Steve Bannon

After his dismissal as Trump’s chief advisor in August 2017 and as editor of Breitbart News in January 2018, it appears that Steve Bannon has burned many bridges in the United States. It may be for that reason that Bannon embarked in March 2018 on a trip through Europe, meeting prominent far-right politicians, influencers and financiers, which resulted in the plan to form a right-wing populist “supergroup” called "The Movement" within the European parliament, as he revealed in July 2018. Another reason could be that his objective of shifting US politics to the right has succeeded, and now he simply moved on to challenging his next tactical target on the far-right battle map, the European Union.

Recalling the multiple links of enterprises involving Bannon with electoral fraud and gerrymandering, particularly in connection with the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit campaign, it can be established that his project of European disintegration has already begun.1 Pre-eminent amongst those enterprises, the mouthpiece of the alt-right, Breitbart News, co-founded by Bannon in 2007 with the help of billionaire Robert Mercer, which can be considered the heart of the international “alt-right news and information ecosystem”.2 Breitbart had not only served as propaganda machine for Trump’s election campaign, but had also played a decisive role in the Brexit referendum, pushed for by UKIP under Nigel Farage, with whom Bannon has long-standing ties. “Farage has often praised Breitbart for its support of Brexit, saying the 23 June [2017] referendum would not have gone in favour of the leave campaign without the news website’s ‘supportive voice’”. Breitbart seems to even have payed senior “volunteers” inside UKIP before the EU referendum, as subsequent complaints by whistleblowers have revealed.3

Another brainchild of Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the scandal-ridden political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica specialised in data mining, data analyses, and data brokerage, has become subject of ongoing criminal investigations in the UK and the US.1 Founded in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica had been working for Donald Trump's presidential campaign as well as for Leave.EU, rallying for a “hard” Brexit. This engagement entailed the  inappropriate acquisition of the personal information of up to 87 Million Facebook users.4 The data gathered was predominately used for developing a system of personality profiling, which would enable the targeted distribution of ads for particular audiences, so-called “Dark Ads”. Dark ads have been deployed in the course of both, the Trump and the Brexit campaign. For example, various Brexit supporters, such as Vote Leave, 50 Million, BrexitCentral / BeLeave, and DUP Vote to Leave, had commissioned the Canadian software company AggregateIQ (AIQ) to publish targeted ads on Facebook before the UK referendum.52 Next to illegal data mining and profiling activities, Cambridge Analytica has been also accused of having used dirty methods such as “bribery stings, honey traps and spying” in order to influence the election results in Trump's favor.6

In the course of the ongoing investigation by the UK’s Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), Britain's data protection authority, suspicions have also been raised of a possible Russian interference with Cambridge Analytica. In July 2018 it was confirmed that “some of the systems linked to the investigation were accessed from IP addresses that resolve to Russia and other areas of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]".7 Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan of Moldavian origin, responsible for collecting the Facebook data set and and selling it to Cambridge Analytica's parent company SCL Group, denies any collaboration with Russian entities.8 A possible consequence of this leaking of information could have been that the unknown eavesdroppers “learned from Cambridge Analytica, and used that knowledge to run ads in America during the presidential election as well,” and certainly for other purposes.7

Bannon started his journey through Europe on March 1, 2018 in Italy, where he set up his “de facto headquarters” just four days prior to the Italian general election on March 4, 2018.9 Although he declined to name the persons he had met in Italy, he described them “as a broad array of politicians, operatives and investors.”10 Subsequently the Italian press found out that on March 8, he had partaken in a meeting with i.a. deputy prime minister and interior minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, and Marcello Foa, newly appointed president of the state broadcasting company RAI.11 According to La Repubblica, Foa has close relations to Swiss billionaire Tito Tettamanti, founder of the Fidinam group, specialized in international tax consulting, and the creation of offshore structures. Two days before the meeting with Salvini, Bannon and Tettamenti had lunch together in Lugano, Switzerland. Funding could have certainly been an objective of the meeting.12

On March 6, 2018, the same day Bannon had met Tettamenti in Lugano, he gave a lecture in Zurich at an event organized by the weekly newspaper “Weltwoche” about "the populist revolts and their global consequences for Switzerland, Europe and America.”1314 He spoke praisingly of Switzerland being an important location for cryptocurrencies. Especially the canton of Zug is home to dozens of companies in this sector. Bannon sees cryptocurrencies as an important tool for the European movement against the establishment. "We take control of central banks," he said during the event, “That will give us back the power.” He also accused central banks, governments and big tech companies of taking away the rights and identities of ordinary people and using them for their own purposes. At the event he was again claiming to be a “Christian Zionist”, “recalling how he instigated the founding of the Breitbart News Jerusalem bureau, headed up by seasoned journalist Aaron Klein.”15

In the framework of the Zurich event Bannon also met two of the four co-chairmen of the AfD parliamentary group, Alice Weidel and Beatrix von Storch, in a hotel.10 Weidel's office said that she was particularly interested in Bannon's experiences with political communication and alternative media. This was indirectly confirmed by Bannon in an interview: “Mr. Bannon said that a common message he had received from populists throughout Europe was a desire to establish a media outlet for their views. ‘They see what Breitbart did and they want it in their own language,’ said Mr. Bannon […] calling that ‘phase two.’”10

Weidel had already announced in February that her party wanted to control its communication and media campaigns via the AfD’s own “newsroom". As an explanation, she mentioned that the AfD would be ignored by many media or accused of spreading "Fake News”.16 Ever since the establishment of the party-internal news desk there is a considerable alignment of stories that Breitbart publishes with topics that AfD politicians pick up on social media. That this will add to, and not decrease media polarization in Germany can be extrapolated from existing media analyses.

Breitbart has also been ascribed a role in amplifying pro-AfD sentiments in the course of the 2017 Bundestag election. Social media monitoring has shown that as the election grew closer, international far-right outlets like Breitbart and the Kremlin-sponsored RT had become top sources amongst the German far-right.17 The hashtag #MGGA (Make Germany Great Again), a German version of Trump’s presidential campaign slogan, appeared in 2,961 posts on public forums, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the run up of the election between 1st July and 6th September 2017. Messages using #MGGA often linked to alt-right news sites such as Daily Stormer and Breitbart.

Although there is probably no particular connection, both Bannon and Alice Weidel were formerly employed by Goldman Sachs. Bannon worked for the company until 1990, Weidel between 2005 and 2006.

After his trip to Switzerland Bannon travelled to Lille, France, to speak at the Front National congress on March 11, 2018, the same event, where the party decided to rename itself to Rassemblement National. It was during this event he uttered the by now infamous sentence: “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor.”18 Retrospectively he said it was after this event that he first got the idea of a right-wing populist alliance in Europe.19

In May 2018, Bannon was taking part in a conference about the "future of Europe." In the cafes of Budapest, rumors spread that Bannon received a fee of €20,000 ($23,000) for his speech. The conference was financed with money from Hungarian tax coffers.”20 Bannon was invited to the conference by “Maria Schmift, an Orban ally and leader of the House of Terror museum, which deals with the crimes of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and especially Hungary. Some sources contend that Bannon's Hungarian connection primarily runs through a former deputy assistant to Donald Trump: Sebastian Gorka, a US citizen with British-Hungarian roots. Gorka frequently appears on the right-wing US television channel Fox News as a security analyst. Together with Bannon, Gorka was part of Trump's campaign and moved to the White House after winning the election — and then quickly moved back out.”20

On May 22, Bannon visited Prague, Czech Republic, to attend a panel debate discussing the 2016 election campaign of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, hosted by the CEVRO Institute, directed by Alexandr Vondra.21 His debating partner was Lanny Davis, who had worked for the Clinton campaign. “Vondra said the centre used the opportunity to hold a meeting on the occasion of Bannon and Davis's arrival in the Czech Republic at the invitation of the Czechoslovak Group industry and arms holding [CSG], previously called Excalibur Group, covering some 20 firms.” It was also reported that they were to visit “the Tatra Trucks producer of armoured vehicles of the Tatra Defence Vehicle company and the Retia and Eldis radar firms” following the debate.22

Next stop on Bannon’s tour was Budapest, where he was personally invited on May 24 by prime minister Victor Orbán. “Orbán received, on a one-to-one basis, several speakers of the international conference ‘The Future of Europe’ held in Budapest. British conservative author and editor Douglas Murray, Stephen K. Bannon, […] and US economist, music critic and author David P. Goldman each had one-hour-long informal discussions with the Prime Minister.”23

During his Eastern Europe trip Bannon was accompanied by former Breitbart UK editor and UKIP politician Raheem Kassam (see further below).

Le Movement / The Movement

In the end of July Bannon made headlines with making his plans public “to boost populist parties enough to create a right-wing ‘supergroup’ following EU Parliamentary elections next May”.24 As official vehicle for this project shall serve an already existing private foundation called “The Movement / Le Movement”, founded on January 9, 2017 by the Belgian far-right politician and lawyer Mischaël Modrikamen, his wife Yasmine Dehaene-Modrikamen and Laure Ferrari, an aide to Nigel Farage.25 The  Brussels-based organization is to be staffed with 10 full-time employees in the forthcoming months, who will preliminarily focus on data analyses and surveys.26 According to Bannon the number might grow to 25, depending on the outcome of the 2019 European parliamentary elections.“19 Bannon told Reuters The Movement will serve as a ‘clearing house’ in Brussels, 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."27 The populist bloc could gather up to a third of the 705 deputies' seats in the European Parliament in next year’s European election.19 “‘Everybody agrees that next May is hugely important, that this is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos,’ he said, referring to the yearly economic summit of heads of state and business in the Swiss mountain resort.”24 "Right-wing populist nationalism is what will happen. That's what will govern," he told the Daily Beast. "You're going to have individual nation states with their own identities, their own borders.”

That Bannon has made the right alliances to form such an EU parliamentary supergroup can be seen on the attached network map. Bannon has strong ties to Nigel Farage, co-leader of the right-wing, Euro-sceptic European parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), of which politicians of UKIP, AfD, Débout la France, and the Five Star Movement are members. AfD’s Beatrix von Storch became a member of the EFDD in April 2016, forestalling her imminent expulsion from the European Conservatives and Reformists group, and remained active in the EFDD until her entry into the Bundestag in September 2017.

Bannon's contact to Matteo Salvini constitutes a direct link to another important right-wing European parliamentary group, Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which gathers MEPs from Rassemblement National, FPÖ, The League, and FPÖ. Via his DHI network, Bannon should have also access to contacts in the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), such as Nirj Deva.

There is something not quite right with Bannon's and/or Mischaël Modrikamen’s version/s of the story around the foundation of “The Movement”. This is shown by the manifold connections between its initial founders (Mischaël Modrikamen, Yasmine Dehaene-Modrikamen, Laure Ferrari) and Nigel Farage. Farage was in close contact with Bannon and the Movement’s founders already several years before the announcement of The Movement in July 2018.

Modrikamen explained the background of The Movement in a recent video interview.28 According to his description the organisation was founded in the beginning of last year as a side-project of the Belgian Parti Populaire to “unite the populist forces in Europe”. “Its goals, stated in a constitution lodged with Belgian authorities, were ‘to promote the rule of law, free enterprise, national sovereignty, effective national borders, popular consultation, the fight against radical Islam, a scientific and not dogmatic approach to climatic phenomena and the defense of Israel as a sovereign state on its historic land’”.29 But instead of embarking on these challenging goals, the project with an initial capital of a mere 2500 Euro, and registered at Modrikamen’s home address, was subsequently “put on ice”. Modrikamen stated, at the time he had sent a memo to likeminded parties in Europe and the United States, but it was not until sometime in July 2018 that Bannon got back in touch.30 The contact had been established by Nigel Farage, who told Modrikamen that Bannon would like to meet him. At a luncheon in London on July 15,30  Modrikamen stated it “clicked”, that they “absolutely shared the same convictions […] to give back to the whole world the sovereignty of the people and to be the voice of their voice, such as Trump is the voice of the ordinary man in the United States…”

The luncheon was attended by 8 or 9 persons, amongst them Nigel Farage, Steve Bannon, Raheem Kassam, Yasmine Dehaene-Modrikamen, Mischaël Modrikamen and Laure Ferrari. Raheem Kassam, former senior advisor of Nigel Farage, was hired by Bannon in 2014 to set up the Breitbart London office31, together with James Delingpole. Kassam left Breitbart in May 2018. “As for what he’ll do next, Kassam said he’s joined the advisory board for ISSEP32, the political training school for right-wing leaders being launched by Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of Front National leader Marine Le Pen. Its website lists him as a ‘member of the scientific council.’”33

Another luncheon guest, the French Laure Ferrari (*1979) made acquaintance with then leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, in 2007, while working as a waitress in Strasbourg, which led her to start a political career.34 Subsequently she was made director of public relations for the British delegation of the right-wing European parliamentary group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) (2009-2014), which later became the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, co-chaired by Nigel Farage.35 Up from 2014 Ferrari became head of the the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE), an Eurosceptic think tank, attached to the Alliance for Direct Democracy (ADDE), a Brussels-based non-profit organisation founded by UKIP affiliates in 2015.36

The Executive Director of ADDE, as well as contact person on the ADDE website is Yasmine Dehaene-Modrikamen, also amongst the initial founders of The Movement.37 The IDDE was accused in 2017 of having illegally diverted public money to the benefits of UKIP. UKIP 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.38 Both projects, the ADDE and the IDDE, seem to have become defunct with the arising legal difficulties. When the European Parliament stopped funding the IDDE, Ferrari moved to Farage’s home for a while in February 2017.38 In November 2017, the European Parliament initiated an investigation in regards to a possible breach of its financing rules, and subsequently Modrikamen's offices were raided “as part of a probe of funding linked to UKIP, though he and all those involved reject any wrongdoing.”29 Mondrikamen seems to have also established good Russian contacts. He had visited the Russian parliament in 2015 and subsequently “called for an end to sanctions against Moscow imposed for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and for its support of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. And he said Europeans and the United States should be working on common ground with Russia, notably in combating violent Islamist movements.”39

2019

In the meantime Bannon has expanded the radius of the Movement, not only focusing on the American and European sphere of influence. The Spanish newspaper ABC reported in February 2019 that Bannon elected the son of Jair Bolsonaro, Eduardo Bolsonaro, as leader of The Movement in Latin America.40

End of March 2019, Chinese news reported that Bannon was among a group of predominantly senior former intelligence personnel and policy advisors, who had "revived a cold war-era advocacy organisation to take aim at China."41 In its announcement on 25 March, the "Committee on the Present Danger: China" (CPDC) stated it would be dedicated to “public education and advocacy against the full array of conventional and non-conventional dangers” posed by the Chinese Communist Party.41

In its first incarnation of the CPD emerged in 1950, founded by Tracy Voorhees, to promote the plans proposed in NSC 68 by Paul Nitze and Dean Acheson.42 According to scholar Ernest R. May, NSC 68 "provided the blueprint for the militarization of the Cold War from 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s."43 the CPD was privately revived in March 1976, and after Jimmy Carter won the election, CPD went public again and spent the next four years lobbying, particularly against a détente with Russia and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) agreement. This iteration of the CPD provided 33 officials to the Ronald Reagan administration. The current revival of the group has around 45 members, including Steve Bannon.44

In April 2019, MSNBC published a video report that gives an insight into Bannon's current activity in the Vatican. According to Bannon, the Vatican experiences a financial crisis, which he wants to help to resolve. The report also sheds more light on his activities in the monastery of Trisulti, which Bannon wants to turn into an elite training camp of "Gladiators."45

In April 2019 it was reported that the German Alternative for Germany party had invited Bannon just weeks before the upcoming EU parliamentary election "to a media conference in Berlin for right-wing journalists and bloggers," entitled "1st Conference of the Free Media."46 Der Spiegel reported that Petr Bytron's offiice had confirmed the invitation of Bannon to the lower house of parliament.