Title image: Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States Capitol. CC photo by Tyler Merbler via Flickr.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol is expected to sentence former Trump aide Steve Bannon on Oct. 21.
Bannon, who was found guilty on two counts of contempt charges in July, could face up to two years in jail for his refusal to appear for a deposition and produce documents, despite subpoenas from the committee.
Ben Teitelbaum, an expert on alt-right politics and professor of international affairs, has written several books about the rise of the alt-right movement and recorded more than 20 hours of interviews with Steve Bannon for his book War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-right Circle of Global Power Brokers.
Teitelbaum offers insight on Bannon’s role in shaping conservative politics and how his actions surrounding the trial have served to further his political and ideological agenda.
How has Bannon continued to shape conservative politics?
He’s contributed to far-right politics in a number of ways since he left the White House in 2017. One of them has been rather technical and strategic: His podcast The War Room has become a sort of clearinghouse for a particular brand of the right in U.S. politics. If someone wants to be a major part of the “Make America Great Again” movement, they need to debut themselves through Bannon’s podcast.
Bannon has also set a standard for an uncompromising ideological and political agenda on the right. He has been the voice for those who do not want to see compromise or apologies, but rather all of the most extreme, hardcore agendas and actions taken in the name of pursuing the type of political change they want.
Even though he seems to be in real trouble with his career up to this point, Bannon refutes a lot of those people who think that you need to be an elected official to be influential as a politician. He has done so much from outside the standard channels of political power—all while appearing to fail, or appearing to be ridiculous. So much so, that it has convinced a lot of commentators to not take him seriously up to this point. But the Jan. 6 committee takes him seriously.
Why is the House Jan. 6 committee so interested in Bannon’s testimony?
The underlying belief of the Jan. 6 committee is that Bannon played some informal, but nonetheless influential and fundamental, role in bringing together key leaders to plot some sort of response to the outcome of the election.
There hasn’t been a lot of indication that Bannon was formally involved in planning the riot as it took place. But he coordinated his media efforts, it seems, with other high ranking Trump officials in order to accentuate and enhance this feeling among a lot of Trump supporters that there was some existential threat taking place, and that a legitimate response was about to manifest.
So their primary interest in him has been his networking and media influence surrounding those particular days in 2021.
Why do you think Bannon has refused to cooperate?
I see his refusal to cooperate with the committee as being primarily ideological and strategic. It’s ideological in the sense that he does not want to see, nor does he endorse, the legitimacy of a lot of these mainstream foundational democratic institutions, including Congress and the judicial branch as it exists today.
And it’s strategic in the sense that he thinks thwarting their authority for as long as he can, in whatever way he can, will increase his stature and might also lead to a sort of culture of disobedience. If he shows others that you actually don’t have to go along with a subpoena—or at least that you can make it extremely difficult—then more people would follow in his footsteps and you would see a gradual erosion of the authority of the judicial branch.
How is his refusal to cooperate furthering his ideological and political agenda?
It’s perfect because he gets a platform and a stage to perform his contempt for the courts and for Congress. Bannon wants to say there is some sort of collusion between all the branches of government, the media and big business, against Trump supporters and people like him.
And so this is a perfect opportunity for him to perform all of this in front of cameras—to show himself being attacked, persecuted, convicted and likely imprisoned by these forces that he has been saying are unhinged and dangerous. He’s making himself a martyr for the movement and it fits perfectly into his strategically designed narrative.