It has been nearly three years since Steve Bannon was pushed (or jumped) out of the Trump Administration. Since then, he has become something of a genre. In 2018, the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) released American Dharma, a film-length journey through Bannon’s mind. In 2019, filmmaker Alison Klayman released The Brink, a fly-on-the-wall look at Bannon’s attempt to cobble together a coalition of right-wing populists around the world to spearhead a global nationalist movement. And earlier this year, Harper Collins published Benjamin R. Teitelbaum’s War for Eternity: Inside Bannon’s Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers.
Unlike other ‘Bannon-watchers’—many of who seem unable to resist casting him as a Rasputin-like figure, while being simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by his insistence on speaking in symbolic and often apocalyptic terms—Teitelbaum approaches his subject from an unlikely angle. An assistant professor of ethnomusicology and international affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder, Teitelbaum has spent years developing relationships with those on the far right. His 2017 book, Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism, focused on the right-wing fringe in the Nordic countries. In War for Eternity, he suggests that some of Steve Bannon’s views might be a lot weirder than most people realize. Specifically, Teitelbaum believes Bannon is a student of ‘Traditionalism.’…
Perhaps what is most refreshing about Teitelbaum’s work is that he is willing to enlighten where others are ready to condemn. “Studies of right-wing extremism are uncommon in the extent to which they thrive on conforming to readers’ stereotypes and expectations,” Teitelbaum told me. “The prevalent discourse among scholars and commentators to not normalize or platform the people we study, though motivated by legitimate concerns, also leaves little room for inquiry and education. I would like for all my work—including this book—to work against that instinct.”
In the case of War for Eternity, he says: “I offer a study that not only exposes thoroughly radical and disruptive visions for the future being pursued by figures with significant (if intangible) influence—[but] I hope that I have also shown the peculiarity of their lives and thinking, and provided an example of the ways that our old categories for thinking about politics—right, left, fascist, etc.—may not serve us well when trying to understand the actual ideas now infusing our governments. If concern and alarm as well as increased inquiry and reflection are the products of my book, I will have done my job.” By those metrics, Teitelbaum has certainly succeeded.
* LATE IN THE EVENING ON NOVEMBER 8, 2016, A FEW hours’ drive away from the spot of Trump’s final rally in Grand Rapids, a young man named John B. Morgan walked into the bar of the Gandy Dancer restaurant perched on the banks of the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Michigan. John had been the founding editor in chief of a Traditionalist publishing house called Arktos. Now he worked for another
publisher, Counter-Currents, which was more plainly white nationalist than Traditionalist. It wasn’t a perfect fit for John, but nothing was.
John lived in Budapest, and India before that. But Ann Arbor still felt like home, and he was in the midst of a pilgrimage. This election was something special. Trump had no chance of winning, he thought.
And John couldn’t really call himself a fan per se. But the fact was that someone who was less than
completely hostile to his ideals of white identity politics was in contention for the U.S. presidency. John
wanted to vote in person to commemorate that unbelievable state of affairs. This was a once-in-a
He was meeting an old friend at the bar to watch the results that night. They were drinking beer, paying little attention to the TV screens showing CNN’s coverage of the vote. The hour arrived at and passed seven. They noticed when the states of Indiana and Kentucky were called for Trump. That was expected, but still, it was nice, John thought, to confirm that Trump had won something. Back to what their conversation: old jobs, old places, old people, old . . . shit!
Wolf Blitzer was saying on CNN that Trump was competitive. Of course he’s winning the southern states, and he’s leading in Florida. Hillary is struggling to wrap up Virginia. But the real battle is taking place around the Great Lakes, in America’s industrial region—the Rust Belt. He’s got a chance there.
Another round of beers. Blitzer was back on TV before long, interrupting their conversation. Trump is a favorite, even likely at this point. Was John drunk?
His friend had to work the next day, so they parted ways and John hustled back to the apartment where he was staying. He poured himself a Dark Horse beer and turned CNN back on. Trump was going to win. States including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—his part of the country—were pivotal. He was thrilled, proud—full of solidarity with the working people of Michigan whom he’d lived among for so many years. He was jumpy, almost. For about thirty seconds.
Then a different sentiment washed over John. He took another deep draw of Dark Horse. “Now we actually have to do something.”
We? The alt-right, or whatever people are calling them. Those on the edges—the extremes rejected by mainstream conservatives—who dare to make politics an explicit fight for the fates of white people. If they had a role in electing Donald Trump, then they could also have a role in helping him govern. But they had a considerable resource on the inside. John thought to himself, There is this Bannon guy, I’ve been reading about him. He’s one of us! Maybe he’ll be sitting there in the White House, telling Trump Traditionalist ideas.
On that night in front of the television, John felt something he had never felt following U.S. politics: optimism. It was almost frightening, he later told me, and profoundly un-Traditionalist.
* Meanwhile, our night is drawing to a close. Darren Beattie and I are chatting. Prior to his days in the Trump administration, he was a philosophy professor, and we are talking about obscure authors we knew about.
“Do you know Michael Millerman? A Heidegger scholar, into Aleksandr Dugin,” Darren asked. I replied. “Yeah, yeah. I’ve read his stuff. Another guy I know from my research, his name is Jason Jorjani, he’s—”
A clatter. Did Steve just drop his silverware? That’s what it sounded like, but my eyes were turned away at that moment.
“How . . .” Steve is suddenly in our exchange, staring at me with a new intensity. “How do you know who Jason Jorjani is?”
“I know him from my past research,” I say, taken aback. “I know a lot of those guys.”
Bannon says nothing and turns back to peek at his cell phones. How does he know who Jason Jorjani i —an obscure intellectual moving in the darker corners of the far-right and associated with Arktos?
* Jason Reza Jorjani is the son of an American mother of Scandinavian and Irish ancestry and an Iranianexile father, and he grew up wealthy in New York. Most people who meet Jason comment on how young he looks for his thirty-eight years. His eyes are bright; his hair is full and youthful. His face is evidence of a gentle life.
But Jason had a vision, and he was willing to sacrifice for it. You could call it an Iranian nationalist vision, but that wouldn’t capture its fervor or eccentricity. He dreamed of a unified Aryan world where societies with Indo-European spiritual roots would mobilize as one to assume leadership in a new global order. This would include Buddhists in Japan; Hindus in India in the East; Europe and its satellites in North America; and Iranians—the fount of Zoroastrianism and its Shia Islamic incarnation —at the center. These are the great peoples, the superior civilizations best positioned to handle the challenges facing humanity and the world. The unification begins, Jason believes, with a cultural and political revolution in Iran aimed at returning the nation to its own roots and throwing off its allegiances toward Islamic counterparts in the Sunni world, followed by integration with its true spiritual brethren, the other Aryan states, including the U.S.
Jason talks big. At times it sounds fanciful and unserious, especially considering his background and
lack of direct contacts with government. He was a humanities professor at the New Jersey Institute of
Technology and a philosopher (he earned his doctorate in philosophy in 2013). He’s a writer, in other
words, not an official policy maker. However, his was a Traditionalist, Evolian vision, one that seeks to
base state formation and geopolitics on historical essences and spiritual roots, with not always veiled
allusions to racial determinism (Jason has discussed using eugenics programs to rid Iran’s population
of its Mongol genetic traces), not to mention a specific celebration of Indo-European spirituality and thehierarchical exaltation of “Aryans.” And this approach had a chance to be implemented in the brave
new world that emerged following the rise of Trump and the arrival of a Traditionalist in the White
House. At least Jason thought it had a chance. That is why he attempted a daring campaign that would bring him into partnership with parapsychological terrorists and international money launderers,
transform organized white nationalism, and eventually present a public relations hurdle for the Trump
On the phone, Jason began to tell me the story. He explained that in February 2016, well before the
presidential election in the United States, he had published a book arguing for the West to embrace the spiritual archetypes of its pre-Christian Greek heritage: Prometheus and Atlas—the same book that
Jason later asked me to give to Steve Bannon. In it, Jason claimed that reviving ancient spiritualities
would allow the West to not only escape dry rational modernism but even unleash repressed ways of
thinking and knowing—most specifically ESP and psychokinesis. He published the book through an
outlet he had just recently come to know: Arktos. Arktos was not only a controversial outlet but anunstable one. Its then editor in chief John Morgan warned him during the production phase of the bookthat interpersonal conflicts at Arktos were flaring and that his own ouster appeared imminent. Still,
Arktos was open to his commentary on psychic and telekinetic powers, and it turned out that this was aplus for both author and publisher. Prometheus and Atlas garnered an award from the American
However, you write a book on topics like these, and freaks of all kinds come out of the woodwork. By
mid-spring 2016, Jason was receiving emails hard and fast from people making outrageous claims
about their psychic abilities, professing to have unlocked secrets of the universe and to be
representatives of hidden orders. Some even threatened to attack Jason through parapsychological
* A few months after his lunch with [Michael] Bagley, Jason would again be sitting in Persepolis restaurant. This
time, however, he was meeting with white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Jason had just returned from a trip to London, where he spoke before an Iranian nationalist crowd and
met the Londoner for the first time. The Londoner received a full report about his and Bagley’s
meeting, and he wanted to help develop the idea that the two had hatched, that of building a new
organization. It should be a “think tank,” the Londoner insisted, one that combined the best resources
in the radical right these days. Arktos could cover the deeper intellectual stuff, but Red Ice—another
Sweden-based outfit headed by a man named Henrik Palmgren and specializing in slick radio and video
shows—could serve as a media outlet. And perhaps an American organization could be involved, too,
like Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, which had been hosting large white nationalist seminars
and conferences for years. They could call the umbrella organization the AltRight Corporation. And, the
Londoner added, he could make sure it was well funded.
That was the conversation that brought Jason back to Persepolis. He was here to solidify the American
wing of this new project. Spencer had been catapulted into the public eye as the face of the alt-right
movement, amid claims by journalists, pundits, and Hillary Clinton herself that the alt-right was deeply
involved in Donald Trump’s then floundering campaign for the U.S. presidency. Spencer wasn’t sure
that those allegations were true. Steve Bannon had publically referred to his media company Breitbart
as a platform for the alt-right, but it was unclear what he meant by that (the term alt-right was still
new and its meaning a matter of debate). Still, during the campaign, Trump had been slow to reject
the endorsement he received from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, though he eventually issued
a condemnation. Small stuff, but even the slightest hint of receptiveness from a major presidential
candidate was cause for elation among the likes of Spencer. It was something they had only dreamed
of—namely, momentum, and the potential that the most maligned and rejected political cause in the
post–World War II West might have made an inch of progress toward the goal of relevance, maybe
even influence. Further, it was a position they achieved not by camouflage or clandestine infiltration of
the mainstream, but as themselves—as unapologetic white nationalists. The radical right saw this as
an age of possibilities, a time for innovation and ambition.
Perhaps that is why Richard was so eager to say yes to Jason—yes to a new three-way partnership
among Red Ice, Arktos, and his own organization, the National Policy Institute. Their partnership would
mark the unification of the major transatlantic cultural and intellectual platforms associated with white
nationalism today. The AltRight Corporation was going to be a reality.
The lunch at Persepolis was just the after-party. Jason and Richard had reached their agreement the
day before and had then headed to a private club for a night of booze and celebration. During the wee
hours of the morning the two posed for a picture. Against a wall behind them stood a statue of Herme
—the Greek god of trickery. Jason had included Hermes in the picture on purpose.
* The [Alt Right Corporation] organization was supposed to be run equally by all the leaders—a Knights of the Round Table model. However, Richard was the outward face of the organization, whether they liked it or not. He had become famous as an icon of the new white nationalism. Both he and his ideology were constructions of the media, Jason believed. But Spencer’s persona was a liability. In late January, he was punched in the face during a filmed interview outside on the street, and the video of the attack was spread virally by liberal America. Richard, meanwhile, had taken to carrying weapons, even to work. A mythos seemed to be forming around him. This presented a major branding problem, because thanks in part to Richard’s antics, their name was starting to mean something other than what Jason wanted.
Alt-right. The term was originally coined not by Spencer as the media kept saying, but by a renegade philosopher and professor named Paul Gottfried who published books with Arktos. Its rise to public attention during the 2016 presidential election came in part when Steve Bannon was quoted describing Breitbart News as a “platform for the alt-right.” The term was further solidified about a week after Bannon took over Trump’s campaign, when Hillary Clinton devoted a speech in Reno, Nevada, to exposing the alt-right as a white nationalist cause that—via Bannon and Breitbart News—had “effectively taken over the Republican Party.” Alt-rightists themselves were thrilled by the attention, although they also knew that the characterizations were somewhat inaccurate. Alt-right was being used internally as a catchall for a wide range of actors and ideologies, some of them ideologically irreconcilable. What they shared was a strong opposition to immigration, hostility toward the established conservatism in the Republican Party (hence the alt, or alternative right), and—the main innovation meriting a new moniker—a methodological focus on internet activism. All that, plus a relative lack of squeamishness about sharing space with white nationalists. Political extremes are dens of sectarianism, but this new term was uniting a broad coalition.
Now Richard had taken it over, and this made Hillary Clinton retroactively correct in her characterizations— alt-right was becoming synonymous with old-fashioned white nationalism. Daniel Friberg was basically in that camp; the Traditionalism that Arktos published seemed like a side interest of his. Jason was now swept up in it, too. Shortly after Trump’s election, Richard held a gathering for white nationalists in Washington—a victory rally, basically—and toward its conclusion held a press conference. Jason was invited to the stage and he obliged, saying nothing and appearing less than comfortable with this degree of visibility, sitting between famous American white nationalist ideologues like Kevin MacDonald and Jared Taylor before a sea of international cameras and journalists.
Jason wished the term alt-right had retained its more open definition—he bet Bannon did, too—if only because association with the movement was becoming riskier to him professionally. Already in late 2016, his faculty colleagues at the New Jersey Institute of Technology were beginning to take notice of his emerging public profile. But Jason was willing to sacrifice: the alt-right was offering him a megaphone.
* Steve saw his role in the White House as one of holding the president to his earlier campaign promises, and putting an end to gratuitous war-making had been a pillar of their pitch to voters. It was part of Trump’s pledge to American workers that his administration would start prioritizing them, making decisions based on whether or not their interests were being served. Spending their money and lives in wars that didn’t directly involve them and their welfare was antithetical to that cause, the reasoning went.
* THEY MET in McIntire Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, August 12, 2017, a little before eleven A.M . Daniel Friberg, Richard Spencer, and Henrik Palmgren—three of the four leaders from the AltRight Corporation—joined hundreds of other protesters assembling for the Unite the Right rally, its official purpose being to contest the removal of a local public statue of Civil War Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But as its name indicates, this rally was also intended to bring together actors who identified with the alt-right.
The most colorful attendees were masses of militant white nationalists, swastika-toting neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. There were plenty of Confederate flags, too, of course. Marchers even seemed to have studied, rehearsed, and performed renditions of the Civil War Confederate war cry, the Rebel yell.
* Richard, Daniel, and their nearest associates at first defied the order, but chaos ensued as protesters and authorities scattered in multiple directions. After some initial confrontations with police, Richard Spencer ran to his getaway car and left the scene. On his way out, he happened to see his informal predecessor walking the streets—the last man to emerge in American popular culture as an outspoken white nationalist, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who jumped to safety in their car.
* ILL-FATED, TRAGIC, CATASTROPHIC —these were the words being used by the white nationalist intelligentsia during the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville. The menacing tiki-torch gathering, the militarized garb, the Nazi sloganeering, and of course the violence would wipe out any potential that the alt-right movement had to rebrand white nationalism and anti-liberal activism. Far from a display of ingenuity and innovation, the people marching in Charlottesville surely looked all too familiar to onlookers. Even participants voiced their reservations. Richard Spencer denounced the event organizer’s response to the death of Heather D. Heyer online. And in the wake of an op-ed I wrote in the Wall Street Journal highlighting Daniel Friberg’s uncharacteristic willingness to march alongside visible Nazis and Klansmen, he clarified to the Scandinavian media that he was unsettled by the presence of those actors and would have prohibited their participation had he been an organizer.
* Bannon was thrilled with Trump’s response. Despite the fact that he had been isolated in the administration for months, the New York Times reported that he consulted with Trump about the response to Charlottesville. Indeed, all public communications from the White House following the rally aligned with Bannon’s reported long-standing advice to the president, as the Times reported it, “not to criticize far-right activists too severely for fear of antagonizing a small but energetic part of his base.” The president’s behavior at the press conference marked a breathtaking stand in Bannon’s eyes—a stand for the importance of history, a stand on behalf of who he believed were righteous people on the streets made invisible by the Nazis next to them, and a courageous refusal to bow to media pressure.
Being in step with the president at this particular moment turned out to be a liability, however. When the president received blowback for his remarks, critics blamed the incident on Bannon’s influence, meaning that his dismissal could palliate to the ongoing outcry. They could attribute Trump’s racism to the presence in the White House of a man who had presided over a news organization—Breitbart—that produced consistently positive coverage of European identitarian groups and seemed obsessed with crime committed by African Americans; a man who had allegedly developed ways to stir racial animus as vice president of Cambridge Analytica; who had celebrated the online world of the alt-right; and who had a tendency to be drawn to racialist culture and literature, from the Nazi war-era films of Leni Riefenstahl to the writings of Jean Raspail, Charles Murray, and of course, Julius Evola.
Three days after Trump’s second press conference, Steve Bannon resigned, under pressure.
On the same day that Trump gave the press conference, August 15, Jason Jorjani left both the AltRight Corporation and Arktos. Ask him why and he’ll tell you that he left in part because his original vision for a more dynamic and encompassing alt-right movement seemed dead. He was especially sobered by user comments on his own AltRight site. “Iranians is brown poo-poo people,” rang one. The alt-right was a narrow white nationalist initiative after all, just as its most vocal critics alleged. There wasn’t room for his cause there. The “Charlottesville disaster,” as he referred to it, solidified those impressions in spectacular fashion.
* In order to understand the motive behind an action, look at its effects, Jason thought. This premature centralization of the alt-right without proper capital investment—this attempt to bring together the likes of Richard Spencer, Daniel Friberg, and Henrik Palmgren—destroyed the AltRight Corporation. It also destroyed his career.
I thought back to my early suspicions when he first told me about the Londoner, that the figure sounded too sensational to be true, and that he might have been a law enforcement plant and spy. A conspiracy, perhaps, targeting the alt-right and Jason.
* About a month after the Unite the Right rally, on September 19, 2017, the New York Times published an article featuring Jason. He had met a young Swedish man named Erik Hellberg earlier that spring at a gathering called the London Forum. And later, in June, the two reconnected for a drink at an Irish pub close to the Empire State Building. What Jason didn’t know was that “Erik Hellberg” was really Patrik Hermansson, an anti-racist activist who had infiltrated rightist circles in Europe and the United States. He was wearing a hidden camera during their conversation at the pub, and quotes from that conversation—to his horror—were now appearing in one of the largest newspapers in the world.
“It’s going to end with the expulsion of the majority of the migrants, including citizens who are of Muslim descent. That’s how it’s going to end. It’s going to end with concentration camps, expulsions, and war, that’s how it’s going to end. At a cost of a few hundred million people,” Jason had told the undercover activist. He had been characteristically articulate in form and grand in content. But in print this didn’t sound good either: “We will have a Europe, in 2050, where the bank notes have Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great. And Hitler will be seen like that: like Napoleon, like Alexander, not like some weird monster who is unique in his own category—no, he is just going to be seen as a great European leader. You know like we say in English, you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”
Jason contended that he was describing a “nightmarish prediction of a future that would follow from Western policy makers’ failure to address the Muslim migrant crisis” rather than his own ideals.
* Jason wasn’t just out of the AltRight Corporation, which would soon be dormant. His university in New Jersey would eventually fire him, too.
* Steve: “But why does a guy who is that sophisticated get hooked up with Richard Spencer?” Something about Jason’s story as I presented it made him sound suspect. “Richard Spencer is a goofball, and you can’t get in business with goofballs like that.”