Joshua Green, author of “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency,” explains how “Seinfeld” residuals and online gaming contributed to Stephen Bannon’s rise in politics and how he became Trump’s chief strategist. Following is a transcript of the video.
Bannon is a fascinating character. He kind of came out of nowhere. He’s from a Navy family in Richmond, Virginia. He served in the Navy. He kind of basically talked his way into Harvard Business School and a job at Goldman Sachs.
After Goldman Sachs, he started his own boutique investment bank Bannon & Company and he was trying to broker a sale of Castle Rock Entertainment, which owned the rights to “Seinfeld.” He was trying to broker a sale between Westinghouse and Ted Turner and when Turner got the table, it turned out he was a little short of cash and rather than let the deal fall apart, Bannon and his partners agreed to take residuals in five television shows, including “Seinfeld,” in exchange for their cash fee. At the time, “Seinfeld” was like in its second or third season, wasn’t a big deal, Bannon thought it was going to be the runt of the litter. As we all know, it became a hit and he has since made about $US2.5 dollars.
Bannon had actually spent about a year in the mid-2000s in Hong Kong as the CEO of this bizarre video game company. The company didn’t actually make video games, what it did was try to profit from something called gold-mining, where you have players go in to these games, win gold and special armour and prizes, and then go sell it to gamers in the real world so they can kind of cheat and skip ahead a couple of levels.
This was a serious business, it was actually backed by Goldman Sachs, but it crashed and went bankrupt because the gamers themselves who weren’t cheating became enraged basically that these other people were doing, they put so much pressure on the gaming companies. The gamers organised themselves on these “World of Warcraft” message boards. They put so much pressure on the video game companies, that they decided to basically ban gold-farming, which killed Bannon’s business, but it awakened him to the power of what he called “rootless white males” who spend all their time online. And five years later when Bannon wound up at Breitbart, he resolved to try and attract those people over to Breitbart because he thought they could be radicalized in a kind of populist, nationalist way. And the way that Bannon did that, the bridge between the angry abusive gamers and Breitbart and Pepe was Milo Yiannopoulous, who Bannon discovered and hired to be Breitbart’s tech editor.
From the time I met him in 2011, he’s had exactly the same politics. The same stuff you heard from Trump, you saw on the campaign trail. What he was looking for was a vessel because nobody in Republican Washington believed in these kinds of ideas. The whole trend in the Republican party was toward liberalizing immigration laws, passing comprehensive immigration reform. He was against it. Very big into the idea of populism and Palin had emerged from the 2008 election as kind of the populist Tea Party champion. So originally, Palin went to Bannon and said, “Hey, you’re a filmmaker, you’re a conservative guy. Would you shoot some commercials for me, some kind of videos?” And Bannon, as he is prone to do, got whipped into a frenzy. Wound up spending about $US1 million of his own money to produce this elaborate Palin documentary called “The Undefeated,” which he thought was going to be Palin’s vehicle to run for the presidency. In fact, the first time I ever travelled with Bannon and Palin was to Pella, Iowa to debut that film. Everybody in the national media was there. Andrew Breitbart was there. Sarah Palin was there because we all thought this was the wink wink launch of the “Sarah Palin for President” campaign in 2012, but when that thing kind of crashed on the launchpad, Bannon moved on to other people and eventually wound up with Trump.
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