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CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report: Steve Bannon, Divided We Fall. Aired 11p- 12a ET
Aired July 17, 2022 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.
MILES TAYLOR, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DHS CHIEF OF STAFF: His vision is almost messianic.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO DONALD TRUMP: You're witnessing a political realignment.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: CNN investigates Steve Bannon and a political movement based on lies.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He knows who won the 2020 election.
BANNON: This illegitimate Biden regime.
CHALIAN: You sow some doubt, and you create a movement.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stop the steal. Stop the steal.
GRIFFIN: From American politics --
WENDY AHRENKIEL (R), GEORGIA HOUSE CANDIDATE: Steve Bannon was the one that I heard say you've got to get involved grassroots.
BILL GATES, CHAIRMAN, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: It's about dividing this country.
GRIFFIN: To the world stage.
BANNON: Let them call you racist. Wear it as a badge of honor.
JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN: STEVE BANNON, DONALD TRUMP, AND THE STORMING OF THE PRESIDENCY": He studied actual propagandists.
WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, FORMER GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Steve Bannon, the single most dangerous American who came our way.
GRIFFIN: His role leading up to January 6th.
BANNON: It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is comparing it to the Revolutionary War.
BANNON: All I can say is strap in.
GRIFFIN: And his master plan for upcoming elections.
BANNON: It is about who counts the votes, and guess what, we're going to count them.
GRIFFIN: With rare interviews.
BRAD PARSCALE, FORMER TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Bannon was calling the plays. He was the oracle.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): Mr. Bannon, why do you continue to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen?
BANNON: It's not a lie.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Is this the end of democracy?
BANNON: We will govern for 100 years.
GRIFFIN: STEVE BANNON: DIVIDED WE FALL.
STACY ALTIERY, DEKALB COUNTY GOP PRECINCT CHAIR: Would you like a copy of the Constitution?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, thanks for coming out.
GRIFFIN: Stacy Altiery, a newcomer to politics, is a local precinct chair in DeKalb County, Georgia.
ALTIERY: This is time to get involved. We have a bunch of people that have had it. Like, no more. When the censorship started just in front of your eyes, the economy, things going down in schools, I said, you know what? This is craziness.
AHRENKIEL: With Stacy and I being friends, we would talk amongst ourselves, and we would say, what is going on? What's happening to our country, to our children, to our economy?
GRIFFIN: Wendy Ahrenkiel and Jodi Diodati, both Republicans and first- time candidates, both running for seats in Georgia's House of Representatives, both inspired to run by one man.
JODI DIODATI (R), GEORGIA HOUSE CANDIDATE: I was just kind of going up the channels, and I landed on this guy, and I was like, God, he looks so familiar. Who is that? I recognize him, and it was Steve Bannon.
BANNON: We have a unique once, not in a generation, lifetime opportunity to destroy this left-wing globalist cabal.
AHRENKIEL: Steve Bannon was the one that I heard say you've got to get involved grassroots instead of y'all complaining, and I remember calling and talking to Stacy about it. I was like, maybe we should go, you know, and do some local stuff. GRIFFIN (on-camera): And how did you two go from that to becoming
DIODATI: We ask ourselves that daily.
AHRENKIEL: I know. Can you believe that? I said, what are we doing?
GRIFFIN: Did you know much about him before, his involvement with Trump's campaign.
AHRENKIEL: Not really.
GRIFFIN: The White House, all of that?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Steve Bannon has never been elected to any office, never confirmed by Congress for any position, but potentially has more influence on the political direction of the nation today than almost anyone besides Donald Trump.
BANNON: We believe in the ballot box. We believe in fair and free and transparent elections, and we're winning everywhere. We're going to win 80 to 100-seat pickup in the House of Representatives. We're going to win the Senate. We're going to win the governorships. We're going to win the state legislatures.
This is going to be a massive blowout. You're witnessing right now a political realignment and we will govern for 100 years after we win 100 seats.
GREEN: Bannon seize himself as the narrator in a great, great grand conspiracy of his own devising.
CHALIAN: Steve Bannon is the intellectual and cultural navigator for the modern-day Trump era Republican Party setting the agenda even more than Donald Trump.
BANNON: This is illegitimate.
GRIFFIN: Bannon sets that agenda through his daily show, "War Room." It's on TV, radio, the internet, and the podcast version is often among the top three political podcasts on Apple.
BANNON: The whole reason we started the 6:00 show "Battleground" was to focus particularly on the primary and then the run-up to this November where we're going to have destruction of the Democratic Party.
GRIFFIN: His pathway to destroy the Democratic Party, control who runs the elections by putting the ultra-MAGA in charge.
BANNON: It is about who counts of votes, and guess what, we're going to count them, because we've got the election officials that are showing up.
GREEN: One thing that stopped the overthrow of the 2020 election was that Republican precinct workers said no. They said we're not going to overturn what was a valid election. I think Bannon saw that and said if Donald Trump runs in 2024 and the same thing happens, I want to make sure that we have people in those positions that will overturn the election for Trump, even if he loses it.
GRIFFIN: Bannon insists he wants every vote to be counted legally, but his entire movement is based on the lie that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, actually won the 2020 election.
BANNON: We will never concede. We will never say this election was not stolen.
ALTIERY: I was never inspired to be involved in politics until this last election.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): And what about that election inspired you?
ALTIERY: To see all the anomalies during the election. There's no way that Biden could ever have won an election. He didn't campaign. The most unpopular person. If you believe that that was a safe and fair election, then, I mean, I just can't help you.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The truth is it was a safe, fair and legitimate election.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stop the steal. Stop the steal.
GRIFFIN: Yet, tens of millions of Trump fans just don't believe it.
GATES: Steve Bannon has had a great influence on where my party, the Republican Party has gone. He has a type of politics that is about hatred. It's about dividing this country and generating distrust of our institutions.
GRIFFIN: Beyond just spreading disinformation, Bannon motivates.
BANNON: Everybody should be a precinct committeeman. Now is the time to get in power.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought, OK, a precinct committeeman.
GRIFFIN: And he has inspired an entire army of political neophytes to take over the Republican Party.
MARK KNOWLES, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Have to do something. I just can't sit around.
GRIFFIN: Far-right candidates who believe in election conspiracy theories flock to Bannon's "War Room," from lower level officials to members of Congress, even Senate hopefuls.
ERIC GREITENS (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MISSOURI: Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit.
CHALIAN: The extreme characters, the folks where you're just like how are these people in public life? How are they seeking office? Bannon's carved out a space in the Republican Party for these folks to have a seat at the table.
GRIFFIN: Of the more than 100 MAGA politicians who have appeared on Bannon's "War Room," more than two dozen have won their primary races so far.
GREEN: Bannon's approach to everything is how can I weaponize this? How can I take this energy and redirect it toward my own goals?
GRIFFIN (on-camera): It seems almost diabolically disingenuous.
GREEN: I think that's a term that he would happily embrace. He loves the image of being seen as this Darth Vader figure pulling the string from behind the scenes.
BENJAMIN HARNWELL, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, BANNON'S WAR ROOM: We've moved into a post-objective reality society, right?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ben Harnwell is the international editor for Bannon's "War Room."
HARNWELL: It's a case of saying, perhaps some of these are the facts, then the other side will say, well, you know, perhaps these are the facts.
GRIFFIN: Harnwell, based in Rome, frequently appears on the show, and admits Bannon's version of the so-called facts is what's covered on "War Room."
HARNWELL: He has an ability to identify what the number one headline topic of conversation should be and bringing people on board, and basically framing it as the national debate.
PARSCALE: He's the disciple that's delivering that MAGA movement.
GRIFFIN: Brad Parscale, Trump's former digital director and campaign manager, gave CNN a rare interview to talk about his mentor, Steve Bannon.
PARSCALE: His ability to carry that message and understand the people is why he's good at telling the story, it's why people following him in the millions online.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): In terms of messaging, it seems to me that Bannon uses fear a lot.
PARSCALE: Well, I mean, fear is one of the great marketing tactics of all time. Fear sells.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Using fear, has served Bannon well since his days making dark political documentaries in the early 2000s.
GREEN: Some of the figures he studied closest and admires from the past are actual Nazi propagandists.
GRIFFIN: Leni Riefenstahl was hired by Adolf Hitler to make films glorifying the Nazi party ahead of World War II. Politics aside, Bannon said she was a master of communication.
GREEN: He showed me once shot for shot how he was copying in his own films what she had done in her films, so it gives you an idea of the depth of his belief in propaganda.
GRIFFIN: But it wasn't until he took over the alt-right media site Breitbart in 2012 that Bannon found a way to spread his message of fear and motivate millions.
KURT BARDELLA, FORMER BREITBART SPOKESPERSON: Truth and fact are not words that are used there. It's narrative.
GRIFFIN: Kurt Bardella, a spokesperson for Breitbart at the time, watched as Bannon's populist Web site began to steer the Republican Party in an alt-right direction.
BARDELLA: When you look at the pages of Breitbart, the overt racist comments from the Breitbart audience was littered across their pages.
GRIFFIN: Breitbart's audience would grow to millions of readers per month.
GREEN: One of his great insights was that these sorts of people can be radicalized politically if you incentivize them to come over, to become part of your army, to read what it is you're writing, and then point them toward a goal.
GRIFFIN: Bannon's mantra is flood the zone. He would flood the news cycle through Breitbart and find persuadable voters through a company he helped launch called Cambridge Analytica. Christopher Wylie, now a whistle-blower, was its director of research.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: The ultimate goal of Cambridge Analytica was simply to identify and recruit people, and those people served as a foundation for this alt-right movement.
GRIFFIN: Through Cambridge Analytica, as early as 2014, Bannon was pre-testing U.S. political campaign platforms like drain the swamp, deep state and build the wall. Brittany Kaiser was the director of business development. She's turned whistleblower.
BRITTANY KAISER, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA WHISTLEBLOWER: As the company became more and more successful, it became more obvious that it was specifically to just promote his political ideals.
TAYLOR: His vision is almost messianic in the sense that he views the need for total systems change in the Western world.
GRIFFIN: Bannon had his message, he had his army, but to truly change the country, he would need the perfect politician. In 2015 an escalator delivered his leader.
GRIFFIN: By 2015, Bannon had honed his populist nationalist messaging, target how he would take over the Republican Party, but still needed a candidate brazen enough to pull it off. Then came Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid, and the Mexican government, they send the bad ones over because they don't want to pay for them.
BANNON: You finally have a guy that's speaking in a non-political vernacular. He's a very imperfect instrument, but he's an armor- piercing shell.
GRIFFIN: Bannon would use Trump like ammunition, feeding him into the ready-to-fire army of online followers that Bannon had been molding for years.
GREEN: Millions of people out there who spend all day online, who can kind of be whipped into a frenzy, what Bannon was doing, as he told me, was to try and harness that energy specifically to build an online army on behalf of Trump.
GRIFFIN: Trump plowed through a Republican field.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.
GRIFFIN: And now faced what polls showed was an unbeatable foe, Hillary Clinton. Less than three months before the election, this unconventional armor-piercing candidate fired his campaign manager and put Steve Bannon in charge.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight the most dangerous political operative in America. The new CEO of Donald Trump's campaign.
GLENN BECK, THE BLAZE MEDIA: He will make the Nixon administration look like Mary Poppins. He's a dangerous man.
GRIFFIN: Bannon would make Trump's message focus on one woman.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up.
TRUMP: For what she's done, they should lock her up.
PARSCALE: I think the narrative against Hillary was one of the strongest suits. Keep America Great, had one signed by him.
GRIFFIN: Brad Parscale was digital director of Trump's 2016 and for a time ran his 2020 campaign. He had a front row seat to it all.
(On-camera): What did Bannon bring to you that you needed?
PARSCALE: Narrative. Bannon was calling the plays. What Steve was an expert at was verbal warfare. When to punch, when to take the punches, when you lean in, when you lean away. And all those decisions lead to political victories, all of that roots from that inception of that narrative.
CHALIAN: I've never seen a politician in my lifetime like Trump engender the kind of dedication from his supporters. And part of that is Bannon's understanding almost like a maestro what notes to hit with them.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bannon would write the tune, Brad Parscale and an army of digital warriors would use Facebook on a scale never seen before.
PARSCALE: 2016 Hillary Clinton made 66,000 ads online. I made 5.8 million. The only person that could approve a commercial to go live other than Donald Trump was Bannon. Bannon would look at every TV commercial I'd make and be like, that's not angry enough or this isn't tough enough. That's just too soft. Turn it to this. Say this, Brad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what's deplorable? Hillary Clinton viciously demonizing hard-working people like you.
GRIFFIN: Bannon's targeted strategy appeared to be working. Then came a bombshell.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump uncensored caught on tape speaking in vulgar language about kissing and groping women.
TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
PARSCALE: I remember when the Billy Bush tape, all of a sudden, well, the RNC people disappeared from multiple buildings. You know. They thought it was over.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): And Bannon came up with the counterpunch.
PARSCALE: Yes. I never remember one inch where Bannon gave up. People come to us and say what's going to happen? How should we do this? He was the oracle.
GREEN: The most outrageous audacious thing he could think to do was to pull in these Clinton accusers.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bannon's defense against the tape, to go on offense. Hours before the second presidential debate, Steve Bannon brought together four women claiming abuse at the hands of the Clintons which the Clintons had long denied.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did you say you touch women without consent?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why don't you go ask Bill Clinton that?
BANNON: My girl, Paula Jones the first one, Bill Clinton raped me, right, and just boom. And they hit it, it was perfect.
GRIFFIN: Just beyond the forced smiles, there they were.
GREEN: All of a sudden, the story on cable news isn't Donald Trump and the "Access Hollywood" tape.
PARSCALE: If you look at the photos that the press took of everyone standing on the side you'll see Steve Bannon over the corner with a smirk on his face at that moment. You'll see the genius of Steve Bannon.
GRIFFIN: Bannon staged a media coup. The Trump campaign never looked back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now a historic moment. CNN project Donald Trump wins the presidency.
PARSCALE: I went to the president and said, sir, you need to get dressed. You've won. I remember Bannon standing right there next to me, and Bannon was like, yes, you won, sir. Everyone got pretty emotional obviously. I still am today. It's one of those moments I'll never forget. I could see Bannon was proud. Everyone was really just proud. The president walked up to me, he said, good job, Brad, you really did a great job, but just don't stand next to me on stage.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): Because you're too tall.
PARSCALE: Because I'm too tall. It's the last thing Trump said before he accepts the president of the United States is Brad, don't stand next to me.
GRIFFIN: What was Bannon thinking at the time?
GREEN: That he created this political revolution and now he's going to have the kind of power that he had only dreamed about.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bannon was now chief strategist and senior counselor to the president of the United States.
TRUMP: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
GRIFFIN: And Bannon wasted no time.
PARSCALE: The White House on his big board, he had like 100 things he wanted to get done in the first 100 days.
MURRAY: The first year of the Trump White House was total chaos. None of these people who were coming in, including Steve Bannon, had any idea how to govern. The chaos didn't really bother him and also he was fueling it.
TAYLOR: He wanted no aspect of presidential power and influence to be off-limits.
GRIFFIN: He even got a seat on the National Security Council through Trump's executive order. It elevated Bannon to a position that had long been limited to top generals and senior Cabinet officials.
BANNON: We didn't win an election to bring the country together.
GREEN: I think most people in the White House hated Bannon's guts because he's a difficult guy to work with. He's explosive. He's a back-stabber. He's leaking in the press both about how great he is and about how bad his enemies are, and ultimately I think that's really why he only lasted seven months in the White House.
GRIFFIN: Who was running the country became the butt of jokes.
ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: Send in Steve Bannon.
GRIFFIN: "Saturday Night Live" portrayed Bannon as the Grim Reaper, Trump as his puppet.
BALDWIN: I'll go silt at my desk.
GRIFFIN: When "TIME" magazine named Bannon the great manipulator, he had violated an unwritten rule of getting more press than Donald Trump.
PARSCALE: That "TIME" magazine cover, the "Saturday Night Live" skits with Trump and the small desk, none of that was good for Bannon's future in the White House.
GRIFFIN: Neither was his constant battle with Trump's family. Bannon would be fired.
TAYLOR: When Bannon left the White House, there was an immense feeling of relief. With Bannon gone, maybe the rhetoric would become more civil. That ended up not being the case at all and in very short order Bannon was back on the outside helping lead the mob and continuing to advance the MAGA movement.
GRIFFIN: In the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, Steve Bannon was already talking about a stolen election.
BANNON: You see the ballot harvesting that's going on. What are your lying eyes telling you?
GRIFFIN: But now in a leaked recording of a meeting three days before election day, Bannon is heard outlining the very plan Donald Trump would use if he lost.
BANNON: What Trump is going to do is declare victory, right. He's going to declare victory, and that doesn't mean he's the winner. He's just going to say he's the winner. GRIFFIN: Bannon admitted that the stolen election lie would be just
that, a lie. Trump would lose and Trump would falsely claim he won.
TRUMP: Frankly we did win this election.
GRIFFIN: Steve Bannon would go on to back the lie with his every breath.
BANNON: They know they stole this, and they also know that we're going to show they stole this.
MURRAY: He is comparing it to the Revolutionary War.
BANNON: Grow up. We're in a war right now
GATES: There is such an intimidation factor by Steve Bannon and those around him.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: This is our breaking news at this hour.
GRIFFIN: Arizona had gone for Biden. Bannon attacked the vote and aimed his stolen election ire at local officials like the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
BANNON: The guys in Maricopa County, you can hide, but you're going to be found.
GRIFFIN: Bill Gates, a Republican and chair of the board, suddenly found himself being threatened for certifying a fair election.
GATES: My colleagues and I have been subjected to many threats. There was a guillotine that was set up outside of the Arizona Capitol here for the board of supervisors.
BANNON: We're here for reality. Trump won a massive landslide on the 3rd of November.
CHALIAN: He's a really smart guy. He knows who won the 2020 election, but he understands that there is real power in that moment after the election of stoking that fear. You sow some doubt, and you create a movement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wrap your arms around Donald J. Trump.
GRIFFIN: Bannon threw his weight and power behind the Stop the Steal movement. His show financially supported protests. Then behind the scenes, Bannon circled a date on the calendar, January 6th, for an entirely new plan.
BANNON: Out there. We're going to run the Green Bay sweep.
GRIFFIN: Dubbed by Bannon the Green Bay Sweep, the plan called for right-wing members of Congress to object to certification of the election when lawmakers convened on January 6th. Trump attorney John Eastman outlined the legal theories. JOHN EASTMAN, ATTORNEY FOR THE 2020 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: We need to bolster
the authority of our leaders in Congress to not accept fraudulently certified slates of electors.
GRIFFIN: According to the plot, Vice President Mike Pence could then refuse to certify the votes and send the election back to the states where fake electors would flip the vote for Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald J. Trump of the state of Florida, number of votes 11.
BANNON: If Pence decides that it can't be certified, kicks it back to state legislatures, then that election is over.
GRIFFIN: "War Room" would talk about Mike Pence in 37 shows in the lead up to January 6th. Eastman was a frequent guest. The plot is now part of an investigation by the Department of Justice and the January 6th Committee.
BANNON: Live from our nation's capital, you're in the field headquarters of one of the small divisions of the bloodless coup.
GRIFFIN: To make the plan work, Bannon sought to pressure lawmakers and told his listeners to do the same.
BANNON: Step by step by step, day by day, understanding we're all going to converge on that point on the 6th.
GRIFFIN: It was, as he told them, their moment to save America.
BANNON: I've met so many people through my life, said, man, if I was in a revolution, I would be at Washington in Trenton, right, or I would be in the civil war. Well, you know, this is where -- this is for your time in history.
GRIFFIN: On January 5th, Bannon and Trump would speak by phone at least twice, and Bannon joined a meeting of Trump's inner circle at the Willard hotel according to a congressional subpoena in an effort to persuade members of Congress to block the certification of the election.
BANNON: It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen. OK. It's going to be quite extraordinarily different and all I can say is strap in. The "war room" posse you've made this happen. And tomorrow it's game day. So strap in. And let's get ready.
GRIFFIN: The next day on January 6th as a mob gathered outside the Capitol, Steve Bannon was in his "War Room" studio telling the vice president to execute the plan and overturn a fair election.
BANNON: The play has been called. Mike Pence, run the play. Take the football. Take the handoff from the quarterback.
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The votes for president of the United States are as follows.
GRIFFIN: Pence refused.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hang Mike Pence. Hang Mike Pence.
GRIFFIN: It could have cost the vice president his life. He fled the congressional chambers down a back staircase as an angry mob searched the building for him.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stop the steal. Stop the steal.
GRIFFIN: History will record it as a failed coup. The vice president upheld the Constitution, but Steve Bannon's listeners have a different view.
ALTIERY: On the day that Pence could have helped out, which was January 6th, if I'm not mistaken, he proved himself to be an establishment person. He didn't stick up for -- and it changed a lot, including myself.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): He stood up for the Constitution.
ALTIERY: He, in my personal, what I took from this is that you know what Pence isn't the kind of guy that I'd hoped he was. He's part of the establishment.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): These three women and millions like them are what Bannon hopes is the future of the Republican Party and the United States. Bannon calls it the precinct strategy.
BANNON: Ergo, we're going to take over everything from school boards all the way up to the House and the Senate.
MURRAY: He is really talking about from the ground up remaking a party that is Trump loyal, MAGA loyal kind of party.
BANNON: OK. I want to start with Dan Schultz, precinct strategy.
GRIFFIN: The "Precinct Strategy's" author is a Bannon regular, Dan Schultz, a local Arizona attorney.
DAN SCHULTZ, ATTORNEY, DAN SCHULTZ LAW: If we conservatives don't take over the Republican Party, we're going to lose our republic.
BANNON: President Trump comes out and endorses the precinct strategy.
GRIFFIN: His step-by-step tutorial for taking over Republican politics is considered gospel, inspiring thousands of believers in the election lie to get involved. GOP leaders in more than 20 counties, in mostly battleground states, told CNN they have seen a spike in participation.
ALTIERY: The precinct committee strategy, that's the first thing. Dan Schultz, I'm like oh, my gosh. I'm calling everybody I know. Did you even know that we had a precinct in my neighborhood? I'm the committee person now, you know. Just feeling like, hey, I'm actually doing something. GRIFFIN: They are all doing something because of Bannon.
Jodi Diodati is a long shot running for Stacey Abrams' old seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Wendy Ahrenkiel is running for Georgia's House District 52 and may actually win. Stacy Altiery is now a Republican precinct chair registering voters and recruiting poll watchers.
ALTIERY: I'm a precinct committee person. We need folks. We'll have somebody get in touch with you because my friends and I decided we don't want to sit around bitching anymore. It's time to take it back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amen.
ALTIERY: And that's what we're doing.
GRIFFIN: Without exception, they believe Joe Biden lost in November, 2020.
DIODATI: Did Biden get more than Obama? No way.
AHRENKIEL: No way.
DIODATI: They said he got the most votes of any president ever. And I just remember the energy around Obama, and there was --
ALTIERY: There's still energy around Obama than there is Biden.
DIODATI: Yes. Yes. I just didn't see that lining up.
AHRENKIEL: For me my thing with it is I just would like to what happened. And I do think that the evidence is there and it's not being seen.
TAYLOR: We've watched American society go from trust in and reliance upon institutions. Now they don't trust it. And people like Trump and Bannon have convinced them that what they see with their eyes and hear with their ears is false, and it's genuinely created two alternate realities existing simultaneously in this country.
GRIFFIN: Nowhere is that more evident than Michigan.
BETH PADULA (R), MICHIGAN PRECINCT DELEGATE CANDIDATE: I happened to stumble upon Steve Bannon and Dan Schultz.
GRIFFIN: Beth Padula answered Bannon's call, is running to be a precinct delegate and says she wants to support candidates who believe the election was stolen.
PADULA: Thousands and thousands of ballots that were dropped off in the middle of the night in Detroit.
GRIFFIN: In Michigan, precinct delegates have even more power because they, not the general public, determine the winners of some primary elections. That is how two election deniers promoted by Steve Bannon are now the Republican candidates for secretary of state and attorney general.
BANNON: But I've got to go to a superstar in Michigan, Matt DePerno. Matt, you're a hero and a patriot.
GRIFFIN: Ultra-MAGA candidates from Texas to Ohio, Arizona, and Pennsylvania lining up to campaign on Bannon's podcast.
DOUG MASTRIANO (R), CANDIDATE FOR PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Thank you, Steve, and thanks for helping to introduce me to, you know, Pennsylvania and America as well so what you do really just have the consequences.
GRIFFIN: Doug Mastriano, now the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, has told Bannon should he win he will control the state's elections.
MASTRIANO: As governor I get to decertify any and all machines in the state.
GRIFFIN: And that is the real danger, that the ultra-MAGA, detached from reality, could take control of elections and impact whose votes count, whose do not, essentially eliminating the democratic process.
BEN GINSBERG, CO-CHAIR, ELECTION OFFICIALS LEGAL DEFENSE NETWORK: If in fact this is an attempt to take away the vote of the people for a pre-ordained outcome that Steve Bannon or Donald Trump or their followers like, then that's as anti-democratic and anti-American as it gets.
GRIFFIN: But Bannon's actions do not end at the U.S. border. He's seeking a new world order based on a scary past.
ISCHINGER: Steve Bannon was the single most dangerous American who came our way.
GRIFFIN: For proof of just how far-right the Republican Party has shifted, you only need to look at the Conservative Political Action Committee or CPAC. This year for the first time CPAC was held in Europe and chose Hungary and had its authoritarian leader Viktor Orban speak. He has forced white nationalism, clamped down on the press and taken control of his country's courts.
VIKTOR ORBAN, HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have to take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels.
GRIFFIN: Republicans ate it up. Steve Bannon not only admires Orban but advised him for years. Bannon's work is not limited to the United States, and he has given new life to Europe's very dark past.
BANNON: What I have been working on since I went over there in 2018 is that these groups have to work together. GRIFFIN: Starting in 2018 after his firing from the White House,
Bannon has been trying to get populist leaders across Europe to join forces turning the continent back decades.
ISCHINGER: Looking back over the last 70 years, over the post-World War II period, in my view Steve Bannon view was the most single dangerous American who came our way.
GRIFFIN: Bannon traveled across Europe meeting with populist leaders, firing up populist crowds.
BANNON: The tide of history is with us, and it will compel us to victory after victory after victory.
GRIFFIN: Promoting the growth of what he calls a Judeo-Christian West.
BANNON: They are the kind of people that the Judeo-Christian West has developed. They have a voice in Orban, Mateo, Salvini, Le Pen, Trump, Bolsonaro and others.
GRIFFIN: Bannon would call this push the movement.
BANNON: The thing we're going do with the movement is like in the United States before I took over the Trump campaign. We're actually going to provide the tools and the building blocks for victory.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): What is the movement?
HARNWELL: The movement was an idea to create more like a movement of separate nationalist political parties around Europe so they can all fight together on the issues of common interest, common position obviously with regards to illegal immigration.
BANNON: I'm going to go first to Ben Harnwell in Rome.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ben Harnwell is Bannon's international editor based in Rome.
(On-camera): It's interesting but also strange to me that you would bring in all these far-right politicians from different countries.
HARNWELL: They're not far-right.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): They are. Around Bannon's extravagant recruiting tables in Europe were far-right leaders from more than half a dozen countries.
REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): Father, we're gathering around this table with friends and comrades.
GRIFFIN: To bless the gathering, Bannon brought along MAGA far-right Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, the movement's unofficial ambassador.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say it's time for watching.
BANNON: Yes. ISCHINGER: We were scared.
GRIFFIN: Wolfgang Ischinger is Germany's former ambassador to the U.S.
(On-camera): You called him or described his actions as poisonous.
GRIFFIN: What do you mean by that?
ISCHINGER: Poisoning the political atmosphere in Europe. We thought he's now going to bring a virus back into Europe which we had hoped to have gotten rid of after World War II.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): What Bannon wants is to replace every progressive European leader with a far-right autocrat like Hungary's Orban.
NATHALIE TOCCI, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: If we had 27 Viktor Orbans, the current prime minister of Hungary, across the 27 member states of the European Union, there would not be a European Union.
GRIFFIN: Bannon inflamed tensions in Europe. As Muslim refugees from Africa and the Middle East flooded across borders, Bannon called it an invasion. He was labeled a racist and didn't care.
BANNON: Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): Wear it like a badge.
HARNWELL: Yes, and you know why he said that? When you fight the establishments they will come back at you and call you white supremacist, Neo-Nazi, racist, fascist. You know you have won because they have no arguments to come back against your actual policy platform.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): To cement the movement to change Europe's culture, Bannon sought to create a school in this 13th century Italian monastery.
BANNON: And we call it a modern gladiator school.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): A modern gladiator school.
HARNWELL: That's right.
GRIFFIN: That conjures up fighting and violence to me.
HARNWELL: I don't think it really does, Drew. I think what it conjures --
GRIFFIN: Gladiator school? HARNWELL: Yes. I think what it conjures up to you is the idea that if
you're talking about culture warriors, well, then we're having a finishing school for culture warriors.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bannon and Harnwell's group DHI got approval to rent and restore this national treasure founded by peaceful monks in the year 2011. Politicians like Lia Quartapelle were stunned.
LIA QUARTAPELLE, MEMBER OF ITALIAN PARLIAMENT, DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Very shocked. We feared that the school could become the operational center of national populism in Europe. It was quite scary. They wanted to imply the school to teach how to hate, how to deceive and how to divide our societies.
GRIFFIN: The school never taught a single student. Italy's government accused the DHI of lying on their application and kicked them out of the monastery.
QUARTAPELLE: Americans should know that Bannon here lied and forged.
GRIFFIN: But it's Harnwell who is facing fraud charges.
HARNWELL: It is important that you see that the horrific miscarriage of justice that the Italian state inflicted in this action, right, and it's the basis on which we have appealed.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): And you believe it was pure political.
HARNWELL: Well, it was 100 percent political.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Among the allegations, DHI never paid its rent to the government. In fact, CNN confirmed this letter from a bank that supposedly verified DHI's financing for the project was fraudulent. DHI also told the Ministry of Culture it had five years' experience running a cultural museum as was required, but we went to the location of that so-called museum with Italian investigative reporter Giorgio Mottola.
(On-camera): I mean, so this is the museum that he was managing.
GIORGIO MOTTOLA, JOURNALIST, RAI'S REPORT: Yes. You have in front of you the museum of Benjamin Harnwell and Steve Bannon. The little museum of Sir Nicholas.
GRIFFIN: And you're not kidding. This is a stable.
GRIFFIN: It's filled with hay.
MOTTOLA: A stable for donkeys.
GRIFFIN: And obviously very well used by the donkeys.
MOTTOLA: Yes, completely.
GRIFFIN: We went to it.
GRIFFIN: It was a stable.
GRIFFIN: For a donkey.
GRIFFIN: Filled with hay.
GRIFFIN: So you actually ran a museum there.
HARNWELL: Yes, and there wasn't a museum there in the stable. The museum was in the old chapel which is under lock and key on the floor above.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Despite our request, Harnwell offered CNN no proof of any museum behind this locked door.
MOTTOLA: So we went to find also the priest who managed in the past this church. We asked him if it was a museum, and he told us it had never been a museum there.
GRIFFIN: Bannon's gladiator school and the movement might be over, but some far-right nationalist parties are still surging and Bannon is still spreading his praise for autocratic rulers.
BANNON: Putin's speech the other night, but if you read, it's so logical. Putin today gave a serious talk, had a serious talk with the Russian people that was a level of seriousness you will not see with the clowns on Capitol Hill.
GREEN: Bannon is very much aware of what Vladimir Putin has done and respects, admirers that appeal to blood and soil nationalism. Those kinds of ideas can have power, and that's something that ought to frighten us.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Bannon --
GRIFFIN: Steve Bannon has been called a liar, racist, evil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a traitor to this country.
BANNON: Thanks, man.
GRIFFIN: He thinks it's a sign he's winning. TAYLOR: It's not that there's a war between the rational Republicans
and the radical Republicans. The radical side won. They took over the party. They are in control of the party.
GRIFFIN: Just look at the number of establishment Republican lawmakers leaving office, election officials quitting. The number of Republicans who believe an election was stolen and who don't believe that this was carried out by Trump supporters.
AHRENKIEL: I want to know the truth of what happened that day.
DIODATI: Show me the footage.
AHRENKIEL: Yes, show me the footage.
DIODATI: There's like -- yes.
GRIFFIN (on-camera): Never seen the windows being broken and the people jumping through the window.
DIODATI: And who were the people that were breaking the windows? Do we know?
GRIFFIN: Yes. Proud Boys.
DIODATI: Do we know that? Could they have been Antifa?
GRIFFIN: We know the names of them actually.
DIODATI: Do we know that they could have been Antifa?
GRIFFIN: No, they weren't Antifa. We know the names of them.
(Voice-over): When the January 6th Committee subpoenaed Steve Bannon to find out just what he knows about that day, he refused to comply and was indicted.
BURNETT: Breaking news, another Trump ally possibly going to jail.
BANNON: I'm telling you right now this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.
GRIFFIN: For months Bannon remained defiant, but on the brink of his trial in typical Bannon disruptive style an about-face. Bannon now said he would now testify.
BANNON: Give me a date, a time, a room number, a microphone and a holy bible that I can take the oath on. Boom, deliver that and we'll see how good you are.
GRIFFIN: Prosecutors wrote Bannon's last-minute efforts to testify almost nine months after his default are irrelevant.
TAYLOR: There's got to be some accountability here. These people believe that they are above the law.
GRIFFIN: Outside a recent hearing in his case, CNN caught up to Steve Bannon.
(On-camera): Why do you continue to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen?
BANNON: It's not a lie.
GRIFFIN: It's a lie. You have no proof. We've looked at all the facts.
BANNON: You haven't -- I'd tell you --
GRIFFIN: You don't have the facts.
BANNON: Hey, hold on.
GRIFFIN: Rudy doesn't have the facts.
BANNON: Hey, do me a favor, get this guy. I want to sit down with you this week for two hours and I'll go through all the evidence. OK?
GRIFFIN: OK. How about Friday?
BANNON: Friday, done.
GRIFFIN: All right.
BANNON: Done deal.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Despite that pledge, the interview never happened. Bannon ultimately ignored all our requests for interviews. Before he was indicted for contempt, Bannon was indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly funneling $1 million in public donations from a private Build the Wall Foundation. Donald Trump granted him a pardon. Bannon's alleged co-conspirators weren't so lucky. Two have pleaded guilty.
BANNON: We're going to blow out this Congress, the Democrats.
GRIFFIN: What Bannon may be counting on most of all is the culmination of his political quest to take over, how we vote, who counts the votes and who wins.
BANNON: Pray for our enemies, OK, pray -- because we're going Medieval on these people. We're going to savage our enemies.
GATES: My greatest fear is that we have people who are elected who will tip the balance in the elections in 2024. If that happens, I think our democracy then will be truly teetering on the edge.
GREEN: If Republicans win back power, if they win back control of Congress in November, Joe Biden will be impeached. Bannon has told me this.
BANNON: We're not going to rest until we decertify, decertify every Biden election. GRIFFIN (on-camera): Is he dangerous to democracy?
GREEN: There's no question he's dangerous to democracy. He seems to have no limits.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): He has divided his party with hate. He has divided his country with lies. Bannon has vowed to tear it all down. Divided he knows we fall.