Bannon. Stephen K. Bannon. Would you have been able to place this name at the beginning of 2016, when Bannon was editor in chief of the website Breitbart? Or during the summer, when he led the presidential campaign of an outsider by the name of Donald Trump? Or even on 9 November, when the world woke to the news that that very same Donald Trump had been elected to the most powerful office in the universe? No – for most people, the White House’s Chief Strategist-elect (Bannon) and the movement he represents (the alt-right) came completely out of the blue.

And the team that chose the candidates for GDI’s Global Thought Leader analysis is no different. Nobody had Bannon on their list; nobody, whether inside our organisation (and our partners) or outside it (the surveys we conducted) suggested him.

If he had been suggested, and if he had then made it onto the candidate list, he would still have been at the very bottom of the rankings. The analyses carried out on 223 candidates in summer 2016 according to the then-current state of the world and the internet could not predict how a 224th candidate would fare months later; but even after the US presidential election, Steve Bannon remains a peripheral figure with a weak network.

A web analysis carried out in mid-September by Peter Gloor showed that Bannon is not linked to any other global thought leaders on Wikipedia – none whatsoever.

He also plays no more than a minor role in his own Twitter network (made up of the entities that users who tweet about Bannon also tweet about). For every tweet that mentions Bannon, there are hundreds that mention Trump, Clinton or one of the leading US publications. Although Breitbart News fares a little better than its editor in chief Bannon, it’s still a long way from occupying a central position.

Centrality analysis of Twitter conversations about Stephen Bannon, figurehaed of the American alt-right movement and Donald Trump’s designated chief strategist at the White House. Clearly visible is a strong connection to Trump, very view connections to other thought leaders and a weak autonomous positioning. Bannon very much rode (and still rides) in Donald Trump’s tweet-stream.

 

Bannon and Breitbart may be represented online, but they don’t stand out all that much, and it’s notable that they’re not part of any clusters – as one might expect from an extreme-right publication. Neither friends nor foes cluster around Breitbart.

According to the Global Thought Leader methodology, then, Bannon’s influence would have been rated modest at best. He would probably have performed even worse in the candidate rankings than Aleksandr Dugin (thought leader of the Russian right, 122nd place) or Peter Thiel (Silicon Valley Trump supporter, 135th place) – so badly that he wouldn’t seem to belong there.

And perhaps that’s the secret of Bannon’s (current) success. After all, Donald Trump isn’t part of the political sphere either – that’s why he was elected to the most important political office in the world. Bannon is an outlier among intellectuals: he has nothing in common with them and wants nothing in common with them; he behaves like an anti-intellectual and, as a result, has become one of the most influential intellectuals in the world.