Steve Bannon recently made headlines for defying a subpoena regarding the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. But Bannon, who once said that his goal is to “bring everything crashing down,” is more than a domestic problem. He is an international pariah whose efforts to ignite religious, cultural and political warfare in other countries warrant scrutiny.
In 2014, during a speech at the Vatican, Bannon declared that radical Islam is engaged in a global war with the Judeo-Christian west. Several years later, he tried to establish a populist training academy for ultra-conservative Catholics in an historic Roman monastery. He called it “The Academy for the Judeo-Christian West.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly warned about the growing threat of populism and urged compassion toward immigrants, including Muslims. Bannon, in turn, has reportedly called Pope Francis a “sort of enemy” in conversations with the Italian far right. His “academy” met with fierce opposition from local residents and, in March 2021, he abandoned it after losing a legal battle regarding the lease.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Bannon and the London satellite of his far-right propaganda outlet, Breitbart News, helped stoke the anti-Muslim sentiment that fueled Brexit (also called “Leave EU”), the campaign to separate Great Britain from the European Union. After the Brexiteers “won” the vote to leave the EU, Brexit leader Nigel Farage thanked Bannon and Breitbart for the result. “‘Well done Bannon, well done Breitbart,” he declared in a video that was later deleted from the Breitbart YouTube account following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In July 2015, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart published an article celebrating the Confederate flag titled “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage”. Less than two weeks earlier, a white supremacist named Dylann Roof had murdered nine black people during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof, who confessed to the crime, said that he had hoped to incite a “race war.”
Indeed, Cambridge Analytica — Bannon’s other company — tested out some of Trump’s most well-known slogans, including Build the Wall and Drain the Swamp, long before the president used them, according to whistleblower Christopher Wylie. The controversial company declared bankruptcy after the news broke that it had improperly harvested the personal data of 78 million Facebook users without their consent.
During his brief time in the Trump administration, Bannon co-created Trump’s infamous Muslim ban with Stephen Miller, another Breitbart alum. Bannon left the administration in the wake of the tiki torch protest in Charlottesville, Virginia where white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us” and one counter-protester was killed. Before leaving the administration, Bannon reportedly cautioned Trump “not to criticize far right activists too severely.”
Bannon’s next project was a Brussels-based foundation called “The Movement,” which sought to unite far right leaders in Europe in their quest to break up the EU. In July 2018, a Philadelphia nonprofit called the Middle East Forum (MEF) flew US Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) to a “Movement” dinner hosted by Bannon in London with Nigel Farage and an anti-Muslim British activist and convicted criminal named Tommy Robinson, according to the documentary The Brink. Bannon organized the dinner after a London rally in which some of Robinson’s supporters had given Nazi salutes, while others had assaulted police. Gosar had spoken at that rally, and Bannon was apparently impressed. Bannon eventually hosted more Movement dinners and formed alliances with Jair Bolsonaro and his son (Brazil), Matteo Salvini (Italy), Viktor Orban (Hungary), and Marine LePen (France), among others.
Along the way, Bannon also joined forces with a Chinese dissident billionaire named Guo Wengui, who has funded some of Bannon’s projects and assisted with his War Room podcast. One of the podcast’s frequent guests is a professional agitator and far-right commentator named Jack Posobiec, who once promoted an event staged by the Polish neo-fascist political movement called Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny (ONR), according to an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center. ONR has a long history of promoting and emulating Nazism. Posobiec has also been accused of posting tweets with antisemitic symbols, including the “1488” meme (meaning “Heil Hitler”).
Bannon’s acolyte Nigel Farage attended Trump’s election eve rally in Pennsylvania. Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, was in DC on January 6. And in August 2021, the younger Bolsonaro attended a voting machine symposium hosted by Bannon and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell. During the symposium, Bannon declared that “Bolsonaro will win [reelection in 2022] unless it’s stolen by, guess what, the [voting] machines.” At the time, according to The New Republic, “every major polling outfit” had for months predicted that Bolsonaro would lose badly.
If you don’t think Bannon is a problem for the world, you aren’t seeing what I’m seeing.
Jennifer Cohn is an election security advocate, licensed attorney and writer. Follow her on Twitter @jennycohn1