Inside Steve Bannon’s School for Populists

CERTOSA DI TRISULTI, COLLEPARDO, ITALY – Benjamin Harnwell, a British acolyte of Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, says he and his mentor plan to fight efforts to scrap their plans to turn a picturesque medieval monastery in the mountainous Italian heartland into a boot camp for populist activists.

Last year, amid cries of outrage from the Italian left, the 43-year-old Harnwell and Bannon secured a two-decadelong lease on the Trisulti Charterhouse, a 13th century monastery in Collepardo, in the central Italian province of Frosinone, on the slopes of a forested peak 825 meters above sea level.

Announcing the plan, Bannon talked combatively about establishing a “gladiator school,” where populist political-cultural warriors would be schooled to skirmish with the left, taught conservative Catholic values and tutored in how to defend the West’s Judeo-Christian roots.

But Italy’s culture ministry overseeing the 800-year-old monastery, which is a listed national monument, has announced it intends to revoke the 100,000 euro-a-year lease it granted the duo only a few months ago after a competitive tendering process.

Harnwell said he plans to fight the ministerial revocation, however long it might take. Given the sluggish pace of the Italian courts, that could take years. His attitude is, bring it on.

“Great, I am looking forward to this,” he said. But he worries Bannon might lose patience with all the obstacles they are facing in getting the academy functioning.

The ministry has cited “violations of various contractual obligations” for its decision. Some of those obligations include restoring the monastery, which features half-dozen chapels, a maze, a water mill, monk cells and a trout pond (currently without fish).

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