Steven Bannon’s platform to air COVID-19 conspiracy theories is distributed by a con man who has a long list of serious arrests dating back decades and a federal bank-fraud conviction.
War Room: Pandemic is a podcast and radio program that appeals to a MAGA audience and focuses on the coronavirus, and is hosted by President Trump’s former chief strategist at the White House and by the former Nigel Farage adviser Raheem Kassam.
It has covered COVID-19 and pushed false narratives about the virus, including giving weight to the unproven theory that it was somehow man-made.
The hour-long broadcasts—which have been viewed by millions and which originally started as War Room: Impeachment in October, and then pivoted to the pandemic in late January—are part of a stable of Trump-aligned conservative news programs distributed by America's Voice News (AVN), a website and satellite TV network.
AVN is operated by Colorado-based Robert Sigg, who has a criminal background and, in an unusual twist, has historically donated to Democratic political candidates and causes. Sigg operates AVN through another entity, Performance One Media LLC.
Sigg’s arrest record dates back to the 1980s and includes arrests for domestic violence, driving under the influence, assault, battery, burglary, and drug offenses; the charges were later dismissed.
Sigg also has a track record of white-collar crime; in 2006, he was convicted for his role in a $19 million mortgage-fraud scheme. At the time of his arrest, the FBI announced that Sigg and his fellow defendants were charged because of their “alleged roles in a scheme to obtain loans employing stolen identities, and then utilizing these loan proceeds to purchase substandard houses.”
Sigg pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and a federal court sentenced him to time served and ordered him to pay more than $140,000 in restitution.
His son Austin is also no stranger to law enforcement; he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of a 10-year-old girl from Westminster, Colorado, in 2013.
Although Sigg hosts a far-right news source, he has donated around $72,000 to the Democratic Party, its causes, and candidates, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the 2016 Clinton campaign, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer. It’s unclear why he switched allegiances and jumped on the MAGA bandwagon.
Sigg and AVN did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Bannon didn’t answer questions as to whether Bannon knew of Sigg’s criminal background or association with the Democratic Party, or if the onetime executive chairman of Breitbart News would continue his association with AVN.
“America’s Voice News has been one of a dozen of our strong distribution partners, which has allowed us to reach over tens of millions of views and over 10 million downloads,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “With a vibrant and diverse audience, the show is growing aggressively throughout the globe, including in China, where it is broadcast through the firewall in Mandarin.”
The show is also broadcast on YouTube, John Fredericks Radio Network, Newsmax TV, and Salem Radio Network, and is available to download on podcast platforms. Bannon has plans to expand its reach further with Spanish-language and Portuguese versions of the show.
The coronavirus pandemic, and the conservative backlash to public-health measures to curb it, have given AVN one of its most viral and controversial segments yet—an interview with anti-vaccine activist and Massachusetts Senate candidate Shiva Ayyadurai, who alleged that the science behind COVID-19 and the U.S. response to it is part of a conspiracy involving Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates designed to damage Trump’s re-election chances.
Fauci, Ayyadura says, is “a guy who's embedded in the ‘deep state’” and is “highly embedded into the Big Pharma medical school education.”
The segment went viral among QAnon fans and anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists, racking up six million views on YouTube alone before being pulled from the video-sharing platform.
Among the biggest boosters of content from Bannon’s Warroom.org and America’s Voice News on social media is Bannon’s own political action committee, Citizens of the American Republic.
Citizens of the American Republic (COAR) is a 501(c)(4) organization founded by Bannon. Its Facebook page is one of the most frequent amplifiers of America’s Voice News and War Room: Pandemic on Facebook. COAR advances the ideologies of “economic nationalism” and “America First.”
Sigg is just the latest media executive who has paired up with Bannon since the latter’s 2018 split with the wealthy Bob and Rebekah Mercer, who bankrolled his tenure at Breitbart.
More recently, Bannon, who was unceremoniously dumped from his role in the White House, has courted Guo Wengui, a Chinese billionaire who fled the People’s Republic following corruption allegations from Chinese officials and presented himself as a whistleblower and dissident upon his arrival in the U.S.
Guo Media struck a million-dollar deal with Bannon to provide “strategic consulting services” and help raise the profile of Guo’s news company. Guo has been a repeat guest on Bannon’s show and, like Bannon, is a proponent of the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan.
On the Feb. 21 edition of War Room: Pandemic, Wengui was asked by Bannon about the origins of novel coronavirus and whether it came out of a Wuhan "wet market" or if it originated from a "biological weapons program."
“I believe there is no doubt this is man-made, not from, you know, the seafood market, animal market,” Wengui responded. “This is truly ridiculous.”