Now that Steve Bannon has been temporarily or permanently sidelined by President Donald Trump, his nationalist allies — people who formerly identified as “alt-right,” but now reject that label as it has become synonymous with white supremacy — are debating what their man in the White House did wrong and what he might do to salvage the situation. One of the key questions up for debate is whether Bannon should have made better use of ideologically sympathetic media outlets — when he ran Breitbart News, he described it as “the platform” for the alt-right — to get out his side of the story.
“He really doesn’t talk to all of us outside who would be inclined to help him,” said Charles Johnson, who asked to be identified as a “Bannon ally and entrepreneur.” The editor-in-chief of GotNews.com, the flame-haired media flame-thrower may be better known for getting kicked off of Twitter and for his lawsuit against the now-defunct Gawker.
The chief strategist to the president might have done better job of holding onto power, the thinking goes, if he were talking to those who want what he wants and have the benefit of seeing things the way they appear outside of the bubble of his “war room,” the name Bannon’s given his West Wing office.
“He has a lot of friends out on the internet who love him, but we are all still waiting for him to unleash the beast,” Johnson said. He added that Bannon had never been in touch with him and his cohorts, and that he “should mobilize us but he is playing too nice.”
A source close to the White House agreed with Johnson that Bannon needs to change if he wants to survive. “He’s not achieving anything! What’s he achieving? He’s a zero. He’s incompetent!” the source said. “He doesn’t get back to the people at the Daily Caller. He doesn’t get back to the people at Infowars,” the source said, “I don’t care what you think of their politics, they reach millions of people. Why would you not respond to them?”
Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars’ editor-at-large, told me he’d never been in touch with Bannon but disagreed that it was a problem, saying he should “concentrate on running the country.” Of course, the president himself has been in contact with Infowars’ founder, Alex Jones, appearing on his radio program via Skype during the campaign and speaking to him privately thereafter. (Jones, who is in the midst of a theatrical custody battle in court, didn’t respond to a text message seeking comment.)
Now, as with all matters that require talking to the people both populating the current administration and propping it up, there is the risk that this particular argument is more diversionary than literal — that accusing Bannon of ignoring controversial, far-right nationalists is in fact a means of protecting him.
“If we were lying, how would you know, right?” Mike Cernovich said, addressing that question directly.
A social-media agitator known for spreading conspiracy theories about “Pizzagate” and Hillary Clinton’s health during the election who now says he’s “new-right” or “American nationalist,” Cernovich also claims that Bannon “doesn’t talk to anybody.” He said proof of Bannon’s lack of communication with nationalists was Breitbart’s coverage of the administration, which has been both sporadically critical and seemingly out of the loop. “That’s why Breitbart missed the Susan Rice thing,” he said, “that kind of says it all.” But Cernovich didn’t miss the Susan Rice thing — in fact, he broke the story that, during her stint as a national-security adviser to Barack Obama, Rice had requested from classified intelligence reports the names of officials associated with the Trump campaign — implying that he, at least, has some highly placed sources. (Asked to disclose where he obtained the scoop, he didn’t respond.)
Still, Cernovich doesn’t accept the prescription of his ideological confrere Johnson — he sees too much downside for Bannon in talking to alt-right journalists. “It’s gonna create drama,” he said. “Bannon should definitely not talk to anybody.”
Keep in mind though that Cernovich claims he didn’t even know who Bannon was “until, like, nine months ago.” He says he learned of him through Joshua Green’s Bloomberg profile — which came out in October of 2015, or 18 months ago. (Cernovich remembers his first impression: “Wow, this guy’s a G.”)
In some ways, the question of whether Bannon should be cultivating more allies in the press is part of a larger debate over his operating style in the White House — which is to operate in isolation. “I’m not doing this to have friends,” he told me. “I don’t socialize a lot, I don’t bring people into my life. This is like being in the Navy, this is like a duty. I don’t enjoy this every day. This is not living; this is a kind of existence.”
Though he brought into the White House some of his own staff — Julia Hahn from Breitbart; Andrew Surabian from the Tea Party Express and Alexandra Preate, his personal flack — he has spent little political capital fighting for high-level strategists with whom he could align in ideological disputes.
He has also, according to a source close to the president, “not weighed in on behalf of nationalist appointments or principles.” The source added, “I don’t care what he says: He never objected to the bombing in Syria — never. Tells people he did, but that’s a fucking lie. My source is as high as you can go.” Bannon did not respond to a text about Syria, and when I ran into him in the West Wing on Friday afternoon, he darted off before I could ask a question.