White House strategist Steve Bannon’s previous career as CEO of Breitbart News was marked by itinerant living. “No presidential adviser in recent memory has followed such a mysterious, peripatetic path to the White House,” writes New York Times reporter Robert O’Harrow in a long piece published yesterday. “It was as though he was a man with no fixed address.”
While earning a salary of $750,000 a year — a figure that O’Harrow is the first journalist to reveal — Bannon kept three different households spread around the country while also staying frequently in London and New York.
Manhattan is where Robert Mercer, the New York hedge fund billionaire and Breitbart News investor, lives. But before he died, Andrew Breitbart had lived and worked in Los Angeles. Named CEO in the wake of Breitbart’s death, Bannon kept his properties in Southern California so as to manage the website closely.
But California is expensive for people with Bannon’s means, so he also set up an income tax shelter in Florida with Diane Clohesy, his third ex-wife. Bannon registered to vote and opened utilities accounts at the Miami, Florida address, but never appears to have shared the residence with Clohesy.
Instead, she lived with at least one other man, alarmed the neighbors with loud and obnoxious behavior, got herself arrested in a scheme to smuggle drugs and a cell phone into the county jail, and turned the property into a shabby mess. O’Harrow:
Padlocks had been placed on interior doors — or the doors had been removed altogether. A hot tub was destroyed.
“[E]ntire Jacuzzi bathtub seems to have been covered in acid,” the landlord wrote in the February 2015 email to Bannon.
“I’m out of town,” Bannon replied. “is there any way u can talk with Diane and sort things out ???”
The damage was estimated at more than $14,000, according to an accounting by the landlords, who kept the $9,800 security deposit from Bannon and Clohesy.
Bannon could not be bothered to visit in person because he was too busy building up real political power. Unlike the website’s namesake founder, Bannon was not solely focused on publishing content that challenged liberal democracy. For Bannon, it was not enough to build Breitbart.com into “the platform for the alt-right,” as he told Sarah Posner, or to build an audience out of what had been the right wing fringe. He had much greater ambitions of bringing racist, anti-immigrant, Christian chauvinist, and masculinist politics into the mainstream, empowering the worst elements of American society to affect political change in their image.
To that end, Bannon spent much of his time in a Washington, DC townhouse around the corner from the Supreme Court. The so-called “Breitbart Embassy” served as his news bureau in the nation’s capital, hosted infamously debauched parties, and became the website’s de facto headquarters during its first phase of international expansion.
This is where O’Harrow stops — and further reporting becomes necessary. For as anyone could tell at the time, but supporters of liberal democracy have only begun to comprehend since November, Bannon’s vision of a white nationalist order was never limited to the United States.
During 2014, he opened a new Breitbart office in London to support the new UKIP party in its drive to end United Kingdom participation in the European Union. But it was his choice to create the Breitbart Cairo vertical that puzzled observers, for it seemed to contrast sharply with the steady stream of anti-Muslim, pro-Israel propaganda on the website.
There were two reasons for Bannon’s interest in Cairo. First was that the most rabidly anti-Muslim members of congress, including Reps. Michele Bachmann, Steve King, and Louis Gohmert, had by then developed a close affinity for the 2013 coup that had thrown the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party out of power. On the American right, the Muslim Brotherhood had become the central object of conspiratorial narratives about terrorism and Sharia law.
The second reason was much stranger, and has yet to be explored by American journalists: the Washington, DC “Breitbart Embassy” is owned by an Egyptian billionaire named Mustafa El-Gindy.
In the very different environment of Egyptian politics, El-Gindy is what passes for a liberal. He despises the Muslim Brotherhood, yet his most notable legislation as a member of parliament would have established the traditional galabeyah robe as the official male attire of Egypt. Breitbart has used him as a source of comment on Egyptian politics many times, though such articles never acknowledge his relationship to the website as landlord of the “Embassy.” It’s not clear just how much time El-Gindy even spends in the United States, or how he came to know Bannon. But the most likely answer is that they met in the high-flying world of international capital that Bannon has inhabited ever since his days at Goldman Sachs.
This background informs our understanding of Bannon’s new efforts to open Breitbart offices in Paris and Berlin, where he hopes to push far-right parties into power, sweeping away the liberal order and crushing European unity. That these changes would advance the interests of Vladimir Putin’s Russia specifically, and corrupt oligarchy more generally, speaks to Bannon’s abiding interest in making the world safe for tax-dodging billionaires by empowering the politics of hate.
Put another way, the traits that have made Steve Bannon the most dangerous political operator in America are also making him the most dangerous political hack on earth. The violent shabbiness of his personal life is a window on the world he wants to create. Compared to that, Robert O’Harrow’s focus on questions about Bannon’s residency and voting registration seem inconsequential — a distraction from his terrifying intentions, which are key to understanding his movements in recent years.
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