Steve Bannon’s mission to radically influence Europe, as well as the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections in May, as he had done in the 2016 United States Presidential Election, was a massive, nearly impossible order. While working across nations in a model similar to the one he employed in the United States, was not legally possible in any official way. But as Bannon was working to pump up parties and candidates that shared his cynical and xenophobic views across Europe and the larger world, his European collective, The Movement, was not necessarily flourishing, despite the shared aims of its members and prospective members. Apart from Matteo Salvini and Brothers of Italy leader, Giorgia Meloni, only subtle hints at cooperation could be heard from Europe’s more popular far-right parties.
UKIP had flittered on and off the proverbial fence, while Marie Le Pen and her National Rally of France were still simultaneously insulting him and accepting his well-publicized praise when it was offered. Fidesz of Hungary was more focused on internal “innovations” like armed, guarded border walls and national legislative measures than on Europe or the European Union. Germany’s AfD, which at one point had rebuffed Steve Bannon, would make a political u-turn of sorts as 2019 wore on, and invited him to a conference. Yet other, once luke-warm parties like Austria’s FPÖ and Poland’s Law and Order Party (PiS) became increasingly wary of the American-based effort at organizing even domestic-nationalist parties, in the same vein that Marie Le Pen had months and months before.
With this understood, it must also be comprehended that The Movement, at the beginning of 2019 at least, had only three European far-right parties even comprising it, which included Lega Nord, the Brothers of Italy, as well as the Montenegrin far-right party, Movement for Changes, of which does not even have membership to the EU itself. What had once seemed so promising as a unifying, organizing presence and blueprint for not only the European far-right, but the international far-right as well, was actually inspiring envy, jealousy, and distrust from those very parties it wished to unify, educate, and ultimately aid; alongside the American midterm elections, this hiccup concerning The Movement and his European relations might have been seen as an omen of what might be to come in the future. The lack of developed cohesion leading up to 2019 gave little promise of great gains in the European governing body, but The Movement would plan to meet in January for its first summit, in anticipation of a positive year.
“Of all the disorders in the soul, envy is the only one no one confesses to.” – Plutarch
The year 2019 might have had the potential to be a great year for the European far-right, and therefore, for Steve Bannon as well, and yet, from the start, things were just not meshing too well. January of that year, however, quickly became March, which finally turned into May, in the very days leading up to the EU Parliamentary elections themselves. As a result of conflicting schedules of disjointed nationalist parties and leadership; no grand, cohesive coalition could be thrown together in time for the upcoming election, and worse still, there was literally no time left before those particular elections were to take place, leaving it quite impossible for even new singular strategies to be deployed across Europe, its Union, and its constituent nations. The proverbial wheels were finally beginning to come off in earnest, but India, if not the Dutch or UK provincial and local elections, would give Steve Bannon a momentary reprieve from the mass of disappointments that would, sooner than later, compromise the illiberal future of the United States, much of Europe, and great swaths of the entire world.
As this was transpiring, Steve Bannon would go on CBS in February of 2019 and discuss the American President, the state of the United States, and the potential that the future held, while his dreams of a populist academy in Italy were dashed in March of that year. He was later quoted as having told Italian Populists that the Pope was an “enemy” of their mindset and movement as well around this time; all of this, the organization in Europe and the PR campaign in America, was as he waited for the rest of the year, for elections in The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the European Union to unfurl, where real trouble could be properly made, instead of only across the mainstream and reactionary media outlets.
In the aforementioned Provincial Election of The Netherlands in March of 2019, Geert Wilders and his beleaguered Party for Freedom (PVV) struggled as per usual, while the relative far-right upstarts, the Forum for Democracy (FvD), managed to secure stunning victories, the most new seats of any other party, and held the most seats in three different provinces. While this success might have bolstered a younger Steve Bannon, it was not nearly enough for him at that point, and so proceedings in the UK and the EU were of greater interest to him and his powerful, political, industrial, and financial friends around the world than was the relatively small nation of The Netherlands.
India’s general election from the 11th of April to the 19th of May, gave Narendra Modi an additional, very large mandate for his “Hindu’s First” agenda, which would subsequently mean the revocation of much of the autonomy of mostly Muslim Kashmir. His victory and what it meant for a nation of such vast population and potential power as India as well as the world was, to be sure, startling at the time, yet political honeymoons rarely last much longer than personal honeymoons do, and Modi would not have much longer before his ended.
By the time the local elections in the United Kingdom were being held around this time in early May, weeks before the European Parliamentary Elections, the pro-Brexit Tory Party was faltering, while the UKIP lost a massive majority of their seats as well. Prime Minister Theresa May would, in the weeks and months to come, inevitably be held accountable for the impossible Brexit negotiations and electoral situation that the likes of Bannon-aligned Nigel Farage, David Cameron, and even the future PM Boris Johnson helped to put the nation into thanks to the 2016 referendum and the subsequent British European exit, or as it is known as, “Brexit.”
Yet before the ultimate, political demise of Theresa May, the biggest opportunity for Steve Bannon since the 2016 United States Presidential Elections came as the 2019 EU Parliamentary Elections took place between the 23rd and 26th of May, and, much to the surprise of analysts and Steve Bannon alike, the far-right did not gain as much at all, but actually underperformed in contrast to some of the prognostications. There was both progress, as well as fractioning to be sure, as the powers that have been, gave way to nationalists, populists, and other forces, yet it was not the great surge that was predicted. Bannon suffered this relative blow while in Paris, France, as he attempted to drum up support and action by his language and presence. While alternative parties and interests made gains, including Identify and Democracy (ID), the far-right Euro Party, they were not nearly enough to represent any real progress for the movement in the EU Parliament. Even with ID more than doubling their seats with 73, they and the greater European far-right remained woefully in the parliamentary minority.
In Italy around this same time, things were not as great as they had once seemed to be for Steve Bannon either. Matteo Salvini’s time as Deputy Prime Minister was beginning to sour by his one-year anniversary in power. After months of fighting with the often confusing and contradictory right-wingish/anti-establishment Five Star Movement, things continued to heat up as June turned into July. Advisors to Salvini began to suggest that the Deputy call for a SNAP Election to attempt to win a greater or renewed mandate for a federal government. The Deputy Prime Minister was hesitant, however, and Salvini’s hesitancy at this moment can very likely be attributed, in hindsight at the very least, to the sense of a shifting political climate beneath and all around him; with little experience navigating such treacherous circumstances, he proved ill-equipped to handle this adversity. His hesitation to act in July would, however, would ultimately prove a grave mistake by the time August was turning into September.
“Ability is nothing without opportunity.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
As all of this was evolving, or devolving as it were, in Italy, the 24th of July, 2019, saw the second woman to become Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom replaced by her own Party by MP, Tory, and writer, Boris Johnson. Upon being swiftly voted into power by his Tory pals, he spoke as adamantly as ever that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union, completing Brexit, the alleged will of the people, for the greater, long-term good of the country, and that nothing would stop him from this aim, with or without a deal, on, by or before the 31st of October, 2019 deadline that he himself set and created for the negotiations, as some sort of show of diplomatic strength undoubtedly.
He made it crystal clear on that occasion, as well as on any and every occasion since, that he would, if he had to, drag the U.K. out of the EU kicking and screaming, yet he did not, however, count on his nation recoiling from his language or behavior as they did at the time. This constant antagonism between Johnson, the people, the press, and the House of Commons finally boiled over in this particular instance with Johnson’s announcement that he had asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament on the 28th of August, effective on the 10th of September, essentially two weeks later.
Simultaneously, on the 8th of August in Rome, Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini had come to grips with the eternal turmoil of Italian politics in his own way; with no end to the disagreements between Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in sight, Salvini finally called for SNAP elections to break the deadlock of the current coalition, and to give one party or coalition of parties a stronger mandate. After having dragged his feet for so long before he finally called for a SNAP election on the peninsula, he very likely thought that this new election would be welcomed by both the government and country; he did not anticipate what would happen next, and this remarkable turn, by the end of August, would demonstrate the ignorance of his prior presumption, the fragility of Italian alliances, as well as loyalties within the nuanced, varied Italian far-right movement.
Events would accelerate even more rapidly after the 20th of August, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of the Five Star Movement would resign from his position in response to Salvini’s previous call for a new election. Within a week’s time, however, a breakthrough had occurred in the midst of the Italian, political deadlock that has for years, decades, and centuries even, been a mainstay of life there.
The Five Star Movement had, far from reconciling itself to the idea of a SNAP election, where anything could subsequently happen electorally speaking, came to compromise and form a new coalition with the center-left Democratic Party instead, thereby forming a government that would not need or utilize Matteo Salvini or the previous right-wing coalition of parties that he had captained. By the 5th of September, the new government was sworn in, and all that Steve Bannon had worked for in Italy in 2018 was lost to history. As alluded to previously, Italian politics has a history, however short it might be as a singular, conjoined polity, historically speaking, of being difficult to predict or forecast, yet British politics as Summer began to become Autumn was about to shock and stun the world as well.
The administration of Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament led to the pronouncement being challenged in both English and Scottish courts nearly immediately. Johnson, not for the first time during his longer-than-expected reign, kicked Tories out of the party for disagreeing with his Brexit strategy, as well as the aforementioned decision to prorogue (suspend) Parliament. When Johnson was finally backed into a corner by the Tories, Labour, and Liberal Democrats regarding his party’s policies and his own personal behaviour, proclamations, and policies, his recourse, similar to Matteo Salvini, was to request a SNAP election.
As should be understood by this time, Illiberals and fascists are always looking to call SNAP elections to consolidate power, when possible, or to take advantage of the anxieties, energies, and passions of the nation at any given time, in order to create votes or enthusiasm for their cause or various interests. This request was first rejected by Labour, still under the leadership of Jeremey Corbyn at the time, as well as the Liberal Democrats, until finally, both relented, and a General Election was scheduled for the end of the year in December.
Around this time, perhaps between late September and early December, consequentially, reports were beginning to emerge, sometimes only in a trickle, from China at first, before other nations began to chime in as well, that a potentially new, virulent, and fatal illness was infecting, sickening, and killing people at an alarming rate, and that nothing that doctors tried was working to slow it down or fix it. It seemed to be affecting different people differently, and that in itself seemed horrifying, as though whatever was killing people was pinpointing and attacking their weaknesses. COVID-19, now understood to be infecting people in the latter months of 2019, and killing greater numbers of people with underlying, subtle or overt pre-existing conditions. It was still an anomaly, and an illness that would require greater research to better understand, yet the entire world would feel its brunt sooner than later, and the pandemic, which will likely become endemic, continues to strain humanity under its constantly evolving burden, even almost two years into the future.
The General Election of the United Kingdom towards the start of December was, for Bannon and supporters of a disjointed, disconnected world and international community, wildly successful, in contrast to so many other elections and innovations of 2019. Labour’s own horrific record during this election ultimately caused Jeremy Corbyn to step down from a position of leadership within the party in lieu of Keir Starmer, who has done, across the board, objectively worse than his eternally scorned predecessor had ever managed. Boris, having increased his electoral advantage after his gamble of a SNAP declaration, in contrast to Matteo Salvini, wielded real power now, and a real mandate that was greater than Theresa May had managed to gain; Donald Trump in America now looked to have a partner who, according to reports, he actually liked and that could, somehow, understand and placate him.
At this time, as Steve Bannon sat and ruminated, wherever he was, as December of 2019 became January of 2020, it is likely he would’ve felt a bit of a let down from where he felt he, his ideology, and his greater, international, nationalist movement, had stood just the previous November. The 2018 United States midterm election had not gone great, and while India was in full-throated support for the nationalism of Modi, Europe was proving itself to be an uneasy puzzle to solve, relative to his American efforts, and nothing seemed to be moving as easily as it once had. Intrigue and influence alone could not, at this time at least, effectively grow, develop or unite Europe’s far-right as it had helped Steve Bannon achieve in the United States. Bannon failed to grasp the nuances of Europe, its politics, its national cultures, and their various, complex histories, as well as its warry, skeptical, largely educated, and politically interested populaces.
Bannon was, therefore, doomed to fail at this time because of his own presumption and arrogance; while Europe is not as large as America is in terms of sheer size, it is more independent in thought and diverse in culture from nation to nation than is the United States from state to state. Aiding domestic parties in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, or elsewhere did not necessarily mean, as Bannon might’ve at some point imagined, that that gain or trust would translate into broader results within a nation, nations, or the European Parliament. He was struggling in this way, but had ideas in the works, like a streamable podcast program, “War Room,” which began just in October of 2019, just in time to cover the first impeachment trial of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump; as he sat, perhaps in Washington DC, as the New Year was upon the United States, it is possible that he knew, not only about the coming, international health crisis, but what his old boss had previously authorized for the 3rd of January, 2020.
“No mighty king, no ambitious emperor, no pope, or prophet ever dreamt of such an awesome pulpit, so potent a magic wand.” – Former Head of CBS News, Fred W. Friendly
When the 45th American President called for the assassination of the famous Iranian Military Commander Qasem Soleimani at an airbase in Afghanistan, in what experts have called an illegal, extrajudicial killing, while the now-former President has claimed it as one of the moments he is most proud of during his Presidency, the world held their collective breath. Donald Trump had, essentially, by whatever name you wish to call it, issued a fatwa that an American missile was able to successfully undertake. Iran responded shortly thereafter with a measured strike of their own, narrowly and purposely, missing a barrack of American soldiers in Iraq; Donald Trump would downplay this response, likely understanding in and at that moment what an impetuous, reckless decision he had made in having Soleimani murdered, and the simmering tension would ease.
By this time, what we now call COVID-19 was understood to be spreading across the world, and nations who were suffering from it, as well as international monitoring institutions, first began alerting and pleading with still unsuspecting or pompous polities to take precautions that, almost two years later, have become commonplace across most of the United States, Europe, and the world at large. Many countries, famously including the United States, would ignore many of these pleas from countries like Italy, and instead would have to learn as the child who ignores their parents’ instructions not to place their hand upon the hot stovetop must learn. The COVID-19 pandemic, an illness unprecedented in mutation, transmission, and deadliness in modern times, emerged to ruin and tarnish life for so many families across the planet, yet what it did to damage and further mold the emerging illiberal and neo-fascist movement in dramatic, unforeseeable ways, might also be considered as well.