‘Everyone always says that to me, and they’re always right.’”
A new partnership had been formed. Every morning Bannon would remind Breitbart what his website was called, and Breitbart would write the Conservative commentary that would make him famous.
With Bannon’s help, Breitbart ran some of its most successful articles, including “Illegal Aliens Have Invented A New Type Of Murder Called ‘Double Murder,’ Where They Kill You Twice,” “Bill Clinton Built A Tree House For The World’s Oldest Necklace Thief,” and “Digital Danger: Democrats Have A Secret Facebook Page Where They Train Muslim Immigrants To Make Counterfeit Dave & Busters Tokens.” Traffic for the site went through the roof, and what was once an incomprehensible aggregation website set up by a revenge-fueled lunatic became a badly laid-out news juggernaut completely unfettered by the burdens of the elite graphic design industry.
“I strapped him to the hood of my car and drove to his house. I said to Andrew Breitbart, ‘I’m your boss now,’ and Andrew Breitbart said to me, ‘Everyone always says that to me, and they’re always right.’”
Yet despite Breitbart’s success, many critics were quick to dismiss it as a right-wing tabloid with little journalistic integrity. In order to establish a reputation as a truly respectable news institution, Bannon knew that Breitbart Media needed to break an enormous story—one that would change the world of politics forever. He began to search for a scoop that would cement Breitbart’s name in the annals of journalism history for all time.
He didn’t have to search long.
In 2009, then-New York congressman Anthony Weiner gave a speech to the entire country in which he bragged that a witch had stolen his penis so that she could enchant it into coming to life to do household chores for her in her witch hut deep in the woods. Americans of all races and creeds become extremely jealous that the witch had chosen Congressman Weiner’s penis to come live with her and be her forest butler. Unfortunately, Congressman Weiner was hiding a terrible secret: His penis wasn’t off in the woods folding laundry for a witch—it was right above his belly button where it had always been. Weiner had fabricated the story in order to make the American people jealous.
Sensing that something was awry with Weiner’s story, Bannon and a team of 15 of Breitbart’s most talented reporters disguised themselves as tennis pros and infiltrated Weiner’s Manhattan apartment by telling him that they were there to give him a “16-teacher indoor tennis lesson.” While the 15 Breitbart reporters were distracting Weiner by shouting contradictory tennis advice at him, Bannon snuck away and found Weiner’s laptop. The only file saved on the entire computer was a folder called “PEENOS PICTURES.” Bannon opened it and found 150,000 pictures Weiner had taken of his own penis and emailed to Toyota corporate headquarters in Japan under the subject line “URGENT PENNOS TOP SECRET.”
The next day, the top headline on the Breitbart homepage read, “Penis Man Anthony Weiner Reveals His Secret Ding-Dong In Shameful Way!” Anthony Weiner had been exposed as a fraud. And it was Breitbart news that had broken the monumental story.
Anyone who attempts to disparage Breitbart’s journalistic value will have to contend with the incontrovertible fact that the website was absolutely the first news source to tell the world about congressman Anthony Weiner’s secret plan to show people his penis. A 2010 readers’ poll revealed that more than 86 percent of internet users considered Breitbart the most authoritative source for stories about bumbling congressmen who don’t understand the internet secretly sending pictures of their genitals to people. To this day, the words “Breitbart Media” are practically synonymous with the words “Anthony Weiner’s Penis.” It is truly a legacy to be proud of.
Andrew Breitbart died for no reason in 2012. Under “cause of death” on Breitbart’s death certificate, the mortician just put his pet dalmatian’s paw print. At the funeral, Steve Bannon gave a eulogy where he listed everyone in the company who had been taller than Breitbart. He also accidentally mispronounced Breitbart’s name as “Bible Bat.” Bannon concluded the eulogy by lifting Breitbart’s body out of its casket and throwing it into the congregation. Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh caught the body, and Bannon looked at him and said, “That means you’re the next one to die, jackass.”
With Breitbart gone, Bannon was once again adrift and looking for a new adventure. He had conquered the world of online news, but that wasn’t enough for him. He needed something more.
He needed to conquer America.
Chapter 3: Donald Trump’s Surprise Revolution
In November of 2014, Steve Bannon was watching TV at 3 a.m. when he saw an infomercial for a product called “The Donald Trump Luxury Toothpaste Oven.” The infomercial featured bankrupt casino celebrity Donald Trump attempting to sell an oven designed to make your toothpaste scalding hot before you brush your teeth with it.
During the infomercial, Donald Trump is standing in a luxury penthouse in Trump Tower next to a car-sized oven. He looks into the camera and says, “Hello. My name is Donald Trump, and I know that in order to become a billionaire like me, you have to brush your teeth with scalding-hot toothpaste. That’s why I blast my toothpaste with insane amounts of fire in the Donald Trump Luxury Toothpaste Oven. It turns your toothpaste into the kind of minty lava that will make you a successful businessman like me.”
The infomercial concludes with the oven blasting out the sound of a foghorn. Trump then says, “That sound means my toothpaste is nice and hot,” opens up the oven, climbs inside, and closes the door behind him. He does not emerge from the oven. The Donald Trump Luxury Toothpaste Oven sold more than 90 million units across the country.
“The Donald Trump Luxury Toothpaste Oven was absolutely terrible,” Bannon tells me. “Everyone who used it went to the hospital because they were brushing their teeth with scalding-hot toothpaste. But people were buying it because it had Donald Trump’s name on it. That’s when I realized that the U.S. presidency could work the same way. You put the name ‘Trump’ on something, and people want it, no matter how broken it is. At that moment, I knew I could make Donald Trump the president of the United States.”
Bannon called Trump that same night and asked him if he wanted to run for president. Trump asked if the president of the United States was allowed to eat prawn cocktail. Bannon said yes. Trump announced his candidacy the next day.
Over the course of the election, Steve Bannon played a central role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He served as one of Trump’s leading strategists and used his expertise as a Hollywood filmmaker to create several successful campaign ads that helped mold Trump’s public image.
In one particularly memorable ad, Trump is sitting in a chair in the middle of a field, and his son Eric comes up behind him and stabs him in the thigh with a fork. Donald Trump screams in pain and falls out of his chair onto the ground while yelling, “We have to amputate my leg!” As Trump is screaming, a slogan appears on the screen in red letters: “Vote for Donald Trump because sometimes the man who jams a fork into your leg is just your son, but sometimes… it could be an illegal immigrant.”
In a Gallup poll following the commercial, more than 90 percent of Donald Trump supporters said that prior to the ad, they had never thought about an illegal immigrant jamming a fork into their thigh, but after viewing the ad, it had become their single greatest fear.
Bannon looks back on the now-famous “fork-in-leg commercial” as one his greatest contributions to the Trump campaign. “I have a slogan about politics that I scream all the time,” says Bannon. “The slogan is, ‘Just because a thing has never happened before, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be your greatest fear.’ I think this commercial proved that this philosophy is completely correct.”
The fork-in-leg commercial helped generate a considerable amount of support for Trump’s strong anti-immigration policies.
In another one of Bannon’s more successful campaign ads, Trump is standing in the middle of the street licking honey off of the head of a golf club while the Seinfeld theme song plays. Suddenly, an Aston Martin comes barreling down the street at 150 miles per hour and plows Trump right in his pelvis. Trump goes rocketing into the sky, and as he sails over the horizon and disappears, a voice-over announces, “Donald Trump is so rich that he gets run over by the most expensive cars in the world. Now THERE’S a man rich enough to be the president!”
Trump’s approval ratings immediately shot through the roof. A Gallup poll immediately following the ad asked American voters what they most valued in a potential president. While 15 percent of respondents answered, “Smells good,” more than 70 percent of respondents answered, “Constantly getting smacked in the pelvis by beautiful luxury cars so that I know he’s rich.” Steve Bannon had won another miraculous victory for the Trump campaign.
“Just because a thing has never happened before, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be your greatest fear.”
With Steve Bannon guiding his campaign, Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and went on to face Hillary Clinton in the championships. This would be the greatest challenge of Trump’s political career. Many people thought Donald Trump was doomed to fail, but with Steve Bannon in his corner, it would have been unwise to count him out.
Chapter 4: Donald Trump Vs. Hillary Clinton: The Ultimate Championship Showdown
Almost nobody believed that Donald Trump had any chance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Three months before Election Day, The New York Times ran a front-page headline that read, “Mrs. Clinton Smell Too Nice To Ever Lose. She Smell Like CHRISTMAS SEAFOOD.” The world-famous election monster Nate Silver was so confident that nobody would vote for Trump that he promised if the Republican nominee won the election, he would use dark ancient magic to transform himself into a hot dog. Even Trump’s son Eric got a tattoo on his lower back that featured the words “I cannot believe my loud, angry father lost the 2016 presidential election” written beneath a picture of a skull and crossbones.
The entire world seemed to be counting out Donald Trump, but Steve Bannon was undaunted. He had a plan.
“I was going to portray Donald Trump as a hero for the common man,” Bannon explains to me. “I know the common man. I understand who he is. I’ve watched him work. I’ve listened to his hopes and dreams. I’ve lived under his porch. I’ve eaten the tropical fish out of his aquarium while he was sleeping and put the fish skeletons back in the tank and hoped he wouldn’t notice the difference. I’ve dug up an ancient mummy in his yard, and I kissed the mummy and named the mummy ‘Steve Bannon Sr.’ I know American workers very well, and I know what they like to see in a presidential candidate.”
Bannon set to work fashioning Donald Trump into a populist hero—a champion of the common man. Since he knew that many people living in middle America bought trucks, he instructed Trump to wear a truck tire around his waist like a belt.
While most voters in middle America reported that they didn’t care that Trump had a tire around his waist, the girth that the tire added to Trump’s waistline caused the Republican candidate to become stuck in the door of his campaign bus every time he tried to walk outside. This required local construction crews, mechanics, and electricians to come together to disassemble the bus to free Trump and then put the bus back together. The full-scale operation of getting Trump unstuck from the door of his bus created work for thousands of Americans wherever Trump went.
As he looks back on this incident now, Bannon says that he is convinced that Trump accidentally getting wedged inside his bus is what ultimately carried him to victory in the election.
“Every town Donald Trump went to, he’d get his big tire belt stuck inside of something, and he’d immediately start yelling that paramedics had to amputate his legs. I don’t know why Donald thought that cutting off his legs would help him get unstuck, but Donald Trump’s big, bulky tire body getting jammed in things single-handedly caused a surge in local economies throughout the Rust Belt. None of the Truck Boys went crazy for the big tire, but everybody loved that Trump got jammed in doorways all day long.”
On Election Day, millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump in the hopes that the jobs created by prying him free from narrow doorways on a daily basis would save the struggling American economy. When the polls closed, Trump had defeated Clinton in a shocking upset, and Nate Silver used dark ancient magic to turn himself into a hot dog and a seagull ate the hot dog and then it flew away and no one has seen that seagull again.
Against all odds, Donald Trump was going to the White House. And he was taking Steve Bannon with him.
Epilogue: Steve Bannon At The White House
After hours of walking, Bannon and I at last arrive at the front entrance of the White House. We stand in front of the locked front door, and Bannon pulls a bell out of his pocket. He rings the bell and Stephen Miller, one of President Trump’s leading advisors, comes sprinting across the lawn. “I don’t want to be near you!” Miller yells at Bannon while he runs toward him at top speed. “I hate to be around you! Here I come, sir!” When Stephen Miller reaches us, Bannon lifts him up, holds his body like a battering ram, and swings his body into the White House door over and over until the door is destroyed.
“I use Stephen’s head to break down the White House door every morning,” Bannon explains to me as he throws Miller’s unconscious body into a nearby rose bush. “When I break down the door, it means that I am winning a revolution against the White House every time I come to work. Using Stephen’s head helps us save money on battering rams.”
Bannon leads me into the White House and begins walking toward the Situation Room for his meeting with President Trump. As we walk, he turns to me and says, “People always say that I’m racist just because I don’t think there should be as many Muslims or Mexican people in the country. That’s incredibly unfair. I’m not racist. I just think it’s important to protect real, hardworking Americans like coal miners and the singing lighthouse keeper from the movie Pete’s Dragon.”
Bannon is silent for a moment as we walk through the White House hallways. He sprays Axe Body Spray on a portrait of Ronald Reagan and then speaks again. “Is it racist to say that any Muslim could become a terrorist at any moment? Who can say for sure? All I know is that when I was making movies in Hollywood, one of my films was about a 3-month-old Muslim baby who sneaks into Harvard Medical School so that she can learn how to give Osama bin Laden lip implants. The sneaky infant gives bin Laden huge lips that are the size of his head, and bin Laden uses the big lips to win the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Osama bin Laden spends the Miss Universe prize money to rebuild the Twin Towers just so he can do 9/11 all over again. Some people say that a 3-month-old baby stealing a med school education to give Osama bin Laden huge, alluring lips is impossible. But if it’s so impossible, then how come I was able to think about it happening? Checkmate.”
“When I break down the door, it means that I am winning a revolution against the White House every time I come to work.”
We arrive at the Situation Room, and Bannon throws the door open and looks around. There’s nobody there. “Why is my Yelling Room empty?” Bannon asks. “Where are all the soldiers I get to boss around?” He looks at his phone. There is an email from President Trump. The subject line simply reads, “SOY SAUCE EMERGENCY AMERICA IS CANCELED.”
“It looks like the meeting has been postponed due to an unforeseen conflict,” Bannon says to me. “I have to go take care of this.” Bannon sprints off down the hallway without me to assist the president with his soy sauce emergency. On his way to the Oval Office, he kicks down a door and shouts, “I win again!”
Behind the door that Bannon just kicked down, Newt Gingrich is sitting on the floor reading a book called How To Become A Little Boy Again. Gingrich looks up and yells, “Good kick, Mr. Bannon!” before returning to his book as if nothing at all had happened. Bannon disappears down the hallway in a full sprint, and loose Komodo dragon eggs jostle out of his pockets as he runs.