Steve Bannon says 'Maga army' ready, as he reports to prison

Donald Trump’s former top adviser Steve Bannon has told the BBC he does not fear going to prison or watching the former president’s 2024 campaign from behind bars.

After being convicted of contempt of Congress, the man who was seen as the power behind the scenes in the White House at the start of Trump’s presidential term in 2017 reported to a federal prison in Connecticut just before noon on Monday.

He is still appealing against his conviction for refusing to appear in front of the committee of lawmakers investigating the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters. Bannon has claimed that conversations he had with the president that day should be protected under executive privilege.

But last week the Supreme Court ruled he could not delay his sentence until after the appeal was heard, and now Bannon will have to face his four-month sentence.

"I'm proud of going to prison today," Bannon said outside the low-security prison just before turning himself in. "I have not only no regrets, I'm proud of what I did."

Asked what he expects from the next several months, Bannon responded, "a Trump victory".

In an interview with the BBC, he said he was unconcerned about missing a crucial part of Trump’s campaign, as there is a “Maga army” ready to ensure the former president defeats Joe Biden and returns to the White House.

“I've served my country now for the last 10 or so years focusing on this,” he said, referring to politics and Trump's Make America Great Again (Maga) slogan. “If I have to do it in a prison, I do it in a prison - it makes no difference at all.”

Steve Bannon seated across from then President Donald Trump and Gen Michael Flynn in the Oval Office in 2017.
Steve Bannon seated across from then President Donald Trump and Gen Michael Flynn in the White House Oval Office in 2017. [Getty Images]

A former Goldman Sachs banker turned alt-right media figure, Bannon was seen by Democrats as the brain behind not only Trump's extraordinary political rise but also some of his most divisive policies.

He shot to national prominence as chief executive of Donald Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign and then became one of the most powerful figures in Washington as White House chief strategist early in the Trump administration.

Seven months into his White House posting, however, he was fired and spent some time adrift from Trump’s inner circle.

The challenging aspect of Bannon's persona is that "most commentators alternate between calling him a mastermind and saying that he’s irrelevant", said Benjamin Teitelbaum, the author of War for Eternity: Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers.

"He’s both extremes at once.”

In the interim, Bannon appears to have worked his way back into the Trump fold, and for the last five years has hosted the War Room - where he has continued to back the former president and his movement.

Inside the 'war room'

Bannon’s actual “war room” is in the basement of an elegant Capitol Hill town house, just a stone’s throw from the US Supreme Court.

Every surface is piled high with hardback books on politics, finance and conspiracy theories. Stacked on the mantlepiece, among assorted religious iconography, is a printed quote that Bannon - who sees himself as a shepherd of the Maga populist agenda - coined: “There are NO conspiracies but there are NO coincidences.”

The huge handbook of "Project 2025" is positioned in a place of pride in the room. The 900-page tome put together by the Heritage Foundation - a conservative think tank - contains detailed plans for how a second Trump administration will transform the American government and the power of the executive branch.

We were surrounded by the lights, cameras and microphones that Bannon uses to broadcast for four hours every weekday when he told me he and his show have played a major part in empowering and mobilising thousands of Trump-supporting activists, who he called “street fighters”.

Though he will not be able to lead them from prison, he said that this “Maga army” that “can’t and won’t stop until final victory” will easily continue on its mission.

After all, he said, the populist Maga movement is greater than him - and even Donald Trump. According to Bannon, it does not matter who delivers its message.

Bannon saluting on stage at a conservative political conference in June 2024
Steve Bannon salutes on stage at an event in mid-June held by the national conservative political movement Turning Point in Detroit, Michigan. [EPA]

Bannon continues to make the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump - in reality, courts have thrown out dozens of lawsuits challenging the results and no evidence of widespread fraud has emerged.

On election day, 5 November, Bannon said the “Maga army” would be ready to deploy across the country, at polling stations and election counts to ensure the former president’s victory.

These supporters - including poll watchers and lawyers - would challenge ballots they don’t believe should be awarded to Joe Biden, he said.

Mr Teitelbaum, however, doubted that Bannon's own audience was "organised enough to be deployable in the way he describes".

What comes after prison?

Confident that Trump will win in November, Bannon was eager to discuss what the former president’s agenda would be once he returns to government – and the War Room host leaves prison.

He believes the next Trump White House will be influenced by ideas he has promoted on his show.

Immigration remains a top priority, Bannon said. He said he was sure that on “day one” Trump would seal the border to “stop the invasion”, and then start the “mass deportation of 10 to 15 million illegal alien invaders”.

The former president would turn to the economy after that, he said, and retain the tax cuts from his first term that have largely benefited wealthy individuals and corporations. He claimed the Republican would then end the “forever wars” in Ukraine and Gaza, though it was unclear how Trump would do this.

Bannon did not shy away from discussing how a second Trump administration would target its political enemies.

Trump has himself said that if reelected, he may have individuals he feels have wronged him investigated - especially those who have been involved in the various criminal proceedings against him.

Donald Trump at a political rally with many ecstatic supporters behind him
Donald Trump attends a presidential campaign event in Chesapeake, Virginia, on 28 June [Reuters]

Law enforcement agencies and the military would all be “brought to account” under a future Trump administration, Bannon said, and President Joe Biden would also face prosecution.

While he accused the president of “selling out the country”, the Republican-controlled oversight committee in the House of Representatives investigating such allegations has not produced any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the president, nor moved to impeach him.

But, as of now, it is Bannon who is set to go to prison. And just before his departure, he left an ominous warning about any election result that did not call Trump the victor.

It is “impossible”, he told me, for Joe Biden to win the election in November. And, therefore, there is no way he or his "Maga army" will accept the result if the president is reelected.

As he put it in a recent speech at a conservative political conference, he sees the election as a zero-sum game - and, he told the revved-up crowd of Trump supporters, it will result in “victory or death”.

With additional reporting by Rebecca Hartmann and Ana Faguy