Magazine article The Spectator

An Interview with Steve Bannon

Magazine article The Spectator

An Interview with Steve Bannon

Article excerpt

An interview with Steve Bannon

We are in a hotel suite at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Zurich when Stephen K. Bannon tells me he adores the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

But let's be clear. Bannon -- as far as I can tell -- is not a fascist. He is, however, fascinated by fascism, which is understandable, as its founder Benito Mussolini, a revolutionary socialist, was the first populist of the modern era and the first tabloid newspaper journalist.

Il Duce, realising that people are more loyal to country than class, invented fascism, which replaced International Socialism with National Socialism. He was thus able to 'weaponise' -- to use a favourite Bannon word -- what the people wanted. Bannon is now touring Europe to weaponise what lots of European people seem to want, which is national populism.

Mussolini was perhaps the reason Bannon granted me an interview. It turns out he likes a book I wrote about the dictator years ago.

'How many guys have you interviewed who have read your biography?' he asked. 'Am I the first?'

Had he really read it? 'I have, definitely ... I haven't read all the old biographies but it's the only modern one that treated Mussolini as ... one of the most important figures of the 20th century. You put the juice back in Mussolini. He was clearly loved by women. He was a guy's guy. He has all that virility. He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms. I'm fascinated by Mussolini.'

Before going to Zurich, where he had been invited by Die Weltwoche, the Swiss magazine, to speak about populism, Bannon had spent several days in Italy during the run-up to the general election on 4 March: 'the most important thing happening politically in the world right now,' he told the media.

As if to prove him right, the Italians duly voted in huge numbers for populists, in particular for the Five Star Movement (M5S) which got 33 per cent, and its opponents Matteo Salvini's La Lega, which got 18 per cent.

Bannon defines Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (La Lega's main ally in the Coalition of the Right), which won 14 per cent, as populist in order to claim that 'two thirds' of Italians voted for populist parties and to demonstrate that populism in Europe is on a roll. Or as Bannon told his Zurich audience, 'The populist surge is not over: it's just beginning.'

Bannon, an ex-US Navy lieutenant, Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood film producer, is 64 and a practising Catholic and 'Christian Zionist'. He has been married and divorced three times and has three daughters. After making money from films, he took over Breitbart, the right-wing website, and then in 2016 became chief executive of Donald Trump's successful election campaign. He then spent seven months in the White House as the President's chief strategist.

He now calls himself 'a fire-breathing populist'. For his many enemies, he is the bitter end. When he spoke in Zurich to a sellout audience of 1,500 people there was a large and angry anti-fascist demonstration outside the conference hall and riot police everywhere. According to its opponents, populism is the new fascism. So -- is it?

'This is all theoretical bullshit. I don't know. Populism, fascism -- who cares? It's a media smear of the populist movement.'

Donald Trump, I suggest, can't be a fascist, as he does not want to replace democracy with dictatorship, nor is he left-wing, as was fascism.

'The bigger threat we have got than socialism is state-controlled capitalism, which is where we're headed, where we have big government and a handful of big companies. That's what you're seeing in technology right now with these massive companies. It's the biggest danger we have.

'Listen, I think our problem is [not just] the cultural Marxist left, but state capitalism on finance. That's what we're fighting right now.

They absolutely control our borders. They debase your currency, they debase your citizenship, and they take your personhood digitally. …

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