Who Is Steve Bannon? Here's What You Need to Know About Donald Trump's Chief Strategist

Study up, because he'll play a key role in the Trump White House.

Stephen K. Bannon
(Image credit: Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump named some very important White House positions (opens in new tab) over the weekend. His selection of one of his campaign managers, Stephen K. Bannon, to chief strategist and senior adviser immediately stirred controversy. Like Trump, Bannon is a Washington outsider who has never been elected to office, and he is most known for running a controversial website. Here's what you need to know about Bannon:

1. Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an "alt-right" website.

Breitbart News is a divisive right-wing opinion and news outlet, known for offensive headlines (opens in new tab) like "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew," "Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate," and "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy." According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (opens in new tab), the site promotes racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant ideas, and it has been accused of white nationalism (opens in new tab), a movement that opposes multiculturalism and believes in the supremacy of the white race. Bannon, who is on leave from Breitbart, described his ideology to Mother Jones (opens in new tab) as "nationalist," but not necessarily white nationalist. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke called Bannon's selection "excellent," (opens in new tab) and Peter Brimelow, who runs the white nationalist site VDARE, called it "amazing."

Bannon, who has been with the site for about a decade and ran the business out of the basement of his D.C. townhouse, according to a Bloomberg profile (opens in new tab), told Mother Jones about the site, however, "We're the platform for the alt-right." According to NPR (opens in new tab), "The views of the alt-right are widely seen as anti-Semitic and white supremacist."

The site was hugely successful during the 2016 presidential campaign, thanks to social media. On election night, Breitbart's Facebook page had the fourth-highest number of user interactions on the whole platform, beating CNN, Fox News and the New York Times, according to the New York Times (opens in new tab).

2. He started a nonprofit to investigate politicians.

Bannon is the founding chairman of Government Accountability Institute, or GAI, a nonprofit that investigates politicians and delivers findings to mainstream media outlets, like Newsweek and ABC News, according to Bloomberg.

GAI's president, Peter Schweizer, wrote Clinton Cash as well as thee-book, Bush Bucks. Clinton Cash—which looked at donations made to the Clinton Foundation, a topic of constant attention during Trump's campaign—was later made into a documentary.

3. He served in the U.S. Navy.

Bannon signed up to serve right after college, spending four years at sea, according to Bloomberg. His daughter Maureen followed in his footsteps, attending West Point and then serving as a lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division.

4. He grew up in a family of Democrats in Norfolk, Virginia.

And he goes after Republicans, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, as well as attacking Democrats, like the Clintons.

"I come from a blue-collar, Irish Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats," Bannon told Bloomberg. "I wasn't political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter f---ed things up. I became a huge Reagan admirer. Still am. But what turned me against the whole establishment was coming back from running companies in Asia in 2008 and seeing that Bush had f---ed up as badly as Carter. The whole country was a disaster."

5. Bannon worked at the investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Though Trump's campaign promised to go after big banks, Bannon worked for one of the biggest.

After leaving the Navy, Bannon earned a master's degree in national security studies at Georgetown University and then went on to Harvard Business School before landing an investment banking job at Goldman Sachs' New York offices.

"The camaraderie was amazing. It was like being in the Navy, in the wardroom of a ship," he told Bloomberg.

After leaving that bank in 1990, he started Bannon & Co., a boutique investment bank specializing in media. The bank was eventually bought and Bannon is no longer affiliated.

6. He has Hollywood ties.

When he ran his own investment bank, Bannon invested in films, and he eventually made the leap to directing movies, like In the Face of Evil, a celebration of the Ronald Reagan administration, and The Undefeated, a 2011 documentary about failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

7. He said progressives vilify conservative women because they're not "a bunch of dykes."

During a 2011 radio interview, Bannon said women like Ann Coulter, Michele Bachmann, and Palin threaten the progressive narrative.

"That's why there are some unintended consequences of the women's liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn't be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England," he said (opens in new tab), referring to historic women's colleges. "That drives the left insane and that's why they hate these women."

8. He's been wanting to shake up the Republican Party for years.

Breitbart News cheered on the Tea Party, a wing of the Republican Party, in its early years and supported the 2013 government shutdown, according to Bloomberg. In fact, in 2010, Bannon said in an interview (opens in new tab), "What we need to do is bitch slap the Republican party."

9. He was charged with domestic abuse.

In 1996, Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and dissuading a witness, though the case was ultimately dismissed, according to a police report and court documents obtained by Politico (opens in new tab).

The case was brought by his then-wife, who claimed Bannon pulled at her neck and wrist, then smashed her phone when she tried to call the police. His ex-wife did not appear in court and Bannon pleaded "not guilty," so the case was dismissed.

10. His ex-wife has accused him of being anti-Semitic.

The same wife who accused Bannon of abuse said in 2007 court documents that he didn't want their daughters to go to a particular school because of the number of Jewish students enrolled.

"The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend," she said in her 2007 statement, according to the New York Daily News (opens in new tab). "He said that he doesn't like the way they raise their kids to be 'whiny brats' and that he didn't want the girls going to school with Jews."

A spokesperson for Bannon told the Daily News: "At the time, Mr. Bannon never said anything like that."

11. Bannon's site Breitbart News has regularly attacked Planned Parenthood, going so far as to compare their work to the Holocaust.

In an August 2015 article headlined "Planned Parenthood's Body Count Under Cecile Richards is Up to Half a Holocaust," the author writes that the women's health organization, which provides a range of health services including abortions and which Trump has threatened to defund, has "comfortably surpassing Hitler according to its own annual reports. You have to admire the chutzpah, if you'll forgive my terminology: Planned Parenthood has amassed a Third Reich-style death count completely legally."

12. The Anti-Defamation League opposes Bannon's appointment.

The ADL released a statement over the weekend explaining why the group "strongly opposes" Bannon's appointment.

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13. Those from the left and the right have come out against Bannon holding the new role.

A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement (opens in new tab):

President-elect Trump's choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump's White House.It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide. Bannon was 'the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill,' according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Others spoke out on Twitter:

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Meanwhile, Trump supporters have continued to defend Bannon.

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Kate Storey
Kate Storey

Kate Storey is a contributing editor at Marie Claire and writer-at-large at Esquire magazine, where she covers culture and politics. Kate's writing has appeared in ELLE, Harper's BAZAAR, Town & Country, and Cosmopolitan, and her first book comes out in summer 2023.