Steve Bannon came to Europe to unite the Euroskeptic populist forces. Instead he created chaos and even betrayed his closest allies – as he did in US.
There was the moment, when an American called Stephen Kevin Bannon – Steve Bannon – stepped onto European soil. He came as a savior, a leader, a guide for every political group in Europe opposing the Brussels EU super state.
Bannon, the former Donald Trump White House advisor who went too far with his activities and provocations, and eventually lost the trust of his president – entered the European political scene to “consult” with the European right.
The ex-advisor was widely known for his so-called “alt-right” political views and contribution to the Trump campaign’s victory during the US presidential elections of 2016. After that, he was appointed as presidential advisor on political strategy, but in August 2017 he was fired by Trump, which was, according to informed sources, the result of a conflict with the influential daughter of the American president Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
In January 2018, Bannon announced his resignation as the head of Breitbart News and his intention to focus on “new political and analytical projects”.
European media – mainstream and alternative – tended to over-exaggerate Bannon’s role in the Trump campaign. The liberal media used Bannon as a type of “fascist” scare crow, a “shady figure” whispering his diabolical ideas right into the ear of Donald Trump.
The alternative media saw in Bannon a type of hero, a priest-intellectual, a man of real ideas who had lit the path of truth for Donald Trump.
In European rightwing circles, Bannon was a myth from the get-go. Among many leaders there would be little doubt that Bannon was the man who made Trump president of the USA. Bannon enjoyed this popularity, he smiled in selfie photos with Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and plenty of other leaders from the European populist right.
And they all believed in the beginning that this man was about to deliver on the “Theory of Everything”. But Bannon brought just one simple thing: himself. And nothing else. That is not quite enough for a continent, where in some countries the populist right is but a whisker away from taking power.
While some rightwing leaders took selfies with Bannon and listened closely to his “We are the forces of light” speeches, others were more realistic. Deputy leader of German AfD party, Alexander Gauland stated matter-of-factly: “I don’t see any possibilities of cooperation. This is not America.”
And Gauland was not mistaken. Bannon’s recipes for Europe sounded as if it had been cooked up in an American undergraduate class at Texas university: China evil, Taiwan great, Islam evil, Christianity great, this evil, that great. Maybe some farmers in the American Bible Belt would swallow that, but certainly not the European middle class electorate.
Many rightwing functionaries soon seemed disappointed by Bannon’s simple-minded views on the world.
The former advisor started implementing his intentions by announcing plans on the establishment of “The Movement” in Europe which was supposed to unite all the rightwing populist forces on the continent. The foundation was slated to become the rightwing alternative to George Soros’s “Open Society Foundation”.
But something went wrong and for now the project has been stalled. Or one could say that for Bannon, the public debate was his actual victory, and maybe he never even seriously planned to implement such plans. The mountain had thus laboured and brought forth a mouse.
But Bannon did no stop there and decided to go on with raising funds for creating a school for backers of right-wing ideologies in Europe. This idea appeared in a framework of his crusade against Pope Francis who, according to Bannon, “is constantly putting all the faults in the world on the populist nationalist movement.”
He had even managed to sign a lease for a medieval monastery in the Italian village of Trisulti, about an hour outside Rome, with plans to build an academy for “modern gladiators” which “brings the best thinkers together”.
He had huge plans for the academy, expecting the full version of the institute, with roughly 100 students and an additional faculty, to open by 2020. His faith in the success of this educational institution was based on his notion of single-mindedness: “Gladiators weren’t just about technique or physicality or courage, their biggest thing was this amazing single-mindedness.”
The idea of founding a kind of counter-Vatican was at first supported by conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former archbishop of St Louis who was demoted by Francis and had been supporting calls for the pope’s resignation.
Burke even stated that he was looking forward to working with Bannon “to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called Christendom”. But this burning passion for working with Bannon disappeared very promptly.
Bannon was quoted as saying that he had proposed to make a movie based on the book “In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy” by French journalist Frédéric Martel. The book is about the author’s research on closet gays who take up positions in the Vatican as high ecclesiastic dignitaries.
Martel told BuzzFeed News in an interview that he had had lunch with Bannon to discuss the book. During the talk, Martel had asked Bannon some pertinent questions about whether his supporters in the Vatican were gay.
Bannon answered that it was likely true and added that Vatican should allow their heterosexual priests to marry and allow other changes as well so that the church can be focused on “the important issue: China, Islam, immigration and so on”. The former aide to Donald Trump thus became the aide to God himself.
Bannon’s odd statements caused Burke to withdraw his support of Bannon immediately and he even underlined that he had “never worked with Mr. Bannon in his organisation” and that he had only met with him “on occasion to discuss Catholic social teaching regarding certain political questions”.
The last straw in imploding Bannon’s plans with the “gladiator” school was when Italy’s Culture Ministry who owns the monastery in Trisulti, intervened. The Ministry decided to refuse the lease deal, citing violations of contractual obligations.
Not one of Bannon’s “political and analytical projects” in Europe have therefore succeeded. He also lost one of his most influential supporters in the fight against Pope Francis and his anti-populist rhetoric.
Reasons for his failure are various and multilayered. Apart from the clear moral fiasco brought about by his behavior and the incongruity of the ambitious plans, the main groundwork for his misfortune seems to have been far more obvious.
Political machinations are often are fierce and dirty and one cannot expect to have either transparent friends or transparent enemies. Nevertheless, it is always important to remember all the consequences of biting a hand that feeds you.
Perhaps an American called Stephen Kevin Bannon will step onto African soil soon…
Authored by Ksenia Medvedeva and Carl Friedrich
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