Steve Bannon, former strategist for Donald Trump and co-founder of Alt Right publisher Breitbart News, has a new project – Europe. He’s speaking in Edinburgh today, 14th of November, at the invite of the BBC. What he’s unlikely to mention is what he said recently in an interview. That he and his group called “The Movement” have made the final decision on Brexit, not you. Last month Bannon gave an interview with John Micklethwait explaining how he intends to extend right-wing populism and win a third of votes in the 2019 EU elections.
When Bannon was first invited to Europe by like-minded right wing populists, Bannon asked them what they wanted him to talk about. He was surprised by their answer: “tell us we are not alone”. In the USA, “The movement” as he calls it, is more connected. So Bannon set about bringing right wing fringe groups and political groupings in Europe closer together.
The first order of business was to form a club with interested groups meeting for conferences and dinners. Bannon put in his own money to fund the get-togethers. They met, wined and dined and discussed how to galvanize the working- class and nudge them towards right-wing voting. These events obvious required a lot of money because Bannon also raised additional funds in Europe from “high net worth individuals who principally come from working class backgrounds”.
The plan for Europe was to be a copy of the Trump campaign. Four strategic steps explained by Bannon in the interview:
1. Deploy the most sophisticated polling methods, utilising local pollsters to gather data. The polling architecture is arranged by John McLaughlin who worked on the Trump election.
2. Identify and target voters.
3. Create what Bannon chillingly calls a “war room” with a “rapid response team”. The team will create responses, book people to talk on the radio, on TV and direct them beforehand regarding the conversation.
4. Unite grass roots organisations by using Facebook and Facebook Live.
With a high level of technological expertise and extensive data those using his strategy will seem in touch with the people when they step into the public sphere.
“We provide the tools, the building blocks for victory, and those` parties (in Europe) that want to use them can use them, and those that don’t won’t. But they are available”
He goes on to expand on his next steps: “I’m in Paris tomorrow with the National Front.” Then after Trumps midterms, he says he will “take a flight to Brussels to meet with the AfD” the German far right party. Bannon likes the AfD: “they are on the rise…and the leadership is just terrific.” he says.
When the interviewer points out that the leader of The National Front, Marine La Penn has tried to distance herself from Bannon because she doesn’t want American involvement, Bannon waves the concern away. “As an American, I’m not over here to tell anyone how to run their elections.”
Yet by his own admission that’s exactly what he is doing. He has built the tools, is meeting key people, providing funding, hosting networking events, offering his strategy to parties who share his views. Most astonishingly of all, he says what happens with Brexit has already been decided:
“Here’s the thing with The Movement, we’ve made the decision Brexit is going to happen”
Yup, his movement have made the decision. Not you who placed your vote, or the UK Government in talks with the EU Parliament. Bannon’s movement, committed to a right wing ideology, are deciding the Brexit outcome. That’s his claim and its jaw dropping.
Bannon’s vision is to have impact on individual EU countries on “sovereignty” and look at things like the Euro further down the line (Bannon believes in sovereign control over borders, currency, and military).
“This is the Continent where Nationalism sparked wars, sparked bloodshed from Ireland to the Balkans.” Says Micklethwait before quoting Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who Bannon is partnering with, whose words “recall those darker times” in Europe:
“He (Orbán) called Muslims invaders, he’s said how important it is to preserve ethnic homogeneity, and talked about George Soros, who is Jewish, as being part of a group of outsiders, who do not fight directly but by stealth, they are not honourable, but unprincipled…. My point is this is not the Midwest.” Says Micklethwait.
Bannon response reveals what lies at the heart of his project:
“These individuals are not racist, not xenophobes, not nativist”, says Bannon. “These individuals are trying to keep their country intact”, and Bannon calls them “heroic”.
The more I listen to Bannon the more his ideas sound like the fantasy of a man playing war-games on his PC. Rescuing countries, being a hero. The individuals he works with are his “co-players”. He’s enjoying showing how intelligent he’s been in supplying the war strategy and tools. He wants people to know who he’s associating with, his influence over them. He wants recognition that their success is down to him. He describes Trump and Brexit as being “intrinsically linked”.
With his loose flowing hair and plain slightly dishevelled clothing, he looks the opposite of sharp suited metropolitan elites, whose globalism he blames for having ruined the ordinary man’s life. But Bannon was once one of those same elites, an investment banker and a former Vice President of Goldman Sachs. He might claim to be against globalism but he has global ambitions. He openly talks about extending right ideology globally, Europe is just a small piece of this.
I live in a small German town and we just had a local election. It’s a conservative voting area and the CDU, Angela Merkel’s party, held their place at 34 % but it was with a massive drop from 2013 when they won with 48%. In 2013 the AfD got 3% of the vote last month it jumped to 13%.
There was AfD signage on every other lamppost in the town. Billboards “Multi culturalism doesn’t work” at intersections. Posters against Islam with photos of the Bible and rosary beads pitched beside Catholic Churches. Drive 45 mins away in the city of Frankfurt and there was less AfD signage. My town is Bannon’s “Midwest” and its inhabitants, conservative older voters, the target.
The AfD succeeded in the 2017 Federal Election entering the German Parliament for the first time as the third largest party.
In short, the strategy is working. AfD voters are adamant they are not being manipulated. In their eyes the rest of Germany is not noticing the war on German culture – they are rescuers, the intellectuals and the working class together. Except, they are very much being manipulated.
An excellent piece by Katrin Bennhold of The New York Times highlights the disproportionate amount of men who vote AfD compared to women.
84% percent of the party members are men, and AfD marketing is pitch perfect in appealing to them: “safety for our wives and daughters” was the sign at the end of our road.
Trump can only have 2 terms, but how much disruption can his political architect create in Europe meantime?
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has marked out her stall by refusing to share a stage with Bannon at the BBC event he is invited to speak at today. I won’t speculate if politicians in Westminster are involved in “The Movement”, but Bannon says on record Nigel Farage “gave me my chops” in Europe.
Farage is now a political commentator on US Fox News and then there’s Tommy Robinson the right-wing activist, defended by Breitbart and described as a martyr. Tommy is reported to be set to make a financial killing on a US speaking tour. That’s if they can sort out his Visa because of his criminal record.
Wheeling in English support may impress some American voters. But it’s all theatre. Dangerous theatre that’s moving the political scenery around us piece by piece. And there’s money for those who set the scene and read the lines. Lots of money.
Just not for the rest of us. Every forecast says Brexit will make Britain significantly poorer.
But Bannon’s attention is not on Britain anymore, that Brexit mess can be cleared up by others.
He’s all over the working class in Europe now – “the little guy” (Bannon’s words) will deliver the next steps. “Little guys” being influenced by individuals with big bank balances. Who are the real “little guys”? The ones with little hands, little idea of the complexity of moving parts that make up Europe, and little care for the consequences.
Strengthening borders in the US, a key concern of Bannon’s movement is not as easily implemented in Europe where borders are disputed and have been fought over. Where soft borders or no borders are needed for neighbouring countries to function, like The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. If Brexit is the appetizer we shouldn’t be hoping they fulfil their European menu of chaos.
Bannon’s claim all this is for the working class is laughable. The London Dockland workers who fought white supremacists the first time they were in fashion wouldn’t fall for it were they still here. The Movement is not the working class. The Movement are using the working class vote, then they will leave them to deal with the consequences and move onto the next steps, whatever those are.
Bannon has set the hares off and running in Europe, with a precision and co-ordination from his ‘war room’.
USA, Britain, you’ve been played. Europe you’re next.