“What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order.”
(Steve Bannon to the Washington Post )
Before Twitter. Before Facebook. Before cable news. Before the worldwide web. Before the “information age,” we had newspapers, national magazines, broadcast television, mainstream AM/FM radio, public libraries, and a relatively simple roadmap that informed our vision of world events as we engaged in heated but civil discourse on all matters political and religious.
In 1965, as a law student at the University of California, Berkeley, I wrote a statement, signed by many of my classmates, in support of the Free Speech Movement. The FSM was tearing the campus apart and drawing national attention. Last week, 52 years later, the campus was again the scene of riots and destruction. As before, it was based on the right of students to listen to a controversial speaker advocating a set of unpopular views. We were observing another Berkeley-esque challenge to the First Amendment.
If you followed news of the “riots, you know that the speaker asserting his First Amendment rights was a right wing provocateur from Breitbart News. This is an important piece of the puzzle that we are struggling to piece together in the opening days of the Trump presidency.
The first step in deciphering the puzzle is understanding the concept of agent provocateur. This old fashioned, French, compound noun conjures up dark thrillers from the past like Orson Welles’ The Third Man and Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps and Joseph Conrad’s novel, The Secret Agent.
But, agent provocateurs are not just characters in old films and classic fiction. They are active in our current political life. Do the names Julia Hahn, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Miller, and Milo Yiannopoulis ring a bell with you?
Yiannopoulis’ may sound familiar, because it was his invitation to speak that was the precipitating cause of the recent Berkeley riots and earlier ones at the University of Washington. The Berkeley appearance was cancelled at the last minute when a group of protesters, led by 100-150 black clad, hooded, anarchists arrived on the scene where they lit fires, broke windows, and caused havoc at the Student Union near UC’s Sather Gate. The original protest, which began peacefully, was meant to draw attention to the white supremacist, anti-Semitic, rhetoric of the Breitbart News editor and his support of President Donald Trump, but he and the anarchist demonstrators were able to turn the tables. Suddenly the media focus was on the protesters for not honoring American First Amendment values. Another example of the disruption strategy at work and an example of an agent provocateur in action.
An agent provocateur is a person who commits, or who acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. An agent provocateur may be acting out of their own sense of duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (such as a peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime, thereby undermining the protest or demonstration as a whole. (Wikipedia)
Berkeley is a textbook case for decoding how an agent provocateur functions. The Berkeley College Republican organizers knew full well that Mr. Yiannopoulis’ speech would draw a large protest and likely some violence. They were aware that any violence would reflect badly on the protesters rather than on the white supremacist rants of the speaker, a classic instance in which the provocateur entices others to commit acts that will discredit the actors. A political organization or government often uses agents provocateurs against political opponents.
I have never been a conspiracy theorist (except perhaps in the disappearance of George W. Bush’s military service records), but I am becoming one in the early days of the Trump presidency. It’s fair to say that I was appalled at the Trump campaign and devastated by the election results though I wasn’t a Clinton advocate. And, while it’s true that I was aghast at the outcome I still didn’t fear for the future of the republic. That has now changed. Only ten days into the new administration I believe our democracy is in peril. And… Trump is not the culprit. He’s the dupe.
I won’t taunt you with a narrative about Trump’s lack of qualifications for the presidency. Suffice it to say that I have no respect for his intelligence or his putative love for America. His words confirm only that he craves adoration and is deeply troubled by the fact that despite his election to the presidency he is still regarded unfavorably by the majority of Americans. Did he think adoration came with the office?
It is increasingly clear to me that Donald J. Trump is simply a sidebar to the conspiracy I see unfolding. The central character is former Navy officer, Harvard MBA, Goldman Sachs banker, movie producer, media executive and Machiavellian manipulator.
Stephen Bannon is that character, the person most responsible for the Trump victory. The great mystery is how he was able to insinuate himself into the campaign hierarchy and rise to the position of chief strategist? It’s not clear how the two men got to know each other. On the surface they seem unlikely allies – the flamboyant, self-promoting, real estate developer and the behind the scenes alt-right manipulator – but as early as 2015, while chairman of Breitbart News, and long before the campaign gained real momentum, there was evidence of Bannon’s interest in the campaign. In August of 2015, in an email to a Breitbart colleague he asserted “I’m Trump’s campaign manager.” When asked if she could forward the email, he asked her not to though the email was later made public. It wasn’t until a year later in August of 2016 that he officially associated himself with the campaign and his role more public.
So what’s the conspiracy? Here it is… with supporting evidence. Bannon is an alt-right nationalist. It can be argued that he’s also a white supremacist, anti-Semite, wife beating misogynist (see the reports on his 1997 divorce), but all of that may be incidental to his bigger plan to destabilize and realign America in the world.
Bannon is, in his very black heart, (see Saturday Night Live spoofs of him as the Angel of Death) above all things an anti-globalist. According to The Guardian he thinks America,
“is engaged in a pitched struggle against threats from within and without. It is a battle that will last years, and requires iron resolve and steely determination. If the free press, a bastion of democratic self-governance, does not grasp these elusive truths, then it should “keep its mouth shut”, he says.
Bannon is not the president’s servant. The president is his tool. For years, Bannon cast about for the proper vehicle to carry the fight forward. Sarah Palin, Rick Perry –they were considered possible material. Now in Donald Trump he has found adequate if imperfect stuff. Both are workaholics. Both share a protectionist mindset. Both are combative.
But Bannon, in contrast to the president, is not easily distracted. He is intelligent, articulate, focused in his ideology and dedicated to the struggle. And he has now been catapulted by an undisciplined president to the inner precincts of the National Security Council and its principals’ committee, assuming a position senior to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence.”
Since the inauguration and Trump’s “American carnage” address, the train has left the station and is gathering speed. The players (administration, Cabinet nominees and their departments, Congress and the electorate) are reeling and off balance in their effort to understand its vector and/or destination.
The earliest administration moves were predictable, like the “repeal and replace” rhetoric of Obamacare and the Executive Order to enable construction of The Wall. But, the second weekend we were bedazzled by the most alarming and unpredictable act – the EO banning immigration, canceling visas, and sending legitimate visa holders home after traveling to America..
The immigration ban, it turns out, was secretly drafted by recruits from the Department of Justice who were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (probably a violation of their obligations under the Constitutional separation of powers), and without the consultation or review by the departments most affected, Defense and Homeland Security. All this is common knowledge – the behind the scenes manipulation, the duplicity, the contrarian views of America – which should be enough to conjure up a conspiracy – but there is more.
Since ascending to the role as Chief Strategist and Assistant to the President, Bannon has also elevated himself to unprecedented position as a member of the principals’ committee of the National Security Council while at the same time engineering demotions for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence, all apparently without Trump’s knowledge of the plan and causing him upset when he learned of it on TV. This is reality television at its zenith.
In addition to other assertive acts, he is solidifing his position by adding staff members who share his anti-globalist, fringe views. Earlier in this article I asked if the names Stephen Miller, Julia Hahn, and Sebastian Gorka, rang a bell with you? They should though they’re not household names.
During the transition following the election, Stephen Miller, a young Trump campaign aide was added as a Senior White House Counselor, and in late January Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka were added as Deputy White House Counselors. All three additions support Bannon on the national security side of the house. Both Hahn and Gorka were with him at Breitbart News.
But, who are these people and why do they reinforce my conspiracy case? Consider the following: Stephen Miller is a 31-year-old Duke University graduate and former communications director for Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, soon to be confirmed as Attorney General (but formerly denied a District Court judgeship because of racist remarks and failure to enforce civil rights laws as a prosecutor).
At Duke, Miller was a member of the Duke Conservative Union, a political group that included his friend Richard B. Spencer, the white supremacist, who recently celebrated Trump’s victory with a Nazi-like rally that included raised arm salutes and cries of Hail Trump.
It was Stephen Miller, along with Bann0n, who crafted Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech and was called on to defend the immigration ban to media sources in shirt sleeves from the snowy White House lawn. Joe Scarborough, the former Congressman and current host of Morning Joe on MSNBC accused Miller the following morning of being on a “power trip.” I see a larger picture that involves Bannon and his posse from Breitbart News as a alt-right cabal whose intentions are more consequential than the acquisition of personal power.
As a consolidating chess move the Chief Strategist also brought over Julia Hahn and Sebastian Gorka from Breitbart to reinforce his position as the administration’s national security expert and elevating himself above Mike Flynn, James Mattis, John Kelly, and the other NSC operatives.
Julia Hahn, is the “other” Jew in the Trump White House. As a right-wing commentator at Breitbart, early in the presidential campaign she accused Paul Ryan of “a month’s long campaign to elect Hillary Clinton” (Salon.com). It’s not clear what her responsibilities as Deputy Counselor will be but her co-worker at Breitbart, Sebastian Gorka, might provide some clues.
Gorka was born in London of Hungarian parents. He attended the University of London and has a graduate degree from Budapest University. He didn’t actually become an American citizen until 2012. His Wikipedia page states that he is a“national security professional specializing in irregular warfare including counterintelligence and counterinsurgency.” The write up claims he has served as lecturer on national security at several institutions – none of them well known – including Marine Corps University. As a former Marine I’d never heard of MCU and my research revealed an institution only marginally related to the Marine Corps.
Armed, so to speak, with his dubious academic credentials, Gorka was arrested in January 2016 at Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington DC for attempting to board an airplane with a 9mm handgun in his luggage. Don’t be surprised when I tell you that last week (February 3, 2017) at his sentencing hearing the case was dismissed. Are we surprised? After all, a naturalized immigrant with a handgun boarding a US airliner should be granted all the rights and privileges afforded other immigrants attempting to board flights with 9mm handguns. Right? WTF?
So, Bannon and his posse (Miller, Hahn, and Gorka) are now firmly ensconced as Chief Strategist, SeniorCounselors, and Counselors in the White House of the 45th President of the United States. Four anti-globalist, right-wing, ideologues embedded in the West Wing and currently cranking out Executive Orders for the President without consultation, for the most part, with the departments most closely aligned with their subject matter.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I can’t help but see this as an unfolding conspiracy using the newly inaugurated, dimwitted, egomaniacal President of the United States as a tool to destabilize the country and establish a new world order?
Watch closely, as I will, to the events of the next few hours, days, weeks and months. Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments for and against the temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking implementation of the travel ban. A decision is expected tomorrow. It’s not the ultimate test; that will come later at the Supreme Court level, but it will signal which way the winds are blowing for the Bannon/Trump/Breitbart posse.