A new Daily Beast report examining the college years of Steve Bannon, the Iago of the Trump administration, will likely surprise the White House strategist’s devotees and sworn enemies alike. How, exactly, do you become an unrepentant, uber-nationalist, far-right propaganda titan who believes Donald Trump is the greatest public speaker “since William Jennings Bryan” and who has based his recent political and journalistic career around the principle that the traditional Republican party needed a good “bitch-slap”?
You have to spend some time being a JFK-admiring liberal and a huge Grateful Dead fan, apparently.
That’s right, Deadheads and custies, Steve Bannon was once among your ranks. His Virginia Tech classmate John DePaola–the Beast‘s principal source–remembers the 1970s version of Donald Trump’s most notorious ally as “more hippie than frat boy.” He recalls Bannon listening to some Springsteen, but the Dead, specifically, factored prominently into one particularly bizarre and unsettling anecdote.
Though Bannon identified as a liberal at the time, he was also known for admiring the British historian Arnold Toynbee, who, as the Beast points out, once visited Hitler and wrote that the Jews represented an “extinct society.” When Toynbee died, Bannon decided to pay tribute to his idol’s passing by taking advantage of his friend’s position as a college DJ. As DePaola remembered fondly:
Bannon, clearly in mourning of Toynbee, approached his roommate and said, “I gotta come up and do your radio show, man,” to pay tribute to Toynbee both in word and song.
“He was a Grateful Dead fan,” DePaola said. “The guy was passionate about it. He said something like, ‘I gotta play this song for the campus,’ so he came up one night [during my show] to talk about Toynbee, and then played “Unbroken Chain” by the Grateful Dead as a tribute. He also did a brief little speech before the song—an Arnold Toynbee salute—about the importance about his work. [His death] really moved him as a 22-year-old.
“I don’t know why ‘Unbroken Chain’ reminded him of Arnold’s work, but it meant a great deal to him and he felt compelled to share it with the Virginia Tech community [that evening],” DePaola added.
That “November and more/As I wait for the score” bit in the Phil-Lesh-penned “Unbroken Chain” makes one wonder if Bannon thought to pull out his battered LP of Live at the Mars Hotel during election season.
DePaola accidentally ran into Bannon on an Acela train last July–just around the time that Bannon was signing off on Breitbart gems like Milo Yiannopolos’ “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews” and David Horowitz’s “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew“–and they had a grand old time. “We talked a lot about what happened to college friends,” DePaola told the Beast. “He’s just so fun to talk to.” Good to know.