On July 1, former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon reported to the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution to begin a four-month sentence for contempt of Congress. In an interview a  few weeks earlier, Tucker Carlson had asked him: “What do you plan to do with that time?” Bannon replied that he would view the time as “serving his country,” and added that he had a regimen to keep himself mentally fit: “I do a lot of spiritual exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, different spiritual exercises that come out of the Catholic Church.” 

The exchange reminded me of a conversation I had with Bannon, whom I spent about two years following after his departure from the White House in 2017, attempting to better understand his intellectual trajectory and to trace the largely concealed conversations he had with global far-right ideologues. We had more than 20 hours of on-the-record interviews, easily twice as many off the record, and remain in contact today. Once, we discussed another time in his life, when he was confined to a small space, under stress, and unable to control his own schedule—when he served on a Navy destroyer in 1980. “Spiritual exercises” got him through the day then, too, though he confided in me that these could as well have come from Buddhism, Hinduism, or even Theosophy as from Catholicism. He hid this from his peers and superiors on the ship, for fear that someone might think him “weird.”

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