ROME — Steve Bannon, one of the main architects behind Donald Trump’s victorious presidential campaign, set out his vision for a new European order Saturday at a rally in Rome, where he praised the populist government in Italy, predicting a new brand of conservative populism would spread across the continent.
“Brexit, Trump, the elections here in Italy — they are all pieces of the same thing,” Bannon told a standing-room-only crowd on Rome’s Tiber Island. “They give the little guy a voice. They reject what the elites have been hoisting onto us. And they show we are tired of hearing that if we want to protect our countries, our way of life, it means we are racists, nationalists, and xenophobes.”
Earlier this year, Italy became the first Western European country to install a populist government — with Bannon playing a key role in the success of the country’s most popular political party.
Bannon, a former banker and film producer, was a central White House strategist for seven months before being pushed out after clashing with White House staff, including the president’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Soon after, he began advising Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s nationalist, anti-migration League, calling Salvini “Italy’s version of Trump.”
Salvini is vice-prime minister and minister of the interior in the four-month-old Italian government headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Trump’s approval levels in Italy are not high, fewer than two in five Italians have a favorable view of the U.S. president, according to the polling firm Opinioni. It’s unusually low for a U.S. president, but they are ticking higher even as Trump’s approval levels erode at home.
Internationally, Salvini is best known for shutting Italy’s ports to would-be asylum seekers from poor countries, Italy’s version of Trump’s call to build a wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Salvini, who spoke at the Atreju rally earlier on Saturday, was harsher than Bannon, while echoing the American’s views against migration.
“Europe will either rediscover its strength and pride or we will leave our children a Europe that is a dark little microbe crunched between Asia and Africa,” Salvini said.
While Italy’s anti-migrant policies have drawn criticism from political leaders and activists across Europe, they were popular among those gathered at the so-called Atreju rally in Rome.
“In Italy, we are getting poorer and poorer and yet people expect us to open our doors and to feed and house everyone in Africa,” Italo Lombardi, a 49-year-old unemployed laborer at Saturday’s rally. Lombardi, who came to the event with his two young children, wore a tee-shirt that said, “Europeans, not the European Union.”
“In the U.S., Trump says ‘America First,’ and in Italy we cannot be afraid to say ‘Italy first,’” Lombardi said.
Anna Abatangelo, 33, a coffee bar worker, cheered each time Bannon praised Italy’s new government.
“We are tired of taking orders from Brussels,” Abatangelo said, referring to the European Union’s administrative capital. “There was a time when Italy was one of the decision makers in Europe, and now we are showing it will happen again.”
In his remarks, Bannon repeatedly flattered Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, founder of the 20-year-old Atreju event and head of one of the second-tier conservative parties in Italy. But Bannon also made it clear he had his sights set beyond Italy’s borders.
Italy is one of at least six European countries he will visit on his current tour, laying the groundwork for what allies said would be a convention in late November in Brussels to found a new European populist, anti-establishment movement.
Bannon has visited Rome at least three times since June. At Saturday’s rally, he said people should expect to see much more of him in Europe.
“I am going to work to make sure that in the U.S. the cultural Marxists and socialists will not win a victory in [Congressional elections in] November, that President Trump will not be impeached, and then I intend to spend 80 percent of my time in Europe,” Bannon said.
He went on: “The entrenched powers are not afraid of me, or of Trump, or Salvini, or Meloni, or Nigel Farage,” Bannon said, referring to the leader of the movement that led to Brexit, the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union. “They are afraid of the people like you who voted to make a change in their country’s fortunes.”
Bannon said that “nationalist patriots” like the populists in Italy would soon emerge as Europe’s “new elite.”
According to Gian Franco Gallo, a political affairs analyst with ABS Securities in Milan, Bannon’s presence in Rome could help bolster support for Salvini’s League at a time when the party’s priorities are clashing with those of its partner in the government, the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement. It comes as the Italian media have speculated that Salvini, 45, could be angling to become prime minister next year.
“The domestic influence of the two parties in the government is heading in opposite directions, with Salvini and the League on the rise,” Gallo said. “Praise from an international figure like Bannon only strengthens Salvini’s hand.”
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