Steve Bannon has fallen out of favor with the White House and gave up the reins of Breitbart, so now he’s delving into a new realm — bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
The New York Times’s Jeremy Peters and Nathaniel Popper published a report Thursday on Bannon’s bitcoin ambitions, including an interview with the former White House chief strategist, his first on the topic.
“It’s disruptive populism,” Bannon told the Times of his views of the crypto space. “It takes control back from central authorities. It’s revolutionary.”
He’s even toyed with the idea of creating a new virtual currency, a “deplorables coin,” and in March he told an audience in Zurich that cryptocurrency might be the way to “true freedom.”
In some ways, this new interest of Bannon‘s seems inevitable. Bitcoin is a completely decentralized currency that no government or entity is in charge of, which fits with his anti-government, populist ideology. It’s popular within the alt-right because it’s a way for them to reject government and to make financial transactions when more traditional payment platforms boot them off. The bitcoin community is known for its underground, libertarian bent.
The Times notes the fit:
“It was pretty obvious to me that unless you got somehow control over your currency, all these political movements were going to be beholden to who controlled the currency,” Bannon told the Times.
He made a similar assertion during March‘s Zurich talk, sponsored by the Swiss newspaper Die Weltwoche. He told the audience that cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, the underlying technology behind bitcoin, would “empower [the populist] movement, empower companies, [and] empower governments to get away from central banks that debase your currency and makes slave wages,” according to Cointelegraph. “Once you take control of your currency, once you take control of your data, once you take control of your citizenship, that’s when you’re going to have true freedom,” he said.
Bannon is aligning himself with some of the more controversial parts of bitcoin
Bannon’s crypto-related interests appear to be tied to some of the more controversial elements and figures of the space.
According to the Times, he’s focused on creating new digital tokens — crypto coins that are offered through initial coin offerings, or ICOs. Thus his interest in the “deplorables coin,” inspired by Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment.
ICOs let companies raise money by going straight to investors and avoiding regulators and other middlemen. They can be pretty sketchy. A recent report estimated that 80 percent of ICOs are scams. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued multiple warnings about ICOs and cracked down on a number of issues for fraudulent practices. In May, it set up a spoof website to help investors spot potential ICO scams.
Bannon has joined forces with Brock Pierce, a former child actor and tech entrepreneur with a broad reach in the virtual currency space. In 2005, Pierce brought Bannon on as vice chair of Internet Gaming Entertainment (IGE), a company he founded that sold virtual gold to online gamers. Pierce left IGE in 2007 and has taken on multiple projects in the virtual currency arena, including developing EOS, a blockchain platform.
If the name Brock Pierce sounds familiar to you — beyond whether you’re a Mighty Ducks fan — it may be because he was featured in a segment of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, during which Oliver alluded to lawsuits against Pierce and a questionable past, including allegations of sexual abuse. Block.one, the firm behind EOS he founded, said it parted ways with him after the segment aired.
Bannon told the Times that had he not joined in the 2016 election — he was chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — he would have gotten involved with Pierce and cryptocurrencies instead. He brushed aside concerns about Pierce. “These guys are visionaries,” he said.
Bannon isn’t the only Trump-linked guy into bitcoin
Bannon, 64, told the Times he has a “good stake” in bitcoin, though he didn’t reveal the amount of his investment. He’s not the only person in Trump’s orbit with an interest in the crypto space.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman traveled to Singapore this week for President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on a trip sponsored by the marijuana-themed cryptocurrency PotCoin.
Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist and early Facebook investor who is a confidant and supporter of President Trump, has also bet big on bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that his venture capital firm, Founders Fund, had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in bitcoins, spread across several of its funds.
In an interview at the New York Economic Club in March, Thiel wasn’t shy about his interest in the digital currency. “I would be long bitcoin, and neutral to skeptical of just about everything else at this point with a few possible exceptions,” he said. “There will be one online equivalent to gold, and the one you’d bet on would be the biggest.”
He is also reportedly backing a startup that’s trying to bring Wall Street’s trading expertise to the bitcoin market.
Thiel’s interest in the space, like Bannon’s, makes sense — he shares the libertarian, circumvent-the-government ideas many in crypto have. Perhaps the two could even team up.