We All Should Have Listened to Steve Bannon - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because if Trump had listened to his former chief strategist about the pandemic, our world might look a lot better.

By Melissa Rossi

  • The former White House chief strategist, now charged with fraud, was spot-on with his early warnings about the coronavirus.
  • But given his anti-China bent and declared propensity to “flood the zone with shit,” few took him seriously.

Until Thursday, when federal agents escorted him off a 150-foot yacht moored in Long Island Sound, the word often used to describe Steve Bannon was “irrelevant.” Oh, the former chief strategist of the Trump White House has been busy, frenetically so: He broadcasts a daily coronavirus-focused podcast War Room: Pandemic, oversees the Committee on the Present Danger: China and chairs the $100 million Rule of Law Fund, which investigates the disappearances of Chinese public figures. And still he found time to partake in We Build the Wall, a “volunteer” effort to erect a border structure not far from El Paso with $25 million in private donations, “not a penny” of which would go to anything but the wall.

Few followed his activities, especially the press. Viewed as a media whore, Bannon by 2020 was a washed-up snore: The only platforms that paid him any attention were Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures and CNBC’s Squawk Box, where he often appears, calling coronavirus “the CCP virus” — a reference to the Chinese Communist Party, which Bannon blames for obfuscating the reality about the pathogen — and warning about the dangers of Chinese-owned companies Huawei and TikTok. Even when the GOP commissioned a 57-page strategy memo that appeared to be a compilation of Bannon’s blame-China talking points and even after President Donald Trump’s Bannonesque move toward banning TikTok in the U.S., the media still yawned at mention of his name; if it came up, it was typically in reference to his directive to distract from PR woes by “flooding the zone with shit.”

That changed this week, when Bannon was arrested, hauled into federal court in Manhattan and charged with fraud for allegedly siphoning off more than a few pennies from the We Build the Wall fund. Pleading not guilty and promising to surrender his passport, he was released on a $5 million bond and strutted out of the New York courthouse, waving at the assembled cameras.

Far from appearing like someone worried that he could be facing 20 years behind bars, Bannon looked ebullient: He was back in the game, again worthy of front-page headlines.

In March, Bannon called for a complete and total shutdown, hoping to “smash the curve.”

As the Wall Street Journal reported only the day before, Bannon is also under investigation for business dealings with controversial Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui — on whose yacht Bannon was arrested — and who underwrites the Rule of Law Fund and Bannon’s podcast, blasting it through China’s firewall.

Now that Bannon is spiking on the newsworthy charts, the media is having a field day, slamming him as a fraudster, shyster, liar and crook, reveling in his alleged dubious financial dealings detailed in the 35-page indictment.

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Steve Bannon on “Real Time With Bill Maher.”

Across social media, Bannon’s arrest was met with elation by Trump’s most ardent detractors — as if the charges slapped on Bannon, who as CEO of the Trump campaign in 2016 is credited with getting The Apprentice showman into office, were being slapped on the president himself.

But Bannon is not Trump: While the latter rarely appears to grasp complexities such as China and the coronavirus, Bannon has shown prescience with both. Starting in the first weeks of this year, he began loudly ringing the alarm about coronavirus, warning it would become a pandemic that could kill millions and would cripple the global supply chain and crush the world economy. Few listened, save his friend Peter Navarro, who like other White House advisers tunes into Bannon’s podcast, and who in late January wrote a memo warning of a potential coronavirus disaster, a memo which his boss didn’t bother to read.

The clue that this new disease, which Bannon’s podcast first reported on in late December, was way bigger than China was letting on, Bannon says, was when the Chinese government took the unprecedented step of canceling the Lunar New Year celebration.

Suspecting Beijing was covering up the reality of coronavirus — an act he told me constitutes a “biological Chernobyl” — he predicted that China would “vacuum up all the personal protective equipment” from the world market, worsening the fate for other countries as it spread.

Realizing that “the world wasn’t prepared,” and the press “was dropping the ball,” he tried drumming up media interest, forecasting that coronavirus, which then appeared to be contained in Wuhan, would be “the issue that 2020 pivoted on.” He interviewed epidemiologists, virologists, China experts, economists and manufacturers of personal protective equipment on his podcast. Few seemed to notice.

As architect of the Muslim travel ban, foremost defender of dropping out of the Paris climate accord, an adviser to far-right groups in Europe and a loud advocate of “the Wall,” Bannon had already flooded his own zone with so much shit that nobody was listening when this time he had news of actual importance.

In early February, Bannon flew to Los Angeles to appear on Real Time With Bill Maher, believing he would be talking about COVID-19 and what the U.S. needed to do to prepare. Once there, though, Maher wouldn’t let him touch the subject. Instead, the host pummeled his guest with combative questions about Trump, whom Bannon staunchly defended. Maher concluded by saying, “I wish we had someone on our side as evil as you, Steve.”

When the World Health Organization announced in March that the coronavirus was indeed a pandemic, and cases began spiking in the U.S., Bannon called for a complete and total shutdown — one that would have banned all international travel, travel between states, even shipment of most goods, hoping to “smash the curve.” He was laughed off as alarmist, though just this week White House coronavirus task force chief Dr. Deborah Birx said she wished the U.S. had taken such a route, as Italy did. So it’s lamentable that back when the COVID-19 pandemic could have been slowed, few heeded Bannon’s call. While his podcast has made iffy claims — among them heralding hydroxychloroquine as an effective COVID “therapeutic,” speculating that the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab and lambasting Dr. Anthony Fauci — the high-caliber guests assured that listeners could sift out informational gems.

Now that’s less likely: The podcast, while still taking aim at China — and legitimately questioning the rise of companies such as Huawei, which has become a bipartisan concern — has devolved into a cheering section for Trump and a forum to attack Joe Biden. And given Bannon’s indictment, the zone will surely be flooded with conspiracies about the so-called deep state. It’s a shame with all of that flooding, we may miss it again the next time he’s actually onto something.

Melissa Rossi writes about geopolitics, travel and larger-than-life personalities.

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