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Exclusive: Steve Bannon candidly talks about race and gender in deleted documentary scene

"I don't believe, historically, we're a white-supremacist country, or white supremacist."

Steve Bannon is seen in his luxury hotel in Venice, Italy, in a scene from the documentary The Brink, directed by Alison Klayman. CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures
Steve Bannon is seen in his luxury hotel in Venice, Italy, in a scene from the documentary The Brink, directed by Alison Klayman. CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

“I just don’t buy it,” Steve Bannon said when director Alison Klayman asked him about structural racism in a deleted scene from The Brink, the new documentary about Bannon that comes out on digital Tuesday.

“I think people of goodwill can overcome that,” he said.

The deleted scene, obtained exclusively by ThinkProgress, ended up on the cutting room floor when producers decided that showing Bannon argue against the existence of structural racism was too obvious.

But for Klayman, it was a key moment in which the former senior White House adviser candidly revealed his beliefs and his true nature.

“I believe in the value of having the goods, getting the receipts,” Klayman told ThinkProgress.

The exchange was filmed in an opulent hotel room in Venice, Italy, as Bannon toured Europe to build The Movement, a coalition of far-right politicians that Bannon hopes to take global. Klayman said it captured the tension she lived with while making the film, which comes out on digital June 4 and DVD June 18: Bannon’s critics will see the racism and spin they always believed was there. Supporters will cheer him on.

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“I don’t believe, historically, we’re a white-supremacist country, or white supremacist,” Bannon told Klayman in the clip. “I mean, I think it’s amazing that we fought such a intensely bloody civil war to, you know, kind of right the wrongs of, what was it, chattel slavery had been. Right? I don’t think any other country in the world had to do this and had to put up the sacrifice that came with.”

Bannon did not return phone calls and text messages Monday requesting comment.

Bannon, an original board member and former executive chairman at Breitbart News, became CEO of President Donald Trump’s underdog campaign in August 2016. Later, as a senior adviser to the presidential transition, he sidelined former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and shaped a White House staffed with immigration and foreign-policy hardliners.

After Bannon’s fall from grace in August 2017, he left the White House and rejoined Breitbart. That’s when Klayman caught up with him, through her fellow producer, Marie Therese Guirgis, who had worked with Bannon in the film industry. Bannon soon turned his eyes from the far-right in America to the far-right in Europe, telling The New York Times that he wanted to be the “infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.”

It’s an unusual position for an avowed anti-globalist. But Bannon has long claimed his brand of right-wing populism is about “economic nationalism,” not race or nationality or ethnicity or sexuality or gender.

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“If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats,” Bannon said in his infamous August 2017 interview with The American Prospect.

After 13 months with Bannon, Klayman doesn’t buy it. In a revealing moment during their exchange about structural racism, even Bannon seems to drop his talking points for a moment and admit the prejudices his political coalition foments.

“I don’t have any doubt that if we start to, if we stop allowing unfair competition by the world’s labor against our citizens — black, white, hispanic, gay, transgender, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, regardless, American citizens — that things are gonna’ work out,” Bannon said near the end of the clip.

“I don’t think your coalition is fighting for transgender anything,” Klayman pushed back, eliciting a nervous chuckle from Bannon.

“Transgender may be, may be, may be, uh, may be at the rear,” he stuttered.

That attitude toward trans people was one of the most consistent themes Klayman noticed. Wherever Bannon went or whomever he spoke with, Klayman said, “the one thing that I saw connect everyone was a real transphobia.”

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Klayman took time out of promoting her film to talk with ThinkProgress. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


ThinkProgress: Can I ask you, first of all, how did you get this really amazing access you had to do this documentary?

Klayman: The whole reason the project happened is because of this opportunity for this access and my fellow producer, a woman named Marie Therese Guirgis. She knew Steve Bannon from before the Tea Party … about 15 years prior, when he was still in his entertainment-investing phase.

In August 2016, she was personally kind of devastated that she knew someone who’s doing this. And she got back in touch, primarily to rage text and send him hate mail. And he kind of surprisingly to her, you know, would always write back. And he was pretty polite. Her urging him to quit or to stop doing what he’s doing didn’t have any effect. But it did put them back in touch.

Over time, as she saw what his public image became and how one-dimensional it was — and even though it was kind of evil, it was also very powerful, and she knew that all the evil stuff was just translating into power for him — she thought that there’d be value in doing a documentary and that she could get him to agree.

So she asked him a few times, around the middle of 2017, when he was in the White House, and he said no a bunch of times. And then he said yes.

That’s when I got called, because I was a filmmaker that she had in mind. For my part, it wasn’t that I had been thinking about Steve Bannon specifically. But obviously we’re all looking for what kind of work we can contribute to this moment and what’s in the public interest. I just felt like this was an opportunity to go behind the curtain on the other side and to see what are they focused on next? What are their tactics? Who’s supporting them? Who are they working with? That was my interest. A few weeks later he left the White House, and then that was when I met him, in September, 2017.

Has he seen the film, and what’s his reaction to it since it came out?

The night of the [2018] midterms, I took the microphone off of him at almost 2:00 a.m., and I have not been in touch since. But my producer stayed in touch and, treated him the way you would work with any other subject and keep them updated on when the premiere’s going to be.

She showed him the film right before Sundance [Film Festival], the almost, almost locked version. He wasn’t necessarily thrilled about everything, but overall was kind of “processing,” is how she described it. And they were still in touch afterwards. The movie premiered at Sundance. Then the reviews started to come out, though. That’s when he completely broke off contact from her.

For him, the way the movie plays in the world is what matters. But by now, a lot of audiences have seen it in [theaters]. A lot of people have reacted to it and written about it, and critics have written about it, and reporters. He always knew the movie would be critical, based on who was making it. But he didn’t anticipate the way that it was critical. Because I think he’s OK, I know he’s OK, with being called a racist. Not because he thinks he is one, but because that’s just part of the brand: “I am called a racist.” And he can deal with things like that.

But the idea is that he hung himself, like he doesn’t have a lot of ideas — he’s more of an opportunists or a con man, a grifter — that kind of description is not powerful and not useful to him. That’s why I don’t think he found the movie helpful. If he thought it was helpful, he would have bought my producer a steak dinner.

Just from the time that you’ve spent with them, how do you think he sees himself?

He believes in the great men version of history, and he sees himself as one of those great men — someone who took decisive action that changed the course of history.

He wants to see himself also as someone who is a power broker and a strategist, the philosopher-strategist. That’s the image that he was cultivating at the point where our film starts. And I do look at the 13 months that I spent with him as an extended branding exercise for the ideas that he’s trying to trademark as his own, like this economic nationalism, quote unquote. He’s trying to infuse these more vague terms and give it a meaning that isn’t about nativism and make it seem like it’s smarter, like it’s for the working man. That is something that he can own.

Working with Trump is the moment where he experienced the most power and fame and success … that he’s had in his life. And so leaving the White House, I also think this 13-month period that the film follows isn’t just about branding these concepts, but it’s about him trying to extend that success, personal success and power. To figure out how he can do that as Steve Bannon and not just Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist.

Do you think he personally harbors explicitly racist sentiments, or do you think he’s earnest when he says, “This isn’t about race at all”?

Yeah, that’s garbage. When I filmed this, I thought this clip encapsulates one of the biggest challenges of doing this film. I felt like it was super revealing. To me, structural racism is not, it’s not a theory. It’s not something you believe in or you don’t. It was one of the top things on my list of when the editors came onboard to work with me and I was showing my favorite stuff.

Then you’re like, “Well is it really that interesting of a piece of tape?” Because it’s having proof of something that either the people who agree with him will just agree, and the people who already think he’s racist are like, ‘”What’s the news here?” Right?

I believe in the value of having the goods, getting the receipts. That’s how I describe what I’m doing with this, is getting the receipts. So even if people are like, “Well this isn’t surprising,” but also it’s important to hear him say it.

But I also think him throwing in trans in his list — that was one of his constant talking points. One of the most consistent things that I heard overtly while hanging out with his team … the one thing that I saw connect everyone was a real transphobia. Just the language that people would use, it was like a real panic and crisis of masculinity, I felt, because everyone was just very transphobic.

I’m not there to, like, argue with him at every turn, but it was just one of those words too much. I was, like, come on now. And I like that he kind of admits it, too, by him saying, “Oh, it’s at the back of the list.” But, it’s not on their list. Let’s be real. Transphobia is huge and overt and shared among all kinds of allies on his side.

A lot of people ask if he’s a racist or not, as if it’s a challenging question or a tricky question or something. I can say yes, from my opinion. I also have to say, I don’t know what’s in his heart, as much time as I’ve spent observing him and interacting with him. How could I know what’s true in his heart and what he wakes up in the morning and tells himself his agenda is?

But I still believe that you can judge a person as racist based on what they say, what policies they support, who they’re willing to work with. So I don’t have a problem saying that’s what I think.

This story has been updated to clarify Bannon’s former roles at Breitbart News.