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Trump’s former top strategist pushes the 2024 election as a ‘victory or death!’ war

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

(CNN) — Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, used the language of war to fire up a conservative gathering over the weekend, promising to remake the US government and completely deconstruct the FBI.

Comparing the presidential campaign to the D-Day invasion, Bannon encouraged a cheering crowd at the Turning Point Action convention in Detroit to see themselves as filling the positions of fallen soldiers in an assault.

‘War to the knife’

“Are we at war?” he asked the crowd. “Is this a political war to the knife?”

I was not familiar with that term – “war to the knife” – but Bannon also recently used it in an interview with ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson. A Google search yielded a 1998 book by that name about the Bleeding Kansas skirmishes in the years before the Civil War when pro- and anti-slavery settlers flooded into Kansas and feuded over whether Kansas should enter the union as a free or slave state.

The book, according to its description, attributes the term to the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, which the Library of Congress describes as a pro-slavery newspaper of the era. It’s not clear where Bannon got the term.

“Are you prepared to leave it all on the battlefield in 2024?” he asked of Turning Point activists. “It’s very simple: victory or death!” he later added.

The Trump campaign, which has spent large portions of fundraising on the former president’s legal bills, has indicated it will rely on organizations like Turning Point Action to mobilize young activists, get out the vote in November and also to challenge votes of their opponents. Read more about the campaign’s strategy from CNN’s Kristen Holmes and Alayna Treene.

Previously pardoned, now facing prison

The use of such violent imagery is important when considering it came from Bannon, a Trump true-believer who worked for a time in Trump’s White House and has continued to try to influence Trump ever since.

The stakes of the election must be extremely high from Bannon’s perspective. Already pardoned by Trump for his role in a scheme to allegedly defraud donors of contributions intended to help build a border wall, Bannon was subsequently convicted by a jury in 2022 of the rarely prosecuted crime of contempt of Congress. Bannon refused to cooperate with subpoenas from the committee that investigated the January 6, 2021, insurrection when Democrats controlled Congress.

After delays, Bannon must begin serving a four-month prison sentence starting next month.

While Bannon was not part of Trump’s official world for most of his presidential term, he is influential on the far right. Appearing later at the Turning Point Action event, Trump described Bannon as a “smart cookie” and told the crowd he tries to watch Bannon’s “War Room” broadcast whenever he can.

Ousted from White House role in 2017

Bannon’s tenure in Trump’s White House was relatively short; he was fired in August 2017, part of a major reorganization under then-chief of staff John Kelly, who was brought in to control a chaotic atmosphere. In the years since, Bannon has continued to advocate for Trump – and Kelly, a retired general, has sounded the alarm about Trump’s possible reelection.

Bannon, meanwhile, now sounds like a more militant version of Trump, such as when he emphatically accuses Trump’s opponents of trying to “steal” the election. There’s no evidence for any kind of mass voter fraud, but that will not end this conspiracy theory.

“If they steal this election – and they fully intend to steal it – this republic ends,” Bannon said, before going on a riff about how top Department of Justice officials in President Joe Biden’s administration, like Attorney General Merrick Garland, should be prosecuted; the FBI should be completely deconstructed; and anyone convicted in connection to the storming of the Capitol building would be set free.

‘Purge’ the DOJ, end the FBI

“We are going to purge DOJ. We are going to take apart the FBI. The FBI, the American Gestapo … there’s not going to be an FBI,” he said.

While Trump has only said he would be justified in going after political opponents, Bannon is committed to targeting anyone he views as having opposed Trump.

“We are going to get every single receipt, and to the fullest extension of the law, you are going to be investigated, prosecuted and incarcerated,” he said.

Preparing for a second term

It is clear Bannon is looking well past Election Day as he rattled off a list of priorities for the MAGA movement.

These included cutting off funding to Ukraine, massive cuts to government spending, beginning the process of ending the Federal Reserve, sealing the southern border, deporting 10 million to 15 million people and taking apart the administrative state.

As chief strategist at the White House, Bannon was known for large whiteboards full of lists of priorities – things that still ring true in the priorities he outlined over the weekend.

Courts, Congress and mismanagement kept Bannon and Trump from achieving many of these goals in Trump’s first term. Clearly, Bannon is hoping for more success in a round two, particularly since the moderating forces of people like Kelly are unlikely to be involved in the administration.

Bannon is not alone in planning for drastic changes if Trump wins in November. Anticipating the potential for a second Trump term, there are any number of supporters who are mapping out how to make the most of it.

The conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, for instance, has written up its Project 2025 road map to remaking the civil service by firing large numbers of career servants and replacing them with more political voices. For a good, in-depth look at what Project 2025 would and would not do, listen this recent “In the Room” podcast from Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst. Bergen talks to one of the authors of the State Department portion of Project 2025.

Those plans from groups like Heritage, while plenty scary to an entire class of civil servants, sound relatively anodyne compared with Bannon’s language.

“Are you prepared to fight? Are you prepared to give it all?” he asked of young activists, telling them they would have to follow in the footsteps of “the team around President Trump” – who he views as Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and Alex Jones, people whose fidelity to conspiracy theories has gotten them into legal and financial trouble, but who in Bannon’s mind are political freedom fighters.

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