Bannon Wants to Destroy Our Democracy. He Must Be Prosecuted
For those who study authoritarianism, Steve Bannon's refusal to respond to the subpoena issued by the Congressional committee tasked with investigating Jan. 6 is hardly a surprise. Bannon's aim is to destroy our democracy, and responding to a subpoena issued by a democratic judiciary would affirm the legitimacy of a system he seeks to overthrow.
Bannon had big dreams to become a little Duce in Italy, training Europe's next right-wing "gladiators" in an Italian monastery, but that project failed. Now he's back in America, which in his mind is the new frontier of autocracy. He already feels empowered to discard the rule of law and respect for judicial process. "We control the country. We've got to start acting like it," he said recently on his War Room podcast about his plan to prepare tens of thousands of "shock troops" for an anti-democratic takeover of government once the Republicans return to the White House by legal or other means.
Of course, had Jan. 6 gone Bannon's way, the Biden administration would have been killed "in its crib," or rather, never been born at all. His overheated rhetoric reflects his frustration. Bannon likely thrived in the feverish conspiratorial atmosphere of November 2020-January 2021, when defeated President Donald Trump tried everything to remain in office, settling finally on a violent assault on the Capitol meant to interrupt certification of Biden's victory. "All hell will break loose tomorrow. It will be quite extraordinarily different," Bannon told his podcast audience on Jan. 5. "All I can say is strap in."
All hell did break loose, but Biden was inaugurated anyway. So Bannon and his cronies have a new plan, which draws on old right-wing knowledge of how to destabilize a sitting democratic government. It goes like this: You create a sense of crisis and impending Socialist tyranny so that the climactic authoritarian action, whatever it looks like, is accepted as restoring "order," and "freedom." That's likely what Bannon means when he claims that the Biden administration's own "incompetence and illegitimacy" will bring about its demise.
It's worth noting that Bannon is defying the subpoena at Trump's request. He is indebted to Trump, who pardoned Bannon in the last hours of his presidency. He's most valuable to Trump as a propagandist, and when he strings along Trump devotees by claiming that their leader could be reinstated in "2022 or maybe before," he's doing exactly what Trump pardoned him to do.
For the creators of the Trumpcult have a problem. 2024 is too far away to satisfy the angry demands of Trump's base for action. Even the 2022 midterms are a year out. Without a catalyzing event, it can be hard to keep up momentum. That's why many authoritarian leaders, including Mussolini, who Bannon admires, have made "permanent revolution" a propaganda point.
And that's why our political situation will become more volatile over the next year, and all bets are off after the midterms, whichever way the votes land. Bannon has already floated a scheme that hinges on making Trump Speaker of the House, and then president once Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris are impeached — a prospect sufficiently alarming to prompt Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) to introduce a bill to restrict the speakership to House members.
The gravity of these possibilities, and Bannon's openness about his seditious aims, make concerns that an eventual Department of Justice prosecution of him might look "partisan" misplaced, to say the least. So are fears that pursuing Trump and his inner circle could lead to civil unrest. We've already experienced unrest, on Jan. 6, and the only way to avoid an even bigger calamity is to hold the organizers and perpetrators of the deadly coup attempt accountable.
The Biden administration must use the coming months to act vigorously and communicate that it will punish those who seek to overthrow the government -- starting with Bannon. Holding him in contempt of Congress, and prosecuting him to the fullest extent the law allows, is the only option to protect our democracy.