Marc Felix Serrao NZZ March 16, 2019
Steve Bannon, the former head strategist of Donald Trump, has been working for months to strengthen and network Europe’s right-wing populists. The established parties are about to collapse, he says. An interview about the return of nationalism, Russian tanks, Chinese aggression and a life without hierarchies.
Steve Bannon’s security guard stands out in the lobby of the Berlin Hotel Adlon. He is about twice as wide as the other guests and wears sweaty sportswear. Morning exercise, he explains, leading the reporter to a suite on the second floor. Steve Bannon opens the door in a good mood. “Hi there,” says former US President Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Then he orders coffee in thermoses and sits down at a round table overlooking the Brandenburg Gate. He is in town for the first time, but unfortunately has no time to look at anything. Everything is “work, work, work”. Bannon has come to advise the AFD. In 2017, he founded “The Movement” with Mischaël Modrikamen, the head of the Belgian People’s Party, in Brussels. The NGO should support and network Europe’s nationalists. For months, Bannon is on a European tour. At the end of May, the new European Parliament will be elected, and if the 65-year-old’s bill is up, then the political landscape of the continent will not be recognized.
What brings you to Berlin, Mr. Bannon?
The optional. The last six months I have been in Europe again and again. Ten days ago I was in Norway, next I’m going to Paris, Italy, then Spain. I’m in Berlin to meet some leading alternative people for Germany. We are talking about the election of the European Parliament. The AFD will probably become part of the Salvini faction (Italy’s Interior Minister and Lega Nord chief Matteo Salvini, editor’s note). In the autumn there will be three more elections in Germany.
In Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia.
Yes, Saxony will be particularly interesting. We talked about her ideas, and I shared my observations with the AfD. I do that everywhere in Europe. We are an NGO. I am not paid, I am not a political advisor. I’m just an observer.
When you started your activities in Europe in the summer of 2018, that sounded a bit more exploratory. “We will take the lead in the EU,” you said.
That will happen too.
If the trends remain stable, we will see a result that I predicted at that time: about one third of the members of the European Parliament will come from the nationalist camp, maybe more. The momentum is on our side. And more importantly, there is an opportunity to form a “Super Group” in Parliament. And do not forget Nigel Farage and the Brexit party.
Her friend Farage was last in the UK in polls at 34 percent.
I hear that even 40 percent are possible. When we started our movement, everything was disorganized. Everyone did their own thing. There were no discussions about a Super Group. Nobody dreamed of taking over one third of the seats.
One third is not a majority. The European People’s Party will suffer heavy losses, but remain the strongest political force, according to all polls.
After the election, every day in Brussels will be Stalingrad. The nationalists will work together. Networking will allow for what I call “command by negation”: You can not enforce your will because you have no majority, but you can block things. This fundamentally changes the situation. Let us ignore the British and Brexit for a moment: none of the parties I am talking to want to leave the European Union. What they want is a Europe of nations. There are two basic philosophies in this election, and that makes it so important to the citizens. On one side is Macron with his “Renaissance” alliance, for which he advertises everywhere. His goal corresponds to the program of globalists: the United States of Europe. Germany should become something like North Carolina, and France South Carolina. Nations as the administrative unit of a central bureaucracy. Macron wants to centralize foreign policy, he wants to build an EU army.
And the other side?
The is committed to the old Westphalian system. In it, individual nation states represent the interests of their citizens. They form a union that may have some more commercial but less political integration, especially in foreign and immigration policies. And no EU army.
There is no majority for the United States of Europe or the abolition of nation states. This also applies to the established parties, and it applies even more to their basis.
Exactly. The basis of the parties. That is not what you hear in the European Parliament, apart from the supporters of national sovereignty. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I mean, about 70 percent of the laws in Germany come from Brussels.
When it comes down to issues of foreign and defense policy and the military, Europe’s states still set the tone today.
And that’s why Macron has put these things on the table right now. He wants to change that. And the base of the parties does not know. European elections have always taken place here on page five of the newspapers. But this time there is a debate. And a real alternative: Salvini, Orban, Le Pen, AfD. The alternative is to let the nation-states regain control – not to destroy the EU, but to reform it.
Is it really a united alternative? And do you have any influence on that? They had tried Europe and failed, according to the American edition of Spectator. Other media in your home country look the same. All refer to European law. This is strict as far as foreign influence on elections is concerned. As in the USA.
Fake News! Even if I worked for money as a political advisor, I could do what I am doing now. Dozens of parties in Europe have asked me. But I only run one NGO. I am an informal consultant and observer.
Marine Le Pen is in trouble because of you. They accuse her of “colluding with a foreign power.”
What should I be? A foreign power? I do not work for the American government. I am a private citizen, a very average guy. This thing in France. , , Do you know what I love about it? That’s the establishment’s panic. They experience a total nervous breakdown. I can have as many meetings with Marine Le Pen as I want. France is a free country.
Did you financially support Marine Le Pen, directly or indirectly?
No, zero. I looked at their financial planning and said here and there what I think is smart. I do that for a lot of people. I used to be an investment banker, I constantly look at business plans. Marine Le Pen’s party has done a great job collecting its own money. And now they hit Macron.
Le Pens Rassemblement national and Macron’s La République en marche are on the same level as the polls.
In the survey that I saw, she was one point ahead. He is, and I emphasize that now, because you are here on his side. , ,
, , , I do not stand on anyone’s side, Mr. Bannon. , ,
, , , he is the president of France. He has been in office since 2017 and is back where he started today. This is crazy. He got stuck – and she recovered from a massive defeat.
This is your political spin.
This is not a spin.
One could also argue that Macron’s poll numbers are stable in the circumstances. France has experienced months of serious unrest.
Which planet do you live on? Macron created the yellow vests themselves. He has launched the fraudulent, mendacious Paris Climate Agreement, along with Angela Merkel. This treaty allows the Chinese to pump as many fumes into the atmosphere as they want, and the Western democracies should pay for it. What did Macron do? He taxed the people most affected by the emigration of jobs in France. That’s why they protested.
Let’s talk about Germany. Here, the outcome of the election has the greatest impact on the composition of Parliament. 96 elected officials will be from the Federal Republic.
That’s why I spend five days here! Germany is the central nation of our European project.
The AfD is in the polls at 1o to 13 percent. Although this is a significant increase, it is still far from the first place. And it is weak compared to the results in some state elections. Why is it? Is Jörg Meuthen the wrong top candidate?
Absolutely not. I met Doctor Meuthen. , ,
, , , Professor Meuthen. , ,
Of course, Professor Doktor Meuthen. I am very impressed with him, especially his knowledge in economic matters. On Saturday we will be together in Milan. He has become one of the driving forces behind the formation of a Super Group of Nationalists in the European Parliament.
Could the poll numbers of the AfD also have something to do with the hiccups around the “Dexit”? The party was only for Germany to leave the EU, now it takes a neutral stance.
That could have played a role. The majority of Germans want to reform the EU, they do not want to leave. The other populist movements no longer demand an exit. Even Le Pen. When she started in 2017, she has announced a referendum in the event of an electoral victory, as in the UK.
An AfD politician, who sees your work skeptical, is party leader Alexander Gauland. You will not succeed in forging an alliance of like-minded people, he said in 2018. Europe is not America.
I agree with Dr. Gauland for one thousand percent.
His criticism did not annoy you?
Oh, not a bit. It’s like Trump and my work in the White House. I am completely insensitive to comments. Listen, I’m from a working-class family. My life is dedicated to working on this populist nationalist project. Worldwide. The reason why Trump and his financiers approached me 88 days before the election was his huge backlog. I understand our movement pretty well. I help where I can. And to Dr. Gauland: The alliance already exists. It’s the new Super Group. You know, I admire Doctor Gauland and Professor Meuthen. I find it fantastic what they have achieved with this party. I also met with Tino Chrupalla from Saxony. We have arranged that I will come back after the European elections and spend time with him in Saxony, probably in June. Maybe I can get involved in the campaign before the election in the fall.
Do you want to talk on Saxon marketplaces?
First of all, we will meet in his constituency.
Who is your most important contact in the AfD?
Professor Meuthen. But I’m talking to many people. On Saturday they invited me to this thing, unfortunately I could not.
You mean the “media conference” with Milo Yiannopoulos?
(Laughs) Yes, my former employee.
Not everyone in the AfD was happy about the performance.
It was a controversial decision. For some it is okay, for others not, especially so close to the election. Milo worked at Breitbart for me. He is exhausting.
Would you hire him again?
No! No chance.
In Germany, the AfD, but also many leftists, have a great fascination for Russia and a critical to negative attitude towards America. Can you understand that?
Depends on what criticism we speak. I am an American patriot. I served my country as a naval officer for eight years. My daughter is a Westpoint graduate who served in the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. And I was also a critic of the direction taken by the United States before Donald Trump took office. Behind it were not just Republicans and Democrats, but the permanent political class, the globalists, who are embedded in what I call the “Party of Davos”. These people are completely disconnected from normal, working Americans. If the alternative for Germany and others criticize this America, I can understand that well. Listen, Germany and America have been through a lot. We were strong allies, and we still are today. And Russia? Even in the toxic environment of Washington, I have always said: Russia is not the main enemy.
Who is the main opponent?
The totalitarian dictatorship in China. That is the existential threat of the West. The global elites do not want to admit that because they make a good living on China’s rise.
People closer to Russia than you would call the country a threat. Russian citizens who publicly question the power apparatus are risking their lives.
I did not say that Russia is not dangerous. He gave the last speech of Donald Trump I worked on in Warsaw in 2017. Since he has made it very provocative words that he would defend the West. But Russia’s economy is as big as that of the state of New York. The country is in a demographic death spiral. It does not produce advanced technologies. It’s a kleptocracy led by evil guys. It has many weapons and causes trouble in different parts of the world. Still, the threat situation today is very different from the 1980s when I worked at the Pentagon. No one has to fear today that Russian tanks are rolling over the North German lowlands. We just have to take Russia for what it is. It would have been a start if Germany had not concluded this gas deal.
You mean Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that is being built. Richard Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany, is putting a lot of pressure on the project not being completed and put into operation.
That is known. By the way, in Nord Stream 2, you have an ally in, as you would dubiously say, establishment. Manfred Weber, the leading candidate of the European People’s Party, also wants to stop the pipeline. Would not he be the right partner for you?
It’s not just about a project. But to be clear, the United States does not want protectorates, we want allies. We are not an imperial power, we are a revolutionary power. We have renounced the greatest empire in the world. Our founding fathers have always warned against becoming an empire. Under the permanent political class, which is at home in both parties of our country, the imperial position has spread. So all these bad decisions came about in the Middle East. Under Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush, the United States has intervened everywhere. Trump’s voters and the “deplorables” reject that, and they are not isolationists. Our partners in NATO should make their own decisions. All we say about this gas deal is that there is an alternative. If Germany is so afraid of Russia, it should not be dependent.
Europe, despite the many quarrels, has been at peace for many years. What is the main reason for this in your eyes?
The most important was certainly the cooperation between the United States, Great Britain and Germany in the early eighties. Perhaps you are too young to remember: Millions of people took to the streets to protest against the deployment of Pershing II missiles in Europe. The debates were ten times as intense as they are today. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were attacked every day. What happened? Successful economic warfare. We raised defense budgets because we knew that the Soviet Union would not compete. The CIA predicted that the country would collapse in fifty years. It took eight years.
Can it be that Europe today is more complicated than it was back then? In your world, there are only evil globalists who do not care about the citizens, and brave nationalists who implement the will of the citizens.
Maybe in the United States. In Europe, politics and the legal system work differently. There are more political actors: from the very right to the very left, from liberal to green. In Germany, some already talk about a green chancellor.
What do you think about what AOC (editor’s note: the young Democratic Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and the re-awakened left in America are? These are our Greens. They admit that they are leading their party in a completely different direction. At the center is the Green New Deal, which is much more radical than your green party in Germany.
Do you know what “Fridays for Future” stands for?
These are the young people protesting every week.
What do you make of it? The topic of environmental protection is taking up more and more space. And your camp, the right camp, has not much to say yet.
This movement has a theological aspect; the whole thing is not just rational. There is a reasonable counter-position, and that is not to deny climate change. We need to think about how our economies can change in terms of CO2 emissions. This can be done rationally, market-based and based on scientific findings. Or emotional. But you have to take such movements seriously. I also said that “Time’s Up” is a challenge. Their anti-Trump message was simple: “orange man bad”. But she has motivated many women to vote in the United States in 2018. “Fridays for Future” will also be such a factor in Europe.
What do you advise your camp: ignore, attack or hug?
You have to take care of the topic. I would tell people that a nation-state can govern environmental protection with transparency and clear responsibilities – quite different from transnational institutions. The Paris Climate Agreement is, as we said, a catastrophe because it allows China to cheat and dump the costs of those who can least afford it.
Then we talk about the land that causes you so much grief. Are you satisfied with the trade talks your former boss is currently having with the representatives of the People’s Republic of China?
This is not about a trade deal. It’s about a truce in an economic war. Trump won the election because he recognized that. Migration has not been the crucial issue in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio or Pennsylvania. It was important. But more important was the question of where the jobs have gone. Germany faces the same question. China’s chip design, robotics and artificial intelligence are the coffin nail of German engineering. By 2025, everything will be “made in China”. The German robotics have incorporated themselves with forced technology transfers, with theft and through company purchases. The globalists all pretend that China’s rise is something like the second law of thermodynamics. A law of nature. Wait.
China resists American supervision of its economy. Why? It has become powerful enough.
That’s what you say, sir! We’ll see. China’s lobbyists are in the City of London and Wall Street. Why? I was at Harvard Business School, I know the bill: if you outsource your production from America or Germany to China, you have higher margins thanks to the slave laborers there. That may work. But it is completely wrong.
Slave labor? China today has a large middle class.
China is a totalitarian dictatorship with concentration camps and total surveillance. And the members of the Davos party behave like cheerleaders. Repulsive.
Could what you call economic warfare become a real war?
The last thing anyone wants is war in the South China Sea. But China is provocatively churning. They built these artificial islands against all international treaties. $ 5 trillion worth of merchandise is transported every year. It’s the supply route to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, all the democracies there.
Classic big power politics. The United States does nothing else on its doorstep.
No, no, stop! I was stationed as a young naval officer in the South China Sea. Our mission at that time was basically the same as that of the Berlin Airlift. It was about safe passage and free navigation for all, including the Chinese Communists. The South China Sea was the main waterway between the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. No boat was stopped. If so, then it was against pirates. And what has happened in the past twenty years, what have the Obama administration and Joe Biden allowed? They built these islands, which are ultimately stationary aircraft carriers, and then they raised a territorial claim to the sea. That shows how aggressive and ambitious they are.
You summarized your criticism of China a few days ago in a guest post for the Washington Post. The text reads like a strategic memo. In the end, you advise Trump to stay firm and follow his instincts. Are you missing the White House?
Not at all. I could not do that anymore. I gave a year of my life because I knew we would win: August 2016 to August 2017. I was at a Catholic school, in the Navy and at Goldman Sachs. I do not need hierarchies anymore. If I want, I can get on the plane tomorrow and fly wherever I want. I had a great time in the White House. We have achieved a lot. But I’m just not an employee.
Are you and the president still talking to each other?
No, not since the investigation. That’s also known. He recently said in an interview with Politico that he likes me and that I am his best defender.
What would you say if Donald Trump called you before the next presidential election and said, “Steve, I need you!”
The highest priority in my life is that Donald Trump be re-elected in 2020. This is absolutely existential, for the United States and for the West. And the best place to help is where I am now: outside.
You are 65 years old, rich and have no job. What’s next?
I will continue. Our movement is growing, in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America. And once people are in power, it’s about how best to govern. The key is the economy. If Trump failed to show growth of 3.2 percent and low unemployment, they would bite his head. You need growth. But as I said, we are just beginning. This movement is designed for decades. I will not be there all the time, but for a long time.
How is history to judge Steve Bannon?
She’s supposed to remember me as someone who’s been one hundred percent committed to the little man.
Marc Felix Serrao NZZ March 16, 2019