With his political capital effectively played out on the American right, Steve Bannon has taken his cultural-anxiety show to Europe, where he hopes to establish a school for nationalists in a former monastery outside of Rome. But the Catholic Church — not to mention the village locals — aren’t thrilled that Bannon has decided to set up reactionary shop in a former abbey built in 1204.
According to a letter obtained by Politico, a top cardinal, Renato Maria Martino, rejected Bannon’s plan for the academy on the monastic site. Martino wrote to Bannon associate Benjamin Harnwell in January, demanding that they not implement any “distortions or modifications” to their initial plan — which was for an “apolitical Catholic study and training center,” per Politico. Cardinal Martino also threatened to resign as the honorary president of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, the association overseeing the project.
“I recommend you to make sure the abbey is really turned into a place for worship and meeting open to everybody,” Martino wrote. [The letter has been translated.] “I really hope you and DHI succeed in carrying out the project without any distortions or modifications, including in its implementation phase, that will degenerate the purposes you have worked for so hard … I therefore ask you, even in the future, to make sure the abbey is a place where the Church’s doctrine is respected.”
Bannon, a veteran of the alt-right platform Breitbart and the Trump White House, has flirted with establishing a European institutional presence since 2013. His group is paying €100,000 a month for the abbey and is reportedly backed by Ben Harnwell, a former British assistant in the European Parliament. Bannon told The New Yorker that his goal is to build a right-wing answer to George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the billionaire’s grant-making network that distributes funding to NGOs and media. “Soros has done an amazing job,” Bannon said. “To me he’s a role model in that regard.” Bannon envisions hosting young professionals “who want a change in life”; they will attend the school for as long as an academic year and then emerge to pursue careers in media or government.
But Cardinal Martino isn’t the only authority to contest Bannon’s pivot to create a “gladiator school for culture warriors.” The Italian culture ministry has reportedly told lawyers to determine if there are grounds to cancel the authorizations given to DHI, namely, possible irregularities in the paperwork. In addition, around 200 people living in the region gathered in the mountainous village in April to protest the proposed school.
Nor does Western Europe’s current batch of far-right politicians particularly care for Bannon’s presence on the Continent. According to The New Yorker, a spokesman for the right-wing Alternative for Germany party said the party was not interested in working with him because he doesn’t understand European politics. Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Front said in 2018 that Bannon couldn’t be helpful because he “isn’t from a European country.” And a senior official in the Italian right-wing League party told Politico Europe that Bannon “is not on the radar,” adding that he “looks like he’s going after money.”