It’s a story that major media outlets have ignored.
While many media outlets have focused on the allegedly misogynistic statements Steve Bannon made in depositions against ex-employees at Biosphere 2, none have detailed the circumstances surrounding his hostile takeover of the company on May 1994.
Specifically, Bannon removed old employees suspected of disloyalty, conducted a smear campaign against the previous administration, and ordered an employee of Cherokee ancestry to perform a purification ritual cleansing the company of any negative energy. All known details pertaining to the hostile takeover are discussed below.
The Biosphere 2
The company Biosphere 2 was founded as a subsidiary of Space Biosphere Ventures (SBV) to be an experimental self-contained ecosystem exploring the feasibility of supporting human life in outer space. The facilities boasted the capability of mimicking all possible ecosystems on planet Earth. Phase 1 of the experiment involved scientists voluntarily locking themselves in a 3 acre dome for a period of two years subsisting on crops grown exclusively from within the biosphere.
The experiment was plagued with runaway costs. As phase 1 of the experiment wore on, the costs of maintaining and continuing the operation skyrocketed. Ed Bass, the primary funder of the project, poured $200 million dollars into it, but received very little on his investment. By mid-1993, he was projecting a $10 million deficit for the year 1994.
Steve Bannon Enters the Picture
Steve Bannon was brought on board as CEO in 1993 with the goal of making the company profitable again; however, he resigned when the parent company, SBV, rejected his recommendation of firing several managers from Biosphere 2.
His departure was brief and he was rehired in 1994 after it became apparent that the company’s finances were horribly out of shape. Bannon immediately set to work auditing the company’s finances but met resistance when employees kicked his team of auditors off the property. Finally, Ed Bass persuaded a U.S. District Court judge that Biosphere 2 had been mismanaged. The court issued a temporary restraining order against key members of the company without hearing any viewpoints from the respondents, an unprecedented, one-sided legal first in corporate takeovers.
A Case Study in Corporate Takeovers
On April Fool’s Day 1994, when key managerial personnel were away on business, Steve Bannon, Ed Bass, Martin Bowen, and others on his team launched their corporate takeover.They arrived accompanied by several off duty, armed police officers hired from the division of surveillance and organized crime within the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The officers secured the property, changed locks, altered computer access codes, and established an armed command post outside the Biosphere’s perimeter.
Top managers within the company were barred from entering the facility and many including Margret Augustine (CEO), Marie Harding (CFO), John Allen (Vice President), Deborah Snyder (Director of Publications), and Sally Silverstone (Director of Agriculture) were immediately terminated from their positions.
Steve Bannon then convened an all staff meeting where he announced that he and his colleagues were now in charge of overseeing all Biosphere 2 operations.
An Act of Resistance
Bannon had planned the day of the takeover on April Fools Day precisely to coincide with the absence of key Biosphere personnel and to cause maximum confusion among the rank and file. Despite these measures, he still encountered resistance.
Two employees, Gaie and Laser, flew back from out of town and returned on April 4 early in the morning. The pair then proceeded to smash small safety panels to neutralize the Biosphere’s air pressure and open the airlock doors. Journalists labeled the act “sabotage,” but Gaie and Laser maintained that they committed the act of vandalism out of concern for the wellbeing of the Biosphereians still inside. Three days later, the pair were apprehended by Arizona state police and were fired from their positions.
This episode began a series of long drawn out court battles between Bannon and the ex-Biospherians. Gaie and Laser filed a claim against SBV asking for $315,000 and $202,500 respectively in compensate for lost salary, bonuses, and defamation; SBV counter sued for $100,000 citing damages and lost revenues. In June, a jury found in favor of the plaintiffs awarding them more than $600,000.
Steve Bannon was made acting CEO in May 1994. He immediately began restructuring the company, laying off old employees, and conducting a cultural and psychological smear campaign against the previous managers. He displayed a profound sense of unease towards the project’s founders and proceeded to purge the staff of all suspected loyalists. William Dempster, a scientific engineer, was originally kept on because he was regarded as being indispensable, but he was later fired because Bannon feared he may be working as a spy for the previous administration.
Later, in an attempt at wiping away any memory of the previous establishment, Bannon banned the usage of nicknames from among long term employees and ordered maintenance workers to destroy any physical artifacts related to Biosphere 2’s founders. Still suspicious of lurking spirits, Bannon ordered Steve “Bear” Pitts, a staff scientist descended from the Cherokee nation, to ritually cleanse the Biosphere 2 facilities of negative energy. Finally, Bannon launched a campaign to discredit the company’s founders by having his brother, Chris Bannon, develop a fictitious news article wherein the previous managers were portrayed as cult leaders.
Once all remnants of the old administration were either converted or removed, Bannon began venturing into academic politics, discussing with administrators from Ivy League Universities about the potential usage of the biosphere for climate change research. Bannon left the project in early 1996 where after Columbia University took over management of the Biosphere on January 1, 1996.
The psychological impact of Bannon’s policies were long lasting. In 2008 when Rebecca Reider sought interviews with Columbia University staff for her book on the history of Biosphere 2, many were afraid they would get in trouble for participating.
Most information contained in the report was obtained from Reider, Rebecca. Dreaming the biosphere: the theater of all possibilities. UNM Press, 2009.
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