By Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
For years, conservative talking heads like Glenn Beck have capitalized on their audiences’ long-standing obsession with gold, talking up the financial security of precious metals—metals whose value would surely skyrocket, they suggested, when the global economic order inevitably collapsed. (“Before I started turning you on to Goldline, I wanted to look them in the eye. This is a top-notch organization that’s been in business since 1960,” Beck said in one now-deleted endorsement on the company’s Web site.) Libertarian Ron Paul has been hawking gold as a cure-all for society’s ills his entire career, whether the price is up or down. (“I personally would be better off if I did buy a little bit more gold,” Paul told CNBC last month, predicting that the stock market was overdue to crash.) Ideology explains part of the allure on the far right; among a certain breed of conservatives, gold represents a buoy in a sea of economic instability. It is also an easy swindle for con artists looking to cash in; the price of gold is pegged to economic fears, and fear is the coin of the realm in conservative media.
More recently, however, the goldbugs have discovered a new financial fetish: cryptocurrency. For a while, the price of digital currencies skyrocketed, with Bitcoin hitting highs near $20,000. (Bitcoin has since collapsed to around $6,550.) Naturally, the upsurge in interest drew out the hucksters, too, with sketchy cryptocurrency marketing campaigns associated with Roger Stone and Breitbart News urging readers to make the investment of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t want to free themselves from the bondage of the Federal Reserve and fiat currency and the Bilderberg Group, while making a killing in the process?
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the crypto-world has found a new ambassador in Stephen K. Bannon, former Trump chief strategist and Bitcoin enthusiast. “It’s disruptive populism,” Bannon explained in an interview with The New York Times this week, extolling the benefits of cryptocurrencies. “It takes control back from central authorities. It’s revolutionary.” Bannon has apparently invested in Bitcoin, and has discussed plans with a group of academics at Harvard to launch a new cryptocurrency with the less-than-catchy name “deplorables coin.”
Bannon’s interest in creating his own digital token should set off alarm bells. Proponents describe these “initial coin offerings,” or I.C.O.s, as a game-changing way for companies to raise money from investors, circumventing pesky things like regulators. Detractors hate them for the same reason. The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued numerous warnings about I.C.O.s, and has begun cracking down on them. One recent report estimated that about 8 in 10 I.C.O.s are scams.
It is not reassuring to learn, then, that Bannon was introduced to cryptocurrencies through former child actor Brock Pierce, who starred in the Mighty Ducks movies and now runs a series of cryptocurrency projects. “These guys are visionaries,” Bannon told the Times.
Bannon’s investment firm, Bannon & Company, is looking into ways to get into the cryptocurrency craze, including helping countries make their own coins. But the project also has a clear political agenda for Bannon, who has been spending much of his post-White House life promoting far-right nationalist movements in Italy and Hungary. In March, he told an audience at an event sponsored by Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche that cryptocurrencies could be a way to “empower [the populist] movement, empower companies, [and] empower governments to get away from the central banks that debase your currency and makes slave wages.” Cryptocurrencies, he added, may be the path to “true freedom” by taking control back from the state. “It was pretty obvious to me that unless you got somehow control over your currency, all these political movements were going to be beholden to who controlled the currency,” he told the Times.