Steve Bannon Is Rallying MAGA World Before Prison Sentence

Steve Bannon Is Rallying MAGA World Before Prison Sentence

Stephen K. Bannon was sitting in the back seat of an S.U.V. on a pleasant Friday evening in Powhatan, Va., enjoying what could be his last weeks of freedom.

A day earlier, Mr. Bannon, the onetime adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, had been ordered by a federal judge to surrender by July 1 to begin serving a four-month prison term for disobeying a congressional subpoena.

But there was never a question about whether he would show up as scheduled to headline a rally in rural Virginia for Representative Bob Good, the chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. This kind of thing — this kind of crowd — is what he lives for.

“This is ‘War Room,’” Mr. Bannon said proudly as he watched rally goers carrying lawn chairs and blankets spreading out to hear him speak. He was referring to the influential podcast he streams from his Capitol Hill basement for four hours every weekday.

He was going to need to find some guest hosts to keep it all going in his absence. But Mr. Bannon, who has long reveled in his infamy, insisted that his impending imprisonment would only make him stronger. He framed it as the ultimate act of patriotism by a MAGA warrior whom the government was bent on silencing in the months leading up to the presidential election.

“There’s no downside,” Mr. Bannon said. “I served on a Navy destroyer in my 20s in the North Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. I’m serving in prison in my 70s. Not a bad book end.”

Many Americans might disagree with Mr. Bannon’s definition of patriotism; he was convicted of contempt of Congress in 2022 for refusing to testify to the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021 attack at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

But he is entirely unapologetic.

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Bannon snapped when pressed on whether he should have cooperated. “I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of the fact that I stood up to Nancy Pelosi.”

Mr. Bannon’s main concern now is for the future of the movement he has helped foster through his show. There, listeners are known as “the posse” and Mr. Bannon preaches to them endlessly about all of his obsessions: the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump; what he calls the “criminal invasion” of the southern border; the out-of-control federal budget; the insanity of sending aid to Ukraine; and the “uniparty” Republicans in Congress who have become indistinguishable from Democrats.

“‘War Room’ is not a podcast,” Mr. Bannon said. “It’s a military command center for the information war, and it will continue to be that.”

Mr. Bannon said he had spent years training himself mentally through meditation and was unconcerned about enduring life in prison.

“I have a very strict regimen in my life,” he said. “Prison will have a routine and tasks, and I’m nothing special, so I will do whatever is required. But there is zero chance I don’t keep ‘War Room’ focused on the only thing that matters: Total victory.”

Mr. Bannon was here in this quiet conservative community surrounded by rolling farmland to stand with one of the eight Republicans he egged on to oust Kevin McCarthy from the House speaker post last year. Mr. Good was banking on Mr. Bannon’s support to help counter the potentially crippling fact that Mr. Trump has endorsed his opponent in an ugly Republican primary that is splitting the MAGA movement.

It was a rare thing for Mr. Bannon to campaign for a candidate Mr. Trump is opposing, and his presence was a big get for Mr. Good — especially since Mr. Bannon suddenly has very limited time for these kinds of activities.

As he took the stage, Mr. Bannon, dressed uncharacteristically in just one black button-down shirt under his jacket, received a standing ovation and was greeted like a martyr for the cause.

“Steve Bannon bears in his body, figuratively speaking, the marks of patriotism, freedom,” Mr. Good said. “He’s literally put it all on the line for the country.”

Mr. Bannon told the crowd not to feel sorry for him.

“Prison is not going to be that bad,” he said. “It’s just serving my country in a different way! I’m proud of it.”

Mr. Bannon has other legal troubles ahead. State prosecutors in Manhattan have accused him of misusing money he helped raise for a group backing Mr. Trump’s border wall. His fraud trial is scheduled to take place later this year.

As he sat in his S.U.V. ahead of the rally, Mr. Bannon was determined to see the silver lining.

“They’ve made me much bigger than I am,” he said of the Democrats, the courts and the “deep state,” shadowy government forces who he portrays as determined to squash him. “They can’t help themselves. I trigger these guys to a level that other people don’t. President Trump triggers them, but they think he’s too big a target. They can’t get to Lenin, so they want Trotsky.”

He noted that even the hosts of “Morning Joe,” the left-leaning MSNBC morning show, had pointed out that the timing of his sentence was notable for taking him off the air until after the election.

“The timing is to take me off,” he said. “100 percent.”

During a week full of D-Day commemorations, Mr. Bannon compared what was happening to him and the conservative movement to what happened to the Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy.

“My message to people is, ‘Next man up,’ ” he said. “This happened on 6th of June in Normandy. It’s next man up. They’re going to sentence Trump to prison on the 11th. It’s got to be next man up.” The upside for the movement, he said was that his listeners would learn what populism really meant: rising up to take the mantle themselves, not leaning on the biggest leaders of the movement to do it for them. “You got to get the training wheels off,” he said.

So what are his plans for his last few weeks of freedom?

“Do ‘War Room’ four hours a day,” he said. “Do more things like this to help people. If July 1 comes and the appeals haven’t come, then I’ll do what I’m ordered to do. I understand how the system works.”

“‘War Room’ will be even better,” he added, “while I’m in prison.”

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