Steve Bannon builds “Dad’s Army”-brigade for Farage-type Europhobes

The ever-valiant editors of Liberator magazine, who make the Lib Dem glee club sing from the same sheet, have just published a guide to discern all the opinionmakers, leaders and groups in the Brexiteer and Europhobe bubble. And according to the European edition of Politico Magazine, Steve Bannon, the beast from Breitbart, is assembling what could be called the “Dad’s Army” of Eurosceptics and Europhobes discarded by their own groups, or whose sell-by date has long expired.

Using Breitbart as his platform, Bannon had (in the years 2012-16) assembled an assortment of rightwing, libertarian, neonazi and other extremist splinters, and used frequent interviews with tycoon Donald Trump to attract Trumpian voters to get them in touch with those ideas, to solidify their prejudices and their hate of mainstream, fact-loving media. 

Now that Trump has fired him, and Robert  Mercer has banned him from Breitbart , Bannon is trying to repeat what he did to rightwing fringe America; but according to Politico he isn’t having as much luck as he had with Trump.

Like most political currents, Populism and Euroscepticism have to go through an initial phase of competing opinionmakers, theorists and loudmouth demagogues; but the jingoism and preference for “strongman politics” (a leader, statesman able to make sweeping structural changes in a national political culture an – debate), means that the phase of competing schools inside Populism and Euroscepticism endures longer. Populists in one country prefer homegrown leaders, not from neighboring countries, let alone the US.

This is also part of the background to the existence in the European Parliament of two Eurosceptic party groups, UKIP’s “Alliance for Direct Democracy” and the “Europe of Nations & Freedom”  with Wilders and the Le Pens. And beside those two, there is a distinct Eurosceptic, hyper-nationalist wing in the conservative “European People’s Party” of Juncker: think of Orban (Hungary), Kurz (Austria), Seehofer (Bavarian CSU); and in Theresa May’s ACRE Europarliament-group with the Polish PiS  and their Visegrad friends.

According to Politico, all prominent Populist leaders (of all four variants) in the EU are happy to get advice and useful contacts from Bannon, appear on stages and in selfies with him; but he should not try to interfere or mediate in their present feuds, like the one between islamophobes like Wilders and extreme jingoists like Orban and PiS.

The result is that European Eurosceptics prefer to build their own alliances and factions inside Europe. The only Eurosceptic group willing to give Bannon a nucleus to organize from are has-beens like Nigel Farage and an obscure Belgian splinter politician, Mischaël Modrikamen, whose “Popular Party” is part of Farage’s ADDE. Modrikamen has founded a platform, “The Movement”, which he offered Bannon to use; but only he and Farage’s girlfriend Laure Ferrari  appear to be working there. Apart from Farage, another who Bannon met on a recent London visit was Belgian firebrand from the 1990’s Filip DeWinter.  The VB party DeWinter founded immediately disavowed him.

An extra problem is the Trump cultus among EU populists: in cosying up to Bannon, they fear the wrath of Trump; and Trump trumps Bannon in European popularity. 

And whereas Bannon, while at Breitbart, was sponsored by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, an important Bexit campaign supporter with his Cambridge Analytica: , and could have disbursed millions to co-operating Eurosceptics, now Mercer has expelled him from Breitbart, he is unlikely to be asked by any European to support another anti EU campaign. 

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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5 Comments

  • Bernard,

    I am surprised you didn’t include Boris Johnson’s association with Steve Bannon in your article https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lesterfeder/boris-johnson-steve-bannon.

    Johnson has been courting controversy today with his Telegraph article about the wearing of Burkas.

  • The Home Office guidance to its own officials of April 2017 provides good reason for the Home Secretary to exclude Steve Bannon from the UK for unacceptable behaviour:
    “Unacceptable behaviour covers any non-UK national whether in the UK or abroad
    who uses any means or medium including:
    • writing, producing, publishing or distributing material
    • public speaking including preaching
    • running a website
    • using a position of responsibility such as a teacher, community or youth leader
    to express views which:
    • foment (provoke), justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs
    • seek to provoke others to terrorist acts
    • foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts
    • foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK
    The list of unacceptable behaviours is indicative rather than exhaustive.”

  • Bernard Aris 8th Aug '18 - 11:28am

    @ JoeB

    I only had 500 words (and used a lot more; thanks for the leniency), so I assumed Bannons cavorting with the ever-diplomatic foreign secretary would get plenty of British coverage anyway; anything about Boris does.

    I found it more important to elucidate that in associating with Bannon, annybody (including Boris) is walking into a dead-end road, with no money pot at the end of the Rainbow.

    Boris sounds a lot like the present Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok (VVD, an ALDE ally…) who made a series of very clumsy, populist remarks about the multicultural society, and who faces a stiff confidence debate when parliament resumes its sitting.
    See: https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/07/dutch-foreign-minister-under-fire-after-crude-multicultural-society-comments/

  • For most of my life I could not understand how Germany ended up with Hitler as its leader. I am beginning to understand now I am seeing the process in action.

  • Bernard Aris 8th Aug '18 - 3:11pm

    @ Barry Long

    You’re absolutely right; loose political talk can easily degenerate into this.

    Luckily, the Social Liberal tradition harbours, in both Germany (and the German part of the Habsburg Empire), and the Netherlands, from the 19th century onwards, the first alert politicians and opinionmakers who pointed out this mechanism. It is much broader than the frame many leftist political scientists use (who give a prominent role to ideology, systematic political thinking); loose bar-room talk often is remarkably light on ideology and strong on irrational prejudice.
    And the anti-Apartheid tradition of both the 20th century British and South African liberals (Grimonds and Thorpes Liberals and the Libdems; and the Progressive Federal party of Van Zyl Slabbert and Hellen Suzman, now the DA party) are equally part of this proud Social Liberal tradition.

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