The Slatest

Steve Bannon Was Once Hired to Manage an Artificial World of People Living Under Glass (Before the Trump Campaign)

Stephen Bannon responds to a caller while hosting Breitbart News Daily.

Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Steve Bannon does not, at this point, seem to have been a good hire for Donald Trump’s campaign. It has emerged that he was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996 and allegedly threatened his wife to keep her quiet. He is illegally registered to vote in Florida as the resident of a vacant house. His presence has helped Clinton to solidify in voters’ minds the connections between Trump and the right-wing fringe. And, most relevantly to the prospects of Trump’s campaign organization, the last project he ran, the alt-right propaganda outlet Breitbart, saw an exodus of people disgusted with his character.

As it turns out, Breitbart wasn’t the first project to implode on Bannon’s watch.

“The name Steve Bannon may not mean much to most people in Southern Arizona,” Tim Steller of the Arizona Daily Star wrote on Thursday, “but to those involved in Biosphere 2, it brings back memories of a troubled time.” For a time in the 1990s, Bannon ran the famed Biosphere 2 project in an equally disharmonious fashion as he ran Breitbart, feuding with crew members, calling one a “bimbo,” and threatening to shove a statement on safety violations “down her (expletive) throat.”

Biosphere 2 is a three-acre research facility sealed under glass in Oracle, Arizona. Its purpose is to function as a closed artificial world with self-sustaining ecological environments, including an ocean, a desert, and a rainforest, along with some wildlife. Twice, in 1991 and 1994, researchers were locked into the Biosphere to attempt to live there independently for two years. They closely studied its environments while eating only food they’d grown in the sphere and, at all times, making sure the Biosphere was closed entirely to foreign elements—no outside air, no outside water, and no foreign objects. The first set of researchers completed their mission. The second set did not.

By the end of the first mission in September 1993, the Biosphere was costing its backer Ed Bass, a wealthy Texan environmentalist and philanthropist, $1 million a month. Bass decided to bring in Bannon, then an investment banker, to bring the Biosphere’s finances under control. But Bannon soon quit after having his suggestion that two of the projects’ managers be fired denied. Just under a month after the second mission began in March 1994, though, Bass changed his mind, fired the managers, and rehired Bannon as his “new sheriff, or dictator” according to a member of the Biosphere management team interviewed by the Daily Star.

This did not go over well. From the Tucson Citizen:

This action prompted [Abigail] Alling and another original Biosphere 2 crew member, Mark Van Thillo, to return from a business trip in Japan, break into the system in the middle of the night and warn crew members that new management was incapable of running the project, they have said.

Alling and Van Thillo were technical and safety consultants to Biosphere 2. They were fired a few days after the break-in.

According to the New York Times, Alling and Van Thillo’s actions shattered part of the sphere’s glass and allowed outdoor air to flow into the dome for 15 minutes, compromising the integrity of the Biosphere’s sealed environments. The mission would end early in September 1994.

Comments made by Bannon during his time working for the Biosphere project and in the early stages of criminal proceedings against Alling and Van Thillo would later emerge in a breach-of-contract and abuse of process lawsuit by the two. During proceedings, Bannon admitted to calling Alling a “bimbo” and a “self-centered, deluded young woman.” He also admitted he had threatened to “kick” Alling’s ass, after being thwarted in his plans to fire managers in 1993 and that he had threatened to ram a five-page statement on safety violations in the Biosphere that Alling had brought up in a grand jury hearing “down her (expletive) throat.”

The roughness with women, the internal squabbles, doing the bidding of a wealthy man with a wild project—there is much from this chapter of Bannon’s life that suggests he’s a perversely perfect fit for the Trump campaign, which he now controls. One can’t help but wonder if continued bad press or the divisive management style he evidently carried over from the Biosphere to Breitbart might eventually lead to his departure from Team Trump as well.