Addressing a conference for France’s far-right National Front in the city of Lille on Saturday, Steve Bannon said the party should be proud of its bigoted reputation.
“Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativist. Wear it as a badge of honor,” Bannon said, to fervent applause. “Because every day, we get stronger, and they get weaker.”
(The National Front, which was walloped at the polls in a national election last year and faces a murky future, may take issue with that last part.)
Bannon cast himself as an outsider trying to soak up knowledge, but did not hold back from his usual sweeping pronouncements and predictions as he attacked favorite targets like the media.
“I did not come here as a teacher,” Bannon said. “I came here as an observer, and to learn. What I’ve learned is that you’re part of a worldwide movement, that is bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary — bigger than all of it. And history is on our side.”
Bannon has, at least temporarily, hit a wall in the United States. In January, he was cast aside by President Trump, then ousted from Breitbart, after he harshly criticized Trump’s children to Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff. He also prominently supported Judge Roy Moore, who, after being accused of sexually assaulting minors, managed to lose to a Democrat in Alabama.
But Bannon is trying to reinvent his act in Europe, the spiritual home of his “populist” brand of bigotry.
A New York Times profile published on Saturday has some detail of what he’s been up to. Bannon has set up shop at a hotel in Italy, where the political establishment suffered a dramatic defeat at the hands of right-wing parties last weekend. He has spoken with an array of the Continent’s nationalists, including representatives from the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany party. He may meet the increasingly autocratic Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, who has cracked down on dissent and made George Soros a national villain. He says he is contemplating buying a brand-name outlet like Newsweek in the U.S., or perhaps a website “like Axios,” and wants to train like-minded European propagandists in the dark arts he perfected at Breitbart.
“All I’m trying to be,” he told the Times with characteristic grandeur, “is the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement.”
It’s notable, of course, that an American rabble-rouser is traipsing around Europe, meeting with some of the most important voices behind the reanimation of of right-wing politics around the continent. But, as Bannon demonstrated during his quick, combative tenure at the White House — and has shown in spades since — he has a high capacity both for alienating those around him and for self-destruction. Whether he can overcome cultural and language barriers to actually build some kind of media infrastructure for his newfound allies (who seem to be doing just fine on their own, as he acknowledges) is an open question. Whether he really has a second act left back in America is another one.
One safe prediction: He will keep doing a bang-up job of drawing attention to himself.