Two years after being cast out of the White House, Stephen K. Bannon spoke from a steep, dusty hill outside El Paso, asking for donations. The former investment banker and Hollywood producer wanted cash in 2019 for his latest quest, to privately build President Donald Trump’s stalled border wall.
It wasn’t Fox News or Newsmax. It wasn’t even Breitbart News, the far-right website Bannon once led, using it to help remake the GOP and elect Trump.
The coverage came from an upstart network run by a little-known media mogul in Colorado, a felon with a record of unpaid taxes and a family history marked by tragedy and violence. The mogul, Robert J. Sigg, found news value in Bannon’s mission to the desert, which ultimately resulted in fraud charges.
When Bannon launched his own talk show in the fall of 2019, calling it “War Room,” he quickly handed over its distribution to Sigg.
More than two years later, the arrangement has paid off for both men. Sigg used “War Room” as a springboard for an expanded network of conservative hosts — bringing him the commercial opportunity he sought.
The network, Real America’s Voice, helped sustain Bannon despite his removal from YouTube, Spotify and other mainstream platforms. It brings his show into as many as 8 million homes hooked up to Dish satellite television, many in rural, conservative areas without reliable cable coverage.
The rise of Real America’s Voice, built around Bannon and distant from the traditional power structures of cable television and talk radio, reveals how the country’s fractured media landscape has empowered unconventional actors following market incentives toward more and more extreme content.
“We were told fairly regularly we were Trump propaganda,” said a former Real America’s Voice producer, who, like about a dozen other current and former employees of Sigg’s business, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid professional reprisal. “That is what our role was. That was the message from the top: ‘We’re a Trump propaganda network.’ That’s where the money was.”
That market was left open when Fox News and Newsmax pulled back from topics most motivating to Trump’s base, said Bannon, such as resistance to vaccines, cries of voter fraud and unproven ideas about federal agents provoking the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.
“War Room” focuses on those topics. Its influence comes not just from the number of people watching, which is difficult to measure across platforms, but also from the audience’s willingness to take political action, whether marching against vaccine mandates or running for local office. The show, broadcast live six days a week from Bannon’s Capitol Hill townhouse, is the gathering point for the pro-Trump movement — with Bannon embracing the role of a wartime general leading followers into 2022, or what he calls the “valley of decision.”
“Breitbart was very powerful, but this is five times more powerful,” Bannon said in an interview with The Washington Post following a recent show, which featured four candidates courting Trump’s base and a tech entrepreneur-turned-critic of coronavirus vaccines.
He credited the show’s reach to its little-known distribution partner. “They get it out everywhere,” Bannon said of Real America’s Voice, which he said gives him a cut of advertising revenue, though he declined to specify his earnings, saying, “I’m not doing this for money.”
But his latest patron may be his most unusual yet. Sigg, whose criminal record includes a federal conviction for bank fraud, built his media business on weather news and outdoor sports. He has given large sums of money to Democrats.
Sigg did not respond to requests for comment. A network spokesman, Mark Serrano, did not respond to numerous specific questions but said in an email: “The market for real, honest news is growing, and will continue to grow so long as the mainstream media continue to abandon any and all semblance of journalistic integrity.”
Sigg’s news venture makes possible more expansion, including into cryptocurrency. Last summer, he discussed turning the network’s footage from Trump rallies into non-fungible tokens, according to people familiar with his comments.
Despite his ambitions, Sigg’s operation remains small and unpolished. An internal email reviewed by The Post said correspondents lacked “TV 101 skills.” A former manager said he became incensed in the fall of 2020 after learning that the network was taking feeds from Fox News and other outlets without crediting them, calling Sigg and his fellow executives “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”
But Bannon warned not to bet against Real America’s Voice. “They knew us,” he said. “And they knew we were quality content.”
In a studio outside Denver, next door to a youth prison, 15 or 20 people put Real America’s Voice on air. Many are in their 20s or 30s and earn about $30,000 per year, said current and former employees.
Their boss is Sigg, 57, who presents himself as a highflying media executive. An examination by The Post of state and federal records sheds light on a winding path to his new perch, one marked by arrests and civil lawsuits.
Today, Sigg wears a designer Hermès belt and flies on private jets, according to images reviewed by The Post. He has a hands-on management style, said people who have worked for him, which extends to dictating individual shots and “huffing and puffing and yelling” about mistakes, as one former employee recalled. Then, he stalks around the office handing out $50 bills to people he had dressed down the day before, according to people who have witnessed his behavior.
A since-deleted online bio cites Sigg’s long record in advertising and television media, including at a firm conducting sales for Dish, whose revenue he helped expand by $250 million before leaving in 2004. A year later, Sigg pleaded guilty to bank fraud as part of what authorities described as a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme. Sigg falsely verified someone’s employment for a loan application and received a $1,000 check for his role, according to a plea agreement. He was ordered to pay restitution and sentenced to five years of supervised release.
By that time, Sigg had faced legal problems stretching back decades, according to Colorado court records, including drug, assault and harassment charges, as well as civil claims involving disputes over money. Between 1997 and 2010, he amassed more than $235,000 in unpaid federal taxes, according to a lien filed against him in January 2012 and withdrawn within weeks.
Later in 2012, Sigg’s family came under a public spotlight when his 17-year-old son, Austin, kidnapped, killed and dismembered a 10-year-old girl. He was sentenced to life in prison. The elder Sigg said at the time, “This horrible event is a tragedy for both the families, as well as the community.”
At least two of Sigg’s adult children now work for his company, Performance One Media, which was registered in Colorado in 2006, records show, a year before his old firm filed for bankruptcy protection. His daughter handles human resources, according to current and former employees, and his son works with Real America’s Voice, a Performance One subsidiary. They did not respond to requests for comment. A former employee said, “You can’t go to HR, because it’s the owner’s daughter you’d be talking to.”
Bannon, who was charged with contempt of Congress this past fall after defying a Jan. 6 committee subpoena, said he was untroubled by Sigg’s criminal record, calling him and his business partners “scrappers from the cable business.”
In his bio, Sigg presented himself not as a scrapper but as a savant with “unprecedented standards.” For years, he specialized in weather news, not politics, marketing a Performance Once subsidiary, WeatherNation TV, as an alternative to the Weather Channel. To satisfy its audience, WeatherNation avoids discussion of climate change in its forecasting, said current and former employees, with one saying, “They’re conscious of catering to people who don’t want to hear about climate change.”
When DirecTV dropped WeatherNation in 2018, Sigg accelerated his move to digital platforms and search for other content, said a former employee. “You could call them highly entrepreneurial,” said a person who met with Sigg’s team at the time. “They were thinking, 'We’re going to get every church in America on our network.’ Church didn’t work out, but then they were like, 'Hey, we could do this news thing if we can find the right niche.’ ”
The niche they chose was at odds with their previous political giving. Sigg had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats including Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, federal records show. Performance One Media’s chief operating officer, Robert Schwartz, gave $2,700 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2015.
But in 2019, the company’s executives gravitated to Trump. Howard Diamond, who describes himself on LinkedIn as Performance One Media’s CEO, gave several thousand dollars backing Trump that year. Another executive, Michael Norton, gave several thousand the following year.
According to a former employee, “They went out looking to catch Bannon’s wave.”
‘No more fake news’
Bannon’s wave appeared to be surging in 2019 — cresting at the U.S.-Mexico border, where his crowdfunding campaign promised to realize a trademark Trump initiative.
A year later, Bannon was indicted on charges of defrauding donors, accused of using nearly $1 million, from more than $25 million raised, for personal expenses. He pleaded not guilty and received a pardon from Trump.
Before drawing legal scrutiny, the effort gained the attention of Sigg’s network, Bannon said. At the time called America’s Voice News, the network had a website by August 2018, according to an archived version.
When “War Room” began in the fall of 2019, focusing on Trump’s impeachment, Sigg jumped at the chance to broadcast it, Bannon said. Other networks, from Newsmax to the Salem Radio Network, also picked up “War Room,” but Bannon said he chafed at their narrow time slots. Sigg, he said, was “much more flexible, and I need those big blocks.”
With Bannon locked in, Sigg set out to recruit more pro-Trump talent in 2020, current and former employees said, while also making personal investments in the president’s adopted state. Already the owner of a hilltop home overlooking Denver, Sigg purchased two waterfront estates in Lake Worth, Fla., each for more than $1.5 million, property records show. They lie about five miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club.
Sigg found help from well-connected people. He took to the skies with Gina Loudon, a Women for Trump co-chair. A photo she shared on Instagram in July 2020 shows Sigg on a plush corporate jet. “No more fake news coming your way …” Loudon wrote in another post about their travels.
The same month, Loudon shared a photo of herself in the Oval Office with John Solomon, the columnist whose misleading claims about corruption in Ukraine helped shape Trump’s policy that led to his first impeachment. According to Bannon, Solomon arranged a White House meeting in which Trump said Sigg’s network, America’s Voice News, sounded too much like Voice of America, the U.S.-funded international broadcaster, inspiring executives to change the name.
The network debuted in September 2020 as Real America’s Voice, available not just on Dish, according to a news release, but also on Pluto TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Google Play. Neither Solomon nor Loudon, who has her own show on the network, responded to requests for comment.
Other talent included Eric Greitens, the former Missouri governor who resigned in scandal and is now mounting a Senate bid. His show, called “Actionable Intelligence,” was shot in Washington, relying on network staff who worked from a 10th-floor office on K Street, according to current and former employees.
For “Actionable Intelligence,” which ran from October 2020 to February 2021, Greitens was paid $19,000 through Bentley Media Group, the company behind Solomon’s website, according to a financial disclosure filed last year by the former governor. Greitens continued contributing to Real America’s Voice and was compensated directly by the network, he said in an interview with The Post. He did not identify those earnings on the disclosure required for his Senate bid.
When asked about the discrepancy, he said he did not have the forms in front of him but that his aides would follow up with “every detail.” His aides did not provide any details.
Current and former Real America’s Voice employees said they had little insight into whether the network was profitable or being propped up by the company’s weather programming. Serrano said that and other matters were “proprietary.”
If the network is making money, it’s because of Bannon’s show, current and former employees said. “It’s not even close in terms of the advertising money he brings in,” a former employee said. “Even election coverage was below Bannon.”
“War Room” airs twice each weekday and once on Saturday, producing about 17 hours of content each week from the Capitol Hill townhouse once known as the Breitbart Embassy. The basement, where a producer and a sound engineer join Bannon beneath an ornate chandelier, is strewn with books, newspapers and knickknacks, including zinc supplements branded with the “War Room” logo.
In early 2020, the show’s focus shifted from Trump’s impeachment to the coronavirus. Bannon was attuned to the pathogen earlier than most, predicting a pandemic in a show on Jan. 25, 2020. More recently, he has provided a platform for disputed claims about vaccine injury and warned of a “war on the unvaccinated.” Anti-vaccine outrage is “beyond totemic” for Trump’s base, said Bannon, who told The Post he is unvaccinated. “It’s almost defining.”
After Trump’s defeat on Nov. 3, 2020, the show became a clearinghouse for false claims of mass voter fraud, as Bannon birthed what he calls the “3 November movement,” turning allegiance to Trump’s assertion of election theft into a litmus test for Republican candidates. The day before the Jan. 6 riot, Bannon told viewers, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
Bannon’s message sometimes takes on religious tones, promising viewers “divine providence” if they “commit.” Among those commitments is patronizing My Pillow, whose CEO, Mike Lindell, is a leading purveyor of election falsehoods and among the sponsors of “War Room.”
A “War Room” appearance can move money to political causes. Caroline Wren, a Republican fundraiser, went on the show recently to argue that the GOP establishment had misused funds by neglecting legal challenges of the 2020 election. In the days after, she received more than 400 messages from viewers asking how to reorient their political contributions, she told The Post, including from several donors who had given more than $1 million supporting Trump’s reelection efforts.
Bannon said his audience depends on Sigg’s network and the show’s radio distribution. The audio on Apple Podcasts, even though it ranks in that platform’s top 100 shows, is “kind of an afterthought,” Bannon said. On a recent show, he said his removal from YouTube about a year earlier had expanded his reach. “When it was taken down on YouTube, the show got 10 times bigger,” he argued.
Whether or not the numbers bear out that claim, his ejection from mainstream platforms held value for Bannon, who is now “preaching to the choir” on platforms with even less scrutiny, said Jeremy Blackburn, a computer scientist at Binghamton University who has studied deplatforming. There is also value for platforms still giving him a megaphone and reaping the advertising rewards.
Representatives of those platforms offered varied reasons for carrying Real America’s Voice, despite moves by other services to cut off “War Room.”
Dish offers a “broad range of content that will appeal to the many different interests of our customer base,” a spokesman said. A spokeswoman for Pluto TV, which says it has more than 54 million monthly active users, said, “We do not partake in any editorial decisions or moderation.” A Google spokesman did not respond to a question about why Google-owned YouTube removed “War Room” even as it remains on Google Play through Real America’s Voice.
Bannon leaves his show’s distribution to Sigg and the others at Real America’s Voice, he said, because they know the market.
They have no other motives, he said, musing, “I’m not even sure they’re conservatives.”
Alice Crites and Jennifer Oldham contributed to this report.