Since last year former Trump advisor and Breitbart editor Steve Bannon has set out to consolidate far-right forces in Europe in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections 2019. This resulted first in the creation of the Brussels-based Movement, which he foresaw as a "'clearing house' at the heart of the EU, for the 'populist, nationalist movement in Europe,' with the objective of boosting the anti-EU presence in the European Parliament."1
Some of the main figures in the Movement had already worked for Nigel Farage's EU party Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE), and its attached think tank Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE). In 2017, the IDDE was accused of having illegally diverted public money to the benefits of the British UKIP party. And UKIP in turn was under investigation for having received over £400,000 in donations from the think tank prior to the UK General Election and the Brexit referendum.2 With the arising legal difficulties, both projects have become defunct by now.
In how far the Movement is involved in Bannon's next move, to establish a cadre school for the future leaders of his "nationalist populist movement,"3 remains unclear. His public partner in the project is the "Catholic-fundamentalist think tank"4Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI), founded in 2008 by a group of British Catholics in Brussels under the leadership of Benjamin Harnwell, and British Conservative Party MEP Nirj Deva.5 The DHI links into a vast network of national and international organizations and lobby groups, commonly subsumed under the term “pro-life” campaigners, advocating against abortions and contraception, against the “gender ideology”, ostracizing homosexuality, and opposing divorce.
Before Bannon's public announcement of his cadre school project, in February 2018, the DHI, had announced that it had signed an "accord with the Italian Ministry of Culture to become the official leaseholder of the historic Abbey of Trisulti," an isolated monastery complex in the mountains of central Italy, which holds an ancient library of 38 0000 volumes.6 It "will be the home of a number of projects that underscore the fact that man is made in the image and likeness of God, and that recognition of the imago Dei is the cornerstone of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of Western Civilisation," according to the DHI's president Benjamin Harnwell.6
These plans seem crossed now, since the Italian La Repubblica had revealed earlier this month that some of the paperwork submitted in the course of the public bid for the lease was forged:7 a letter, signed by a former employee of the Danish bank Jyske located in Gibraltar, provided as a guarantee for the 19-year lease of the monastery.8 After inquiries, the bank stated the signatory had not worked at the bank in years, therefor the letter must be fraudulent.8 The Italian Heritage Ministry was therefor annulling the lease on May 31.9
Bannon's plans have also led to local initiatives to stop the project. In March around 200 protesters from the Italian village of Collepardo embarked on a protest march, holding posters saying "Stop Bannon - Free Europe" and "#BannOFF."10 A heroine in the fight against Bannon's project is 64-year old local activist Letizia Roccasecca, who stated in an interview with the Financial Times that for her "Trisulti is becoming the centre of the worldwide struggle against fascism and nationalism."11
But Bannon's activities in Italy go far beyond setting up a "Gladiator" school. According to an MSNBC interview, he has also set out to help resolve the Vatican's alleged financial problems. According to Bannon, the Catholic church is facing a financial crisis caused by the pedophilia scandal, whose aftermath the current Pope Francis had failed to cope with.3 In this regard he made several swooping statements, such as: "The administrative apparatus of the church has to be changed. They even admit they need help. Right?" or "Why I will reform the papacy? Because nobody has stepped up to do it."3
This makes sense, considering that the DHI is run by ultra-catholic reactionaries, which have aligned with a faction in the Vatican plotting to sack the current pope. The DHI's current honorary president, Cardinal Raymund Burke,12 has been often described as the de facto leader of the Church's conservative wing.1314
The DHI's "board" contains also a number of other extremely influential figures from the ultra-Catholic milieu.
- 1. Alastair Macdonald, "Belgian lawyer launches Trump-inspired anti-EU movement," Reuters, July 24, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-parliament-bannon/belgian-lawyer-launches-trump-inspired-anti-eu-movement-idUSKBN1KE2BJ.
- 2. Shebab Khan, "Nigel Farage sharing £4million house with female French politician," Independent, February 5, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nigel-farage-laure-ferrari-ukip-sahring-secret-house-french-politician-a7563426.html.
- 3. a. b. c. "The ultra-conservative crusade against Pope Francis," MSNBC, April 14, 2019, https://www.msnbc.com/on-assignment/watch/the-ultra-conservative-crusade-against-pope-francis-1493172291746.
- 4. "CDU-Politiker distanziert sich von katholischem Institut,” Radio Vatikan, February 23, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20171110115856/http://de.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/02/23/cdu-politiker_distanziert_sich_von_katholischem_institut/1294208.
- 5. “Benjamin Harnwell,” Dignitatis Humanae Institute, http://www.dignitatishumanae.com/index.php/about-us/benjamin-harnwell/.
- 6. a. b. “Abbey of 6th Century Marian Apparition Now Under DHI Management,” Dignitatis Humanae Institute, February 14, 2018, http://www.dignitatishumanae.com/index.php/abbey-of-6th-century-marian-apparition-now-under-dhi-management/.
- 7. Andrea Palladino, "Bannon, carte false per la scuola dei sovranisti," La Repubblica, May 6, 2019, https://rep.repubblica.it/pwa/generale/2019/05/06/news/bannon_carte_false_per_la_scuola_dei_sovranisti-225620595/.
- 8. a. b. Luiz Romero, "Italy is evicting Steve Bannon from the medieval monastery he planned to turn into a far-right training academy," Quartz, May 31, 2019, https://qz.com/1632565/italy-to-evict-steve-bannon-from-his-far-right-training-academy/.
- 9. Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, May 31, 2019, http://www.beniculturali.it/mibac/export/MiBAC/sito-MiBAC/Contenuti/MibacUnif/Comunicati/visualizza_asset.html_1234378838.html.
- 10. Giada Zampano, "Protesters march on Italian monastery where Steve Bannon plans to train nationalist leaders," The Telegraph, March 18, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/03/18/protesters-march-italian-monastery-steve-bannon-plans-train/.
- 11. Hannah Robert, "Steve Bannon’s alt-right academy — and one village’s fight to stop it," Financial Times, May 2, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/d38ffde2-6bf6-11e9-a9a5-351eeaef6d84.
- 12. See bottom chart on the Dignitatis Humanae Institute website, http://www.dignitatishumanae.com/index.php/home/.
- 13. Inés San Martín, "Pope Francis: 'I do not see Cardinal Burke as an enemy,'" Crux, March 8, 2017, https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/03/08/pope-francis-not-see-cardinal-burke-enemy/.
- 14. Catherine Pepinster, "Civil war in the Vatican as conservatives battle Francis for the soul of Catholicism," The Guardian, March 4, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/04/vatican-civil-war-conservatives-battle-francis-lent.