In February’s Senate trial to impeach and convict Donald Trump for the crime of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the modern GOP had one last shot at rescuing its long-battered image as a responsible governing party. It might have reclaimed something of its former standing as an honest broker in the American two-party system, committed (among other things) to the peaceful transition of power, the conduct of free and fair elections, and each federal lawmaker’s oath to uphold the Constitution. Instead, it chose, yet again, the path of dereliction and impunity, determined to lash itself to the authoritarian leadership of Donald Trump and the white nationalist mob that brought bloodshed and threats of assassination to the halls of Congress in an effort to overturn by force President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
How could a venerable national party arrive at such a disastrous moment of reckoning, and placidly enable the forces of destruction within its own ranks? To get at anything like a strategic account of this process, it’s helpful to revisit the pet historical thesis of Steve Bannon, perhaps the most pivotal intellectual figure in laying out the ideology of Trumpism—and, as we shall see, a lead party propagandist in the run-up to the January 6 insurrection. Exploiting the moral abjection of the GOP leadership, Bannon has primed his far-flung audience of white nationalists and government-bashing militants for revolt, and is pleased to descry in the resulting mayhem the Fourth Turning of the Republican Party—which he is apparently hoping will spark in turn the Fourth Turning of the United States of America, if not the world.
Allow me to explain. The Fourth Turning is the historical “season” in which we presently find ourselves, according to Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, authors of the enthusiastically Bannon-endorsed 1997 book of the same name. Fourth Turnings, we’re told, are not very nice, but they are necessary in order to clear the ground for the coming High season of transformation (a cyclical First Turning) that will precede a fuller moment of social Awakening (a Second Turning).
The authors have constructed a circle-in-a-spiral kind of pop-sociological system of history. Like many futurist tracts, it’s adopted an exceedingly long and vague time horizon for the kinds of change it prophesies, conveniently engineered to make it appear as though the crisis point of the last 80 to 100 years is poised to happen right about now. If there’s a time to rend and a time to sow, now, they tell us, is the time for rending.
Other than his famous “platform for the alt-right” at Breitbart News, Bannon has never built much of anything. His past tours as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and producer in the entertainment industry were classic nonproductive adventures in the kind of rent-seeking capitalism that he nowadays professes to deplore. Bannon is far better at tearing things down, busting stuff up—so much so, in fact, that he’s devoted his late career to the proposition. It’s not hard to see why The Fourth Turning’s apocalyptic, quasi-mystical vision would appeal to the likes of Bannon; it offers the perfect rationalization for sociopathic behavior. He’s not breaking stuff for the thrill of it—he’s executing history’s larger plan for all of us, playing his part.
And so it was that Bannon placed himself at the center of the organizing effort that culminated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. From his podcast’s YouTube channel, which claimed 330,000 subscribers before the platform shut it down permanently on January 8, Bannon aired the strategic rhetoric that inspired the insurrection in plain sight—in much the same way that he transformed Breitbart News on his watch into the unofficial campaign arm of Trump’s 2016 presidential run. However, the podcast is still distributed on Apple Podcasts, where it ranked #60 in the United States on February 1, according to the analytics service Chartable; in mid-January, Bannon claimed the podcast had 29 million total downloads, according to ProPublica. In November, his podcast’s Twitter account was permanently suspended after he called for the beheading of FBI Director Christopher Wray and infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, and the mounting of their “heads on pikes” on White House grounds.
To plumb the mystery of Bannon’s outsize influence, it’s important to keep in mind the recent history of the right-wing takeover of the GOP. Liberals have long made the error of viewing the Republican Party as a stable entity, when in truth it has been anything but for the last 60 years. Its history since 1964 has been one of fight after fight waged by right-wing organizers to seize the levers of power, fights that couldn’t help but prompt fissures in the party. That’s the year that Phyllis Schlafly published her campaign tract, A Choice Not an Echo, in favor of the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, who went on to win the party’s nomination, much to the horror of the country-club establishment. Riding on the wings of the Red Scare and the backlash to the civil rights movement, Goldwater lost the election in a landslide to President Lyndon B. Johnson, but his candidacy granted the right a foothold in the party.
The later history of the right’s ever more belligerent and confrontational rise to power within the GOP is by now well known—from Richard Nixon’s “law and order” pitch to white grievances in the South and urban North to Ronald Reagan’s embrace of the evangelical New Right to Pat Buchanan’s insurgent runs for the presidency in the 1990s.
In 1996, I saw a glimpse of this decades-long power struggle at the GOP’s national convention in San Diego. Party delegates were booing Colin Powell, military hero of the first Gulf War and then one of the most popular figures in the country, from the convention floor. His sin? He believed in a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. The campaign season that led up to that moment had been contentious, thanks to Pat Buchanan’s primary run. Buchanan had shocked everyone in the Iowa caucuses, coming within a few points of beating Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, and went on to win the New Hampshire primary.
Although Dole ultimately won the nomination, his candidacy was gravely weakened by Buchanan’s challenge, and by the time they got to the nominating convention, Buchanan was threatening to march his delegates out of the convention, and to run on a third-party ticket. In order to keep the peace, party leaders handed control of much of the GOP platform to the leaders of Buchanan’s campaign—his sister and campaign manager, Bay Buchanan, and co-chair Phyllis Schlafly—together with the then–executive director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed.
Four years later, as George W. Bush, scion of the country-club Bush dynasty, rose to national leadership in the GOP, he did so wearing cowboy boots and naming “Christ” as his favorite philosopher and thinker. John McCain and Mitt Romney, in their later failed runs at the presidency, would have done well to take a page from W’s book.
In the spring of 2018, Steve Bannon was on the other side of the Atlantic, hopping from country to country, enjoying stays at five-star hotels, and hoping to finish the job of busting up the European Union, by pulling together the far-right parties of member states. This latter project was jump-started with a vengeance in 2016, when U.K. citizens voted by referendum to exit the EU. Bannon had taken a hand in the pro-Brexit campaign as it was getting off the ground in 2015, via Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining political combine where he sat on the executive board, and the exuberant help of his far-right friend Nigel Farage, who would emerge as the referendum’s best-known spokesman. The scheme worked out well for Bannon—it ultimately served as a beta test for a similar use of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 Trump campaign, on Bannon’s watch.
For Bannon, candidate Donald J. Trump was the perfect Fourth Turning vehicle. Above all else, Trump was a destroyer. He might even destroy America. But the really smart money was on the near-certainty that he would destroy the Republican Party.
Although Trump is no conservative, it was the movement conservatism of Phyllis Schlafly and her confederates that made his successful 2016 run at the presidency possible. For conservatism was never much more than greed and bigotry opportunistically dressed up in a high-minded set of moralistic “principles,” such as personal responsibility and individual liberty. By 2016, the driving forces of the conservative mindset were sufficiently rooted in the GOP that, as Trump proved, it was possible to win by throwing over the ritual and formalistic appeal to principle and running on pure animus. And so it was that Trump won the endorsement of Schlafly, even traveling to St. Louis in March that year to receive his knighting by the queen of movement conservatism. (Schlafly’s endorsement of the Great Divider kicked up dust not only in the GOP; it also created a rift among her own children.) In September 2016, Trump returned to St. Louis with Bannon for Schlafly’s funeral.
Soon after Trump’s 2016 election victory, Bannon declared himself to be an “economic nationalist.” The following year, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon—now Trump’s chief White House strategist—pronounced economic nationalism to be a principal aim of the new administration, together with the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In other words, the agenda was to bust up global alliances and trade deals, and take a wrecking ball to government institutions.
By 2019, though, Bannon was in a more precarious place. Pushed out of the White House in 2017, he positioned himself to be a kingmaker in the December 2017 Alabama special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat, choosing to back former judge Roy Moore, who was revealed, in the course of the campaign, to have sexually harassed teenage girls when Moore was in his thirties. (Moore denies the allegations.) Bannon never flinched, only to see a seat that should have gone to a Republican fall to the Democrat Doug Jones. Surely, he would have preferred for Moore to win. But for Bannon’s purposes, the Democrat’s win was likely preferable to that of Moore’s GOP primary opponent, Luther Strange—a more conventional Republican who would have helped consolidate the political fiefdom of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Bannon famously despises. Better to let the GOP fall, then grab the spoils and continue with the burn-it-all-down plan. The moment demands it. “History is seasonal,” said Neil Howe, co-author of The Fourth Turning, in Generation Zero, a film written and directed by Bannon. “Winter is coming,” he added, ominously.
To move in tandem with the accelerating rhythms of historical change, the ever-restless Bannon set out for Europe. He’d fallen out of favor with both the White House and his original political patrons, Robert and Rebekah Mercer, for intemperate comments he made about the Trump family to journalist Michael Wolff. So he was now seeking to make his mark on the Continent by helping the far-right parties of Europe take a chunk of the seats at stake in the 2019 European Parliament elections, offering his political counsel to the likes of France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini, and the leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland party. He dreamed of seating enough far-right Parliament members to form a voting bloc—apparently failing to account for the difficulties in getting nationalists from various countries to work together.
While the feared far-right sweep of those elections did not come to pass, the far-right parties still netted around 25 percent of the Parliament’s seats, better than they had ever done before. It wasn’t a home run by any means, but it was still a respectable showing—which Bannon himself hailed as a death knell for the EU’s globalist governing elite. “The integration movement which is what the EU has always been about is dead,” Bannon told Agence France-Presse the day after the election results were announced. Typically, Bannon was putting himself at the vanguard of radical right-wing change when the results on the ground looked to be far more equivocal; it’s not at all clear that his expat political strategizing created much of a difference in the final balloting.
Bannon spent the final stretch of the EU campaign ensconced at Paris’s Le Bristol hotel, the kind of place where a simple lunch will set you back $100. In the lobby, seven gigantic vases of fresh peonies the size of softballs stood arrayed on a console table under a crystal chandelier. Bannon’s suite reportedly cost $6,000 per night.
It thus seemed a rather puzzling act of pseudo-populist slumming when, in September 2019, Bannon made a surprise appearance at the Marriott St. Louis Airport to address the annual gathering of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, an event known as the Eagle Council. But Bannon was keen to return to his traditional role as soothsaying prophet for the armies of Trumpist reaction.
The Eagle Council confab is typically a modest affair, populated by a few hundred acolytes of the late anti-feminist leader, many of them in their golden years. In a room divided from the main ballroom, three dress forms were arrayed in frocks from Schlafly’s wardrobe, displayed with other Schlafly-ian memorabilia—a kind of shrine to the woman they simply call “Phyllis.” During the daytime sessions, life-size cardboard cutouts of Donald and Melania Trump had graced the stage.
Bannon arrived just as attendees were gathered into the ballroom for dinner and an awards ceremony. There he delivered a rant against the Chinese Communist Party, before moving to the topic at hand: the coming presidential election. “The 2020 campaign will go down as the most vitriolic and nastiest in American history,” he predicted. “It’s very simple. We win, we save the country. We lose, we’re gonna lose this country. Every generation, the 13 or 14 generations that have come before us have bequeathed this to us. It’s on our shoulders. A hundred years from now, they’re gonna talk about this.”
A hundred or so years from now, according to Strauss and Howe, the United States will endure yet another Fourth Turning. The nation’s first Fourth Turning, in their telling, was the period of the American Revolution. Following the Civil War and World War II, we are currently living in the period of America’s fourth Fourth Turning. A Fourth Turning is always a crisis, they wrote. It “does not specifically require total war,” they state, “but it does require a major discontinuity or ekpyrosis—the death of an old order and a rebirth of something new.”
“What we need to be is as tough as boot leather—as Phyllis Schlafly was,” Bannon concluded.
It was a message that Bannon’s audience was primed to hear. What’s more, the true believers assembled in St. Louis a year and a half ago included nearly all of the crew that would later drive Trump’s Stop the Steal campaign. Political operative Ali Alexander, dirty trickster Jack Posobiec (now a host at One America News Network), Bannon sidekick Raheem Kassam, and utility player Scott Presler had all claimed spots on panels at the event; self-described former liberal Brandon Straka conducted a session of his own. Also on hand were an editor and reporter from The Epoch Times, the media outlet linked to China’s persecuted Falun Gong movement that has suddenly become a multiplatform force in right-wing media. Eagles president Ed Martin, a Bannon associate, was conducting the whole show.
After Bannon spoke, the Eagle Council solemnly proffered an award to Viktor Orbán, the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary whom Bannon had hoped in vain to enlist in his bloc of far-right parties in the European Parliament. In a gesture of goodwill, Orbán sent his U.S. ambassador to the St. Louis airport hotel to accept the award. (Among Orbán’s many authoritarian initiatives, Bannon and others on the far right have doubtless savored his purge from Hungary of the Central European University, founded by billionaire native son George Soros; Soros’s Open Society foundation also shuttered its Budapest offices, reportedly in response to Orbán’s persecution campaign.) On a panel the next day, Raheem Kassam, the co-host on Bannon’s podcast, War Room: Pandemic, blamed Soros for his family’s financial collapse in the 1990s.
After his ostracism by Trump and the Mercers, Bannon seemed eager to return to Trump’s good graces. This, too, was a feint straight out the Fourth Turning playbook. Strauss and Howe label baby boomers as a “Prophet generation” that is now “entering elderhood.” And within that generation, they say, there will emerge a “Gray Champion” who is both an omen and an avatar of the spirit of a Fourth Turning. You don’t have to squint too hard to see Steve Bannon immodestly auditioning for that role. “This elder possesses little worldly power but supernatural gifts of magic and access to the gods,” Strauss and Howe explain.
Still, Bannon is savvy enough to know that supernatural gifts of magic only get you so far—to really set the gears of destruction in motion, you need to harness your high-flown prophetic insights to the machinery of worldly power. In March 2019, just before he embarked on his European sojourn, Bannon created a group called Committee on the Present Danger: China, reviving the name of a famous neocon Cold War think tank. Bannon had always been a China hawk, but now he saw in the emerging geopolitical superpower a vehicle for smearing Joe Biden, whom GOP operatives were already reckoning would be Trump’s most effective opponent in the 2020 presidential election. At a meeting of the group in New York shortly after its forming, Bannon delivered a rambling speech about Biden’s alleged business deals in China. Trump was gearing up to peddle a false narrative of the circumstances by which the younger Biden happened into a very lucrative contract with the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, using Rudy Giuliani as his personal investigator. Not to be outdone, Bannon floated the China narrative.
Bannon’s pivot into full-scale Sinophobia, like many of his other ideological investments, also served his self-interest. Decrying the excesses of China’s genuinely dictatorial one-party leadership helped to nurture Bannon’s relationship with a new global patron: Guo Wengui, the fugitive billionaire Chinese businessman who now makes his home in New York.
Guo likes to paint himself as a dissident who fled the oppression of the evil Chinese Communist Party in 2014, when the CCP brought corruption charges against one of his close business associates. But the mogul has a pronounced authoritarian streak of his own: He’s been reported to dispatch his minions to harass legitimate dissident members of the Chinese diaspora in the United States.
Bannon wasted little time insinuating himself into Guo’s favor. The New York Times reported that Guo lent $150,000 to Bannon on the heels of his 2017 departure from the White House. Later, Guo would contract Bannon for at least $1 million worth of “consulting services,” Axios reported. Bannon also made use of Guo’s private plane, ProPublica reported. And in August 2020, when federal agents arrested Bannon for fraud stemming from a fundraising campaign ostensibly devoted to Trump’s border wall with Mexico, he was taken into custody while aboard Guo’s yacht, anchored off the coast of Connecticut. Fourth Turning or no, Bannon now really needed Trump’s attention; he needed a pardon.
Guo, who also goes by Miles Guo or Miles Kwok, has built a media empire of his own in GTV, a Chinese-language propaganda vehicle for Guo’s own views, aimed at Chinese immigrants in the United States. That campaign overlaps with the kindred anti-China offensive mounted by the Falun Gong movement, a spiritual-political community that’s been purged from the Chinese mainland. An entity with ties to Falun Gong is believed to own The Epoch Times, though no one seems to know for sure. One thing is certain, however: Over the course of the Trump presidency, The Epoch Times has grown from being a newsprint giveaway to a multiplatform right-wing media juggernaut—pushing the Spygate conspiracy theory (which holds that President Barack Obama illegally spied on the 2016 Trump campaign) and seeking to discredit the Mueller report on the Trump campaign’s relationship to Russia’s hacking of the 2016 presidential election, among other headlong lurches into the conspiracy-minded right. Some of the accounts linked to The Epoch Times have promoted the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that Democrats, Hollywood leaders, and other influential figures are running a ring of Satanic pedophiles, and that Trump is positioning himself behind the scenes to conduct mass arrests and executions of them all. According to The New York Times’ Kevin Roose, The Epoch Times achieved its now-substantial reach using a sophisticated Facebook strategy involving bots and fake accounts.
Bannon also seems to have forged an alliance with the Rod of Iron pro-gun religious movement led by Sean Moon, son of the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose performance of mass weddings under the aegis of his Unification Church provided a cult spectacle in the 1970s and ’80s. The younger Moon’s Pennsylvania-based Sanctuary Church houses a congregation that conducts rituals while holding assault rifles. Sean Moon is often photographed wearing a crown made of shell-casings.
On October 11, 2020, less than a month before the election, Bannon appeared by video link to a gathering convened by Moon. Less than a month out from Election Day, he touted a vote-theft, Pennsylvania-based conspiracy theory to the crowd, in apparent anticipation of a Trump loss on election night in the Keystone State.
“What the left intends to do—and you’re seeing it in Pennsylvania right now—[is] use the courts, use social media, use the mainstream media to try to make sure Trump is not declared the winner that night,” Bannon said. The Trace reported that Bannon falsely stated that “‘uncertifiable’ mail-in ballots would be used to ‘steal the presidency’ away from Trump.” Bannon then bucked up the crowd. “Look, we’re going to win this thing,” he said. “Pennsylvania is the key that picks the lock for a second Trump term.”
As he often does, Bannon was leveraging an emerging consensus taking shape on the far right, turning an inchoate meme into a central campaign theme. As early as September, Ali Alexander, who has since become infamous for cheerleading the January 6 insurrection, was reviving an old Roger Stone slogan, “stop the steal,” according to reporting by Jared Holt.
“In the next coming days, we’re going to build the infrastructure to stop the steal,” Alexander told viewers of a Periscope video he posted to his (since de-platformed) Twitter account. “What we are going to do is we’re going to bypass all of social media. In the coming days, we will launch an effort concentrating on the swing states, and we will map out where the votes are being counted and the secretary of states.”
It didn’t take long before his comrade Jack Posobiec chimed in with a tweet that was hashtagged #StopTheSteal. Not surprisingly, Alexander didn’t keep to his pledge to bypass social media, instead unleashing a steady torrent of posts and messaging to organize nationwide Stop the Steal rallies.
As Election Day neared, Bannon was again at the center of the action on the insurgent right, and plainly relishing his role. The 2020 election eve edition of Bannon’s podcast, War Room: Pandemic, featured future Trump attorney Sidney Powell, who duly floated conspiracy theories about shady election practices while assailing FBI Director Christopher Wray. (Powell has a Bannon-like grudge against Wray, thanks to his alleged role in the convictions of Arthur Andersen and Enron executives in fraud cases after she represented them.) Bannon promised his audience that Sidney Powell would be appointed to head the FBI the next night, when Trump won the election—unless, of course, the Democrats were to steal it. “We know you vote by the pound, down in Philadelphia, you vote by the pallet, right?” Bannon asked. Then he and Kassam, calling in from just outside Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, primed the audience for trouble ahead.
Inquiring of the locals, Bannon asked, “Do they really understand that tomorrow night’s just the kickoff of a process that’s going to be brutal?”
“I don’t think people are clued up right now just to the extent of the cheating that we can expect from the Democratic Party after election night,” Kassam replied. Bannon suggested, in his trademark glee over the prospect of institutional collapse, that there would be knife fights “in the canvassing rooms” over the certification of ballots. It almost looks in retrospect as if Bannon had access to the Trump campaign’s internal polling, and knew the incumbent president was going to lose.
Three days later, with the election still uncalled but trending away from Trump, Bannon took to his podcast to tell his audience that they were facing the same kind of decision taken by the nation’s founders in 1776—to pledge their lives and sacred honor for the goal of revolution. In his disquisition, Bannon compared himself to John Adams, then invoked once more the Strauss and Howe schema of historical transformation.
“We’ve gone through this before,” Bannon said. “This is an inflection point, it’s a Fourth Turning; this is an inflection point. Didn’t tell you it’s going to be easy; it’s not going to be easy. All you have to do is have [Trump’s] back.”
Just two weeks after the election, Bannon teamed up with Amy Kremer, a longtime political operative who chaired the Tea Party Express PAC as Bannon was making his mark as the chief propagandist for the Tea Party movement. The old comrades would now co-sponsor a bus-tour road show of rallies under the aegis of her current group, Women for America First. The bus featured the logo for Bannon’s podcast, together with that of the MyPillow company, whose CEO, Mike Lindell, is a major Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist. Lindell was among those calling for Trump to declare martial law in the wake of Biden’s victory, which he claimed was fraudulent. Kremer quickly created a Facebook page titled “Stop the Steal,” as did Bannon. But Bannon was slick enough to quickly change the name of his page to Own Your Vote—which wouldn’t be identified as disinformation by Facebook’s algorithms.
As did Ali Alexander, Kremer began planning a series of Washington, D.C., rallies to gather Trump supporters at the Supreme Court, Freedom Plaza, the National Mall, and the Ellipse, the park just south of the White House. Counting from mid-November to January 6, Alexander and Kremer mounted at least six rallies in the nation’s capital, and others in the capitals of tightly contested swing states.
The first two major D.C. rallies took place on November 14, drawing thousands to Pennsylvania Avenue, including white nationalists, Proud Boys, and QAnon followers alongside regular old MAGA people. As day turned to night, clashes erupted between members of the Proud Boys neo-fascist group and anti-fascist activists.
Reporting from the street, Right Wing Watch’s Kristen Doerer caught a bit of Alexander’s speech to his followers. “Next week, start lobbying the state legislatures of Pennsylvania, of Wisconsin, of Michigan, of Arizona, and of Georgia. We’re going to tell them to ignore the rigged elections and send Republican electors to the electoral college, or we’re going to deprive both candidates of 270,” Alexander said, referring to the number of electoral votes required to win the presidency. “Then we’ll send it to the House of Representatives where Donald J. Trump will win.” He later exhorted the crowd to “terrify this town.”
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the freshman congresswoman and QAnon enthusiast from Georgia, picked up where Alexander left off: “This is only the beginning. The Democrat Party is the party of socialism, the party of riots, the party that wants to murder babies up until birth and make taxpayers pay for it. They’re the party that wants to take away your guns.”
A week later, Georgia attorney Lin Wood—another of Trump’s legal allies in the effort to overturn the election—appeared on Bannon’s podcast. He reprised Bannon’s riffs on the Revolutionary War: “I think the audience has to do what the people that were our Founding Fathers did in 1776. I think you’ve got to pledge your life, your money, and your sacred honor so that generations that come after us can live in freedom. I don’t believe the people trying to take over our country are going to let go when it’s exposed that the election was a fraud. I think there are plans in place to try to do other things to try to take over our government.” Playing to the tried-and-true sweet spots of hard-right conspiracy-mongering, Wood fingered the chief villain in the election steal as “old George Soros.”
Meanwhile, Alexander had taken to social media to threaten swing-state legislators with primary challenges if they refused to call special legislative sessions to choose new, presumably pro-Trump electors. “We’re giving the party an opportunity to come back to its base without burning it down immediately, but we’re willing to burn it all down,” he said in a since-deleted Periscope video posted on December 1.
In early December, Bannon pals Sidney Powell and Lin Wood took part in a Georgia rally that rocked the Republican Party. Through a collection of coincidences, elections for both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats had gone into runoff elections now scheduled for January 5. Party control of the Senate hung in the balance; if both Republican incumbents, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, lost their races, control of the chamber would fall to the Democrats. At that press conference, Wood told rallygoers not to turn out to vote in that special election. The presidential election results in Georgia were fraudulent, he and Powell both alleged, so why would you bother to vote in another rigged election?
Also on hand at the December 2 rally was Ali Alexander, who later defended Wood, prompting a social-media spat with Posobiec. Soon Mike Cernovich, a central purveyor of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that later spun out into QAnon, chimed in on Alexander’s behalf. “You think Ali Alexander cares about the GOP leadership? He was never treated well,” Cernovich said in a video post. “How do you have a mutiny? You don’t take care of people … and they turn on you.”
Meanwhile, there were another few rallies to plan, and lawsuits to file. Sidney Powell launched multiple lawsuits challenging election procedures in a number of different jurisdictions, composing briefs that were riddled with typos and unceremoniously thrown out by the respective courts.
Ed Martin of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles collaborated with a December mobilization by the Jericho March—a group of evangelically aligned Trump supporters who, as in the biblical saga that furnished the event’s name, sought to bring down God’s wrath on a wicked city. They staged mass intercessional prayers on Trump’s behalf while marching around federal buildings seven times. In the run-up to the big D.C. marches and rallies, Martin either promoted or helmed a series of smaller events to keep the #StopTheSteal fervor bubbling in Washington. On December 8, Pastor Sean Moon arrived at the Supreme Court with his Rod of Iron crew, who chanted “Stop the steal!” while brandishing a wide array of patriot regalia.
Alexander and Kremer each had scheduled Stop the Steal rallies on the same day, December 12. Maskless, shouting hordes of Trump supporters returned, just as Covid-19 cases were spiking in the city. Mike Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was a big hit—especially with the QAnon crowd he had nurtured on social media—at the Women for America First rally that took place in Freedom Plaza. Alexander’s rally on the National Mall, co-sponsored with the Jericho March and the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, was emceed by right-wing talk-show host and evangelical writer Eric Metaxas. Among those who spoke from the podium was Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia group, who called for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law rather than let Joe Biden take office. If Trump failed to seize power by force, Rhodes said, Oath Keepers and the like-minded would have to do it for him, in what he called “a much more bloody war.” The Proud Boys were also on hand, and later that night a fight broke out on the sidewalk outside their favorite D.C. bar. Four people were stabbed.
Meanwhile, Trump was becoming more desperate. In the White House, he entertained extreme proposals from Bannon pals Powell and Flynn to disrupt and overturn the election. Powell suggested that Trump declare a national emergency and give her a security clearance in order to get to the bottom of an election-changing plot she imagined, without any evidence to support it, to have been originated in election-rigging schemes mounted by the government of Venezuela.
Come January, Bloomberg News was reporting that Trump was taking Bannon’s calls, seeking advice on how to overturn the election in his favor. Trump’s rhetoric increasingly fell in line with Bannon’s narrative constructions. “So in Pennsylvania you had 205,000 more votes than you had voters…,” Trump said at the January 6 rally on the Ellipse, echoing the unfounded claims from Bannon’s podcast. “And this is a mathematical impossibility, unless you want to say it’s a total fraud. So Pennsylvania was defrauded.”
On January 5, as thousands of Trump fans, many of them armed, began streaming into D.C., Bannon told his podcast audience, “All hell will break loose tomorrow. It will be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is strap in. Tomorrow is game day. So many people said, ‘Man, if I was in a revolution I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.” He also solicited donations to the bail fund for Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the Proud Boys, who was arrested upon his arrival in D.C.—both for burning a Black Lives Matter banner on display outside a historically Black church during the December 12 action, and for running afoul of the city’s gun laws by trying to smuggle in two large-capacity magazines for rifles.
The next day, Trump delivered the infamous speech at the Stop the Steal rally that members of his campaign staff had planned with Amy Kremer. Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a prominent right-wing organizer, tweeted her love for the rallygoers. Before Trump had finished talking, his supporters were battling police at the Capitol building, determined to stop Vice President Mike Pence from performing his ceremonial and constitutional duty to accept the electoral votes delivered by the states.
The day of the insurrection at the Capitol, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s private attorney and a frequent guest on Bannon’s podcast, used his minutes at the rally podium to call for “trial by combat.” But on his podcast that day, Bannon stepped back, advising his listeners to “color inside the lines.”
By this time, however, the lines were invisible to the insurgent mob. Ali Alexander posted a Periscope video of himself overlooking the hordes of Trumpers heading toward the Capitol, saying, “I don’t disavow this.”
Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy who co-sponsored the Women for America First bus tour with Bannon, visited Trump in the White House on January 15. A photographer captured the meeting notes in Lindell’s hands; the words “martial law” appeared in the notes, as did the name of Sidney Powell.
Bannon finally was granted his pardon on January 19, just as a bitter and recalcitrant Trump was packing up. From his Mar-a-Lago compound, the former president continues to peddle his false story of a stolen election, just as Bannon continues to do on his podcast. The rest of the country is still sorting through the trauma and the untold long-term damage to our political system wrought by the events of January 6—an uprising that was in no small part the brainchild of Steve Bannon and his movement allies.
From his podcast studio, or in a moment’s reverie aboard a borrowed yacht or private plane, Bannon is likely pondering the bigger picture, and congratulating himself for advancing the foreordained collapse of the decadent old order. “These are times of fire and ice, of polar darkness and brilliantly pale horizons,” Strauss and Howe wrote in The Fourth Turning. “What it doesn’t kill, it reminds of death. What it doesn’t wound, it reminds of pain.”
Special thanks for the research of Madeline Peltz at Media Matters for America.