In the beginning
A native of Brentwood, the late conservative Andrew Breitbart cut his teeth in the news business on The Drudge Report, the news aggregation site started by fellow-Westsider Matt Drudge. The two met in the mid-1990s. Eventually Breitbart became Drudge’s first assistant, finding and linking to stories online and crafting headlines. “It’s a one-man operation with a second guy,” Breitbart told the Los Angeles Times in 2007.
Along the way, Breitbart met Arianna Huffington and contributed to the creation and launch of the Huffington Post in 2005.
Following a 2007 trip to Israel with childhood friend and Los Angeles attorney Larry Solov, Breitbart went on to create the series of websites that would ultimately bear his name: Breitbart.com. Breitbart would be the driving force, while Solov would be the president and chief operating officer.
The website got its start in Westwood, enlisting a group of young writers “determined to launch a news site that would shake up the world of conservative media.”
“This is no exaggeration to say we were brothers,” Solov told The Los Angeles Times following Breitbart’s death in 2012. With the loss of the website’s founder, Solov assumed Breitbart’s CEO role. A member of the Breitbart News Network board would become the executive chairman: Steve Bannon.
Conservatism blooms in Upland
A conservative think-tank trains young conservatives in the “principles that will be necessary to defeat progressivism” in Upland, an hour east of Los Angeles.
Not to be confused with the group of colleges in nearby Claremont, the Claremont Institute began in 1979 and offers a number of programs for students of conservative thought. The institute also publishes the right-leaning Claremont Review of Books. Through the institute’s Lincoln Fellowship program in 2009, Breitbart attended a weeklong training in conservative thought.
Another alum of the institute is Ben Shapiro, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Yeshiva University High School and later UCLA and Harvard Law School. Shapiro, a syndicated conservative columnist at the age of 17, went to work for Breitbart.com in 2012 as an editor.
But Shapiro resigned from Breitbart News in March 2016 after a colleague was grabbed by candidate Donald Trump’s first campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, following a news conference. In announcing his departure, Shapiro foreshadowed on Esquire.com the coming shift in Breitbart.com’s coverage:
“Indeed, Breitbart News, under the chairmanship of Steve Bannon, has put a stake through the heart of Andrew’s legacy. In my opinion, Steve Bannon is a bully, and has sold out Andrew’s mission in order to back another bully, Donald Trump...”
They’re gonna put me in the movies
Bannon has his own ties to the Claremont Institute, though not as a participant in the fellowship program.
Spurred on in part by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bannon, a former Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker, began to move into documentary films.
The Institute’s current president and CEO, Michael Pack, enlisted Bannon to help promote a pair of documentaries made through Pack’s Manifold Productions: 2014’s Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power and 2008’s The Last 600 Meters.
Increasingly, Bannon’s documentary work would bring him together with the conservative movement’s power base. He’d go on to write and direct films for Citizens United, and he grew close to the organization’s president, David Bossie.
Another Bannon documentary film brought him into Breitbart’s orbit.
It was during a 2004 screening in Beverly Hills of “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed” that Bannon and Breitbart met. Eventually Bannon became involved with Breitbart News, home to several Southern Californians crafting their brand of journalism.
Alex Marlow, the current editor and also one of the website’s first hires, graduated in 2004 from Harvard-Westlake School, the exclusive Los Angeles prep school. Class of 2009 graduate and Beverly Hills native Julia Hahn also joined the conservative website.
It’s known that Bannon honed some of his worldview based on the writings of William Strauss and Santa Monica native Neil Howe. Their book “The Fourth Turning” postulates that America undergoes recurring cycles, each made up of four generations or “turnings,”. It’s during the fourth turning that America faces crisis and tumult. The latest “fourth turning” was predicted to begin in 2005 and last two decades. In 2010, Bannon released a documentary based on the authors’ theories, “Generation Zero.”
With the death of Breitbart and the naming of Bannon as executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, the site’s tone and voice shifted further to the right, according to former editor Shapiro.
“Andrew Breitbart despised racism. Truly despised it,” Shapiro wrote after candidate Trump named Bannon as his campaign chairman. “Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with ... the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”
Even before being named campaign chair, Bannon said as much to Sarah Posner of Mother Jones.
“We’re the platform for the alt-right.”
From L.A. to the West Wing
Fast-forward to Trump’s White House, and roots formed in Southern California are hard to miss. The media platform Breitbart created and the philosophy honed by Bannon, who served as a special advisor to the president until Friday, have been on full display in the new administration.
Hahn is there, working as a special assistant to the president after leaving her position as a Breitbart News reporter.
Then there’s Stephen Miller. As a student at Santa Monica High School, he was a frequent guest on a radio show hosted by Larry Elder based out of Los Angeles.
Miller worked for former Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party politician Michele Bachmann, which brought him into Bannon’s orbit; Bannon profiled Bachmann in a 2010 movie title “Fire from the Heartland: the Awakening of the Conservative Woman,” which was produced by Citizens United.
Miller later ran the communications shop for then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
It was Miller, now a senior advisor for Trump, who worked with Bannon in crafting Trump’s executive order suspending travel from a group of predominantly Muslim countries.
Then there’s Michael Anton, a senior Trump national-security official.
In September 2016, Anton penned an anonymous essay in the Claremont Institute’s “Claremont Review of Books” titled “The Flight 93 Election.” The essay published under the pseudonym “Publius Decius Mu” argued that “conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo.”
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles where it all started, Breitbart.com has grown to be the home for conservative news. What started in a basement in Westwood now has staff spread around the country, as well as in London and Jerusalem.
Breitbart’s friend and still-CEO of Breitbart News, Larry Solov, told The Los Angeles Times he didn’t see an end to the website’s popularity among conservatives.
“We think we are going to be the best place for coverage of Trump.”
When news of Bannon’s firing broke on Friday morning, it was a rare tweet from Matt Drudge that sent news outlets racing to catch up.
Sources: News reports, Times reporting