What does Stephen Bannon really believe? Because he hasn’t spoken much in public since becoming, as Time magazine puts it, “the Second Most Powerful Man in the World”—he’s the president’s influential chief strategist and now a member of the National Security Council’s principals committee—analysts have focused in recent weeks on two main sources as clues to his thinking. The first is a speech he gave via Skype in 2014 to a conference inside the Vatican, where he called on “the church militant” to fight against the “new barbarity” of “jihadist Islamic fascism,” and praised the Tea Party movement as the leading edge of a “center-right revolt” against crony capitalists and the “party of Davos.”
“There is a major war brewing, a war that is already global,” he declared in the speech, the transcript of which was helpfully published by Buzzfeed. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”
A second source of Bannon’s thinking, mined most recently by reporters at USA Today and The New York Times, have been his comments on a daily radio show he ran as part of his Breitbart News empire until taking over the reins of Trump’s presidential campaign last summer. In these programs, Bannon’s ideas often appear as the premises for questions that he poses to his interviewees. For example, in March 2016, he asked author Lee Edwards, “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to ten years, aren’t we?” Talking to his Breitbart colleague Thomas Williams, he made reference to “an expansionist Islam,” “an expansionist China,” and a “Judeo-Christian West on the retreat.” In December 2015, he told anti-immigrant activist Rosemary Jenks that “most people in the Middle East, at least 50 percent, believe in being Sharia-compliant” and that for those people “the United States is the wrong place for you.”
These statements tell us much about what Bannon believes, but to form a complete understanding of his worldview—if you want to understand why he has such a dark appraisal of the world and where he wants to take the United States—turn to his work as a documentary filmmaker. Before he joined Breitbart News as a founding member of its board, Bannon made several documentaries as both producer and chief writer, including In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed (2004), Fire from the Heartland: The Awakening of the Conservative Woman and Battle for America (both 2010), The Undefeated (about Sarah Palin, from 2011), and Occupy Unmasked (2012), a piece of agitprop that tried to defame the Occupy movement as a conspiracy spawned by groups as disparate as the Earth Liberation Front and the Black Panther Party.