[WSMDiscuss] Steve Bannon's new school for populism, snuggled inside Italy's Certosa di Trisulti monastery ascendant
chip.berlet at researchforprogress.org
chip.berlet at researchforprogress.org
Sun Apr 28 21:37:25 CEST 2019
Bannon is not fighting a rearguard action, he is building a global
movement for nations with mono-cultural mono-"racial" populations. It
was called "Integralism" when Franco installed it in Spain. A more
recent theorist is Alain de Benoist. Have a book coming out from
Routledge that discusses it, but also a forthcoming article with
Spencer Sunshine in the Journal of Peasant studies. On the road. More
----- Original Message -----
"Discussion list about emerging world social movement"
<wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>
"WSM_Discuss" <wsm-discuss at lists.openspaceforum.net>
Sun, 28 Apr 2019 12:02:00 -0400
[WSMDiscuss] Steve Bannon's new school for populism, snuggled inside
Italy's Certosa di Trisulti monastery ascendant
_Movement activists will want to keep tabs on this competing
movement-builder, and his friends in the
arch-conservative (to put it politely) Roman Catholic rearguard….
ERIC REGULY 
EUROPEAN BUREAU CHIEF,
_THE GLOBE AND MAIL_ (TORONTO)
APRIL 22, 2019
WHAT DOES STEVE BANNON WANT WITH THIS ITALIAN MONASTERY? INSIDE HIS
FLEDGLING SCHOOL FOR POPULISM
_THE PROPAGANDIST WHO HELPED BRING DONALD TRUMP TO POWER WANTS
DISCIPLES WHO CAN SPREAD HIS BRAND OF NATIONALISM ACROSS EUROPE –
AND THEY’RE STARTING IN A REMOTE MOUNTAIN REDOUBT IN ITALY. THE
GLOBE WENT TO TAKE A LOOK_
_The Certosa di Trisulti monastery, southeast of Rome, is the home
for a new school of political populism founded by Steve Bannon, U.S.
President Donald Trump's former campaign strategist._
_Liana Miuccio/The Globe and Mail_
In the early 13th century, when the reclusive Carthusian monks chose
to build a monastery on the Italian peninsula, they went big and they
Their Certosa di Trisulti monastery, as it’s called, is in the
middle of nowhere by jam-packed Italian standards. It’s plastered on
a high slope – 825 metres above sea level – in central Italy’s
Ernici mountains, about two hours by car southeast of Rome. The
nearest town, Collepardo, is a 15-minute grind down the mountain. From
the monastery itself, all I could see was forest and snow-capped
The enormous structure, whose construction was sponsored by the
formidable Pope Innocent III, was once home to about 100 monks and
workers. Today, its last full-time residents are a chef-gardener, an
83-year-old priest who still says a mass every day and a couple of
dozen feral cats.
Welcome to the site for Steve Bannon’s new school of populism,
formally called the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West. It is here
that Mr. Bannon, who was Donald Trump’s campaign manager and chief
strategist, is building his next populist, nationalist,
anti-establishment, Judeo-Christian propaganda machine.
While the school’s launch was planned before populist parties
formed the Italian government last year, their victory has convinced
Mr. Bannon that his concept is arriving at the right place at the
right time. The school will be a key component in spreading his
hoped-for populist revolution across Europe, not just now, but for
decades. His effort already includes The Movement, his Brussels group
that provides data and advice to populist parties ahead the European
Union’s parliamentary elections in May.
Mr. Bannon has found inspiration in the success of Italy’s populist
parties, which operate both cheaply and efficiently while garnering
votes. He is hoping the Italian example can spread itself across
Europe, boosting the number of staunchly conservative thinkers there.
In an interview in Rome a couple of weeks after my visit to the
monastery, Mr. Bannon said the project will try to replicate what the
left has done in creating institutions to promote the liberal economic
and social agenda. “It’s one of the reasons I so admire what the
Left has done,” he says. “This is the stuff that [liberal democrat
billionaire] George Soros has done in his training academies. They
have done a much better job than people on the Right. People of the
Right are so focused on immediate returns that they don’t make these
Mr. Bannon is a regular visitor to the monastery, which is being
leased from the Italian government. He spends a lot of time in Rome,
is the main funder of the project and will be teaching a course when
the school opens, probably in the early fall. No doubt his course will
draw a crowd, just as every one of his appearances in Europe does in
the run-up to the elections, where populist parties from Poland to
Italy are expected to make strong gains.
At a standing-room-only Bannon lovefest sponsored by a conservative
Italian association in Rome not long after my Trisulti visit, Mr.
Bannon said in his presentation that “the populist nationalist
movement has great momentum” in Europe. He predicted the movement
would have a “stunning victory” in late May’s EU elections, with
the populist and nationalist parties – such as Matteo Salvini’s
League in Italy, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Viktor
Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary – taking as much as 50 per cent of the
vote, far better than the 30 per cent or so predicted in recent polls
(in the previous EU election, in 2014, the populist and nationalist
tally was 22 per cent).
A strong showing by the populist parties in the elections – a
showing greater than 30 per cent would give them blocking stakes in
key votes – could change the very shape of the EU, which is still
the world’s biggest trading bloc, and send its integration efforts
Generally speaking, Europe’s populist parties are right-wing,
anti-migrant, euroskeptic and nationalistic. Some have been accused of
blatant racism. They believe the EU and its institutions are power-mad
and undemocratic. They asset the power of “the people” over the
entrenched “power of the elites.” They are convinced that open
borders would trigger a migrant “invasion” that would threaten
traditional western values. They are not convinced that free trade
benefits anyone but the wealthy and their corporations. The populists
want a “Europe of Nations”: that is, a loosely associated group of
sovereign countries that are wary of multilateralism. Ms. Le Pen has
said “I don’t want this European Soviet Union.”
Mr. Bannon told me that populism is here to stay – never mind the
arguments, backed by recent liberal and social democratic gains in
Slovakia, that populism has peaked – and that the Trisulti school is
designed to nurture a new generation of populist, nationalist,
anti-elite thinkers and leaders.
He and his main associate in Italy, Benjamin Harnwell, founder and
president of the conservative Catholic think tank Dignitatis Humanae
Institute (DHI, or Institute for Human) in Rome and the school’s man
on the ground, agree that the vast, desolate monastery is an unlikely
breeding ground for budding Bannonites.
Many of the locals in this rather poor region of Italy, which has
traditionally supported the liberal Democratic Party, want to ensure
it’s forever unlikely; bearing “Stop Bannon” placards, they have
been holding small though fairly regular protests outside the
monastery. They are alarmed that the medieval pile, once famous
throughout Europe as a centre of learning, tolerance and spirituality,
will be turned over to a gaggle of right-wing, anti-migrant Bannon
worshippers bent on destroying the EU’s liberal agenda.
“Citizens are having a hard time understanding that the [monastery]
is going to be a place where future politicians are going to be
trained,” Mauro Bussiglieri, the mayor of Collepardo (population
950), told Italy’s La Stampa newspaper recently. “They keep
looking at is as a religious place, and that’s it.”
But Mr. Bannon says he expected protests and predicts the locals will
ultimately accept his school of populism.
“I believe that once the school is up and going, people will
understand that it’s not a bunch of cloven-hooved devils up
there,” he says, arguing that the school’s secluded location
should not prove a disadvantage. “We do think it’s important to
get people away from the daily buzz of life, where people can come and
totally focus on themselves. … This is so unique, it’s original.
It’s a special place.”
He’s right about that. The monastery is a faded wonder, a hidden
treasure. Or will be until Mr. Bannon’s classroom inevitably turns
into a mob scene. He is, after all, the man who was instrumental in
getting Mr. Trump elected – he brags that Mr. Trump owes his victory
to him. He is mobbed by the media everywhere he goes in Europe as he
promotes his break-the-elite crusade.
On a cool sunny Friday in March, I arrive at the monastery with a
freelance photographer and videographer after a serpentine ride up the
mountain in a banged-up Fiat. The first view of the monastery leaves
Unlike the nearby and even bigger Monte Cassino monastery, which was
utterly destroyed during one of the longest battles of the Second
World War, the Certosa di Trisulti is in remarkably good shape. The
monastery, surrounded by massive walls, is like a medieval city in
miniature. The maze of pleasant courtyards, fountains, gardens and
statues has a calming effect on visitors. Pope Innocent and his
successors over the centuries spared no expense in its construction
The highlights include a Renaissance pharmacy where the monks, who
were considered the European masters in the cultivation and study of
herbs, sold their herb-inspired creations. Sambuca, the famous Italian
anise-flavoured liqueur, is reputed to have been invented at the
monastery in the early 1800s. The pharmacy’s ornate ceiling frescoes
were inspired by the excavations at Pompeii.
The expansive, overgrown courtyard behind the church is bordered by
the sparse monks’ rooms, which will be turned into student
dormitories once Mr. Bannon and Mr. Harnwell figure out how to heat
the place and connect it to the Internet. The monastery also houses a
state library with 36,000 volumes and a similar number of exceedingly
rare and valuable ecclesiastical documents, including some of
Innocent’s papal bulls (the popes’ public decrees).
Mr. Harnwell greets us with a bit of weariness – he had done dozens
of interviews in recent weeks as the Italian and international press
became captivated by the idea of Mr. Bannon setting up shop in a
forgotten monastery. What was Donald Trump’s chief promoter, and the
former executive chairman of Breitbart News – the conservative site
that liberals routinely dismiss as racist, xenophobic, misogynist and
prone to conspiracy theories – doing in Italy, let alone at an
Mr. Harnwell, is 43, British, single and a former political operative
in Brussels, where he worked for Nirj Deva, a conservative British
member of the European parliament (MEP), is a total Bannon disciple.
He has even adopted Mr. Bannon’s slicked-back hairstyle and his
casual jeans-and-outdoorsy-jacket fashion sense.
“Steve Bannon is a genius,” he tells me. “He has developed a
new [political] paradigm. His paradigm isn’t between left and right.
It’s between the little guy and the global elites, the rulers and
Before he even met Mr. Bannon, Mr. Harnwell was moving into Mr.
Bannon’s political camp. During his five years in Brussels, until
2010, he went from staunchly pro-EU to staunchly anti-EU. In short, he
thinks the EU is an anti-democratic racket and that the member states
should cut themselves free, as Brexit Britain is so painfully trying
to do. “The whole EU project exists for the people who work there,
at the expense of the ordinary citizens who couldn’t even dream of
having that quality of life, the regulated working hours, the
salaries, the pensions, the health benefits,” he says. “It’s
After Brussels, he moved to Rome, and concentrated on his think tank,
the DHI, which, its website says, “is to protect and promote human
dignity based on the anthropological truth that man is made in the
image and likeness of God” and espouses the most conservative
Judeo-Christian values. The DHI is no fan of Pope Francis, who both
Mr. Harnell and Mr. Bannon consider a traitor to these values because,
among other things, he is trying to relax church attitudes toward LGBT
people and divorced Catholics who remarry outside the church. As if to
prove the point, the honorary president of the DHI is Raymond Burke,
the American cardinal who has emerged as the Vatican’s voice of
orthodoxy and Francis’s main internal critic.
Mr. Harnwell met Mr. Bannon in 2013, when Breitbart was opening its
Rome bureau. They hit it off – Mr. Bannon would later praise Mr.
Harnwell as “the smartest guy in Rome” in a Breitbart interview
– and Mr. Bannon gave the keynote address at the DHI’s Vatican
conference in 2014, where he outlined his populist agenda, including
his belief that secularization and Islamic extremism were grave
threats to Western civilization. “It was the best political speech I
have ever heard,” Mr. Harnwell says. “I have listened to it a
dozen times. About 85 per cent of the blueprint for Trump’s campaign
is there, a full year before Trump even declared his candidacy."
After Mr. Bannon was ousted both from the White House and Breitbart,
he spent more time in Europe, where he was attracted to the rising
populist parties, especially in Italy, which, in 2018, elected the
first populist government in Western Europe. Mr. Bannon was dazzled by
the coalition partners – Mr. Salvini’s hard-right, anti-migrant
League party and the upstart, anti-establishment Five Star Movement
(M5S) – which overthrew the corrupt centre-left and centre-right
parties that had dominated Italian politics since the late 1940s.
Political consultant Francesco Galietti, CEO of Rome’s Policy
Sonar, says Mr. Bannon is as much a populism student as preacher in
Italy. “The reason he is in Rome is that Italy is ahead of the
populism curve in many respects,” he says. “He knows that if it
has worked in Italy, maybe it can be replicated elsewhere.”
Indeed, Mr. Bannon thinks Italy in general and Mr. Salvini in
particular are on the leading edge of the populism surge. He is
impressed by the efficiency and speed of the movement, which relies a
lot on the technology of polling and social media to get its message
across and does so at bargain-basement prices. He notes that the
far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President since January,
studied the Italian populists’ victory and spent less than a
US$1-million on his campaign. “Italy has taught people a lot about
mobilization,” he says. “What has been accomplished by the League
and Five Star on limited resources is mind-boggling.”
In 2014, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Harnwell seized upon the idea of
launching a school of populism. At first, it was to be called the
Breitbart Academy. But the title had to be ditched when Mr. Bannon
left Breitbart in early 2018 amid rumours that he had lost the support
of the site’s financial patron, Rebekah Mercer.
About the same time, Mr. Harnwell learned about the Trisulti
monastery through a Cistercian monk who he knew (Trisulti went to the
Cistercians after the Second World War). Early last year, Mr.
Harnwell, with Mr. Bannon’s support, agreed to lease the monastery
from the Italian government for 19 years at €100,000 a year. The
lease excludes the state library. “The rest is Bannon land,” Mr.
Mr. Bannon said the curriculum will include courses on the
foundations, philosophy and economics of the Judeo-Christian West;
personal motivation courses; and “the nuts and bolts of modern
politics – what you need to actually mobilize people.” To become a
functioning school, Mr. Bannon says the monastery will require an
investment of €2-million “at least to set the place up.” But Mr.
Harnwell isn’t rich, so where will the money come from?
Mr. Bannon is coy and refuses to tell me how much of the investment
for their shining city on the hill will come from him – he’s
almost certainly the biggest donor so far – and how much will come
from his circle of populist benefactors in the United States and
Europe. “I’m not going to play 20 questions,” he says. “The
donors are all private.”
Mr. Bannon has been associated in European press with several
powerful conservative figures; he will neither confirm nor deny they
have written cheques. They include Tito Tettamanti, a wealthy Swiss
lawyer and politician; Christoph Blocher, a Swiss billionaire and
former politician who pushes a euroskeptic, anti-migrant agenda;
Federico Arata, an Italian former Credit Suisse banker who runs a
Swiss-based fund that focuses on Pakistan; and Armando Siri, the
Italian League party senator who is an adviser to Mr. Salvini and who
recently became embroiled in a high-profile corruption investigation
(Mr. Siri denies the allegations).
Mr. Bannon says the course he will be teaching at the monastery is
still a secret, but you can bet it will be about political
mobilization, drawing heavily on how he helped to propel Mr. Trump
into the White House and how the Italian populist triumph is just the
start of the populist surge. The monastery school is a sign that Mr.
Bannon’s presence in Europe will not be fleeting. He seems to have
found populist heaven in Europe and vows that the school will produce
a “big payoff, even it’s 20 years down the road.”
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