Opinion: Who is Challenging Steve Bannon’s Vision for Europe? No One

Published August 1st, 2018 - 01:33 GMT
(Rami Khoury/Al Bawaba via AFP/FILE)
(Rami Khoury/Al Bawaba via AFP/FILE)

 

 

  • Steve Bannon is creating a new nativist think tank called 'The Movement'
  • He wants to unite anti-immigrant parties in Europe as a single voting bloc
  • Whether he is a clown or evil genius matters little 
  • He currently has no viable competitors to further his worldview

 

By Ty Joplin

 

After running the widely-read website of the alt-right, Breitbart, and helping to run Trump’s campaign and White House, Steve Bannon is starting a new think tank in Europe called 'The Movement.'

His avowed mission is to dismantle the E.U., country by country. Naturally, he started his quest in the U.K., which is struggling to accept the exact terms of its own exit from the European Union.

It is easy to see Bannon as a racist anti-immigrant. He is. It is easy to see him as evil. He is, and even basks in the reputation of being a shadowy political schemster. 

Although debates rage as to how much credit to give to Bannon as a leader of rightwing politics; they miss the mark. He may not be the political genius he markets himself to be, and he may not be the lucky, short-sighted opportunist others single him out as. But these judgements are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how smart, evil or silly Bannon is.

The ideas he is trying to coalesce under a single banner represents something far more powerful and wide reaching than Bannon, the individual, could possibly embody.

His idea for The Movement should not written off quickly as a gimmicky take in the latest of a political entrepreneurs wire-brained schemes: Bannon has a track record of transforming fringe beliefs into mainstream views.

He is largely responsible for cultivating and mobilizing a base of millions to vote for Trump. And in the market of energizing millions of Europeans for a sweeping, compelling cause, he has no competing vision that can challenge his own.

 

The Movement

A rally supporting the Greek neo-nazi party Golden Dawn (AFP/FILE)

Bannon’s views on the E.U. and immigrant is shared by a number of eurosceptic, alt-right or otherwise ethno-nationalist political parties throughout Europe. To build his pan-European coalition, he’s begun to court these parties and their outspoken leaders.

Bannon has already met with Nigel Farage of UKIP fame, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National (now named Rassemblement National), Hungary’s Viktor Orban and is reportedly teaming up with hard-brexiter Boris Johnson to build The Movement’s web in the U.K.

From an interview with The Daily Beast, Bannon says he wants The Movement to be a ‘supergroup’ crystalizing and focusing nativist sentiment in Europe to become a singular voting bloc.

“It was so successful that we're going to start staffing up,” Bannon told The Daily Beast. “Everybody agrees that next May is hugely important, that this is the real first continent-wide face-off between populism and the party of Davos. This will be an enormously important moment for Europe.” When Bannon says ‘the party of Davos,’ he is referring to the elite class of businesspeople and policy makers that hold onto the reins of power with a neoliberal philosophy.

When asked what sparked his idea, Bannon said he only thought of it after receiving an invitation from Marine Le Pen to speak. “I said, ‘What do you want me say?’” Bannon remembered.

“All you have to say is, ‘We're not alone.’” Le Pen reportedly responded.

During his speech to Front National, Bannon infamously declared racism as a new virtue:

“You fight for your country and they call you racist. But the days when those kind of insults work is over. The establishment media are the dogs of the system. Every day, we become stronger and they become weaker. Let them call you racists, xenophobes or whatever else, wear these like a medal.”

 

Bulgarian nationalists march in Sofia (AFP/FILE)

Since then, The Movement has rolled out plans to hire full-time staffers and hone its efforts at building the capacity of eurosceptic and ethno-nationalist political parties.

So exactly what parties is Bannon courting besides the far-right groups like Front National in France and UKIP in the U.K.?

“We're not looking to include any ethno-nationalist parties in this although guys like the Sweden Democrats or the True Finns are perfect casting,” Bannon said, shouting out Italy’s Five Star movement as well.

The Sweden Democrats began as a humble neo-nazi party in the 1990s, but has since honed its rhetoric to be more subtle and more effective at achieving its political ends without alienating itself.

One of its most prominent members, Kent Ekeroth is a member of Sweden’s parliament, though he says he plans to emigrate to Hungary once his term ends.

When asked why, Ekeroth said “To start with, they have no immigration. That’s the most important thing… And they value their own culture highly and the grounds on which European civilisation rests.”

The other party Bannon mentioned, the True Finns, is virulently anti-immigrant and maintains a purist cultural and ethnic vision of Finland thinly veiled under calls to “promote Finnish identity.”

To round it off, Italy’s Five Star party, of which Bannon is a superfan, won Italy’s general election in 2018 off a wave of populist nationalism. After winning on a message of halting or slowing refugee intake to Italy, the government began introducing restrictions on ships carrying refugees to Italy’s shores. In June, Italy outright refused a merchant ship’s attempts to let 66 migrants who had boarded the ship to come into Italy as asylum seekers.

 

No Competitor

Neo-nazis clash with anti-riot police at the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally in the U.S. (AFP/FILE)

It is easy to overlook the potential impact of The Movement and trust that pre-existing organizations will keep Europe’s politics afloat and away from the grips of Bannon’s brand of nativism.

A recent Guardian op-ed dismissed Bannon’s Movement as small potatoes: “Why would his thinktank, grandiosely named The Movement, which wants to recruit 10 full-time staff ahead of the 2019 European elections to influence their outcome, be any match for the Open Society Foundation it aims to rival, which has an endowment of more than $18 [billion]?” the author asks.

But herein lies the danger of Bannon. Hillary spent about half a billion more than Trump in the 2016 presidential election and lost. What nativist parties lack in money, they make up for in compelling narrative: “your world is ending thanks to these ‘refugees,’ and we need to combat them.”

The well-funded Open Society Foundations (OSF) has no compelling answer to this, nor do many other political parties, whose main message is of preserving the status quo. This has evidently not worked to compel anxious voters to flock to them.

While voters sense a crisis, even if it is a boogeyman, the nativist parties are the ones explicitly acknowledging these fears while giving voters an enemy against which they can use their political power. Establishment parties in Europe meanwhile seem hesitant to acknowledge that voters sense there to be a crisis in the first place, precluding them from getting the vote of anybody that thinks there is one.

To many, Europe truly is in danger, and will dismiss any party or think tank that tells them otherwise.

Many of Bannon’s favorite European parties are gaining momentum and beginning to show more participation in state parliaments.

The True Finns have become one of Finland’s biggest parties since 2011, sending 38 parliamentarians to Helsinki in 2015 as compared to the five they sent in 2007. The Sweden Democrats sent 49 of their own to Stockholm in 2015, up from 0 in 2006.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban continues to mine support by instituting xenophobic polices in his country and scapegoating immigrants. Orban himself met with Bannon in May 2018 and reportedly wished The Movement well in a radio interview later. Orban's party, the Fidesz, is by far Hungary's most popular political party. 

The OSF has been around since 1993, meaning these parties and politicians have gained power even though the OSF had a 20-year head-start in cementing itself as a prime political influencer. Its sway is, electorally speaking, waning to the parties for which Bannon is building a platform.

Bannon’s ambition to unite these parties as a single voting bloc has no effective competitor as of yet; no counter-momentum that is as compelling. This fact alone is a warning sign.

Under the noses of establishment parties, he may be able to move millions of Europeans in the same direction he moved voters in the U.S.—a shift that was only perceptible once it had captured the White House and threw both the Democrat and Republican parties in disarray.

For that, America got Trump.

 

What Steve Bannon Believes

Bannon with Marine Le Pen (AFP/FILE)

Before he was an outsized political figure whose words were closely scrutinized, Bannon was more comfortable being clear about his beliefs. In a few words, he thinks Western Civilization (read: western Europe and the U.S.) is under an existential threat thanks to immigration influxes from non-white countries. His philosophy is ethno-nationalism.

One book he used to commonly cite in speeches that shared his nativist concerns that the sheen of the West was being tarnished thanks to ‘invading’ non-white groups is called “The Camp of the Saints.” A french novel published in 1973, the story revolves around a fictional race war between white Europeans and non-white immigrants from Asia and Africa.

“The whole thing in Europe is all about immigration,” Bannon argued in 2016. “It’s a global issue today — this kind of global Camp of the Saints.”

When referring to the refugee influx in Europe, Bannon said, “it’s not a migration… It’s really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints.”

Cécile Alduy, a professor at Stanford University and an expert on the French far-right, told The Huffington Post that the book “describes the takeover of Europe by waves of immigrants that wash ashore like the plague.”

She added that “The Camp of the Saints,” "reframes everything as the fight to death between races.” In other words: migration is a race war.

The author himself seems strangely open about this. “What if they were to come?” the author writes. “I did not know who ‘they’ were, but it seemed inevitable to me that the numberless disinherited people of the South would, like a tidal wave, set sail one day for this opulent shore, our fortunate country’s wide-gaping frontier.”

In the book, the non-white ‘plague’ wins, and this seems to be Bannon's greatest fear.

In a radio interview, Bannon openly decries legal immigration as the real problem in the U.S., stating: "we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country."

Bannon thinks the E.U. will aid and abet Europe’s downfall thanks to its neoliberal foundations that call for regulated but relatively open borders. When he was leading Breitbart, headlines would read “The EU Is Dead, It Just Refuses to Lie Down,” “The EU Just Forced Members to Accept Migrants Through Qualified Majority Voting, You Should Probably Know What That Means…” “EU-Backed Asylum Group: Release Hundreds of Asylum Seekers into UK Communities”

For Bannon, ending the E.U. forestalls the demographic collapse of a white-majority Europe.

Bannon also helped craft Trump’s famous ‘Muslim Ban,’ which was one of Trump’s trademark platform ideas on the campaign trail and eventually was signed into law via executive order and upheld in the Supreme Court.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba.


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