He was unceremoniously fired from the White House last summer and managed to lose a safe Senate seat for the Republicans, yet Steve Bannon somehow managed to style himself as a triumphant hero when he attended a nationalist rally in France this weekend.
After two months of wound licking following his exile from the White House, dismissal from Breitbart News and being branded a traitor for his fierce words in the Michael Wolff tell-all book “Fire and Fury,” U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist grabbed headlines Saturday with his speech to the French far-right National Front congress, which was brief but designed to pack a punch.
“Our populist-nationalist movement in the United States is maybe 10 to 15 years old,” Bannon told his French audience, after being introduced by party leader Marine Le Pen. “We are here to learn from you. But I can tell you one thing after going all over the world and observing this. In Japan, and Korea, the Middle East, to Kansas and Alabama, history is on our side. And the biggest reason is the globalists have no answer to freedom. Let them call you racist, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor. Because every day we get stronger and they get weaker.”
Bannon lavished praise on the party members gathered in the northern city of Lille, telling them they were “part of a worldwide movement that’s bigger than France, bigger than Italy, bigger than Hungary, bigger than all of us.”
He was a guest of the party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen – a controversial figure for his statements minimizing the Holocaust – and currently led by his daughter, Marine. Bannon paid tribute to the family’s next generation, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, 28, saying “she is not simply a rising star on the right in France. She’s one of the most impressive people in the entire world.”
A day before the speech, the New York Times revealed the details of Bannon’s European crusade, in an interview bearing the dramatic headline “Steve Bannon is Done Wrecking the American Establishment. Now He Wants to Destroy Europe’s.”
The story reported from Italy, where it said Bannon was “headquartered” in various five-star hotels, launching no less than an “international mission” designed to strengthen what he hopes will become a network of right-wing nationalists – an global anti-globalist movement, if such a concept exists. He told the Times he hopes to teach “like-minded European propagandists” the internet and social media tricks that drove nationalism in the United States, with vehicles like Breitbart, and engineered the Trump victory.
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“They see what Breitbart did and they want it in their own language,” he claimed, predicting that such “populist nationalist news sites” will pop up across Europe in the next year, to “take these things to the next level” and do battle with the “elites.”
Bannon also spoke in Zurich last week, telling a sold-out hall of 1,500 people that the wave of populism was not over. “It’s just beginning,” he said, “the tide of history is on our side.” He also said he had a “fascinating” meeting in Switzerland with leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany party on Tuesday.
Though he mentioned the Middle East in his Lille speech, and has defended himself against charges of anti-Semitic dog-whistling by pointing to his support of Israel, there were no direct references to either Jews or Israel in his new bid for relevancy.
Bannon’s European comeback bid has predictably been viewed with a mixture of derision and ridicule in much of the U.S. media. MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, for example, tweeted: “Bannon calls Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s fascist leader, a ‘hero’ and praises the fascist Le Pen family in France. Would the media please stop calling him a ‘populist’ and henceforth refer to him as a ‘fascist political strategist’? He will flip out.”
It’s still unclear whether Bannon plans to include Jewish nationalists in his grand right-wing coalition scheme. Many of the far-right European parties he’s courting have pushed back against accusations of anti-Semitism by declaring their support for Israel – making common cause with the nationalist Israeli far right through their enmity for Islam and hostility for the liberal agenda of billionaire philanthropist George Soros. And some elements of the Israeli right – most enthusiastically Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council in the West Bank and a self-styled foreign minister of the settlement movement – have been responsive. They have chosen to look past the anti-Semitic histories and dog-whistles of far-right parties provided they offer support for settlements and profess sympathy for the vision of a Greater Israel.
Bannon – and Trump – have trod a similar path, responding to charges of sympathy for white supremacists by pointing to their pro-Israel credentials and warm relationship with the Jewish state’s current government, with the sympathetic endorsement of right-wing American-Jewish organizations.
The New York Times said Bannon’s European tour was likely to take him to Hungary on Sunday, where he is reportedly set to meet with Prime Minister Orbán.