Steve Bannon's plan for far-right training academy blocked by Italian government

Culture ministry scraps lease on 800-year-old property, claiming contractual obligations were violated

Adam Forrest
Saturday 01 June 2019 16:47
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The Italian government is blocking plans by former White House strategist Steve Bannon to set up a political training academy for budding populist leaders.

The country's culture ministry said it was revoking the lease on the state-owned medieval monastery in the mountains outside of Rome.

The Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) – a right-wing think tank affiliated with Mr Bannon - had been using the 800-year-old property.

But the ministry said the institute had not paid concession fees and had also failed to carry out maintenance work on the Trisulti monastery in Collepardo. It also denied political considerations were part of the decision to kick the group out of the monastery.

Benjamin Harnwell, the institute’s founder, rejected the ministry’s claims and said the academy would fight to stay on at the 800-year-old abbey.

Opening The Academy for the Judeo-Christian West in Italy has been part of Mr Bannon’s plans to further spread the nationalist, populist politics of his former boss Donald Trump across Europe.

Mr Harnwell, who also serves as director of the institute, revealed last year that the US strategist was helping develop the curriculum for a leadership course aimed at right-wing activists.

Mr Bannon, who has been open about his desire to build a populist movement across Europe, has also been raising funds for the institute, its director said.

The Trisulti Monastery Certosa di Trisulti in Collepardo

Last month, The Independent revealed that the fledging academy has links with Tory politicians and advisors in the UK. Mr Harnwell set up the DHI while working for Conservative MEP Nirj Deva at the European Parliament, before leaving that role to focus on the institute.

DHI listed Ben Harris-Quinney, the director of the Tory think-tank the Bow Group, as a “consultant”.

The institute also had Sir Christian Sweeting, a former Tory parliamentary candidate, listed among its trustees.

An official at Italy’s culture ministry, Gianluca Vacca, said in the statement that recent inspections ordered by authorities had found violations of various contractual obligations that allowed the institute to use the property.

“Proceeding with the revocation is thus a duty,” Mr Vacca said.

The project for a right-wing leadership academy had been criticised by Italy’s left-wing parties and local media had raised doubts over whether Harnwell’s institute fulfilled the requirements of its agreement with the government.

Mr Vacca, a member of the anti-establishment, populist 5-Star party which has been ruling Italy in a coalition with the far-right League since last year, insisted there were no political motives behind the decision to revoke permission for the institute.

He said the procedure to grant the lease to Mr Harnwell’s association – whose board of advisers is chaired by Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading Vatican conservative – had been completed under the previous, centre-left government

Additional reporting by Reuters

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