The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bannon film outline warned U.S. could turn into ‘Islamic States of America’

Stephen K. Bannon is one of President Trump’s closest advisers. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The flag fluttering above the U.S. Capitol is emblazoned with a crescent and star. Chants of “Allahu Akbar” rise from inside the building.

That’s the provocative opening scene of a documentary-style movie outlined 10 years ago by Stephen K. Bannon that envisioned radical Muslims taking over the country and remaking it into the “Islamic States of America,” according to a document describing the project obtained by The Washington Post.

The outline shows how Bannon — years before he became a strategist for President Trump and helped draft last week’s order restricting travel from seven mostly Muslim countries — sought to issue a warning about the threat posed by radical Muslims and their “enablers among us.” Although driven by the “best intentions,” the outline says, institutions such as the media, the Jewish community and government agencies were appeasing jihadists aiming to create an Islamic republic.

The eight-page draft, written in 2007 during Bannon's stint as a Hollywood filmmaker, proposes a three-part movie that would trace "the culture of intolerance" behind sharia law, examine the "Fifth Column" made up of "Islamic front groups" and identify the American enablers paving "the road to this unique hell on earth."

The outline, titled “Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Facism [sic] in America,” lists Bannon as the movie’s director, as well as its co-writer with his longtime writing partner Julia Jones. The title page includes the line “A Film by Stephen K. Bannon” in capital letters.

Jones, reached by The Post, declined to discuss the contents of the document in detail but confirmed its authenticity. She added that it was essentially Bannon’s product.

“It was all his words,” Jones said.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment. Bannon did not respond to several requests for comment.

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The film proposal includes as possible on-air experts two analysts who went on to advise Trump, although their names are misspelled in the document: Walid Phares, a Lebanese-born Maronite Christian who has warned that jihadists are posing as civil rights advocates, and Heritage Foundation security expert James Jay Carafano, who has defended Trump's executive order.

Phares said he did not recall any discussions about the film. A Heritage spokesman said Carafano was not familiar with the project.

The outline offers an early glimpse of Bannon’s belief that the West and “supremacist” Islam are headed for a “fundamental clash of civilizations,” as the outline says. Bannon later expressed this view publicly as chief of Breitbart News, a site that often features articles about radical Islamists and has provided a platform for the alt-right, a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state.

"We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism," he said in a 2014 talk via Skype to a group at the Vatican, according to a transcript first published by BuzzFeed. "And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it."

“I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam,” he added, citing ancient battles between Christian and Islamic forces.

Trump, who has known Bannon since 2011, has voiced similar views about the threats posed by jihadist Muslims. During the campaign, he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on" and said that there is a "great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population."

At Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, Trump showed sympathy for Muslim victims of terrorism, saying that "peace-loving Muslims" have been "brutalized" by the Islamic State.

One of Trump's first acts as president was to issue last week's travel limits, which temporarily bar travelers from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Administration officials have said the order is not a "Muslim ban" but is instead targeted at countries whose citizens pose the greatest terrorism risk. However, none of those countries is the birthplace of terrorists who committed recent attacks in the United States connected to extremist Islamist ideology, unlike Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.

Some within the administration have also advocated designating the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and social movement founded nearly 100 years ago in Egypt, as a foreign terrorist organization. Experts disagree on what this would accomplish, noting that the Brotherhood is not a single organization but a broad, transnational movement of Sunni Muslims whose individual factions vary widely in goals and activities in different nations.

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The 2007 film summary calls the Muslim Brotherhood “the foundation of modern terrorism.”

Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who reviewed the outline for The Post, called it “propaganda” that was “designed to generate hate against not just Islamists, not just extremists, but Muslims writ large.”

"There's no way you can look at this and Steve Bannon's other comments and remarks and say Steve Bannon is a friend of American Muslims," said Hamid, the author of "Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World."

“It’s remarkable that someone involved with a film like this is at the center of power at the White House,” he added.

Tim Watkins, a producer who participated in discussions with Bannon about the project, rejected the idea that the film was driven by anti-Muslim bias.

“This is not because Bannon had a hate or dislike for Muslims,” Watkins said. “I believe that he believed that no society is without its radical fringes.”

Watkins said he and Bannon met with Steven Emerson, author of the 2002 book "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us" and founder of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, at an Italian restaurant in Washington and discussed the project. After hearing about Emerson's research, Watkins said he came up with the idea for the opening sequence featuring the reconstituted American flag flying over the Capitol dome.

“Based on what I heard, it seemed like a documentary in the making,” Watkins said.

Emerson, whose book asserts that many Muslim institutions in the West have provided ideological support for militants, is listed as an executive producer in the proposal. A section of the film was to be drawn from his research archives, according to the document.

“Steve Bannon and I definitely had some interaction at some point about a film, due to a mutual interest in the threat of radical Islamism,” Emerson wrote in an email, describing himself as someone who deeply respects Islam. He added that he did not recall ever seeing the outline, which he said contained material that was not drawn from his work.

“I believe there is a witch hunt and campaign of character assassination being waged against Steve Bannon for his comments against radical Islam like there has been waged against me for many years in order to silence critics of radical Islam,” he said.

The outline uses stark language to spell out the dangers posed by Islamist jihadists.

“The ideology is scary, and its ideologues will frighten small children as we bring to light an unbroken chain of ‘thinkers’ who epitomize the culture of hate,” the outline reads.

Part of the film would detail “the rise of a global holy war — financed by the cash flow of oil — to attack and destroy western civilization,” according to the outline.

The proposal names two dozen conservative writers and terrorism experts who could serve as potential on-screen guests, including Robert Spencer, director of the Jihad Watch website, who is labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim "propagandist."

In an email, Spencer rejected that term as “a smear,” adding that he is “no more anti-Muslim than critics of Nazism were anti-German.”

Spencer, who has written for Breitbart and was interviewed by Bannon on Breitbart's daily radio show, said he did not recall any discussions about the 2007 film proposal. But he said that he found Bannon "to be brilliant and extraordinarily well-informed about both the history and doctrines of Islam."

The outline warns about “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.”

It names the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America as examples of such “cultural jihadists.” After The Post’s revelation of the 2007 script, CAIR officials on Friday urged Republicans to call for Bannon’s dismissal, saying that he promoted “virulently anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.”

The proposal also lists other “enablers,” including The Post, the New York Times, NPR, “Universities and the Left,” the “American Jewish Community,” the ACLU, the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and the White House.

“The road to the establishment of an Islamic Republic in the United States starts slowly and subtly with the loss of the will to win,” the outline reads. “The road to this unique hell on earth is paved with the best intentions from our major institutions. This political/accommodation/appeasement approach is not simply a function of any one individual’s actions but lies at the heart of our most important cultural and political institutions.”

Bannon's work on the "Great Satan" project came after the release of his well-received 2004 Ronald Reagan biopic, "In the Face of Evil." That film included a coda that warned about the threat of "the beast" during a montage that showed praying Muslims, terrorist camps and people falling to their deaths from the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Bannon then produced political documentaries including "Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration"; "Generation Zero," an examination of the global economic crisis; and "Battle for America," which hammered an "out-of-touch, arrogant, and ever-expanding central government."

It’s unclear why “Great Satan” was never produced. Jones, a political liberal who was Bannon’s screenwriting partner for 16 years, said that after helping him type up the proposal, she did not work on it any further.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this story.