While the Breitbart News operation pushes an anti-establishment message across the country, it is also locked in a municipal battle in the nation’s capital. The conservative news outlet might have the ear of the president, but it can’t seem to get a fence built in its own front yard.
The owner of the Capitol Hill rowhouse that has been dubbed “Breitbart Embassy” is trying to build the fence for security. Because it is in a designated historic neighborhood, it needs approval from D.C. government officials, but that is proving to be an uphill battle.
The city tentatively rejected the application, saying there is no place for such a fence in the neighborhood.
The application submitted to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office states the property is the home of Stephen K. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News and a former White House chief strategist.
“Planning on installing a metal 3’ high fence around the front of house with a 3’ gate that opens electronically to the inside,” reads the application submitted by a Virginia-based contractor. “This fence is intended for security reasons. This is the primary residence of Mr. Steve Banon [sic].”
The house is owned by Moustafa el-Gindy, a former member of the Egyptian parliament who is now part of the nation’s opposition party. Breitbart had long operated out of the rowhouse, although USA Today reported earlier this year that it was planning to relocate from the rowhouse to downtown Washington. It’s unclear if that happened.
Neither Breitbart’s top editor nor a spokesman for Bannon responded to requests for comment.
While seemingly innocuous, the fence would be an aberration among the tony front yards in the 200 block of A Street NE — a mostly residential block near the Supreme Court building. The property is elevated and plans called for the fence to be built atop a reinforced wall, with the top of the fence several feet above the sidewalk.
The city’s Historic Preservation Office did not sign off on the application. Once the office denies a request, the applicant has the option to submit it to the Historic Preservation Review Board for a vote. Ed Giefer, a spokesman for the D.C. Office of Planning, said the construction contractor for the property has requested a hearing and vote but has not yet submitted the necessary drawings and plans.
The proposed fence didn’t fare any better among elected officials at the Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission. The ANC, which votes on matters like, say, whether a fence can be built around a home, unanimously voted against the fence on Thursday. That decision will be considered if the Historic Preservation Review Board, which has final say, votes on the fence.
“We have United States senators who live on Capitol Hill, and they don’t turn their homes into security compounds,” said Mark Eckenwiler, an ANC commissioner. “If they don’t need it, then it’s a little hard to determine how you could justify it in this case.”
D.C. police say they have no record of police reports filed at that property since 2010. Neighbors said they aren’t aware of security issues, and the area is flooded with federal security agencies.
Neighbor Patricia Burke said the house is a nuisance in the residential neighborhood because of its usage of street parking, as well as frequent large events with caterers going in and out.
“This is absolutely not acceptable,” Burke said of the fence. “We have Supreme Court security. We have Capitol Hill security. We have Secret Service.”
The rowhouse often hosts glitzy events each year for the Conservative Political Action Conference and the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, in addition to the occasional book party and other events. It also has a basement and carriage house with office space.
D.C. property records indicate el-Gindy purchased the house in 2009 for $2.35 million.