How they see us: Funding the far right in Europe
Bannon: Building a ‘gladiator school’ for populists
American billionaires are trying to influence the May elections for the European Parliament, said Damien Leloup in Le Monde (France). Not content with spreading misinformation in the U.S. through the far-right Breitbart News, hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, 72, and his daughter Rebekah, 45, also fund the Gatestone Institute, “a neoconservative think tank focused on Europe.” The institute frequently warns of a coming jihadist takeover of the Continent. The Mercers also fund The Rebel, a Canadian far-right site that actively campaigned for Brexit and routinely “depicts a Europe on the verge of collapse, especially because of immigration.” In 2017, a Rebel writer disseminated “MacronLeaks,” emails stolen from the presidential election campaign of Emmanuel Macron and published two days before the second round of the French vote. The ploy failed to derail Macron’s victory, but it’s feared that similar email dumps could affect the European Parliament vote. Nor are the Mercers alone: U.S. manufacturing billionaire Robert Shillman has poured money into far-right causes across Europe, including support for anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
These billionaires want to tip the balance in a 27-nation election that is shaping up to be an epic battle for Europe’s future, said Christian Makarian in L’Express (France). On one side are the establishment liberals, best represented by Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who want a stronger, more integrated EU and who emphasize civil liberties, tolerance, and human rights. On the other side are the authoritarian, anti-immigrant, nationalist forces, as personified by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He has “put forward an explosive European plan based on a civilizational vision that exploits the defense of Christian identity.” His camp, which includes Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party and Italy’s League, wants a weaker EU.
The explicit goal is to destroy European cohesion from within, said Ingrid Steiner-Gashi and Irene Mayer-Kilani in Kurier (Austria). That’s what Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for U.S. President Donald Trump, boasted last year. “The beating heart of the globalist project is in Brussels,” Bannon said. “If I drive the stake through the vampire, the whole thing will start to dissipate.” Backed by unknown financiers, possibly the Mercers, Bannon is setting up a “gladiator school” at an old Italian monastery where would-be populist activists will be trained in the dark arts of spreading misinformation and hate. So far, the plan is still just a plan. But the EU “fears Bannon’s influence through fake news and social media propaganda.”
Yet Bannon has far less influence than he pretends, said Daniel DePetris in The Spectator (U.K.). Many EU countries bar political parties from receiving foreign help, and some far-right parties “are concerned about the optics of taking direction from an American.” The Alternative for Germany party actually “seemed offended” at the very idea, understandable given Trump’s massive unpopularity in Europe. If populists do gain in May, Europeans will have only themselves to blame—not Americans. ■