’Evil genius’ behind secret Trump letter

 

Steve Bannon has been described as the "most dangerous political operative in America", and is often credited as the brains behind Donald Trump's stunning election win in 2016.

But a powerful new documentary, The Brink, highlights the former White House chief as less of an "evil genius" and more of a faux-charismatic showman.

The Brink, filmed and directed by filmmaker Alison Klayman, follows Steve Bannon over a period of 15 months, from his departure from the White House in 2017 to the end of the midterm elections last year.

Klayman reveals the transparency behind Mr Bannon's actions, insights into his fragmented relationship with the President, and his ultimately fruitless attempts to globally expand the far right.

BANNON REVEALS TRUMP'S INNER 'INSURGENTS'

On September 5 last year, The New York Times published an extraordinary op-ed from an anonymous White House official describing how senior staff within the Trump administration were actively working to undermine the US President.

The piece, titled I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration, heavily criticised the President, arguing he "continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic".

A furious Mr Trump accused the unknown writer of treason, slamming it as a "gutless editorial" and demanding they resign from the White House.

 

This photo shows an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times in New York, Thursday, September 6 2018.
This photo shows an anonymous opinion piece in The New York Times in New York, Thursday, September 6 2018.

The piece went global, with media speculation implicating everyone from White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway to Vice President Mike Pence.

But a year on, person responsible has not been found.

In The Brink, Mr Bannon is filmed reacting to the article being published, and naming everyone in Mr Trump's administration he says was behind it.

"We've had a coup d'état in the United States. That op-ed is from the Republican establishment and they're basically saying, 'You're not acceptable'," says Bannon.

"Now they realise Trump is a danger to the system."

"It's a team of people," he states.

"(Jon) Huntsman, Brian Hook, Dan Coats, Elaine Chao, (Mick) Mulvaney … it's a whole pack of them."

All the people he named, with the exception of Mr Hook, were among the more than 30 administration officials who denied having anything to do with the op-ed.

But based on her observations of Mr Bannon over the 15-month period, Klayman said his words should only be taken at face value.

She noted Mr Bannon was "completely capable of just outright lying", adding that he "talks in a way that suggests everything is a conspiracy theory".

"I wanted to show the certainty with which he moves through a very insider knowledge and conspiratorial kind of a haze," said Klayman of that scene. "Whether or not it's true, and whether or not it's something he could even know, we may never know, that's just the way he talks.

"I was excited to include that because there were a lot of things I heard that maybe couldn't be included or felt exciting in the moment, but then dropped off. This felt like one little moment that fell in the sweet spot."

The Brink is now premiering exclusively on Madman's documentary streaming service, DocPlay.

'BANNON IS NO MASTERMIND'

Mr Bannon has often been credited as a "mastermind" and "evil genius" in the media, namely for the key role he played in helping get Mr Trump elected to the White House.

Klayman rejects such terms, saying they're overly generous and give him too much credit.

"When it comes to an actual coherent policy and solutions to the problems he lays out, I found that to be incredibly lacking," she said. "I think this notion of an 'evil genius' is kind of lazy, but the media was very quick to cast him in that role.

"Being called 'Trump's genius' cloaks him in a lot of power, and what I found fell far short of this depiction of him as this philosopher or monk for the right. He's just good at retail politics and schmoozing hedge-fund guys."

In the film, this transparency is on full display. "A rose between two thorns!" he exclaims to a woman during a photo shoot, as he gets her to stand in the middle of himself and another man. The whole encounter appears spontaneous, charismatic and breezy.

But throughout the film, Klayman shows him performing the exact same exchange, over and over again, until it stops feeling genuine and starts looking robotic. You also see him look enthused in that split second when the camera flashes. When the camera's gone, his interest in his surroundings immediately wanes.

"He has a pretty good one-on-one schmooze factor," Klayman tells news.com.au. "He's charming. That doesn't mean you're charmed, but he is charming."

But an evil mastermind and political leader he is not. "I think at his core he's a consultant. A consummate banker. I think he looks at things in terms of what's the best strategy."

BANNON 'INCREDIBLY CAREFUL' WHEN TALKING TRUMP

After his election victory, Mr Trump went on to hire Mr Bannon to become his chief strategist and senior counsellor in the White House, in a move that prompted significant criticism.

But a year later, the pair had a big falling out. In Michael Wolff's 2018 book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Mr Bannon was quoted criticising a meeting Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, had with a group of Russians as "treasonous" and "bad sh*t".

Following news of Mr Bannon's remarks, Mr Trump released a statement that said: "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

"He seemed incredibly careful to never insult Trump on the record," said Klayman. "I felt like it was a really effortful thing and he always managed to say, 'Oh, Trump's actually really smart.' It's okay he was lying because I have more material than just one interview.

"I do know he doesn't think Trump is smart. I think he thinks he's smarter than Trump. He's said some disparaging things about Trump, but Bannon's ultimate greatest achievement has been his association with Trump. He knows this."

WHAT DID BANNON THINK OF THE MOVIE?

It took four attempts to get Mr Bannon to agree to be filmed. But after watching the finished product - which he had no say over editing - he cut all ties with those behind it.

"Once the reviews started coming out, he cut off all contact with my producer and we do not believe he is pleased," Klayman said.

"Starting out, I didn't know enough about him in specific to have something to change - if anything, a year in his company sharpened my critique of him. I know him now, and I know there are parts of him I still don't understand.

"The point of this movie is to see his actions, and the people he associates with, and what he says. I don't know what's in his heart, and I don't really care.

"The least important audience member for me is Steve Bannon."

 

@gavindfernando | gavin.fernando@news.com.au



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