What Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump's chief strategist means

An influential alt-right figure is now heading for the White House. 


Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

If anyone is still doubting that Donald Trump, the President-elect of the United States, won at least in part because of his divisive rhetoric on race, look who he picked as his chief strategist.

Stephen Bannon, 62, is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, viewed widely as the online news outlet of the "alt right" - an internet-savvy movement which has attracted white nationalists, men's rights activists and accusations of Islamophobia. 

Bannon started his career as an investment banker, but he moved to Hollywood and began working as an executive producer. He directed and wrote several films with a specifically right-wing focus, including The Undefeated, a 2011 film about Sarah Palin, and Occupy Unmasked, a 2012 film attacking the Occupy movement. 

That year, Bannon was appointed executive chairman of the Breitbart News parent company. Breitbart News was originally founded as a “pro-Israel, pro-freedom” conservative news aggregator, but during Bannon's tenure, white nationalists have flocked to it. A Twitter analysis by the Investigative Fund found 31 per cent of prominent social media influencers using the hashtag #whitegenocide followed Breitbart. Headlines during Bannon’s time included one calling Republican Bill Kristol “regenade Jew”. An article on the columnist Anne Applebaum declared: “And hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”

In the summer, Trump appointed Bannon as his campaign manager, to white nationalists' delight. And while the ensuing months would contain personal scandals for the Republican presidential nominee, his eventual win has left Bannon in the driving seat.

So what motivates Bannon? It seems to be a genuine anti-establishment feeling, coupled with personal views – his ex-wife has called him anti-Semitic, although he denies it – and a love for making headlines. He has talked warmly about how investigative journalists who may not share his politics can nevertheless be encouraged to write articles furthering his cause if given the right information. 

Trump's decision to appoint Bannon has sparked fury, but in the longer term it may give media previously considered to be on the edges of the right a veneer of respectability. Meanwhile, Bannon has an ear for populist rhetoric that is unlikely to go to waste. 

As an investment banker, Bannon learnt that putting yourself forward meant taking the flack. “Find a business partner,” he told Bloomberg in 2015. In Trump, Bannon has certainly found one. 


Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.