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Analysis: Steve Bannon's popular podcast is a 'dangerous' fantasyland of election lies

Bannon, a bellicose right-wing nationalist who served as White House chief strategist under President Donald Trump in 2017, is fighting a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The Justice Department is contemplating whether to act on the House’s vote to hold Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress.
At the same time, Bannon continues to host a popular podcast that is one of the country’s most important promoters of the very stolen-election lies that incited the January 6 mob.
DOJ officials unfazed by calls to expedite Bannon contempt decisionDOJ officials unfazed by calls to expedite Bannon contempt decision
The podcast, called “War Room,” is a six-days-a-week alternate reality that is kind of like Trump’s banned Twitter account revived in audio form. In the fantasyland of Bannon and friends, Trump won the 2020 election “in a landslide” (he lost), Trump’s victory (which didn’t occur) was ripped from his hands by a sprawling list of cheaters (pure fiction), and President Joe Biden’s win can still be decertified (nope).
As Bannon proudly noted on one October episode, “War Room” gives its listeners election-related “information” that even Fox News avoids.
On episode after episode, Bannon’s podcast goes into elaborate, incorrect detail about how the election was supposedly stolen. One of his regular guests is Mike Lindell, the pillow businessman who makes conspiratorial election claims so ludicrous that Fox has refused to air ads that have invoked them. Lindell — whose pillow company has been a repeat advertiser on “War Room” — appeared three times last week alone.
Bannon has also provided a friendly platform for the debunked election claims of people like former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Trump White House official Peter Navarro, wildly inaccurate so-called “data analyst” Seth Keshel, and an assortment of swing-state Republican candidates who are running on election lies.
A Bannon spokesperson acknowledged having received CNN’s request for comment this week but did not provide any additional response.

A call to action

The podcast’s relentless barrage of election deception would be damaging enough to American democracy if it were just talk. Bannon spoke approvingly in October about how his efforts have reduced Americans’ faith in “the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s regime.”
But Bannon has also urged “War Room” listeners to take long-term action. He has made frequent pleas for supporters to reshape the Republican party by signing up to serve as “precinct committeemen.”
Those are low-level local positions. As Bannon has emphasized, though, they matter. People in precinct posts can be influential in choosing representatives to serve on local elections boards and to fill key offices within each state’s party apparatus. They also frequently serve as local elections workers.
Merrick Garland is caught in a pickle with Steve BannonMerrick Garland is caught in a pickle with Steve Bannon
“It is hard to overstate how dangerous Bannon’s words and actions are,” said Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science and co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center at the University of California, Irvine. “He’s creating an army of duped people who will go into positions helping to run elections with the false understanding that the 2020 election was stolen. Who knows what such people are capable of doing when in charge of running polling places or counting votes.”
There is no hard data on the impact of Bannon’s call to activism. But ProPublica reported in September that counties around the country had seen an unusual surge in people looking to sign up for Republican precinct positions after Bannon began advocating the idea early this year.
“War Room” has thrived on Apple’s podcast app even after it was banned from Spotify, YouTube and Twitter following various election lies and Bannon’s casual call last November for the beheading of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“War Room” has consistently been in the top 100 on US podcast charts; while precise listenership figures aren’t available, Bannon claimed in late October that the podcast had been downloaded a total of 100 million times since it was launched in late 2019 with a focus on Trump’s first impeachment.
Megan Squire, an Elon University computer science professor and Southern Poverty Law Center senior fellow who studies the podcasts and other online communications of right-wing extremists, said Bannon is “really good at creating community around his podcasts,” turning the show into something more than a passive listening experience. She noted that there are tens of thousands of members in “War Room” fan groups on Telegram, an app popular for its group chats.
“The fans can then extend the beliefs of the show, sometimes in harmful ways,” Squire said.

Election lie after election lie

“War Room” has come under scrutiny for Bannon’s comments in December and early January, when he pushed election lies, spoke vaguely of his conversations with Trump advisers also looking to overturn the election, urged supporters to get angry and come to Washington on January 6, and predicted on January 5 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
But Bannon never stopped touting the election lies even after the insurrection. Though “War Room” covers other subjects as well — recent segments have addressed the Covid-19 pandemic, immigration and the Virginia election — Bannon is fixated on what he calls the “Three November Movement” about the 2020 election.
Here are just 10 of the election lies that have been told on the podcast since mid-July.
  • Bannon said Trump not only won the 2020 election but “won in a landslide.” (Trump lost by 74 votes in the Electoral College and more than seven million actual votes.)
  • Navarro said that, at midnight on Election Night, “it was very clear that President Donald J. Trump had won the election.” (To anyone who actually understands elections, it never seemed that Trump had won. Trump did have midnight leads in some key states, but it was clear at the time that many mail-in votes and votes from Democratic-leaning cities hadn’t been counted yet.)
  • Lindell said Trump “won New Hampshire and Minnesota” in 2020. (Trump lost each state by more than seven percentage points.)
  • Former Trump White House aide Boris Epshteyn said Arizona’s Maricopa County was “polluted” with “74,000 extra ballots”; Giuliani said those ballots were “made out by Democratic operatives.” (False and false. The claim about 74,000 unexplained ballots in Maricopa, which came from the person hired to run the sham Republican “audit” in the county, had already been definitively debunked by the time Giuliani repeated it.)
  • Giuliani said that in Georgia, 68,000 people voted even though they were under the legal voting age of 18. (There was no evidence that any underage person voted in Georgia, let alone tens of thousands of underage people.)
  • During a conversation about Arizona, Giuliani asserted that undocumented immigrants would be shown to be responsible for “30 (thousand), 40,000” illegitimate votes. (There is, again, no evidence for these figures. And there is no evidence that a large number of undocumented people voted illegally in any state.)
  • Keshel, the supposed data analyst, said there was a “67-county operation” to fraudulently “shave” Trump’s vote totals in Pennsylvania. (This is just completely imaginary.)
  • Keshel said “there was a plan in place” to rig Florida, which only failed because Trump did better than expected with voters in the south of the state, and that the election results were “tremendously off” even in Texas. (Nonsense and nonsense. There was simply no such Florida plot; the Texas results, showing that Trump won by more than five percentage points, are accurate.)
  • Radio host John Fredericks said the Georgia counties of Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett “represent the majority of fake Democratic voters in Georgia, where they had all the fraud.” (There is no evidence of widespread election fraud in Georgia, nor any evidence that any Georgia county has a significant problem with “fake” voters.)
  • Lindell said the election technology company Dominion Voting Systems was a key player in rigging the election and then engaged in a “cover-up.” (There is zero indication of any wrongdoing involving Dominion, let alone extensive fraud, and thus, obviously, no cover-up. Dominion has sued Lindell for defamation, seeking $1.3 billion in damages.)
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