Updated: Dec 14, 2020
To quote the great Morgan Freeman: “Snitches and rats are not the same thing—let me break it down to make sure y'all see what I mean. A ‘snitch’ is someone minding other folks' business, to find information they can sell for a price or trade for some other form of compensation. A ‘rat’ is a traitor. A conceiver, planner, or physical participator. He doesn't sell secrets for power or cash, he betrays the trust of his team or his family hoping to save his own cowardly ass. The difference is, at least a snitch is human, but a rat is a fuckin' rat, period.”
That was from “Snitches & Rats: Interlude,” off 21 Savage and Metro Booomin’s latest project, Savage Mode II, and it provides the theoretical framework for today’s lesson: I want to pursue a case study in scumbag nomenclature. I want to examine the intricacies of the snitch/rat dichotomy. I want to cyberbully Steve Bannon.
If you’re unfamiliar with Steve Bannon, first off, congratulations on having been invited to parties in high school, but it’s time to join the real world and stop Insta stalking that girl you almost fingered at Car Rally. Don’t worry, I’m here to help. Bannon can be described as an incredibly effective far-right populist political operative and gremlin—he’s basically a fixer for people who think liberal democracy is for cucks because it requires things like taxes and respect for the poor. He’s made himself into the go-to guy for convincing ordinary people to languish in fear and ignorance for the benefit of those with enough money to buy out empathy’s share of their conscience. But we’ll get to that.
First, some background: baby Bannon began his career with the US Navy before becoming an investment banker for Goldman Sachs—apparently our man was born with a vicious appetite for boot leather. Anyway, in the 90s, Bannon ventured into the entertainment industry, and up until about 2011, he was an executive producer and generic rich guy in Hollywood, which I’ve heard is a universally beloved demographic. Then, while writing and directing In the Face of Evil, a documentary about sucking off Ronald Reagan, Bannon met Andrew Breitbart.
This gross, human grease stain meet cute between Bannon and Breitbart would turn out to be one of the most impactful moments in shaping modern global politics. The problem with expressing that to you all is that it requires some provision of context which is honestly boring as fuck. I need to spend some time talking about the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis and the rise of the Tea Party movement, so we’re going to do this radio station style: In the next 4 paragraphs I will hide a code phrase. The first person to comment the phrase on this Morning Wood’s Instagram post will win the grand prize of five dollars! (This is a real offer, I will e-transfer you five dollars.) Cool? Cool.
In 2008, Republicans ate shit. They lost so hard, it would’ve made Abraham Lincoln un-free the slaves, just so that Barack Obama wouldn’t have been able to dismantle his party like that. But the first black president wasn’t able to revel in his Beyonce-soundtracked victory for very long. His country and the world was facing a devastating recession brought on by Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale. At least that's what I got out of The Big Short. That and Margot Robbie's boobs.
What actually happened was that big banks were offering mortgages on houses to anyone with a pulse and then treating them like those props in LEGO games that keep giving you money no matter how many times you hit them. Meanwhile, investment banks were investing regular people’s pensions and savings in securities—which are abstract lines of code that go up or down in value because white dudes in suits believe hard enough—backed by bundles of mortgages, hidden—literally hidden—in which were the mortgages of the LEGO people.
Think of it like this: Banks were telling everyone that bundles of mortgages were going to continue to make money, because the LEGO people would continue to shit out money, which meant that the abstract lines of code would continue to be worth more which meant that the regular people who invested in the mortgage-backed securities would continue to make money, and everyone would live happily ever after on a planet of infinite wealth and oral sex.
This worked for a while because the white dudes in suits believed hard enough that Tinkerbell wasn’t dead or whatever, but eventually the LEGO people exploded from getting hit too much. They stopped being able to pay the mortgages. Then, everyone found out that the magical Tinkerbell money bags were backed by hot garbage LEGO mortgages that weren’t actually going to shit out blue studs forever and the entire housing market collapsed. Trillions of dollars were lost. Oh fuck I forgot the secret code phrase. Uhhh, Big Boobie Boners, comment Big Boobie Boners.
Anyway, now enter Obama. It was clear to everyone, even Republicans, that he would have to be the one to dig everyone out of this mess. In January of 2009, he and congress got to work on a stimulus package, which is coincidentally what I call my penis. The problem with my penis was that Democrats and Republicans couldn’t decide on how much of my penis should be focused on government spending, which is what Democrats jerk off to, and how much of my penis should be focused on tax cuts, which is what Republicans confess to having sexual thoughts about on Sundays.
As I mentioned, Republicans ate it the previous November and so my penis, which would eventually contain $288 billion in tax cuts and $498 billion in government spending programs was pushed through congress with hardly any Republican votes. Regardless, my penis would prove effective in digging the regular people out from underneath the giant mangled corpse of Tinkerbell that investment bankers dropped on the country. But that still left loads of LEGO people stuck in mortgages that they would never be able to pay off.
And here’s where we finally get back to Stephen Kevin Bannon, the subject of this lecture—almost. I told you context fucking suuuuucks. In order to help the LEGO people, Obama introduced his mortgage relief program, another massive government expenditure, almost immediately after my penis. This time, Republicans had had it up to here! (You know, like what white people say?) Rick Santelli, a CNBC pundit, went on a televised rant against Obama’s LEGO people plan from the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange about how he didn’t think the LEGO people deserved American tax dollars because they were made of LEGO or whatever, it’s really not that important. What is important is that he ended it by saying that they were going to have their own very special Chicago Tea Party (you know, like the one in Boston, from history?)
That last part went viral, and the clip is credited with the creation of the ‘Tea Party Movement.’ Now, central to any modern political movement is a media flag-bearer. For the Tea Party, whose supporters claimed the name was an acronym for ‘Taxed Enough Already,’ the flag-bearer was Andrew Breitbart, Bannon’s right-wing media butt buddy, and his three main blogs: Big Government, Big Hollywood, and Big Journalism.
Breitbart’s editorial bent shaped the way the Tea Party movement would evolve over the course of the following handful of years. They hated anything even resembling an establishment, because they saw establishment figures in politics, media, and education—in government, Hollywood, and journalism—as progressive shills. They also went to extremes to prove their point.
Breitbart began his career as a web pioneer, a late-90s to early 2000s beige cowboy. He was there when Matt Drudge ruined Monica Lewinsky’s life and he was there when Arianna Huffington started the chain reaction that would end 50% of local reporters’ careers. But he didn’t stop there. As Breitbart’s ideology careened to the right, his website became a comfortable little hovel for the crazies that the Tea Party’s message had attracted. The Tea Party’s core, with Breitbart’s guidance, corrupted from a reaction to unfavourable economic policy to a desperate backlash against a perceived progresssive stranglehold on the country.
Breitbart defended Tea Party supporters like Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann who claimed Obama was a radical socialist, which he wasn’t; a muslim, which he isn’t; and a Kenyan, when he was born in Hawaii. He also broke several explosive stories about liberals behaving badly, some of which were true, and some of which were not, but he didn’t care. It was far more important to him that the libs get owned than he be right, and he had become a master of lib-owning. And then he died.
In the evening of February 29, 2012, Breitbart collapsed in front of a Starbucks in LA. He succumbed to heart failure at the age of 43, which I didn’t know before I wrote a bunch of fat jokes that none of you will ever read. Anyway, his death, regardless of how much of a prick he was in life, was tragic. And he was a prick, despite the tone of his obituaries. He delighted in ending careers, and not just those of Democrats. Under his championship, Tea Party candidates including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee often beat out hardcore Republicans in primary elections. Some of those candidates would go on to lose to Democrats (which is hard to do) and some of them, like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, would go on to sabotage their own party in congress, further dividing the country.
The New York Times, nbcnews.com, and The Christian Science Monitor, which are some places I read about Breitbart for this, all posthumously describe him in some form or other as a ‘Happy Warrior’ fighting against the dark cloud that the liberal elite had cast over society, but that doesn’t actually mean anything. Those articles all start with shit like ‘for better or worse, Breitbart made his mark,’ but there’s no question in my mind that the only honest choice between the two is fucking worse.
I will say that this dude did sound pretty funny though. The Times piece contains an anecdote where Breitbart, emerging from some sweaty, billionaire-funded consevative circle-jerk, spent a hot minute arguing with protestors and then invited them all out to god damn Aplpebee’s, which is objectively hilarious. But Andy, buddy, if you’re listening right now, wherever you are, I’m sorry but the only way to fix your legacy is to either go back in time and not die, or go back in time and not meet Steve Bannon.
And BOOM, that’s how you transition, kids, how was that for a fucking history lesson? Because I know why even the Times and NBC miss Breitbart: it’s called Nostalgia. The monster Breitbart created in the Tea Party is nothing compared to the monster Steve Bannon would create in Breitbart. Shortly after the site’s eponymous founder’s death, Bannon was named executive chair of Breitbart News LLC, the parent company, and then he promptly shit all over it.
Bannon was watching from his perch in Hollywood while Breitbart took all of the populist tools of the new millennium and the internet—grassroots organizing, new media and alternative news sources, the insulating power of Facebook, etc.—and bent them to his will. I imagine that old Steve felt a little left out making shitty movies about racists that nobody watched, meanwhile his pal was cheesing with billionaires like the Koch brothers and posting congressmen’s dick pics online (the dude’s name was Anthony Weiner and he got caught hanging dong, I mean at least the universe has a sense of humour—that’s classic comedy.) But he got his chance in 2012.
After Breitbart’s death, Bannon, along with a number of prominent website staff, were organized into a brand new power structure with he and Breitbart’s longtime friend Larry Solov landing at the top. He also scored his own billionaire conservative megadonor family to fund his populist, grassroots fight for the average American. Meet the Mercers.
Robert Mercer is the family’s patriarch, an old-ass hedge fund guy and former old-ass tech guy. There’s not a lot else to talk about, he’s rich and private and his political views are stupid and I disagree with them. Also he likes trains a lot because of course he fucking does. His middle daughter, Rebekah Mercer, is the de facto family spokeswoman; she shares her father’s political convictions and she is his most public kin. It’s generally understood that when she speaks, she speaks for the whole family and their money.
Here’s a little bit more ✨context✨ for you, I know you love it: in 2010, right around the height of the Tea Party movement, America’s supreme court handed down a decision known as Citizens United. The court ruled that campaign donations, which previously had had a cap like Canada or the NFL, were a form of speech and could not be restricted in any way, as per the constitution. By the way, there is nothing more American than confusing money with speech, so even though the decision was a nightmare for fans of free and fair elections, you can’t be that surprised.
Following the verdict, political activism among billionaires skyrocketed. Rich people like David and Charles Koch, who funded Tea Party campaigns, events, and conventions; George Soros, the notorious Democratic backer; the Mercers, for whom the post-Citizens United America would host their first foray into politics; and many others suddenly had a much more direct path to influence in DC.
In 2017, it was revealed that the Mercers had bought Breitbart News LLC right around the time Bannon ascended. And that was when shit got dark, or at least darker than it already was. Definitely too dark to be allowed in the neighborhoods these people live in. Anyway, Breitbart News with Bannon at the helm started to change.
The site morphed from Big Hollywood, Big Government, and Big Journalism into just ‘Breitbart News’ which shifted to focus squarely on politics and not much else. Then began the quest to worm its way into Donald Trump’s pants. Breitbart News got in early on the Trump candidacy and started to fiercely promote and defend him. So now, fans of the late Andrew Breitbart that were grandfathered into Bannon’s new dynasty were led, unwitting, into Uncle Donny’s embrace. For the record, Trump looked to be positioning for a run at the candidacy once before, in 2011 and during that time, Breitbart went on Fox News and completely shit on his life. It’s very funny to know both that fact and the fact that Breitbart’s name will be tied to Trump’s for forever.
Bannon’s nose was shoved so far up Trump’s asshole that he published a story about a conservative commentator who had, among other things, pushed for the fucking Iraq War with the headline: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” which aside from the fact that that has to be anti-Semitic, it’s insane to call Bill Kristol anti-Republican for criticizing Trump. It’s difficult to be more Republican than a guy who was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq.
And somehow even worse than the weird dog-whistle racism, was the handling of an assault allegation from a reporter for Breitbart named Michelle Fields. When Trump was the Republican front-runner, he was holding a press conference in Jupiter, Florida. Ms Fields approached the candidate and asked a question before Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s then-campaign manager, grabbed her hard and pulled her away. Lewandowski surrendered to police and was arrested for the incident but charges were dropped.
You’d think that when a reporter is assaulted while doing her job and then posts the bruises online, that reporter’s news organization would flip its shit, wouldn’t you? Well, Breitbart defended Lewandowski. In response, several staff members quit, including then-editor-at-large and the architect of every female public affairs major’s nightmares, Ben Shapiro. And when social justice’s pasty sleep paralysis demon is fed up with your treatment of a woman, that’s how you know you fucked up. “In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew [Breitbart]’s mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump,” Shapiro said after his resignation.
Anyway, even though Stevey B was left smelling residual shit for the rest of his life, it would pay off. 88 days away from the 2016 election, Trump named him chief executive of the campaign. This meant he had to leave Breitbart, to the excitement of everyone that was crazy enough to buy into Tea Party bullshit but not quiiiite crazy enough to buy into Trump bullshit; it’s a fine line. He also left the Government Accountability Institute, a think tank he helped found in 2012 with Mercer money, and a third company he invested in with the family: Cambridge Analytica.
In 2013, (bet you thought we were done skipping backward in time, but this is a rollercoaster bitch, that’s called storytelling) SCL group, a military intelligence company, created a subsidiary called Cambridge Analytica. In 2014, Cambridge Analytica bought an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” from some Cambridge University researcher (very clever). The survey app allowed them to collect data on Facebook users that filled it out and also on those users’ Facebook friends because Mark Zuckerberg is a scary, scary man. This allowed the company’s data scientists to create millions of individual profiles showing each harvested user’s likely feelings about whatever issue they were being paid for. They were hired by, among others, the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
It can be pretty difficult to grasp just how batshit nuts that is, and even actual political scientists aren’t sure how effective these models are, so let’s do a quick hypothetical. Let’s say the debate about whether or not Jose Altuve is a child molester is really heating up. Now let’s say, for whatever strange reason, it’s been decided that the case for whether or not Jose Altuve is a child molester will be decided by vote. You’ve never really paid much attention to baseball and so you don’t really know much about the issue but you’ve heard multiple times both that Jose Altuve is a child molester and that he isn’t. You also know that you ought to vote either way because otherwise your friends will think less of you.
Now let’s say that whichever handsome stud started the rumour that Jose Altuve is a child molester hires Cambridge Analytica to provide data sets that show how millions of Facebook users feel about the idea that Jose Altuve might be a child molester. The absolute dreamboat looks through all those profiles and finds those that hover, indecisive, in the middle of the pack. Among those users is you. All of the sudden whenever you or anyone else in that range of profiles that Cambridge Analytica called “persuadables” log in to Facebook (just pretend you use Facebook), a significant portion of the ads and memes that appear in your feed are about how Jose Altuve is definitely a child molster.
Where before you thought that the debate was pretty even, now you’re starting to feel the tide of public opinion shift. Everywhere you look digitally, you’re seeing “proof” that Jose Altuve touches kids, or rumours of witnesses to Jose Altuve’s kid touching. There’s no way it can be that much of a coincidence that all of the fact-checkers and denials have disappeared from your feed, replaced by more references to and memes of Jose Altuve being a child molester, right? There must be something to this claim, right? So you know how to vote now, when it comes time, right?
That’s how Cambridge Analytica’s business model was purported to work. And by the way, the use of these tactics is literally psychological warfare—the parent company was a military contractor that had worked to influence elections in dozens of countries since the 90s. But to reiterate: there will never be a way to know whether or not Cambridge Analytica made a difference in 2016. The fact of the matter is, though: they tried. The campaign that Steve Bannon was in charge of tried to buy votes from a company that Steve Bannon invested in and if that isn’t enough evidence of this man’s complete and utter disdain for democracy, we still have four more years of his career to get through.
Regardless of if it was because of those British fucks or not, Trump won in 2016. When he took over power in 2017, he brought Bannon with him. Our man became the White House chief strategist, and then, a little while later, as was what would become typical of the Trump administration, he was fired. Or he resigned. It depends on who you ask. Either way, the timing of his departure was suspect, coming less than a week after the Unite the Right rally that plunged Charlottesville, Virginia into violence and cost the life of a protestor, Heather Heyer. Trump infamously responded to the event by condemning violence “on both sides,” and if you don’t remember, one of the “sides” was full-on Nazis.
The New York Times reported that the “both sides” comment came from Bannon. In response, the NAACP called for his removal, labelling him a “symbol of white nationalism.” Bannon maintains that he had always intended to leave and that the Charlottesville incident actually convinced him to stay on longer than he had planned to, but CNN quoted multiple sources saying that chief of staff John Kelly asked him to resign. Either way, ditching the glowing Nazi beacon right after the deadly Nazi rally was probably a good move for Trump.
This is when Bannon finally stopped winning. The same day he was fired, on August 18, 2017, it was announced that he would rejoin Breitbart. Business Insider and the Washington Post reported that Trump maintained contact with Bannon after he moved out of the White House, but that would soon change. His support was blamed for the failure of Roy Moore’s 2017 campaign which lost and sent the first Democrat from Alabama to the senate since 1979, although I think the pedophilia was more to blame for Moore’s loss than anything else but anyway. Then in early 2018, excerpts from Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury started to pop up in the media. Included in those excerpts was some hefty shit talk leveled by Bannon at Trump and his family.
Since Breitbart only had one purpose anymore and that was deepthroating the president, Bannon stepped down, “expressing regret” over his remarks. Not to be knocked out of the game completely, Bannon soon set sail across the pond to Europe. There, he met with leaders of far-right and nationalist parties in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, and like 10 other countries, I’m not an atlas. The following years saw moderate success in some of those places and Bannon told the New York Times: “all I’m trying to be is the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.” Bannon also met with the current, crazy pro-dictator president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro and partnered with exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui in his mission to overthrow the Chinese government, which is a real thing.
Despite Bannon’s lukewarm overseas record, many countries over the past few years have seen alarming rises in far-right parties’ shares of government, as well as increasingly prevalent nationalist sentiments, especially in the areas worst hit by immigration crises. But there’s one final nail in Bannon’s coffin that, if it holds, might keep him down for good.
On August 20, 2020, Bannon was arrested by federal agents on the deck of Guo Wengui’s Yacht off the shore of Connecticut. He is charged with defrauding backers of a GoFundMe campaign to privately finance Trump’s border wall called “We Build the Wall,” which prosecutors say raised $25 million, of which Bannon siphoned $1 million for himself. Brian Kolfage, a triple-amputee Air Force veteran started the crowd-funding campaign in December 2018 and is also accused of defrauding donors. Two other men were arrested on related charges. If Bannon is found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
But maybe Trump will pardon him. When Bannon was arrested, Trump said he felt bad about it and he recently pardoned Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, two of his other former advisors, Stone having been convicted of seven felony counts and Flynn having pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI twice. But that would mean Trump has more loyalty in him than Bannon has ever had, which is honestly probably true.
When I first came up with the concept for this article, I was going to end it by labelling Bannon a rat for having betrayed democracy as a whole. But as I did my research it became clear to me that he never once gave a shit. His impact on politics doesn’t make him a rat, it’s the way he impacted them. Freeman and Savage tell us that what makes a rat a rat, as opposed to a simple snitch, is that a rat sells out his own team to get ahead. Andrew Breitbart was a classic example of a snitch, but sometimes he snitched on people who deserved it, and he never turned on his own team. Bannon was entrusted with a movement that he corrupted and a legacy that he trampled, threw his own reporter under the bus in order to suck up to a politician, founded a company that attempted to undermine an election he ran in, was made an advisor to a president whose family he later trashed, advised dangerous political movements with careless abandon and no ideological commitment, and stole from the very people he helped to indoctrinate. There is no question in my mind that Bannon is a rat, through and through, and you know how the saying goes: “a rat is a fuckin rat. Period.”