Empire Files Exposes Steve Bannon’s True Character

From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary.


Abby Martin Exposes Steve Bannon

A familiar name to some and a new one to others, Steve Bannon is a right wing ideologue who should not be ignored. With some calling him “the intellectual force behind” Trump’s agenda and others directly referring to him as President, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News has his hands in some of the most controversial executive orders and foreign policy decisions in this administration.

Bannon’s political development began during his time in the US Navy from 1976-1983. During this time he never served in war himself, but his time spent as an officer on ship created a lifelong thirst for military supremacy and war, still bubbling to the surface today.

After leaving the Navy, Bannon found himself at Goldman Sachs for 6 years before founding his own investment firm, Bannon & Company. Two short years later, he sold his firm to a media giant, funding his next endeavor – making apocalyptic films laden with right-wing propaganda, stoking the fears and insecurities of a growing and increasingly agitated audience. His films range in subject from demonizing the Occupy movement to praising Sarah Palin in a potential attempt to ride her coattails to fame, to dangerous propaganda about the perceived dangers of immigration.

Many of Bannon’s business dealings and relationships have been laden with controversy. In 2004 he began working with Internet Gaming Entertainment, exploiting online games such as World Of Warcraft. Utilizing his experience and connections, “Bannon managed to convince Goldman Sachs to plow $60 million into a company that sold imaginary goods in an imaginary world.” All three heads of IGE were sued for sexual abuse of underage boys, including the founder and CEO, Pierce Brock, and investor Marc Collins-Rector, a fugitive on the run for child rape and human trafficking.

In addition to controversy in his business life, Bannon’s personal relationships have been tumultuous. In 1995 Bannon embarked on his second of three marriages, only three days before his new wife, Mary Louise Piccard, gave birth to their twins, stating that he would not marry Piccard until he had proof that the babies were “normal.” After multiple bouts of physical and verbal abuse, Piccard filed a restraining order and divorced Bannon. Unsurprisingly Bannon was never convicted after Piccard was a no show in court, later claiming to have been threatened by Bannon. He retained visitation rights but was later caught hitting one of the twins when they were only 17 months old.

In the early 2000s, Bannon forged a relationship with Andrew Breitbart with Breitbart affectionately referring to Bannon as theLeni Riefenshtahl of the Tea Party movement.” At the time, Breitbart was a protege of Matt Drudge, creator of The Drudge Report. The Drudge Report successfully brought the power of right wing talk radio to the internet. Breitbart expanded on The Drudge Report’s model by manipulating headlines to demonize progressives, women, immigrants, and more. Soon Alex Jones and his following were brought into the fold. As Breitbart News began to go under, Bannon was hard at work sourcing funds from right-wing investors in an attempt to reanimate it, when Andrew Breitbart unexpectedly dropped dead. Bannon quickly stepped in as CEO.

Soon Bannon created the Government Accountability Institute, an official sounding ring-wing think tank, bankrolled by an investment from Robert Mercer. Mercer had recently financed anti-Muslim adds in opposition to the “Ground Zero Mosque” resulting in an increase in xenophobic panic. Other notable GAI investors included the power hungry billionaires, the Koch Brothers. GAI also served as a money laundering scheme for Breitbart in which wealthy donors could donate to the non-profit with their donations quickly forwarded on to Breitbart’s reporters.

With the rise of Trump came a rise in Breitbart News reader loyalty, including an instant increase in monthly readers – from 8 million to 18 million. Trump and Bannon both found something attractive and desired in the other – Trump being a powerful and accessible mouthpiece and Bannon being a household name with a large, loyal, and extremely passionate following.

Bannon preys on society’s problems and falsely directs the blame where he wants it – on immigrants, globalism, progressives, millennials, and more. Bannon’s misdirected desires to halt Muslim immigration, his strategy to rally the white working class against their poor neighbors and his seemingly unquenchable thirst for war are bleeding their way through Trump and into the world.

“The real Resistance will come from what Bannon seems to fear most—a United, multicultural progressive movement in the streets.”


Abby Martin: If there’s one person other than Trump who has gained a surprisingly huge amount of political power over the past year, it’s Steve Bannon. The right-wing ideologue is most notorious for his role as former Executive Chairman at Breitbart News, a website that he dubbed, “The Platform of the Alt-Right,” and hosts stories like these. Bannon’s candid about his lust for power — quoted as saying, “Darth Vader, Dick Cheney, Satan, that’s power.” As Trump’s ineptitude, and lack of political ideology becomes increasingly obvious, many have noticed that there are other forces steering the ship.While the Christian right is one sector of the right-wing establishment guiding his policies, the alt-right has their own influence in the White House, namely through Steve Bannon. He’s been called the intellectual force behind Trump’s agenda.And in just mere months, he’s propelled himself from right-wing media outlier, to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire, as Trump’s chief strategist. That means Bannon is the number one person who Trump relies on, to guide his every move. Just like Karl Rove served as the brain for George W. Bush.David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard, said of Bannon, “You have an individual who’s basically creating the ideological aspects of where we’re going. And ideology ultimately is the most important aspect of any government. “Bannon’s power grab hasn’t gone unnoticed. As Trump spends the majority of his time tweeting, watching news about himself, and golfing at the lavish Mar-a-Lago Resort, there’s a big void for Bannon to fill.So, who is this mysterious man behind the curtain? Well, Bannon’s story really starts with a youthful lust for war.Bannon credits his formative political development to his time in the U.S. Navy. He served from 1976 to 1983, mostly on a ship as a pampered officer. It was on this ship that Bannon’s thirst for military supremacy, and war was fully formed. While he never served in war himself, he lamented his missed opportunity as a political turning point.While Bannon was at sea, the empire was hard at work trying to strangle the Iranian revolution. Which had deposed U.S.-backed dictator, the Shah, famous for chilling torture, and executions of political opponents.The Pentagon was planning a military assault on Tehran, which ended in embarrassment, and ultimately was pulled back by Carter. Bannon bitterly sailed on in the lonely seas. Becoming more reactionary over the incident, he developed a fawning loyalty to Reagan, and even attended his victory party in uniform. He ended up working in the Pentagon under Reagan.Although he left the military, his love for war never ceased. Bannon’s long-time writing partner and former close friend, Julia Jones said, “Steve is a strong militarist. He’s in love with war. It’s almost poetry to him.”But apparently Navy life was below Bannon. Even with his preferred Commander-in-Chief. In 1984 he moved on to more lucrative adventures as an investment banker, at financial behemoth Goldman Sachs. He got the job like most who exist in this world of privilege, meeting the son of a Goldman Sachs executive. He stayed at Goldman for six years, before he recruited his banker pals to found his own investment firm — Bannon and Company, which bankrolled media corporations.The industry cashed in big with Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allowed media companies to be gobbled up in massive monopolies. Two years later, Bannon sold his firm to a bigger media giant.This gave him the lavish wealth to focus on his true passion, making apocalyptic right-wing propaganda films.

Crowd: (chanting, drums)

Man: There shall be open borders, and it’s just nuts.

Man: What would have happened if a Senator was killed by Armando Garcia?

Abby Martin: His movies over the years cover an array of far-right dystopian fantasies that depict a society in collapse, invaded by criminal armies.

Man: The cartels control everything.

Abby Martin: Whoa… Dang…Bannon’s political films were never successful outside the dark circles of Tea Party types. So, in 2004, he took a more lucrative position at a peculiar company — Internet Gaming Entertainment. IGE was based on exploiting Internet games, like World of War Craft, paying thousands of people to drone away at mining virtual resources, so that they could be sold to other players.Brought in for his banker connections, IGE’s investment paid off well. As one industry expert pointed out, “Bannon managed to convince Goldman Sachs to plough $60 million into a company that sold imaginary goods, in an imaginary world.”In addition to the bizarre nature of their profits, Bannon was making money for highly problematic people. IGE was an investment project of Mark Collins-Rector, a fugitive on the run for child rape, and human trafficking. In fact, all three heads of the firm were sued for sexual abuse of under-aged boys, including the founder and CEO of IGE.A year after Bannon secured the investment, the company tanked, embroiled in shady dealings, a class-action lawsuit brought by gamers. As the company went down in flames, its remnants became Affinity Media. Bannon had the CEO ousted and replaced, with himself. He stayed in this position until leaving for Breitbart, in 2012.Considering Bannon’s lack of ethics in his professional life, it’s not surprising that his personal life is also marred with scandal.Like several members of the Trump Administration, Bannon has a disturbing history of alleged domestic abuse. Details from the second of his three marriages reveal what kind of man Bannon really is.In 1995 he married Mary Louise Picard, only three days before she gave birth to their twins. According to Picard, he wouldn’t marry her until the babies were proven to be, “normal”. In the divorce documents, Picard wrote, “Bannon made it clear that he would not marry me just because I was pregnant. I was scheduled for an amniocentesis, and was told by the respondent that if the babies were normal, we would get married.”Even though the babies were normal, Bannon didn’t seem to pay much attention to them, as he made them wear costumes to tell them apart, and repeatedly refused to pay them child support.Less than a year into their marriage, a violent incident happened that could be best explained through the police report itself. According to the report, Bannon got angry at his wife for making noise while feeding their newborn twins. When she asked him for money to buy groceries, a fight erupted, and carried out onto the driveway.The fight culminated with Bannon becoming violent, grabbing her wrists and neck, and, “pulled her down, as if he was trying to pull her into the car, over the door.” When she broke free to try to call 911, Bannon jumped over her and the twins, to grab the phone from her.”I took the phone to call the police, and he grabbed the phone away from me, throwing it across the room and breaking it, as he was screaming that I was a crazy F****** C***,” the document states.Police verified the abuse, writing, “I saw red marks on her left wrist, and the right side of her neck.” These were photographed.According to a study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine, women who have been strangled by their partner are seven times more likely to be killed, than other victims of domestic violence. The same study shows that 43% of women murdered in domestic assaults, had been strangled by their partner in the previous year. According to the officer on the scene, she broke down and admitted that their turbulent six-year relationship had been plagued with physical violence early on. Bannon was arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence, battery, and witness intimidation. Picard filed a restraining order, and divorced him. But Bannon was never convicted, because Picard didn’t show up for court.Later, she revealed that Bannon and his lawyers had threatened to ruin her life, if she pursued charges. Bannon retained visitation rights of their children. Yet, just months later when the babies were only 17 months old, he was caught hitting one of them. Picard then requested visitation in public spaces only, because she said he was verbally abusive in front of their kids, and she did not feel safe.He’s also been charged with crude verbal abuse against female employees. When one female worker challenged his leadership, he reportedly called her a bimbo, and threatened to, “kick her ass”.But his relationships, and Wall Street career, have always come second to his drive for political influence. Throughout his years as a propagandist, Bannon hitched his wagon to things he thought would elevate his views.When the Tea Party movement emerged, Bannon praised it as the vanguard of a new American revolution.When Sarah Palin came on the scene, Bannon was so enthused by her popularity; he created an entire film about her. Considering Palin herself isn’t even interviewed in the film, it’s unknown whether Bannon actually saw her as a visionary political leader.

Sarah Palin: The man can only ride ya, when your back is bent. So, strengthen it!

Abby Martin: Or, if she was just a convenient vehicle for his own vision. This strategy of riding a fringe character to power didn’t succeed with Palin. But it would with Trump. But nowhere would Bannon’s quest for political influence be realized more, than at Breitbart News. Bannon developed a friendship with Andrew Breitbart in the early 2000s, through a shared love of arch-reactionary media. Breitbart even had a cute nickname for Bannon, the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement. Riefenstahl was a Nazi filmmaker known for creating some of Hitler’s most iconic propaganda. The comparison was meant as a compliment.When Bannon became a protégé of Andrew Breitbart, he entered into a fringe circle with enormous sway over the beliefs of millions of dispirit white men. Andrew Breitbart is credited for changing the way media is consumed, helping launch huge websites, like Huffington Post, with good friend at the time, Ariana Huffington; and of course, his own website, Breitbart News. Breitbart was a protégé of Matt Drudge, creator and head of the Drudge Report. He converted the power of right-wing talk radio, where ideologues had a platform for views unacceptable on TV, onto the Internet.Drudge Report is an aggregate that curates a particular narrative of white male victimization. Long-time Editor, Drudge, Andrew Breitbart, took this model of aggregation, but manipulated the headlines into stories that fostered a hysterical climate against progressives, women, immigrants, etc., As well as a comfortable hub for white nationalists. Along with Breitbart, the elusive Matt Drudge also handpicked Alex Jones, as the next right-wing icon. While Alex Jones is treated as just a loony Internet sideshow, he has a following of millions of people, who take his every word as gospel. Bannon was a fitting addition to this mix. Bannon’s initial role in Breitbart News was as a money bundler, again, using his Wall Street connections to raise capital for their project. But by 2012, the site was going under. It was blacklisted for a hoax against a black government official, where her speech was manipulated to appear as if she had advocated violence against white people.During this time, Bannon was hard at work raising cash from right-wing millionaires to resurrect it, and Andrew Breitbart dropped dead. Bannon promptly stepped in as CEO and relaunched the site under his leadership.In his scheme to inflate his new platform, he created the Government Accountability Institute, a right-wing think tank which issues reports like this one, that attempts to validate the conspiracy of paid protestors.GAI’s donor list shows who among the empire’s ruling elite are behind Bannon. It was bankrolled by a multi-million dollar investment from a man named, Robert Mercer; dubbed one of the most influential billionaires in the world. Mercer has financed anti-Muslim ads that use the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, to whip up xenophobic panic, as well as campaigns advocating the death penalty.But he’s also known for something else — having the largest collection of machine guns in America. What else would a far-right billionaire spend his money on, other than stockpiling an arsenal of weapons in his mansion bunker? Other top donors to Bannon’s GAI, are America’s premiere bloodthirsty, planet-destroying billionaires, the Koch brothers.But GAI had another purpose. It offered a way for these super rich donors to essentially launder money to Breitbart, without them having to deal with the fallout of doing so publically. Hey, they’re just making charitable donations to a non-profit.Their tax-deductible donations through GAI were sent directly to pay Breitbart reporters’ salaries, which is illegal. Though Breitbart News had always been a medium for extreme right-wing forces, Bannon took it even further down that path.While he remains more tight-lipped in public about the true nature of his beliefs, Bannon used this site as the vehicle to promote his most incendiary views. According to one former Breitbart writer, Bannon ran the site and controlled the content as a dictator. Making sure his guests and contributors all fell in line with his own ideological outlook.Among the voices Bannon often highlighted on Breitbart, are Pamela Geller, America’s most prominent anti-Muslim bigot. Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived National Security Advisor, who says Islam, is a cancer. And washed up hate peddler, Milo Yiannopoulis.Entire sections of Breitbart are dedicated to sensationalizing distorted facts about minority groups, to whip up and justify hatred of Muslims, and people of color. For example, one tab, labeled, “Black Crime,” aggregates stories of offences committed by black people, another compiles reports of honor killings, and child marriages, from around the globe.The site routinely portrays Muslim refugees as disease-carrying criminals. As it has sought to expand its presence in Europe, the website has frequently attacked Muslim communities, by propagating racist tropes, and justifying violence against immigrants. This site has taken advantage of recent anti-Muslim hysteria in Europe, to exploit their audience’s irrational fears of Muslim immigration.The presumable audience of angry white men that Bannon accumulated at Breitbart, reached far greater heights with the rise of the Trump phenomenon. While Breitbart News, under Bannon drew in about 8 million readers per month, it shot up to over 18 million, in the months after Trump announced his campaign.A new relationship was born. Trump had something Bannon always wanted — a bigger megaphone for his right-wing dreams of transforming American society. And Bannon had something Trump cherished too — a doting audience.Now that Bannon has this much power, a lot has been speculated about his actual political beliefs. And because he rarely gives media interviews to people, other than Breitbart employees, we don’t often see him challenged. Bannon is a well-known critic of mainstream conservatives, but not just for the sake of pushing them further to the right. He wants to build an insurgency — to destroy both traditional Republican institutions, and everything to the left of them.He’s called a populist, but he’s really only a populist for a specific sector of the working class. That’s nothing new. Throughout history rulers have rallied the white working class against other poor people, to avert blame for systemic crisis — in Germany and beyond, this tactic has served as the basis for fascism.His political philosophy is also rooted in a rejection of what the alt-right calls, globalism.

Man: The globalists and their minions just want to get rid of our sovereignty, and say we don’t have a right to have a country.

Man: It doesn’t matter what race, or country you’re from, you should be against the globalists. We need nationalist governments.

Man: But the world at large, however, is not united by a common culture. That’s why the globalists are waging a war against national identity.

Woman: Globalism means any law your government passes is subject to invalidation by unelected hall monitors, who would rather police the boundaries of free speech, than the borders of actual countries.

Abby Martin: It’s a vague concept that’s applied to everything from a shadowy international network of elites usurping American sovereignty, to the destruction of Western culture from foreign invaders –- a.k.a. immigrants. They rail against multiculturism, which really just means people of different religions, and nationalities, co-existing.Bannon vehemently denies the charge of white nationalism, but he proudly calls himself an economic nationalist.

Steve Bannon: The internal logic makes sense. Their corporatist, globalist media, that are adamantly opposed… adamantly opposed (applause) to an economic nationalist agenda, like Donald Trump has. If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day… every day, it is going to be a fight.

Abby Martin: But who is fighting whom? What is this nation Bannon says he stands for? And who does he consider part of it? Well, it’s clear who he doesn’t consider part of it.

Man: It’s pretty dark here in Europe right now, but there’s something actually much darker, and that is Islam.

Abby Martin: Bannon doesn’t even try to mask his anti-Muslim bigotry as a fear of terrorism, as others do. He’s clear in stating that Islam is a threat to white American Christian culture.

Man: To be brutally frank, I mean, Christianity is dying in Europe, and Islam is on the rise. Let’s talk about that.

Abby Martin: Bannon’s views on Islam, make Trump’s Muslim ban look like child’s play. If it were entirely up to Bannon, no Muslims would ever be able to enter the U.S.

Man: Why are you going through all this thing on vetting? Why even let them in? The opportunity cost to put in a structure to actually vet these people, the cost to do that… to what end? Can’t that money be used in the United States? I mean, I think the issue is, should we just take a pause and a hiatus for a number of years?

Abby Martin: Apart from Muslims, Bannon’s anti-immigrant views go as far as to depict his nation as literally, being at war. In his 2006 film, “Border War: The Battle over Illegal Immigration,” he uses a small majority white border town as a symbol of America — depicting it as being invaded by an evil immigrant army. But Bannon goes even further than most of his anti-immigrant counterparts. His nation doesn’t even include highly educated, totally legal immigrants. In this 2015 recording, we hear Bannon rebuking Donald Trump on the matter.

Donald Trump: We’ve got to be able to keep great people in the country. We’ve got to create, you know, job creators. One man went to, I think it was Harvard, there was a story a month ago — went to Harvard. Did well, good student, wanted to stay in the country, wasn’t allowed to, went back to his home in India, started up a company.Now it’s a very, very successful company, with thousands of people. He wanted to do that here. We have to be careful of that, Steve, you know. We have to keep our talented people in this country.

Steve Bannon: Um.

Donald Trump: I think you agree with that. Do you agree with that?

Steve Bannon: Well, I… I’ve got a tough… you know, when two-thirds, or three-quarters of the CEOs, in Silicon Valley are from South Asia, or from Asia, I think, I… on a… my point is that a country is more like Sessions. A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.

Abby Martin: Apart from immigrants, Bannon’s ideology, as seen during his reign at Breitbart, heavily scapegoats African-Americans, with racist depictions as welfare scammers, and violent criminals.So, while Bannon says he’s just a nationalist, not a white nationalist, it seems that his nationalism doesn’t apply to anyone other than white people. At the same time, he claims that the alt-right’s appeal to racists is simply coincidental. Bannon’s fears of Islam and immigrants, are tied to what he sees as the demise of Judeo Christian values, which he believes were foundational to the so-called golden age of capitalism. Bannon’s ideology appeals to people, because he’s pointing out actual problems in society — like the absence of a rising middle class, and many other symptoms of neoliberalism. According to Bannon, America’s golden age was in the 1950s, where institutions, stability, and upward mobility for white families thrived. While African-Americans, and others, continued to be impoverished and brutalized. Bannon thinks the Civil Rights and Social movements of the 1960s, eroded these stable institutions. Without them functioning as they did before, Bannon thinks corporate greed was able to run wild. Big government and big business, schemed together against the interests of small businesses, favoring instead globalization and free trade agreements. The problem is that the globalists gutted the American working class, and created a middle class in Asia, Bannon says. Though Bannon’s story about the economy does contain some kernels of truth, he demonizes those hurt most by these policies. He even blames the 2008 financial crisis on the Civil Rights movement, and anti-racist movements. As his 2010 film, “Generation Zero” explains.

Man: So, white Americans have been in a position where they constantly have to prove that they are not racist. It is that phenomenon of white guilt, is what pressures people in the government to say things like, everybody has a right to a house.

Abby Martin: This hatred of progressive movements was accentuated in Bannon’s 2012 film, “Occupy Unmasked.” Which became the main propaganda piece smearing the movement. With Breitbart News, he often discredited organic mass protests as manufactured fronts, for either communists, Democrats, or George Soros. With the decline of the capitalism that made America great, Bannon curmudgeonly blames millennials, their secularism, and pop culture, as having, “sapped the West of its strength to defend its Judeo Christian ideals.” He even blames this for the rise of ISIS. Bannon’s economic agenda, and his racism, go hand-in-hand.His economic nationalism dissolves any semblance of minority rights, as they are all under a dominant zeitgeist of Judeo Christian values, and a distinctly American — really white, cultural identity.

Steve Bannon: I think we… the center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy. Not an economy just in some global marketplace, with open borders. But we are a nation with a culture, and a reason for being.

Abby Martin: Bannon’s message had so much reach in the recent election cycle, because it appealed to the same economic issues the Democratic Party establishment has been unwilling to address. All of this is couched in a virulently anti-establishment ethos. Democrats and mainstream Republicans are the ones that got us into this mess.His solution is as apocalyptic as his films. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishments. “Now, that he has the President’s ear, it’s not hard to see how, even within the first several weeks, his ideology and most outlandish fantasies have been put into action. Bannon is credited for penning the most extreme elements of the Muslim Ban, excluding those on tourist visas, and green card holders initially.Part of Trump’s anti-immigrant plan is a tactic straight from Breitbart News. Trump announced he would publish a weekly list of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Trumps main attack strategy on the media, is also straight from Bannon’s mouth.In an interview with the New York Times, Bannon said, “The media here is the opposition party.”

Donald Trump: Yeah, I think the media is the opposition party.

Reporter: …state categorically–

Donald Trump: –You are fake news.

Abby Martin: Perhaps the biggest danger of Bannon’s power and influence in the White House, is leading a march to his first love — war.

Man: You have an expansionist Islam, and you have an expansionist China, right, they are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march, and they think the Judeo Christian West is on the retreat.

Abby Martin: Last March, Bannon boasted that there is no doubt the U.S. will be going to war in the South China Sea, in the next five to ten years.In January, a Chinese government official wrote, that a war within the President’s term, or war breaking out tonight, are not just slogans. They’re becoming a practical reality.The danger of a war with China is just one terrifying scenario we face under Bannon’s guidance. With a myriad of generals, and politicians, hoping to push Trump into new wars with Iran, North Korea, China, Iraq again, Syria, etc. — Bannon could be the deciding factor. For Trump, with so many loathsome establishment figures in his ear, Bannon is the trusted companion to tell him whether or not to listen.While Bannon may likely be just using Trump to advance his own agenda, there’s a whole extremist group of the empire’s elites who are using Bannon to advance theirs.While it’s imperative to fight every member of the Trump Administration, we need to understand the ideology behind their policies, in order to best defeat them. That demands we expose figures like Steve Bannon, and the entire system that subjects us to the will of such repugnant individuals.The fact that someone like Steve Bannon could attain such a high seat of power, shows how illegitimate the system really is; how quickly steps towards progress can be reversed.The Democrats, who are beholding to their own corporate interests, and advocate the same racist wars, cannot be trusted to lead any real opposition.The real resistance will come from what Bannon fears the most — a united, multi-cultural, progressive movement in the streets.

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A Deeper Look at Islamophobia in America

Muslim Vandalism2015 was the most dangerous year for Muslims in America, setting records for hate crimes against them. There have been dozens of attacks on mosques, including firebombings, and physical assaults like stabbings, shootings and beatings against Muslims (and perceived Muslims) grew to the highest numbers ever recorded.

Already wrapping up as a deadly year, the last few months of 2015 saw hate crimes against Muslim Americans dramatically increaseMembers of the community are saying the climate of hate is worse now than after 9/11.

Abby Martin interviews Dr. Deepa Kumar, professor of media studies at Rutgers University and author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, about the roots of this alarming situation. From confronting right-wing arguments, to examining how Islamophobia is a reinforcement and basis for the structures of Empire, the first Empire Files episode of 2016 gives essential context to the wave of anti-Muslim hate in America and beyond.


The Most Dangerous Year for Muslims in America


DEEPA KUMAR: I think that if you look at the year 2015, it has been a horrible year for Muslims not just in the United States, but around the world because if you see the two events that book-end 2015, it is the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks in France and the Paris attacks later on towards the end of the year and then San Bernardino, and what these attacks have done is that they have exacerbated and really ratcheted up what we’ve seen as tendencies since 9-11. What are some of these tendencies? Well, first of all hate crimes against Muslims and those who look Muslim have skyrocketed. It’s not just people being verbally and physically attacked. We’ve seen mosques being desecrated. We’ve seen all sorts of horrific attacks of these sorts, but we’ve also seen the rise of a kind of a xenophobic nationalism where White supremacy has been the center of nations remaking themselves, like France or like the United States and so on saying these people are a fifth column, they don’t belong here and so on, and what these attacks have done…it has legitimized this, but what it’s also legitimized is the various security apparatuses, so what happens after the Paris attacks is that the French police carried out more than 2,000 raids on Muslims, both citizens as well as immigrants, arrested hundreds of Muslims and so forth, and it legitimizes these activities by the state to keep us safe. So you’ve seen really an exacerbation of the logic of the war on terror take place over the last year. So I’m not surprised that many Muslims feel that today we are in a worse situation than we were back after 2001.

ABBY MARTIN: How do you define Islamophobia?

DK: Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism, but what I want to argue is that it’s more than just verbal attacks. It’s more than people facing discrimination at work, or facing insults or slights by people around them–what’s called micro-aggressions. It’s also more than physical attacks–hate crimes and those sorts of things. Islamophobia is these things and people do experience verbal and physical attacks, but I want to argue, in my definition of Islamophobia, is that it is an ideology that is tied to a set of practices that sustain and reproduce Empire. I think it’s very important to actually look at the structures of Empire because it’s only when we do that we get to the roots of what causes Islamophobia. Why is it produced? Who benefits from it? Why does it proliferate in the way that it has over the last fifteen some years? And this is not some sort of academic exercise. I am an academic, but this is not just some abstract exercise. It’s important to get to the roots in order to more effectively fight this form of racism. That’s why I’ve argued in the past that simply doing education around Islam, or having inter-faith dialogue, while important, is not enough because it’s not simply about a set of bad ideas in people’s heads. It’s rooted into the very structure of Empire, and that’s where we need to target our attention and our energy and activism.

AM: And one of the objections we hear consistently, particularly from right-wingers, is that Islamophobia does not and cannot exist because Islam is not a race. Your response?

DK: Well they are right. That is to say they’re right in one part of it: Islam is not a race. Muslims are not a race. This doesn’t mean that they don’t face racism, so I think we’ve got to see that both go side by side. Muslims are not a race, but the racism that Muslims face is very real. There’s been a systematic process since 9-11 to keep fear of Muslims and fear of terrorism alive in the American imagination. You talked about a Sikh man who was attacked earlier this year, last year. I think that’s a really big clue as to how racism against Muslims actually works, or those who are perceived to be Muslims, actually works, which is it’s a form of cultural racism that is based on turbans, people wearing turbans, or people wearing hijabs or other forms of Islamic religious clothing. There is an assumption that is made that these people all have a certain behavior that is constant, that is something about their nature that’s constant because when they practice Islam they are programmed to be violent. They are programmed to be misogynistic. If you’re a woman, you’re programmed to be subservient. You’re programmed to be a terrorist and so on and so forth. And so there is a very systematic way in which an entire group of people is turned into a race through this category of Islam in the same way that Jews are turned into a race through the practice of Judaism and so on, and then the entire group gets targeted in these ways. Races don’t exist naturally. They are produced and they’re typically produced by the elite in order to serve certain interests and to serve certain agendas. I think it’s really important always to look at what historical conditions… what is going on in the political economy that leads to the production of races then that leads to the this process of rationalization because when we get to that we get to the heart of why racism exists and how we can fight against it.

AM: I want to address another talking point that I hear used pretty often by people like Bill Maher and Sam Harris: 70% of Muslims in France support ISIS. What’s your response to these kinds of sweeping statements? People will constantly use them and say, “Look we can’t be Islamophobic because we’re just criticizing the religion and look we’re just looking at the data.”

DK: Islam is practiced by 1.5 billion people around the world. It looks different in different countries and there are just as many political views the people in Muslim-majority countries hold as there are around the West, so they’re just as different a group and non-homogeneous a group as those in the West.

What people like Bill Maher and people like Sam Harris do is they collapse all of those differences and they find data that suits their homogenizing mission in order to paint everybody with the same brush strokes. One myth that gets peddled again and again is that Muslim women are just so horribly oppressed all over the world. Well, that’s not true. I mean, first of all, let’s admit that Muslim women, just like all other women in the world, do face oppression. They do face things like inability to get good jobs, or lack of adequate pay or what have you. Women in the US face the same sort of situation. However, conditions vary widely across the Muslim-majority countries. In Saudi Arabia women can’t drive, but in Bangladesh women have been elected to heads of state, not once but twice. And so these are all different countries with different histories. There are regional differences. There are local differences. There are differences between country and town, and that diversity is simply not acknowledged by the likes of Sam Harris and the New Atheists, and all the rest of it.

If anything you know what they do is use the clash of civilizations argument. They somehow hold up this mantle of the West as being this place of enlightened values, and say that they want to critique all religions, but if you look at their work, the work of the New Atheists, the sharpest knife is dug into Islam. That’s true of Hitchens. It’s true of Dawkins. It’s true of Sam Harris and so on, so they actually have an agenda, but they hide behind objectivity as a way to spout Islamophobia as academic, as research.

AM: Exactly. Last year in Texas a Muslim man was outright executed. Before the killer executed this Muslim man, he said, “Go back to Islam.” They haven’t charged him with a hate crime. Authorities said that they don’t have enough evidence to prove that he has hatred even though multiple times on social media accounts he was talking about Islam, Arabs etcetera. I wanted you to talk about why the establishment is so hesitant to just call reality what it is, call these crimes what they are and charge them accordingly.

DK: There is overwhelming data of hate crimes committed against Muslims, but the problem is that the legal system in the United States refuses to acknowledge racism in any kind of systematic way. This is not just true of Muslims and Muslim-Americans. As Michelle Alexander points out in her book “The New Jim Crow,” this is true too of how African-Americans are treated when they go before a judge or what have you. Questions of racism rarely hold up as a legal grounds from which to try a particular case. It’s been a struggle and the same is happening in the case of Muslims as well. Often there will be… in my discussions with lawyers and friends and colleagues who are lawyers… what they’ve told me is that in cases that they have prosecuted there are just ridiculous things that are brought up as evidence to show that somebody is radicalized. What is this evidence? That they had a copy of the Koran in their pocket. That means this person must have been getting ready to commit a violent crime. That’s ridiculous. That’s Islamophobic. That’s cultural racism. It’s the idea I mentioned earlier that somehow Islam is this virus that programs people to go out and do murderous things, so I think there’s a fundamental problem with the way the legal system works that does not acknowledge in any systematic way how racism operates and the actions that people take–violent actions that people take.

Let me say this. I was following the coverage of San Bernardino versus that of the Planned Parenthood shooting, and the differences could not be clearer in terms of how perpetrators of gun violence are treated. So Planned Parenthood happens. The religion of Robert Dear was barely mentioned–maybe a few mentions here and there–even though we know he’s an evangelical Christian, even though we know he was a great admirer of this group called the Army of God, which is this right-wing fundamentalist anti-abortion group that’s committed murders and violence. He calls them heroes, so we know he’s at least in part driven by this kind of Christian fundamentalist ideology, but that doesn’t become part of the story because the reason Robert Dear did this is something is wrong with him. There’s something in his head that’s wrong because we won’t associate his actions with the actions of White Christians overall. We won’t call on White Christians to apologize for the actions of Robert Dear. San Bernardino happened and yes these people are religious. They are fundamentalist and so on. Now, however, even President Obama says there is an extremist ideology that is spreading through Muslim communities and all Muslims have to take responsibility for it. Why are Muslims any more responsible for the actions of the San Bernardino shooters than Christians for Robert Dear?

You see the double standards, and so straight away of course the story is entirely about Islam. It’s about the virus of Islam. It’s about how Islam makes people do all sorts of violent things and the war on terror becomes the way in which the story is spun, so one cheeky way of looking at this is to say they actually carried out what is a tradition that’s as American as apple pie which is shootings. That really is so endemic to American society in a way that it’s not in other societies and we might see this as a sign of their “integration,” but in fact, of course, othering has become so much a part of media coverage, so much common sense ideology, that immediately there are frameworks that come into being that present their violence as somehow being tied to terrorism, as tied to Islam; whereas our violence, people like Robert Dear, are just isolated individuals.

AM: The clash of civilizations is of course the ideology that Islam is destined to clash with the West, that our cultures are just intrinsically separate and they can’t ever coexist, but it seems like time and again this theme is in one part manufactured by the Empire in terms of either destabilizing Middle Eastern countries, to suppress progressive reform, and also to just exacerbate radical Islam. I wanted you to just mention this mantra and also the actual reality of Empire and how it is perpetuated.

DK: In particular Bernard Lewis would write an essay titled “The Roots of Muslim Rage” in which he argues that politics has nothing to do with why people in the Middle East may be angry with the United States or may have grievances with Western Europe. Colonialism has nothing to do with it. The formation of Israel has nothing to do with it. He says that there is an irrational rage that has spanned 14 centuries which characterizes this inevitable clash. First of all, that’s not true. It is not at all the clear case that the East and West have always clashed. There have been various periods of cooperation right through history which I don’t have the time to get into, but it’s in my book. But it becomes a convenient way in which to define the politics in the post-Cold War era. One enemy that justifies US imperialism and US reach all over the world is gone. What is it going to be substituted by? And Samuel Huntington actually, the political scientist, would pick up this term “Clash of Civilizations” and his theory of what politics will be characterized by in the post-Cold War world is the following: conflict is not going to be political conflict. It is going to be culture and Mahmood Mamdani, who has written this book called “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim,” says that what that does is it very conveniently displaces all the political stuff onto the cultural terrain and now we don’t have to talk about occupation. We don’t have to talk about war. We don’t have to talk about drone strikes, which is what we see in the era of the war on terror. We’ll just call it a clash of cultures. These people, they like to wear hijabs. That’s why we don’t get along with them and so on, never mind that every democratic movement that’s existed in the Middle East has been squashed by the US government in order to keep oil flowing, in order to keep alive the dictators who are the allies of the US, and so forth. All of those political grievances get sidelined and instead culture becomes the focus, and I think that’s an extremely problematic way to look at what is fundamentally a political issue.

AM: So what are the roots of Islamophobia and how is it related to Empire maintaining itself?

DK: So all empires, at least most empires, rely on some form of othering in order to justify wars, in order to justify taxation, in order to justify conscription and so on and so forth. I mean this is not just true of American imperialism, and I will talk about American imperialism, but I want to actually start all the way with antiquity, with the Roman Empire. Rome was this massive empire that stretched from England, Hadrian’s Wall in England, all the way to the Euphrates, covering parts of North Africa and the Middle East and so forth, and the question is how did the Roman Empire actually manage to do this? So when the Romans went about conquering people in England or France, or what have you, one of the first things that they would do is try to inculcate them in Roman values, Roman lifestyle, Roman culture, Roman architecture and so on. And when the people accepted these cultural values of Rome, they became Romans. So in this large empire everybody was considered Roman, but for people who were not as easily conquered, who resisted, and who wouldn’t come under the Roman fold just as easily, there was a term invented for them. They were called barbarians.

And the Romans invented this very interesting hierarchy, this kind of typology which was the following: they said all human beings have two elements that define them. One is the physical body. The other is the mind. It is intelligence. It is spiritual rationality, stuff like that, and what they would argue is that Romans–not all Romans–elite Romans are driven by the mind. The mind controls the body. They are rational. They’re intelligent and in that sense they are closer to God; whereas the barbarians are closer to animals because the body controls the mind and therefore they are inferior, and therefore it’s justified that we go off and kill them and bring their people and make them slaves. Or one of the routine forms of entertainment in Rome was that the barbarians would be brought to these amphitheaters and killed either by animals or gladiators or what have you.

So that’s Rome. Now let’s move to the United States. I think there are a lot of similarities, but also some differences. The US takes over the reins of the Middle East from France and Britain in the post-World War period and in fact actually NSC-68 [National Security Council Report 68], which is the secret policy document that I believe was written in 1950, would lay out quite clearly why militarism was going to be the key way in which the US was going to fill the vacuum left behind by the collapse of European empires, the rise of the Soviet Union, and how the world has now become a battlefield and militarily that’s how the US is going to assert its hegemony.

In the Middle East it has many geostrategic interests, rivalry with the Soviet Union, but oil certainly is a part of the story, and Daniel Yergin tells us that part of what he calls the postwar petroleum order is about creating a certain arrangement between oil producing states or states to which oil would flow, so that cheap oil would be available for the reconstruction of Europe, the Marshall Plan and so on because Europe was destroyed by World War II, so anyone who disrupted this post war petroleum order was necessarily an enemy. They were either hand-in-glove with the Soviet Union or they were just barbaric, people who lived in the desert and so on who needed to be taken out.

And so that’s the mythology. They learned the Orientalist language from Europe and started to apply it to people of Middle-Eastern origin as a way to establish control over the flow of oil, so these ideas don’t just exist in ether, in Hollywood films or in novels and so on for no reason. They are systematically reproduced in the academy. They’re reproduced in think tanks. They are used by political figures. They are reproduced in the media and so on as a way to justify US policy, and of course at first it’s about demonizing the Arab, but then the demonization of the Arab turns into the demonization of the Muslim.

Of course today we don’t throw Muslims and Arabs to the lions. We don’t have those sorts of practices, but we do target Arabs and Muslims and South Asians through the national security state, through imprisonment, through indefinite detention, through racial profiling, through surveillance of mosques, of community centers, of college groups and so on and so forth. So there is very much within the system an attempt both to racialize people within Empire as well as to racialize people outside Empire.

I’ve spoken to the similarities, but I do want to make a point of what the differences are. So the key difference really is that racism as a systematic ideology and a set of practices actually is modern in origin; that is, it comes in to being only with the birth of capitalism, and so there are some very important ways in which othering under Rome or othering by various feudal monarchs in the Middle Ages and so on is different from the kind of racism that we see today. Anti-Muslim racism is much more systematic in the era of capitalism and imperialism, in a way that it wasn’t earlier.

AM: And I think Donald Trump shocked the world by his declaration of a ban on Muslims entering this country if he were to be president. This could just be hyperbolic, but at the same time his new campaign ad is actually doubling down on this and making this one of the main pillars of his whole campaign. It’s just shocking. What is the political significance of what we’re witnessing here?

DK: Donald Trump is basically stating out loud and making explicit what actually has been US policy for the last few decades. That is, if you look at the mass deportation of immigrants under Obama, it’s huge. Over two million people have been deported, but you don’t talk about that. In polite society you don’t say such things, and Donald Trump is actually giving voice to some of the most horrific racist, rabid right-wing rhetoric. When he says let’s prevent Muslims from coming in or let’s create a registry and a database to document all Muslims… You don’t say that if you are a respectable politician, but in practice we have been doing that.

Over the last 20 some years, there’s been an attempt to systematically collect information on various groups of Middle Easterners. In fact, going all the way back to the late 70s and Iranians and then counter-terrorism policy under Reagan, and then the 1996 anti-terrorism and effective death penalty act of Bill Clinton, and then later after 9-11 programs and so on. There’s an attempt to collect this information in a database about Muslim immigrants and Muslim citizens and so on, and for people like Trump who represent the class of the 1%, bashing immigrants has been staple because if you look at the same period of time, we’ve seen a massive growth of class inequality, class polarization. The vast majority of people around the world have grown poorer. The 1% has grown phenomenally rich. There have been cuts in social services, attacks on the welfare state. Tuition costs for colleges have been going up. Health care costs have gone up. This is the neoliberal system, but rather than blame the 1%, the regime of the 1%, it’s easy to bash immigrants, and you’ve seen this logic everywhere. This is not just a Western European or American phenomenon. In Russia and Australia, in India, in Myanmar–all over the world this Islamophobic agenda has helped to deflect attention away from the structural inequality and to point fingers, to scapegoat Muslims as a way to get people to fight with each other rather than to look at the structural problems caused by neoliberalism.

So I think to see Donald Trump as some sort of lone wolf who is responsible for the escalation of Islamophobia or who is otherwise corrupting a great political system, I think is deeply problematic because Donald Trump is just a part of a larger system which both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for creating.

AM: What can we, as non-Muslims who are appalled by this Islamophobic rhetoric, do to build solidarity and internationalism with the Muslim community?

DK: One of the things I started this discussion with is to say that we need to understand the roots of Islamophobia. We need to understand that it’s more than just a set of bad ideas, of prejudices in people’s heads, but in fact, it is an ideology and a set of practices that make the war on terror possible. It is what sustains the war on terror, and so the first thing we have to do is to recognize that simply combating these bad ideas is not enough, although that’s important. I think if we don’t get to the root of what causes Islamophobia, which is Empire, which is the national security state, which is the neoliberal order in which we live, and the class power that sustains all of this… if we don’t target that and we don’t target and dismantle imperialism and capitalism, then we’re not going to do away with Islamophobia. As we hold counter-demonstrations when the far right, for instance, is attacking a Muslim mosque, or a Muslim community center, at the same time as we write articles, at the same time as we do education, if we don’t have a long-term strategy that is targeted at opposing these structures of Empire and neoliberalism, then we wind up doing things in the short term which may actually create the same problems again in the middle term, and we wind up fighting these fights again and again. So we’ve got to have a short-term strategy, but we have to keep the long-term goal in mind, and we need to come together across national lines and build a global movement that can take on the regime of the 1% and actually build one that prioritizes the interests of the 99%.


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Transcript by Dennis Riches

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Abby Martin on The Joe Rogan Experience

JOE ROGAN AND IComedian Joe Rogan’s unfiltered podcast The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) features a variety of awesome guests whose topics range from ancient civilizations to the police state.

I always love joining Joe while in LA, and recently got to discuss with him everything from Islam to the need for a new economic model.

Many fucks are said, so if you’re offended by swearing please skip the broadcast.


The Joe Rogan Experience with Abby Martin


To download this podcast go here. Check out the last podcast I did with Joe focusing on Israel’s war on Gaza and the Drug War.

Some of my favorite topics to hear Joe and his guests wax philosophy about are space and consciousness, so I invited him on Breaking the Set to talk string theory, invisible aliens and collective DMT dreams.

 Joe Rogan on Breaking the Set


While in Cali I also stopped by Bonoboville to speak to Dr. Susan Block, a sex therapist specializing in the philosophy of ethical hedonism. On her weekly radio show, we discussed everything from US hegemony to ecosexuality.

For a sweet write-up about the interview and an audio file to download it, go here.


Abby Martin | @AbbyMartin

Media Roots Radio – Charlie Hebdo & 9/11 Islamophobia Flashbacks

230409qaeda.jpgRobbie and Abby Martin discuss the hypocritical and deceptive nature of mainstream and alternative media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France and why framing the event as a ‘freedom of speech’ issue is an opportunistic attempt to hijack the narrative into “the terrorists hate us for of our freedoms”. The intense global wave of Islamophobia following the attacks is examined and compared to post 9/11 hysteria.

If you want to directly download the podcast, click the down arrow icon on the right of the soundcloud display. To hide the comments to enable easier rewind and fast forward, click on the icon on the very bottom right.

This Media Roots podcast is the product of many long hours of hard work and love. If you want to encourage our voice, please consider supporting us as we continue to speak from outside party lines. Even the smallest donations help us with operating costs.

Listen to all previous episodes of Media Roots Radio here.

Follow Abby @abbymartin & Robbie @fluorescentgrey

Recorded on 1/12/15

VICE: From ISIS to The Islamic State

Flag_of_the_Islamic_State_in_Iraq_and_the_Levant.svgVICE – The Islamic State, a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group has announced their intention to reestablish the caliphate and declared their leader, the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph.

Flush with cash and US weapons seized during recent advances in Iraq, the Islamic State’s expansion shows no sign of slowing down. In the first week of August alone, Islamic State fighters have taken over new areas in northern Iraq, encroaching on Kurdish territory and sending Christians and other minorities fleeing as reports of massacres emerged.

Elsewhere in territory it has held for some time, the Islamic State has gone about consolidating power and setting up a government dictated by Sharia law. While the world may not recognize the Islamic State, in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group is already in the process of building a functioning regime.

VICE News reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings. In part one, Dairieh heads to the frontline in Raqqa, where Islamic State fighters are laying siege to the Syrian Army’s division 17 base.


VICE: From ISIS to The Islamic State


Phyllis Bennis, Director at the Institute for Policy Studies, discusses ISIS’ roots, tactics, goals and how the group can be stopped without blowing up more of Iraq on Breaking the Set.

Segment starts at 2:40:

Breaking the Set on ISIS End Game


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