Steve Bannon

Once an M&A banker at Goldman Sachs, Steve Bannon struck gold by investing in “Seinfeld,” before a pivot to politics took him all the way to the White House, as an adviser to President Trump in the early days of his administration. He’s one of the moving forces behind the rising populist movement harnessing just disaffection among the working and middle classes, turning it into nationalism, anti-credentialism and votes. Bannon is a classic American snake oil salesman: whip smart, self-interested, erudite and able to weave together solid verifiable facts, astute socioeconomic insight and well placed bullshit in real-time. Like most of the smartest guys of this type, the Dorian Gray personal aesthetics of younger days gets layered over by indulgence and debauchery. Bannon is American, so it’s steakface and slicks taking him through middle age. I like Bannon.


A post-Trump venture has landed him in trouble: Mr. Bannon was arrested and charged with defrauding investors in We Build the Wall, a private fund-raising initiative to build a wall along the Mexican border. Mr. Bannon pleaded not guilty and was released on a $5 million bond. He’s not been charged. Who else was associated? We Build the Wall partners, directors and contractors include some noteworthy grifter names. Three of Mr. Bannon’s business partners in the venture, who were also arrested, had a history of monetising Trump-related causes Timothy Shea, who sold a Trump-themed energy drink, Brian Kolfage, a Iraq War veteran who sold ads on pro-Trump websites he created, Anthony Badolato, a self-described venture capitalist, whose entrepreneurial efforts included SinoFresh Healthcare, a nasal spray company he created with Mr. Bannon.

We Build the Wall’s board members included: Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater USA, the private military company involved in a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad. (The company has since renamed itself Academi.) Mr. Prince, brother of the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, now heads a private equity firm, Frontier Services Group. Frontier’s chairman is a powerful Chinese businessman, Chang Zhenming, a notable connection given Mr. Bannon’s strong anti-China rhetoric. Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, who also worked on Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team. Curt Schilling, the World Series-winning baseball pitcher.

We Build the Wall’s contractor, Fisher Industries, confirmed to DealBook that it was retained for a 2019 project near El Paso, Texas. Its C.E.O., Tommy Fisher, pitched for private and government contracts tied to Mr. Trump’s wall-building efforts via frequent appearances on conservative news outlets. A Fisher company signed a $400 million deal in December, and the Pentagon’s inspector general began a review of the agreement shortly thereafter.

Mr. Bannon was arrested on a yacht owned by a fugitive Chinese billionaire. The 150-foot yacht was off Westbrook, Conn., when boarded by law enforcement officials. It is owned by Guo Wengui who is sought by Beijing for extradition from the U.S. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Guo worked together on GTV Media, which is reportedly under investigation over a $300 million private fund-raising round earlier this year.